Nakhchivan Travel Guide: What to Do in Azerbaijan’s Peculiar Landlocked Exclave

Geography nerd though I am, I will readily admit that I had no idea that Nakhchivan even existed at all until a few months ago. I was talking to a friend about my travel plans to Azerbaijan and she told me about the exclave of Nakhchivan, geographically separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by its mortal enemy, Armenia, with whom they’re still technically at war.

Due to the border with Armenia being closed, the only way to get to Nakhchivan from “mainland” Azerbaijan is an hourlong flight from the capital, Baku. Overland routes from Baku are theoretically possible via Iran, but as an American, that’s a no-go, as Americans cannot travel without a guided tour in Iran.

As someone who finds geopolitics endlessly interesting, I was instantly fascinated with visiting this strange chunk of Azerbaijan that virtually no one travels to.

However, I mostly wanted to go for bragging rights – to say that I visited a strange, little-known exclave that sees tourism as an oddity, not a reality. I thought I’d stay for a night or two and leave having checked it off my never-ending list. Instead, we ended up staying a full four nights and five days, seeing so much than we imagined along the way.

Figuring out what to do in Nakhchivan wasn’t easy – the one proper blog post I found about Nakhchivan never even left Nakhchivan City. A puzzling VICE article called Nakhchivan the “San Francisco of the Caucasus,” which became the theme of several jokes over the course of our trip – everything was the “[blank] of the Caucasus.” We pieced together our Nakhchivan itinerary from a few hyper-niche ex-Soviet tour companies, bringing a wishlist each morning to our helpful hotel staff and arranging a taxi for the day.

Speaking little Russian and virtually no Azeri, traveling in a region that sees so few tourists, I was surprised by how easy it actually ended up being to see Nakhchivan. Despite how off the beaten path it is,  its small size combined with the helpfulness of the people we encountered meant that we got a great overview of the republic in a matter of days.

Getting to Nakhchivan

Getting to Nakhchivan seems daunting, but it’s rather easy in actuality. When we arrived in Baku, we walked over from the modern Terminal 1, which proudly displayed its 5 star bona fides on the entrance, to the more time-worn Terminal 2. We wandered through a series of metal detectors, eliciting strange looks when we asked where we could purchase tickets for Nakhchivan. Eventually we found the ticket counter tucked away in a corner of the second floor of Terminal 2.

Having come of travel-age in the 2000s, buying an airline ticket felt completely anachronistic, even a bit illegitimate. I felt that even more acutely when our credit cards were declined (a common occurrence when using an American card in Azerbaijan) and we had to go back through the metal detectors to withdraw some manat from the ATM. 70 manat and 20 minutes later, we each brandished a ticket voucher for a flight to Nakhchivan in four days’ time.

Fast forward to departure day, after our legs had clocked several miles around Baku and our cameras had logged thousands of photos, we got to the airport early – we had been told to arrive two hours and 20 minutes before our flight. Check-in took all of about 5 minutes, inclusive of checking our baggage (35 kilos of luggage are included in the 70 manat ticket price). So we sat in the only restaurant in the airport, and I ate the most delicious borscht of my life as an airport cat curled himself around my legs hoping to shame me into sharing.

I fully expected to fly in a small beater plane – after all, this was getting me my off the beaten path travel street cred. So I was almost disappointed when boarding for the plane led me to a giant jet bridge (a foreign concept to me after so many times being bussed to the airplane when flying budget airlines, one of my biggest travel annoyances), which led in turn to a giant jet plane.

Speaking in English to my friend Stephanie, we garnered a few glances, and my curious seatmate tried to ask me a few questions. “Odkuda vy?” ended up being one of the few phrases the Duolingo owl was able to teach me in Russian; I answered that I was from America, confident in my Russian skills… and then promptly exhausted the extent of my language skills and fell into silence.

When we started to land in Nakhchivan, we saw some of the most stunning landscapes, just as the sun was setting. We had spent the day of our flight driving through the outskirts of Baku, through oil fields which had torn up a landscape, leaving it pockmarked and brutalized. Seeing the untouched mountains of Nakhchivan lifted me up before our wheels even touched down.

After paying a reasonable 6 manat to get to our hotel, Hotel Tabriz, we arrived at our hotel and promptly flopped onto our comfortable beds.

Where to Stay in Nakhchivan

There aren’t a lot of places to stay in Nakhchivan, which made the choice exceedingly easy!

We opted to stay in the 5-star Hotel Tebriz because it was the best option…. in that it was the only option we could find. The only other hotel we could find online was Hotel Duzdag, which is not even located in Nakhchivan City, but close to the Duzdag sanatorium and salt mine. We booked two nights at first at Hotel Tebriz but upon checking in we quickly decided to extend that to four nights there, especially since we found the price really reasonable for the quality of the hotel.

While our room was clean and spacious, what we loved most about our stay at Hotel Tebriz was the super helpful staff who helped arrange reasonably priced drivers every day that we needed them. Oh, and the included breakfast was also always excellent – I still dream of eating toast with sweet Nakhchivani cream and honey for breakfast there. The lunch buffets were good, but our a la carte dinner was less impressive (though not quite bad  per se – just thoroughly mediocre). Still, I suspect not too many people visit Nakhchivan expecting a foodie dream world, so it does the trick at keeping you fed at very reasonable prices.

