Backpacking in Azerbaijan – The complete guide for the independent traveler with everything you need to know about traveling in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is a small country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. It borders Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south.
This country is not as big as its neighbors but don’t let its size fool you. There are plenty of things to see and do in Azerbaijan. From visiting mud volcanoes to walking next to eternal flames coming out of the ground and visiting fire temples, this country will surprise you every step of the way.
Mud Volcanoes near Baku
We took 3 weeks to backpack around this amazing country and we just can’t wait to go back! It’s a country that keeps fascinating us as it’s a blend of so many things.
People there speak Russian, have Islamic and Persian names and reminded us of the Turkish culture in so many ways. This is a country that mixes traditions from the past present all around the country with ultramodern shopping centers in Baku.
One thing that struck us in Azerbaijan is the amount of generosity and hospitality we experienced there. Every day we got invited by people to drink tea with them and meet their families. It almost became part of our daily routine to be invited for a meal with drivers who picked us up hitchhiking.
If you like to travel to unusual destinations and want to experience the incredible hospitality the Azerbaijanis share with their guests, don’t wait any longer and book a flight (or travel overland) to this beautiful country.
1. What visa do you need for Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan has a reputation for having a quite strict visa system, however, don’t let that deter you from visiting this country. Citizens from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan can visit the country up to 90 days without a visa.
Citizens of Bahrain, China, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates can obtain a visa for Azerbaijan on arrival valid for 30 days obtainable at any international airport.
Citizens of Turkey can obtain a visa on arrival for Azerbaijan valid for 60 days.
Citizens of the United States of America can obtain a 30 days visa on arrival only if they arrive on a direct flight of Azerbaijan Airlines from New York City.
As of January of 2017, Azerbaijan has introduced an electronic visa issued for a single-entry visit for up to 30 days for citizens of 95 countries.
The e-visa should be printed and presented with the passport (which should be valid for at least 3 more months than the validity period of the electronic visa) at the border checkpoint. Check this website to see what visa you’re eligible for.
If you are eligible for an electronic visa, make sure to read our guide on the visa regulations of Azerbaijan to find out how to apply for the e-visa.
1.1 Do you need to register upon your arrival in Azerbaijan?
If you intend to stay for a period of 15 days or longer in Azerbaijan, you will need to be registered within 15 days of your arrival in the country. It’s possible to do so with your hotel, at the migration service center or via an email from your host to the migration service center.
If you don’t have the registration slip with you upon your departure, you risk being charged a fine (around $220) or even a 2-year ban from the country if you cannot pay it so it’s important to register as soon as you can.
If you enter Azerbaijan by airplane in Baku, you can ask your hotel/hostel to do the registration for you. Unfortunately not all the hotels will know about this registration or know exactly what they have to do.
My recommendation would be to stay at Mr. Hostel Baku. They successfully registered other travelers and they also give a printed document of the registration. Keep this document with you when you leave Azerbaijan! If you decide to stay in another hotel or hostel and they can do the registration for you, make sure to ask for the printed document.
You can also register at the migration service in Balakan. This is the first town you’ll pass if you enter Azerbaijan by the Matsimi border and it’s also where we did our registration. Read in our post Visa, registration and border crossing in Azerbaijan all the info about where to find the registration office and what you need to do.
The migration service in Balakan
1.2 How to renew or extend your visa for Azerbaijan
If you wish to renew your visa for Azerbaijan, this can only be done if your temporary visa period hasn’t expired yet and at least 3 days prior to the end of this visa period. This process takes around 3-4 days and costs 30 AZN (roughly 30 Euros). This process can be done at the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Address: 4 Shikhali Gurbanov Street, Baku AZ 1009, Republic of Azerbaijan, Tel: + 994 12 4929692).
If you extend your visa for Azerbaijan successfully, make sure to get a new registration certificate. This can also be done at the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
2. Entering and exiting Azerbaijan by air, by sea or by land
2.1 By plane
The main international airport in Azerbaijan is the one in Baku, it’s called Heydar Aliyev international airport.
- How to get from Heydar Aliyev International Airport to Baku
The Heydar Aliev airport is located at about 21 km from the city center of Baku and you can go from the airport to the city center by bus, by taxi or with your own car.
There is currently a very comfortable express bus that goes from the airport all the way to the city center. It is quite convenient and in my opinion the fastest way to enter the city from the airport. It operates from 6 o’clock in the morning until midnight and it’s very comfortable. This bus follows the road from the airport all the way to the 28th May metro station and vice versa with a 1 minute stop near Korogly metro station. To take the express bus you have to go to the bus stops which are at the exits of the first and second terminals.