But the best thing: Hotel Tebriz has an excellent hammam and sauna and indoor pool in the basement that was surprisingly luxurious, and we had good, affordable, though slightly gruff massages from the in-house masseuse. A one-hour massage cost about 45 manat, if I recall correctly, a little less than 25 euros. There are male and female hours, as well as co-ed hours. Unfortunately, the female hours also seem to be family hours (naturally) so I didn’t actually find the female-only time very relaxing as I was surrounded by screaming kids. I had a much better time going during the co-ed hours, so if you don’t mind sharing rooms with people of other genders, I suggest going then. Everyone is wearing swimsuits, anyway.

If this Nakhchivan travel guide is helpful, please consider booking your Nakhchivan hotel through my affiliate link below to support this free content!

Check rates, prices, and availability at Hotel Tebriz and other options in Nakhchivan here. 

Nakhchivan City

For a capital of an autonomous republic, the streets of Nakhchivan City are puzzlingly sedate. Meanwhile, the apartments of Nakhchivan City look like lacquered Lego toys, tidily stacked in OCD-like perfection. Nakhchivan is almost Swiss in its cleanness. Every courtyard is meticulously manicured. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more rosebushes than people in the city of Nakhchivan, population 75,000.

The streets are wider than necessary, as if expecting some big traffic jam that has simply never materialized. After the all-day bustle of Baku, walking around in Nakhchivan is eerily quiet. The streets were often so empty that I almost felt like I was walking around jet-lagged abnormally early, despite being the sun directly overhead in the sky.

Nakhchivan’s population has stagnated due to its geographic and economic isolation, much of its population moving to Turkey. While things look a little rosier now, tensions are still high, and Nakhchivan hasn’t seen an easy few decades.

Nakhchivan was the first part of the former USSR to claim independence, in January of 1990, yet the ease with which it gained independence would belie what was to come. The Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia claimed tens of thousands of lives, displacing over a million. It was during this war that Nakhchivan was blockaded for a year, which has made the exclave a bit obsessed with self-reliance.

Despite an ever-increasing quality of life, including a Human Development Index higher than that of “mainland” Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan is still stunted from its years of turmoil and continued border tensions. While you can’t see it from the well-maintained streets or tidy parks, you can see it in the sense of quiet that pervades everything: the eerily calm hotel, the width of the unfilled streets, the bemused smiles on the face of locals when they see a tourist with a camera.

We left our hotel, easily the tallest building in Nakhchivan, to stroll aimlessly around the city. Needless to say, TripAdvisor has no Nakhchivan top 10. We ended up in a park filled to bursting with roses. I live in Bulgaria, a country that proudly calls itself the Land of Roses. Well, I hate to burst Bulgaria’s petal-scented bubble, but Azerbaijan — and Nakhchivan in particular — could wrestle it for the title. Their annual rose budget must be in the millions.

The crown of a mausoleum peeked out from the bed of roses, and we meandered our way over, passing an open air museum along the way.

Momina Khatun Mausoleum

To the extent that Nakhchivan has a skyline, mausoleums feature heavily in it. There are numerous scattered around the autonomous republic, and several within Nakhchivan City itself. By accident, we stumbled across two in our first 10 minutes of walking in the city.

The mausoleum of Momina Khatun is tall and rather impressive, a monument to honor a 12th-century noblewoman who passed. It likely was once part of a madrassa (Islamic school) that has long since disappeared. The mausoleum, however, still stands tall after having been refurbished over the years. Its understated brickwork, enameled turquoise tiles, and Islamic calligraphy are all emblematic of the Nakhchivan mausoleum style.

Not far away from the Mausoleum is the Khan’s House, once a royal residence, now apparently a carpet museum. An official-looking guard patrolled the garden of the Khan’s House, and the emptiness made me think it was closed. It probably wasn’t.

I snapped a few photos of the Khan’s house and walked to the other end of the park in search of something to eat.

Cuma Mosque

Following the line of the park, we reached a pond with one lone paddleboat out on the water and a short time after, a mosque. It was a Friday, the holiest day of the week, during Ramadan, the holiest month of a year. This, all in a city that sees next to no non-Muslim tourists. It seemed like it would have been rude to try to enter so we didn’t.

However, having spent a lot of time in Azerbaijani mosques by now, I’ve found that they usually have a headscarf for visitors to borrow and they are usually really friendly with non-Muslims visiting. Just follow basic etiquette rules (take off your shoes, don’t speak loudly, etc.) and try not to interfere with people praying.

The local market

Just across the street from the mosque, a vibrant produce market takes up about two city blocks. I went on a Friday afternoon but I presume it’s a daily market. We were still a bit wandering about in a daze, taking in all the sights of Nakhchivan City, so we didn’t buy much save for the world’s strangest gyro.

We stopped at a UFO-looking rotunda straight out of the Communist era, hoping for lunch. Ordering was a charade of broken Russian (basically, me repeating “obyed” over and over and hoping it meant lunch like I thought it did) and gesturing to my mouth. We settled on tea and an adopted Nakhchivani grandmother who cooed over us like we were her own.

Noah’s Tomb

Yet another mausoleum, Noah’s Tomb is a mausoleum dedicated to the prophet Noah (the same Noah that shows up in Christian and Jewish scripture as well). It’s interesting, in the U.S., people talk about “Judeo-Christian values” – basically excluding Islam from sharing those values despite sharing the same prophets, golden rules, and many of the same stories.

After a lifetime of absorbing information through my country’s lens, it’s interesting to see a mausoleum dedicated to Noah – a figure I associate so strongly with Christianity – expressed through a traditional Islamic funeral art.

My musings aside, it’s a gorgeous building that is emblematic of Nakhchivani architectural style while also celebrating Nakhchivan’s self-proclaimed status as the original land of Noah.

Other things to do and see in Nakhchivan City

Only in Nakhchivan can you charter a private train around the city for 5 euros. And so we did just that, forking over 10 manat to cover the minimum of 10 people who need to sign up in order to have the sightseeing train run around the city for about an hour and a half.

Our “private train” stopped at the Heydar Aliyev Museum, went past Nakhchivan University, down past countless interesting buildings including an old hammam, before stopping on a hill courtyard with great views of the city, the nearby lake (with Iran just on the other side of the border), and Noah’s Mausoleum.

Alinja

After being told about the “Machu Picchu of the Caucasus” by the lone other traveler in the hotel, I’ll admit my curiosity was piqued. Later that afternoon, we hired a taxi to take us out to Alinja, wait for us, and drive us back for 45 manat (a bit more than 20 euro).

For some reason, the “Machu Picchu” moniker didn’t seem to tip me off that there would be stairs: some 1,600 of them, to be precise.

My cab driver decided to accompany me part of the way up the mountain, gregarious in a way that my extremely limited Russian vocabulary did not accommodate. “Very sport,” I’d remark over and over again each time I got out of breath, to which he would agree. He stopped for a cigarette about halfway up the mountain and I went onwards, the only person on the seemingly never-ending stairway to heaven.

I stopped mid-step when I noticed an emerald green snake stretched across one of the stairs, basking in the sun. I searched for a rock to throw in its vicinity to scare it off the path. My stomach lurched as it made its sinewy way off the stairs and made a mental note to keep my eyes on my feet on the way back down. I had no idea if snakes were venomous in Nakhchivan and had no intention of finding out.

I huffed and puffed my way up the remaining stairs only to arrive at Alinja about an hour after we arrived in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the Machu Picchu similarities stopped after the stairs: pretty much all of Alinja had been paved over in an oddly modern fashion that more closely resembled some strange urban courtyard than actual fortress ruins.

Luckily, my disappointment in the “castle ruins” themselves was outweighed by the sumptuousness of the Nakhchivani landscape around me.

I marveled at views of the Ilhan Dağ mountain, which Nakhchivanis proclaim is dented from Noah’s ark landing there (a claim they make probably just to stick it to Armenia). The lake next to Nakhchivan City glinted in the late afternoon sun as I peered into Northern Iran. Behind me, snow-capped mountains were fringed by clouds.

I met my guide a quarter of the way down, who had stopped by the water fountain I had avoided on the way up. He insisted it was safe to drink from; desperate with thirst and willing to roll the dice, I later found he was right. He then insisted I take off my shoes on the walk down as he had, repeating “massage” over and over again. He wasn’t wrong: it was actually quite pleasant to walk down without shoes.

Despite the strange choices made when reconstructing Alinja, it’s definitely worth a visit, especially for its gorgeous surroundings.

Batabat

Easily the most beautiful place in Nakhchivan, the road to Lake Batabat tallies up some 2500 meters above sea level on surprisingly smooth roads in little less than an hour and a half. Along the way, you can watch as the landscape shfits from resembling the American Southwest to the lush mountains of Colorado.

I’ve written a full guide to Lake Batabat here, so I won’t go into excessive detail on this post, but I’ll leave with you some photos to try to tempt you into visiting this gorgeous part of Nakhchivan.

Qarabağlar

The most beautiful mausoleum in Nakhchivan, a title I feel entitled to bestow having seen five of them in as many days, Qarabağlar is undoubtedly worth a detour during your time in Nakhchivan.

Composed of 12 semi-cylinders, the mausoleum glitters with blue tile against the standard brick. Next to the mausoleum is a mosque with two minarets, seemingly in disuse or in the middle of renovations.

Duzdag

Billed as a Soviet sanatorium for people who had breathing difficulties, I wasn’t sure what Duzdag would offer the tourist besides a strange glimpse into the past. Turns out that Duzdag is not some relic of the past but an active part of today’s Nakhchivan.

Nakhchivan sees huge potential for itself in the areas of religious tourism and health/wellness tourism, and Duzdag is the jewel in the crown of that vision. Apparently, you can stay at the Duzdag Physiotherapy Center with a note from your doctor, and it can even cure asthma and other bronchial diseases. It has room for 300 patients, some who stay for as long as a month in hopes of curing themselves.

I spent only 30 minutes in the salt mountain, not wanting to make my driver wait for us too long. Even in 30 minutes, I was breathing better for days to come. If you have time, there is a small room where you can order tea and spent some time in the salt mine without being a patient at the center.

Ashabi-Kahf Caves

I mentioned before how Nakhchivan is trying to reinvent itself as a religious tourism destination – fairly effectively, I should add, given that it was selected to be one of the Islamic Capitals of Culture for 2018.

While the mausoleums and its tenuous connection to Noah are what Nakhchivan is most known for, another important Islamic pilgrimage site is the Ashabi-Kahf caves, which were mentioned in the Qu’ran and are now a popular tourist destination in Nakhchivan.

You’ll have to walk up many flights of stairs to get to a small mosque and the main cave area. Entry is free (as it is virtually everywhere in Nakhchivan – I actually don’t recall paying one single admission fee anywhere in the republic).

The caves themselves aren’t too spectacular, to be honest, but their religious significance is palpable by the way locals treat the caves, offering prayers and pilgrimage.