It’s also possible to take bus 116 from the airport to the city and it will drop you off near the 28th May metro station as well for about 0.30 AZN.
Another option is to take a taxi from the airport to the center of Baku. You can either use the London Cabs company or the 189 taxi service to get to the city center and you’ll pay around 15 AZN.
If you have your own car or if you are renting one, follow the airport road towards the south for about 24 minutes to reach the city center.
- How to get from Baku to Heydar Aliyev International Airport
By taxi: Ask your hostel/hotel to call a taxi or wave a London cabs taxi or a 189 taxi anywhere in the city center. It should cost around 15 AZN to get from the city center to the airport.
By bus: You can catch a bus towards the airport at the 28th May metro station. You can either take bus 116 or the newly launched Baku express bus, this one operates from 6 in the morning until midnight.
2.2 By land
2.3 By boat
You can also enter Azerbaijan by taking a ferry across the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. You can read a detailed overview of how to take the ferry from these countries on Caravanistan.
We left Azerbaijan by taking the ferry to Kazakhstan across the Caspian Sea.
3. Which vaccinations are required for Azerbaijan?
You don’t need any compulsory vaccinations to travel in Azerbaijan. However, vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B and rabies are recommended. Malaria is present in some parts of Azerbaijan so check with a health specialist to learn if antimalarial tablets are recommended for your trip.
4. What you need to bring to go backpacking in Azerbaijan
The official currency of Azerbaijan is the Azerbaijani manat (AZN). 1USD is about 1.70 AZN (December 2018). ATM’s are very easy to find in the cities and towns but make sure to bring cash money when you visit remote villages and regions. There are also plenty of exchange offices, especially in the capital Baku, in case you want to exchange some dollars or euros.
4.2 Travel Insurance for Azerbaijan
It’s not mandatory to have travel insurance if you are traveling to Azerbaijan. However, if you’re planning on doing activities such as white water rafting and doing some treks in the mountains, it’s always a good idea to have international travel insurance!
If you don’t have travel insurance yet, I suggest to sign up for the travel insurance provided by World Nomads! Click here for more information and prices.
4.3 Power adapter
The power sockets in Kyrgyzstan are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Bring a Universal power adapter if you want to be able to charge all of your electronic devices while in Azerbaijan.
4.4 Which clothes do you need for Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has a slightly continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. Because Azerbaijan is a mountainous country but also borders the warm Caspian sea, the weather varies a lot depending on where you are and the time of the year you visit this country.
It can be relatively hot in the summer (30°C) in the areas near the Caspian sea such as in the capital Baku, but when you go to the mountains, in Ganja, for example, the temperature will be a bit lower.
In winter the temperature rarely goes below 0°C in Baku and sometimes reaches -2°C in Ganja so the winter months can be cold but not absolutely freezing. One thing that is important to remember is that it can rain a lot in Azerbaijan in winter.
Always pack appropriate clothes for the period in which you’re traveling. In winter you should always bring warm clothes, such as a sweater, a jacket, a hat, a raincoat or an umbrella (it can rain a lot).
The summer in Baku can be very hot so bring light clothes. If you are planning to visit mountain areas in Azerbaijan it can be a very good idea to bring some hiking shoes.
Summer in Baku
4.5 A phrase book and dictionary
The Azeri language is around 70% mutually intelligible with Turkish so if you speak Turkish or Azeri you should be able to get around the country without any problems. Russian is also widely spoken in Azerbaijan. However, if you don’t speak any of these languages, I strongly suggest getting your hands on an Azeri phrasebook or a pocket dictionary.
I cannot stress how important it is to get your hands a small pocket phrasebook. It is usually packed with all the essential words and phrases you will need on your trip to a country and will help you in every situation.
From finding a hotel room to ordering food in a restaurant or joining the local festivities this type of book will cover almost every situation you could imagine. It will also be your lifesaver when your phone battery is dead and you can’t access your favorite translation app anymore.
4.6 A travel guide for Azerbaijan
A travel guide that covers all the major cities in Azerbaijan is something you should absolutely have in your backpack during your trip to this country. I highly recommend the Lonely-Planet-Georgia-Armenia-Azerbaijan guide. It covers what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you in this beautiful country.
Palace of Shaki Khans in Sheki
5. What is the best time to visit Azerbaijan?
You can visit Azerbaijan the whole year round, depending on what you want to see and do during your trip.
The best time of the year to travel to this country is in spring and autumn, and in particular during the months of May and October for the ideal weather and the smaller amount of rain that falls during these months.
If you like winter sports you can visit the Tufandag Mountain Resort near the city of Qabala between the months of November and February and enjoy the snow-covered hills of the ski resort.