Ordubad

Ordubad is the second largest town in Nakhchivan and theoretically is famous for its super expensive lemons. Unfortunately we didn’t give Ordubad nearly as much time as I’m sure it warrants, stopping by for about two hours on our last day in Nakhchivan. The road to Ordubad is one of the most spectacular in Nakhchivan – the drive alone warrants the trip.

During that time, we ventured into the Cuma Mosque (Cuma appears to mean “Friday” and virtually every town in Nakhchivan has their own Cuma Mosque), which was one of the most unique I’ve seen on my travels. While not a religious person, I do love places of worship and mosques are my favorite in terms of architecture and aesthetics.

The mosques in Nakhchivan are much less ornamental than their cousins in, say, Turkey or Morocco. Whereas the mausoleums are tiled and calligraphy-ed to ornate levels, the mosques are almost nondescript on the outside.

That belies the beautiful, colorful interiors – the brightly painted walls, the mishmash layerings of carpet after carpet, the restrained decoration of the mihrabs that help Muslims orient to Mecca when they pray.

  

Besides the mosque, we visited the Qeyyseriye, a historic building (I never quite understood the purpose of it) dating back to the 1600s, which is now an ethnography museum.

It’s located across the street from the Cuma Mosque and is worth a brief visit, if only to please the women who work there who will insist you sign their guestbook.

Finally, we stopped briefly at a small park that also functioned as a memorial to victims from Orbubad who died during two wars: World War II (1941-1945 monuments are virtually everywhere in the post-Soviet world) and the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

In a country that has tried and succeeded at shedding much of its Soviet art and architecture, these WWII monuments and the occasional apartment block are the only looks back into the past.

Leaving Nakhchivan

We purchased our tickets back to Baku at a small ticket sales office in town, the same 70 manat it cost to get there. The woman helping us didn’t speak English but someone was around who could translate. We found out that the plane to Ganja was no longer operating (the explanation why was unclear) so we had to go back to Baku and then take a bus to Ganja.

The following day we arrived at the airport and were told we had to stop by the security desk for them to check our passports – a fun little extra step for foreigners, it seems. We received a very tiny slip of paper, the size of a fortune from a fortune cookie, that seemed essential to basically every step of the check-in process from there on out. We dropped off our bags (after our tiny paper was examined) and then made our way to baggage control. I had left my fortune-sized paper at the check-in desk so I had to backtrack and get it back to proceed. The baggage check was thorough but quick, leaving us far too much time to hang out at the airport.

The power plugs don’t appear to work anywhere but the bathroom, nor is there WiFi. The “restaurant” photos are ornamental, not informative: you can only buy chips, sodas, candy, and the like. Reading between the lines: there’s not a lot to do at the airport, so I’d arrive with only an hour or maybe an hour and a half before your flight or risk being bored to near tears.

Leaving Nakhchivan, I felt a bit of an ache in my heart to be leaving a place so unique, so special that I can think of no other analogue in the world. A place of isolation, resilience, and beauty. A place with a dark past and the potential for a bright future, if it doesn’t get in its own way.

The politics of the Caucasus are complicated. Deciphering what is fake news and who wronged who is hard. The answer is usually somewhere in between all the shades of gray. The situation in Nakhchivan is delicate and likely to change. A few days ago, Azerbaijan seized 10,000 hectares of land from Armenia to add to Nakhchivan – in their Orwellian words, “liberating [it] from Armenian occupation.”

The situation may – likely, will – change in the future. Who knows in what direction, and whether that will be for good or for ill. But one thing is certain: Nakhchivan is worth a visit in the here and now, in its complications and in its beauty.

7 Things To Know Before Applying for an Azerbaijan E-visa

As an American with major passport privilege, I always get stressed out when it comes to applying for visas. I’m just not used to it, as my passport allows me to travel to well over 150 countries without a visa or with visa on arrival.

So when I jumped on booking a cheap flight to Baku, Azerbaijan in January, I was actually a little stressed about the visa process. My friend told me that she had had her visa rejected several times. In my head, applying for an e-visa to Azerbaijan was going to be some insane, herculean task.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that applying for an e-visa for Azerbaijan is super straightforward and simple, provided you follow their rules. I did, however, find a few things that I should inform others of, hence writing this post.

Things to Know Before Applying for an E-Visa to Azerbaijan

Not every nationality is permitted to apply for an e-visa to Azerbaijan. Check the official government’s list of countries who can apply for an e-visa here. Currently, 95 countries can apply for e-visas to Azerbaijan. I’m not going to give a full list here as these things are subejct to change, and the official website will always be the most up-to-date.

Please note that this reflects my personal experience as an American passport holder traveling in 2018. Your experience may vary for a variety of reasons; I’m just trying to share what I personally learned about the process. And honestly, I’m mostly writing this post to stick it to the cheating e-visa company who nearly scammed $40 out of me before I even stepped foot in Azerbaijan. However, once I started using the official website, applying for an e-visa to Azerbaijan was incredidbly easy and straightforward. Still, there are a few things you should know to smooth out the process.

1. There is a scam company charging nearly 3x the rate – go with the actual government site

Some scam company with better SEO than the actual Azeri government runs a website that charges $65 for an Azerbaijan e-visa, when it actually costs $20 for the e-visa plus a $4 processing fee. The fake site has a very official looking URL: https://evisa.com.az. In actuality, though, you need to use https://evisa.gov.az or you’ll be charged nearly three times as much.

If you just search “e-visa Azerbaijan” or some variant of that, unfortunately, the scam site pops up first (in fact, when I just tested it now, the official site isn’t even really a search result, but the URL is hidden on the page if you look carefully)

I nearly fell for it! My friend who I was going to Azerbaijan with had gotten her e-visa before me painlessly and paid only $24 USD with the official site. I, however, ended up on the scam site and was shocked when it asked me for $65 USD. I tried to search if there had been some sort of diplomatic spat that raised the price of our visas but could find nothing online… and then I ended up on the legitimate website and realized I had nearly gone through an agency masquerading as the official website.

This happens to a lot of people so please, be careful and check that the website ends in .gov.az and NOT .com.az!

This is the correct website.

2. You can only get a single-entry Azerbaijan e-visa, so don’t leave and plan to re-enter on the same e-visa

The website only gives you single-entry Azerbaijan e-visas, which become used and invalid after you leave the country. If you plan to leave Azerbaijan to visit, say, other countries in the Caucasus and need to return, you will need to apply for and pay for another e-visa after leaving Azerbaijan. Luckily, the e-visas are all issued within 3 business days (3 hours for urgent cases, for which you’ll pay $50), so you won’t have to spend that much time out of Azerbaijan.

However, your Azerbaijan e-visa is only good for 30 days out of every 3 months, and I don’t believe you can use a second e-visa to get around that restriction (please inform me otherwise if that’s not the case). So watch your days and make sure you don’t exceed 30 days, including arrival and departure days.

Visiting Nakhchivan (assuming you fly) means you stay in Azeri territory and does not count as leaving, so a single-entry visa is fine for visiting Nakhchivan. No special papers or visas are needed for Nakhchivan.

3. You can visit Armenia before or after Azerbaijan, but not Nagorno-Karabakh

It is not a problem to get an e-visa for Azerbaijan if you have visited Armenia. I personally visited Azerbaijan first, before Armenia. However, I can point to several friends who have visited Azerbaijan after visiting Armenia, and while some of them were asked a few questions, absolutely no one was denied entry.

That does not go for the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which in international eyes is Azerbaijani territory that Armenia illegally controls. I’m not going to get into the politics or my opinion of it, but do know that if you go to Nagorno-Karabakh and try to enter Azerbaijan, deportation is the best case scenario. People have been extradited from other countries, sent to Azerbaijan, and jailed for visiting the Nagorno-Karabakh region. I do not recommend lying on your Azerbaijan e-visa application if you’ve visited Nagorno-Karabakh.

4. They are very, VERY fussy about writing your name properly on the visa application form

If you want a laugh, check out the PDF advising you on how to fill out your form and count how many times they write “It is wrong!”

But seriously, your visa information will be compared against a database, and if entered incorrectly, it will be denied. My friend either forgot to put her middle name or put it in the wrong section and her visa was denied. However, luckily, if you need to make a change to your Azeri e-visa you can do so rather easily. It costs 5 USD to fix and it takes about 3 hours to make the change.

5. Be sure to print your e-visa

This should be obvious but you will need to print your electronic visa for Azerbaijan and present it alongside your passport when you arrive at the border. There are kiosks in the airport that some countries use for visa on arrival but if you have an e-visa you can bypass these kiosks and just go straight the passport control.

6. You need at least 6 month’s validity on your passport

This should be common knowledge by now, but ensure that by the time you enter Azerbaijan you will have in excess of six months validity left on your passport. This doesn’t just apply for Azerbaijan but for virtually every country, and many airlines will not even let you board the plane if you have less than six months remaining on your passport, even if the country itself would let you in. So play it safe and make sure you renew your passport if needed.

7. You must register if your stay is 10 days or longer or if you’re moving around the country

You thought you were done when you entered Azerbaijan with your printed e-visa in hand? HA. There’s one more byzantine hoop you may need to jump through (or rather, make your hotel jump through). If you are only staying in Baku and not leaving the residence address (your hotel, hostel, etc.) you entered on your application, you’re fine.

But if you plan to visit a second place in Azerbaijan, or if you are planning on staying more than 9 days, you will need to register. Luckily, you can have your hotel register you and it’s not a problem. They will need to see a printed copy of your e-visa (so keep it with you after you’ve been stamped into the country) and your passport and it will only take them about an hour to do the paperwork and less than 24 hours to get confirmation. Keep ahold of your confirmation e-mail in case any issues arise.

Registration is free and your hotel should not charge you for it.

Have you applied for an e-visa to Azerbaijan and have anything to add? Let me know in the comments!

Lake Batabat and Its Floating Island, the Gem of Nakhchivan

I had never seen a landscape change this dramatically this quickly before, from dusty red rocks straight out of the American Southwest to lush green rolling foothills and steep mountains tipped with snow within the span of a single hour.

I must have had my head hanging out of the taxi window nearly the whole drive, like some cartoon of an overexcited dog. By the end of the drive to Batabat, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had my camera imprinted into my face.

The driving distance from Nakhchivan City to Lake Batabat is rather short, a mere 65 kilometers, yet it is one of the most beautiful and dramatic drives I’ve ever done. The red rock mountains, the green mountains with the last vestiges of the season’s snow, and the yellow smatterings of mustard fields everywhere will always be in my mind. All this, punctuated by the occasional passing by of an old school Lada – I was in heaven.