6. How to get around Azerbaijan?
There are so many ways to travel around Azerbaijan. You can travel by train, bus, taxi or by marshrutka. You can also drive with your own car or hitchhike around the country. And finally, it’s quite cheap to fly around the major cities by airplane.
6.1 Getting around Azerbaijan by train
Getting around Azerbaijan by train is becoming more and more convenient thanks to better trains and improved railway systems. The prices are quite cheap and it is a great way to travel slowly and comfortably while enjoying the beautiful landscapes this mountainous country offers.
You can find a complete timetable of the trains here and you can book your ticket online directly on the Azerbaijan railway website. It’s possible to pay online by Visa or Mastercard and once you pay you will receive a confirmation of your purchase. Don’t forget that you still need to get an actual train ticket at the station from which you will leave. Arrive there a bit ahead of time with your passport and your printed confirmation.
Trains in Azerbaijan are much slower and much less frequent than buses and overall much less comfortable so if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you’re much better off taking a bus.
Since night trains in Azerbaijan are very cheap, they can be a good option if you want to save on accommodation while crossing parts of the country that you might not be interested in. Night trains in Azerbaijan have 3 sleeper classes that follow the old Soviet model:
1st class (luks) – This is like having your own private hotel room, it’s only available on a few trains and it’s a two-berth compartment.
2nd class (kupe) – This one is a four berth compartment with 2 lower berths and two upper bunks. The berths tend to be a bit harder and less comfortable than in 1st class but it’s still a great value for your money and almost never costs more than 10 USD for an overnight journey.
3rd class (platskart; reserved) – This is an open wagon without closable compartment door. Very often two of the six bunks are placed sideways along the corridor and this is not ideal for a good night sleep.
It’s also possible to take trains from Azerbaijan to neighboring countries such as Russia and Georgia. For more information on the trains in Azerbaijan check out this complete guide.
Traveling around Azerbaijan by bus, marshrutkas (minibusses) or shared taxis in Azerbaijan is very easy and convenient. People in Azerbaijan use all of these vehicles interchangeably depending on the day of the week and how many people show up at the bus station.
Prices to get around the country are usually fixed beforehand and foreigners and locals will pay the exact same fare so there is no point in trying to haggle. Bus prices, however, can be surprisingly cheap even for longer distances. You can expect to pay around 1 AZN ( about 0.70 USD ) for a short trip ( around 80 km).
In Azerbaijan, it’s quite common to pay the bus or shared taxi driver directly once you’re in. Some drivers will ask you to pay at the beginning of the journey while others won’t mind if you pay at the end.
This blog post by Wander-lush is a great guide to the shared taxis and bus system of Azerbaijan
The Lada is still a very popular car brand in Azerbaijan!
6.3 Driving around Azerbaijan
Driving around Azerbaijan in your own car or in a rented one is definitely a great option to access some remote mountain villages that are hard to reach by public transport.
The main roads between the major cities in Azerbaijan are generally in a good condition although I would recommend renting a 4×4 if you’re planning on driving in the mountains.
Be careful on the roads in Azerbaijan as most of the drivers have no regard for the rules of the road and they love to push the gas pedal! Driving through Azerbaijan can be a scary experience unless you’re an experienced and confident driver!
In Azerbaijan, it’s important to be very careful with your driving speed as there are virtually no signs indicating the speed limit.
If you are driving your own car into Azerbaijan, have a look at this article, it covers the insurance you’ll need, the border payments and the police checks in Azerbaijan.
6.4 Hitchhiking around Azerbaijan
Hitchhiking in Azerbaijan was a wonderful experience for us. The locals who gave us rides kept inviting us for food and tea. If you would like to have an idea of what hitchhiking in Azerbaijan could look like, make sure to watch the YouTube videos we made while hitchhiking around this country.
Hitchhiking in Azerbaijan is quite common among the locals. You’ll see a lot of people standing on the side of the road, waving cars down as a sign that they want to get a lift. In Azerbaijan, we got asked for money only once but it’s standard to pay the driver to share the costs of petrol for the journey (just like taking a shared taxi).
We never had to stay on the side of the road for very long as our average time waiting for a ride was 15-20 minutes.
6.5 Domestic flights in Azerbaijan
If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to make the long drive from Baku to the north of the country or vice-versa, there is always the possibility of taking an airplane. The primary international airport is Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku and it has connecting flights with nearby cities in the country such as Nakhchivan City, Ganja, and Lankaran.
The national air company AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) is the main airline that has domestic flights to all the main cities in Azerbaijan and to neighboring countries.