About Lake Batabat

Lake Batabat is the pride of Nakhchivan, and it’s not without good reason. Located high in the mountains of Shahbuz at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level, this lake was formed by receding glaciers over the course of many thousands of years, forming a tarn.

Today, Lake Batabat is a popular excursion for Nakhchivani families, and when I went in May the lake area was strewn with gorgeous mustard flowers and other wildflowers. Handfuls of local families were out in the fields, picking mustard flowers and setting up picnics.

The Floating, Moving Island of Batabat

One of the most unique things about Lake Batabat is that it has its very own floating island in the middle of it. This tiny island is made entirely from peat and grass, and it isn’t attached to the bottom of the lake in any way.

As a result, it drifts — though slowly — throughout the year, moving as if pulled by the sun. The lake almost looks like one big moat for one tiny island, and the interest the floating island adds is what makes Lake Batabat such a photogenic place. I especially love how the shape of the island seems to mirror the exact shape of the lake… Batabat is a magical place.

How to Get to Lake Batabat from Nakhchivan City

The driving distance from Lake Batabat from Nakhchivan City is only 65 kilometers. The excellent quality of the roads means that it takes little more than an hour – perhaps an hour and a half at most – to get there, despite ascending to 2,500 meters above sea level.

We went in a taxi, as we weren’t able to find any information about whether or not minibuses go out to Batabat. But judging by the fact that everyone we saw out at Batabat had come in their own car, I don’t think there is any public transportation to the lake.

We arranged a taxi with the front desk at our hotel (Hotel Tabriz). Our driver took us to the Ashabi-Kahf caves, Lake Batabat, the salt sanatorium at Duzdag, and Qarabaglar for 150 manat ($88 USD) for a full-day trip. Perhaps you could negotiate a better rate but we were content to pay that.

Where to Eat in Batabat

On our way to Batabat we saw countless families doing a picnic out in the mustard-covered fields surrounding Lake Batabat.

Some families even came prepared with elaborate barbecue setups (the Caucasus, like much of the Balkans and former USSR, seems to view grilled meat as a religion rather than a food group).

Lacking such a setup, we ate at Restoran Batabat at a gorgeous table in the forest.

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

There was no physical menu, and given the fact that my Russian skills are abysmal, and they spoke no English and we spoke no Azeri, we had to place our orders by phone using our hotel concierge as translator slash waiter.

Still, it worked pretty seamlessly, and we tucked into the most delicious meal we’d have in all of Nakhchivan, including soups (always order soup in Azerbaijan; it’s always delicious), chicken kebab with fluffy home-cooked lavash bread, pickled vegetables, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. We topped it off with a pot of cay because the tea in Azerbaijan is always fantastic.

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

For the meal, drinks, and tea, we paid 40 manat ($23 USD for two) which is a little higher than we were used to paying but still an excellent price for a delicious forest feast.

What Else to See in Nakhchivan

My full Nakhchivan post is on the way, but in the meantime, I highly recommend Alinja Castle, a former fortress built high in the mountains, 1800 steps up. You should also check out the Ashabi-Kahf caves if you are interested at all in religious history, as the caves were mentioned in the Qur’an.

The Soviet-era salt sanatorium at Duzdag is incredible and definitely worth an extended stay – we felt amazing after a mere 30 minutes in the salt mine and could have used another 30 or more. Qarabaglar was also worth a visit, as it’s the most impressive example of the Islamic mausoleums that are common in Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan in particular (you should also check out the Momina Khan mausoleum in town as well as the Noah mausoleum). Ordubad is also worth a side trip; the Juma Mosque and old icehouse building are gorgeous.

No matter where you go in Nakhchivan, I’m sure you’ll love it.

But dedicate at least a half day for Lake Batabat, and you’ll be in love.

25 Things to Do In Baku, Azerbaijan’s Unusual Capital

Baku is a tough city to put your finger on. It’s a blend of the old and new, a place where 15th-century palaces jut against some of the most jarringly innovative examples of 21st-century modernism. After being the spot of convergence for several empires (Ottoman, Persian, and Russian/Soviet, for starters), Azerbaijan has absorbed a lot.

At the same time, it’s still something of its own – something that it seems it’s still in the process of discovering. What you can’t deny about Baku, however, is that it is a city willing to make a loud statement about itself.

A sudden jolt of oil money after Azerbaijan’s independence from the USSR meant modernizing Baku and modernizing it quickly. As a result, it’s developed at an odd rate, in patches here and there. From the streets, you’ll often catch a peek of the $350 million Flame Towers, one of Baku’s icons — but don’t look up too long, as you might find yourself stepping into a hole in the sidewalk the next. At times, the architecture feels like a new Dubai, equal parts gaudy and daring. Other times, it feels quietly traditional, even understated.

Despite its contradictions, or perhaps partly because of them, I really enjoyed my time in Baku while traveling Azerbaijan. I spent 4 days there, mostly in central Baku around the Old Town, though we spent one day renting a car and exploring some of the sights outside the city. Despite the short duration of my time in Baku, I was able to do quite a bit — mostly because I entered with a plan and used Uber to get around between sights quickly.

25 Unique Things to Do in Baku

Visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs

One of the most striking places to visit in Baku’s walled Inner City is the Palace of the Shirvanshahs. Built in the 15th century and restored (some say too much) in the early 2000s, the palace is composed of a series of sites, including a hammam, a minaret, a mosque, a mausoleum, and a living quarters.

Be sure to turn around when in the courtyard for an intriguing view where modern meets medieval, and you get a glimpse of the Palace and the iconic Flame Towers all in one shot. This is Baku in a nutshell: tradition mashing up against modernity, for better or worse.