7. Accommodation in Azerbaijan
Whether you want to camp in the wild or on a campground, sleep in a hostel or hotel or even spend some time with a local family in a homestay, you will soon realize that accommodation in Azerbaijan can be as cheap or as expensive as you wish. We were surprised at how wide the range of prices for accommodation is in Azerbaijan. While most of the country has very cheap hotel prices, Baku is much more expensive.
7.1 Camping in Azerbaijan
Wild camping is allowed in Azerbaijan except in some national parks such as Shirvan, Ag Gol or Absheron National Parks where you have to register at the gate and you will be expected to leave by closing time at night.
There are a few paid camping areas and campgrounds in Azerbaijan where you can enjoy amenities such as wifi and showers. However, nobody will tell you off if you pitch your tent somewhere in a meadow or a forest. Just keep an eye out for wild dogs and animals. Never keep your food in the tent, but hang it in a sealed bag in a tree, at a small distance from your campsite.
7.2 Hostels, hotels and guesthouses
There are plenty of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses in the big cities and towns. Hostels are the cheapest option, starting from 7 USD per night for a bed in a hostel dorm in Baku. You can also find a nice private room, starting at 12-15 USD per night. We always use booking.com to find the cheapest deals. If you are staying in Baku, we highly recommend staying in Mr. Hostel Baku.
Prices of private rooms in fancier hotels tend to be more expensive so the rental of a private apartment through Airbnb could be a good choice as they are cheaper than hotels and sometimes as comfortable or even more.
7.3 Staying with locals
To discover the real Azerbaijan, leave Baku and spend time with the locals all around the country. While we were traveling in Azerbaijan, we often got invited by the people we met to share a meal, a tea or even to spend the night sleeping in their house!
It’s also possible to approach the locals living in more remote areas of Azerbaijan and ask them if it’s possible to pitch your tent in their garden. Azerbaijan is probably the country where we have experienced the biggest amount of hospitality from the locals and they always seemed delighted to receive us in their houses. Have a look at this video to see what I mean!
8.Food and drinks in Azerbaijan
The food in Azerbaijan is very delicious. It’s inspired by the cuisine of various neighboring countries such as Georgia and Russia. If you’re a meat eater, a vegetarian or a vegan, you’ll enjoy the Azerbaijan dishes.
A Georgian inspired dish that is becoming more and more popular in Azerbaijan is the Khachapuri. It’s a gooey cheese-filled bread that looks a little like pizza. Cabbage, grape leaves, and eggplant wrapped meat (kelem, yarpaq, badimjan – dolmasi) are typical dishes found all over Azerbaijan and taste absolutely delicious.
Another dish that you will be able to find all over Azerbaijan is Plov. It’s a rice dish served with a different variety of toppings. It is so popular that it is considered the king of Azerbaijani cuisine. Other foreign cuisines such as Turkish, Italian, Asian, Western & fast food, along with Asian food can be found in Baku.
Local drinks that can be found in Azerbaijan include ayran (a yogurt drink) and sherbet (a drink made of rose petals). Despite being a Muslim country, alcohol is omnipresent in Azerbaijan and especially vodka is a very popular drink (Azerbaijan used to be part of the Soviet Union). There are also different kinds of very decent wines produced from local grapes that can be found throughout Azerbaijan.
Or you might come across the occasional sheep leg…
9.Religion in Azerbaijan
Over 96% of The Azerbaijani population is Muslim but the Muslim identity in Azerbaijan tends to be based more on culture and ethnicity rather than religion. The religion is not strictly enforced in Azerbaijan and it is quite rare to see women wearing a hijab.
Although alcohol is forbidden under the Muslim religion, the majority of men in Azerbaijan won’t say no to a good shot of cognac or vodka among friends.
10.People and culture of Azerbaijan
The culture of Azerbaijan was developed under the influence of Iranian, Turkic and Caucasian heritage.It was also influenced by the Russian culture due to its former status as a Soviet republic. This resulted in a culture that is particularly unique and opened to the world but is also only beginning to discover its own identity.
Older people in Azerbaijan almost all speak Russian and feel close ties to Russia but also have Islamic and Persian names. The younger generation is starting to speak less and less Russian and they now learn English as their second language in school.
While people in Baku are very busy due to their ”fast-paced” lifestyles most people around the country are very hospitable. This is particularly true in smaller remote villages where people are not so used to see foreigners. They will most likely invite you for a tea or for a meal in their homes and might even invite you to spend a few days with their families.
Men in Azerbaijan will usually greet each other with a handshake followed by a kiss on the cheek and by saying”salaam” which literally means ‘peace’ but is used to say ‘hello’.