I found the exhibits to be really nice and well-presented, with enough information written in English for me to understand a bit about the history and artifacts. I thought it was well worth the 10 manat ($6 USD) entry fee.

Photograph the ultra-modern Heydar Aliyev Center

Aside from the Flame Towers, the Heydar Aliyev Center is one of Baku’s most iconic pieces of architecture. It’s probably my favorite example of modernist architecture in the world, truly innovative and impressive.

It was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who was the first female architect to win the prestigious Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award for designing the Center – one of many interesting Azerbaijan facts!

What I loved most about the building was the way it seemed to fold in on itself, leaving no sharp angles but rather waves of undulation. It truly is a feat of engineering and well worth a visit despite being slightly out of the way. One of the most convenient things about traveling in Baku is that Uber rides are incredibly cheap (no doubt thanks to the extremely low cost of fuel in Azerbaijan). Even though this is located about halfway between the city center and the airport, visiting the center only costs a few manat ($1-2) by taxi.

Be careful visiting in the middle of the day if it is a hot day out. We visited twice to capture the Center in different lights, and while the building was easier to photograph in daylight, the daytime temperatures of 90 F/32 C felt way closer to 100 F / 38C due to the reflection of all the white light. Bring water and limit your time outside the center if it’s a hot day — I started to feel ill and had to sit down after grabbing a few photos because I wasn’t well-hydrated.

Check out the modern art exhibit inside

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

I was feeling like I was starting to get heat stroke due to the hot weather and not being properly hydrated, so I didn’t actually go inside the museum myself. However, my friend Stephanie went inside the Heydar Aliyev Center and said it was well-worth a visit.

Amidst the exhibits, there was information about Heydar Aliyev (naturally) as well as meeting areas and a café. Entry was 15 AZN.

Climb the Maiden’s Tower

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

The Maiden’s Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Baku. Its exact construction is hard to pinpoint, but it likely existed in some form as early back as the 700 BCE and was one part of a Zoroastrian fire temple (more on that in a bit). However, its current structure was formed closer to the 12 century CE.

Its exact purpose is far from clear, and its origin is still the stuff of legend today. I won’t pretend to understand its purpose; but I do know two things: it is super difficult to photograph properly, and the view from above is gorgeous and well worth the 10 AZN (~6 USD) entry fee to climb to the top.

Walk the streets of the Old City

The Old City of Baku goes by a few names: the Inner City, the Walled City, or Icheri Sheher in Azeri. The Old City of Baku used to be the entire city of Baku, numbering a mere 7,000 people. In the early 1800s, however, under the thumb of the Russian empire, Baku began to expand outwards until it became the 4-million person strong metropolis it is today.

However, walking around in the Old City, you’ll almost forget you’re in the largest city in the Caucasus as you pass by historic mosques-turned-museums, former palaces, and the odd souvenir shop here and there. It’s touristy for sure, but definitely one of the top things to do in Baku.

Check out the adorable Baku Museum of Miniature Books

Certified by Guinness (the certificate of which is proudly displayed on the museum walls), the Museum of Miniature Books is the largest collection of miniature books in the world. When I heard about this museum, I immediately assumed it was a gimmick. However, I later learned that in actuality, the history of miniature books goes back quite a long ways in Azerbaijan, part of the tradition of Persian miniature painting that has been popular for centuries.

The Baku Museum of Miniature Books is free to enter. Since it’s located in the Old Town, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll stumble across it; give yourself at least 10 or 15 minutes to explore it. The museum contains well over 6,500 books from 64 different countries, including three smallest books in the world that measure just 2 millimeters by 2 millimeters and require a microscope to read (perhaps to be expected, I managed to miss this until doing research for this article).

See the gorgeous Bibi-Heybat mosque

Built in the early 1990s after Azerbaijan gained independence from the crumbling USSR, the Bibi-Heybat mosque is a re-creation of a historic mosque that was blown up by Soviet forces in 1936. As a result, the architecture of the mosque is quite unique, with several highly-reflective windows that mirror the Caspian Sea just ahead of it, but the rest of the mosque is quite understated.

However, the inside is a whole different story, with a carpeted prayer room and an ornate separate room that serves as a mausoleum of Ukeyma Khanum, who was one of Muhammad’s descendants. The mausoleum is an important site of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims in the region.

While I’m not religious, I love visiting mosques and I found Bibi-Heybat to be one of the more unique examples of a mosque I had seen. I found the inner room to be incredibly beautiful and peaceful with its jewel green walls and gorgeous stained glass windows. Its stained glass is unique, done in the Sheki style called shabaka, made without nails or glue, with the pieces fit together like a puzzle.

While the Bibi-Heybat mosque is located slightly outside the city center, it is a very cheap 10-minute Uber ride to get there – expect to pay about 3 manat (less than $2) to get there.

See ancient rock art at Gobustan National Park

The Caucasus has been an important region in the development of human history, and nowhere is that more obvious than at Gobustan (also written Qobustan in Azeri) National Park, where the oldest rock art dates back at least 20,000 years. The rock carvings amazingly well-preserved, and you’re able to see the forms of men and women, people hunting, people in boats, and even some goats!

We went by ourselves with a rental car, and it was easy enough to get there, although we missed the exit the first time as there were no markers saying it was the exit for Gobustan (they don’t seem to believe in highway signs in Azerbaijan) and we were having issues with Google Maps navigation, despite having Azeri SIM cards. Still, upon arrival it was easy enough to get there. If you don’t want to brave Azeri drivers who don’t believe in lanes, I recommend a guided tour like this one.