Azeri women will not usually shake hands among themselves but will gladly shake hands with a foreign woman. Most of them will greet each other by hugging and kissing once their left cheek.
Men in Azerbaijan will always wait and see if a woman extends her hand instead of initiating a handshake – if a woman initiates a handshake, they will only shake it very lightly and briefly.
It is usually younger people who will initiate the greetings with older people in Azerbaijan as a sign of respect.
11.Which languages are spoken in Azerbaijan?
Azeri or Azerbaijani is the main language spoken in Azerbaijan. It’s a Turkic language that is mutually intelligible with modern Turkish. The older generation also speaks Russian since Azerbaijan was formerly a Soviet republic. Russian still plays an important role in education and is taught but it is now being replaced by English as the second language kids learn in schools.
A few Azeri expression you should know before visiting Azerbaijan
Here are a few Azeri expressions that will definitely help you get by in Azerbaijan:
Salam: This expression literally means ‘peace’ but is used all over Azerbaijan to say hello. It is used throughout the day in all kinds of situations, from entering a store and greeting the people there to starting a conversation with a taxi driver.
Sag ol (sa–ol): This is an informal way of saying thank-you.
Buyur: This means you’re welcome.
Helekik: This is a polite way of saying goodbye.
Tualet harador?: Harador or harada litterally means ”where is?” and Tualet means toilet so Tualet harador means ”where is the toilet?”
avtobus dayanacağı harada?: This means ”where is the bus station?” Dayanacağı is pronounced Da-ya-na-dja-eu.
Bu neceyedir? (Bu Neh-Cha-Ya-Dir) : This translates as ” How much is this?”
Senin adin nedir?:This means ”What is your name?” and it is pronounced ”Se-nin a-din ne-dir”
Menim adim (Me-nim A-dim): This means ”My name is”
Necesen?: This is pronounced Nay-djay-sayn and means ”How are you?”
Yaxsiyam:This means ” I’m fine and it’s pronounced Yarr-shi-yaam.
Sunset in Baku
12. Is it safe to travel in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan is a very safe country and has recently entered the top 20 of the safest countries in the world for its very low crime rate. It’s a country where we both felt super safe and welcomed all the time. There is a low probability of getting robbed in Azerbaijan but we do suggest to always be careful of pickpockets especially in big cities such as Baku.
Driving in Azerbaijan can be a bit dangerous. A lot of drivers tend to drive very fast and have little regard for the rules. The number of traffic accidents is very high in Azerbaijan and continues to rise each year. Unless you are a very confident and experienced driver, it would be much better to take a train, a bus or a shared taxi while traveling around Azerbaijan.
If you go hiking in the mountains always make sure to bring proper equipment, and preferably, don’t go alone. The mountain regions are not densely populated, there are wild animals and you could easily get lost.
13. A few more useful things to know before you go backpacking in Azerbaijan
13.1 Drinking water
Tap water is generally considered safe to drink throughout the mountainous regions of Azerbaijan. In Baku and the lowland areas of Azerbaijan on the other hand, you’d be better off with buying bottles of purified water or with bringing a LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle. This is a bottle that filters water using a filtration device. If you drink water using this bottle, any dirt, bacteria or parasites will be trapped in the filter, while the clean water will pass through.
These water filter bottles are very light to carry and super useful for when you go trekking in the mountains. You can use it to drink the water in the middle of nature without worrying about becoming sick. Click here for more info and prices.
If you don’t have a water filter bottle and you aren’t sure of your tap water’s quality, boil it for 10 minutes or use water purification tablets.
13.2 Bathroom facilities
In Azerbaijan, public toilets are usually rare in smaller towns and may not have toilet paper, so it’s a good idea to always carry some with you. Public toilets will usually be found in bus and train stations but they’ll often be the squat ones and you will typically have to pay a small fee to the attendant to use them.
In general, people will not flush toilet paper into the toilet as the drains block easily. It’s better to use the small bin provided instead. Hostels and hotels will have western toilets.
13.3 Internet & sim cards
It’s almost impossible to buy a sim card as a foreigner. You need to be a citizen of the country in order to get registered for a sim card. However, you can always ask your Azerbaijani host or friend to buy the sim card for you.
If you’re a digital nomad and you need to be online for your work, the internet in the hostels and hotels in Baku is generally fast and reliable. You might have a hard time to connect in more remote regions.
Sunrise in Baku
We’re wishing you a great time in Azerbaijan! I’m sure you’ll love the country as much as we did!
If you still have questions about your upcoming journey, let us know in the comments below or send us an email.
* Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, we get a commission at no extra costs to you! See it as a small donation to keep this blog going. Thank you!
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