There is also an excellent-looking museum, but due to insanely large and boisterous school groups (we happened to be traveling on a national holiday, when museums were free all day), we quickly booked it out of the museum. I’m not sure how busy it would be on a normal day, though. There is usually a 4 AZN ($2.50 USD) entrance fee, but we visited on a free day.

Be sure to check out the gorgeous views of the Caspian Sea, with its vibrant blues and turquoises, from a vantage point in Gobustan.

Check out the gurgling mud volcanoes near Gobustan

I’ll admit it — we messed up here by trying to go with our own car. Google Maps wasn’t able to give us any directions, as it’s not a proper road but rather a dirt path, and unable to get correct directions from anyone due to not speaking sufficient Russian/Azeri. We had to return our car by around 4:30 PM in order to be on time for our flight out to Nakhchivan, so when we hit a roadblock in finding our way to the mud volcanoes, we quickly scrapped it in lieu of seeing other things on our itinerary (which I’ll go into more detail on in a bit).

I’ve heard it’s better to go with an organized tour, especially as the dirt road to the mud volcanoes can often get washed out if there’s been a lot of rainy weather. This tour on GetYourGuide has excellent reviews and includes the petrogylphs, mud volcanoes, and Bibi Heybat mosque.

Enjoy Fountain Square

Fountain Square is one of the favorite walking and meeting places in Baku. We happened to book a hotel right by Fountain Square, so we found ourselves passing through here a lot. There were always families, couples, and groups of friends walking around, making it a great place to people watch.

I recommend eating at Fisincan if you’d like to try traditional Azeri cuisine in Fountain Square with a nice atmosphere – we enjoyed the dushbara and the kyufta-bozbash, and the lula kebab was quite nice also (the plov was fine, but nothing too special).

Try classic Azerbaijani cuisine

Azeri cuisine is a blend of traditional Caucasian cooking, but also touched by the Turkish, Persian, and Russian influences that have shaped its history and thus its food as well. While I wouldn’t put Azeri cuisine in my list of top favorites, I found it pretty easy to find something I liked at every restaurant.

My biggest tip: Azerbaijan really excels at soups. In my two weeks in Azerbaijan, I literally never once had a bad soup. While I found a lot of the main dishes to be lacking one component, the soups were always well-balanced and full of flavor. My favorites were dovga (a yogurt and herb soup), kyufta-bozbash (a lamb meatball and vegetable soup), and merci (a lentil soup quite similar to Turkish mercimek)…. though even their simple chicken (toyuq) soups were always delicious as well.

Always get the soup.

In terms of the food, I found kebabs to be quite reliable in Azerbaijan. I never quite enjoyed the plov they offer, but others may disagree with me. Generally, I found the chicken dishes to be tastier than the meat dishes, probably because I found the lamb in Azerbaijan to be quite gamey (and I’m usually a fan of lamb).

Break for cay

Tea culture in Azerbaijan is huge, and it’s not uncommon to take an hour-long (or longer) break in the middle of your day to relax, sit with friends, and enjoy several rounds of tea, perhaps with a side of shisha.

Azeri tea is served in a fashion similar to Turkey, with tulip-shaped glass cups with no handle, so that you have to hold the cup near the lip to avoid burning your fingers. I found Azeri tea to be quite enjoyable, milder than Turkish tea but still quite flavorful. I recommend picking up some Azeri cay as a souvenir!

Visit the Ateshgah Fire Temple

Azerbaijan sits atop a seemingly endless reserve of petroleum — so much so that in certain places, when fires have started, they just haven’t stopped. These “eternal flames” last for decades (and maybe even longer), burning constantly but not destructively. So it’s no surprise that Azerbaijan was the birthplace of fire-worshipping religions, and that to this day Azerbaijan has the nickname “The Land of Fire.”

One of the prime examples of a fire-worshipping temple can be found just outside of Baku at the Ateshgah Temple. While the temple itself only dates back to the 17th century, the site where it was built has been a holy site of Zoroastrian origin for millennia, pre-dating the arrival of Islam in Azerbaijan.

Zoroastrianism is widely misunderstood to be all about the worshipping of fire, but that’s not necessarily true. Fire is but one of the elements significant to Zoroastrians, and rather is a symbol of purity and truth, respected but not worshipped per se.

Anyway, when Islam arrived in Azerbaijan, the Zoroastrian temple that used to be where Ateshgah Temple now is was destroyed. It wouldn’t be rebuilt until centuries later, when fire-worshipping Hindus arrived in the area and built the present day temple. The temple as it exists today was in use from the 17th century until the mid 19th century, when the formerly-thought-to-be “eternal” flame went out. Taking this as a bad omen, fire-worshippers believed it was a sign from God and abandoned the temple. It has since been refurbished and converted into a museum, complete with an artificial eternal flame.

Entry costs 2 AZN but is free on holidays. We went in our rental car, as it’s not too far from the Baku airport. If you don’t want to self-drive, which I only recommend for experienced drivers in foreign countries, it’s much easier to join up with a guided tour. This tour is well-reviewed and includes both Yanar Dag and Ateshgah Temple. You also can take an Uber or taxi from Baku to Ateshgah, which is inexpensive, perhaps about 30-40 AZN or so roundtrip.

Check out the eternal flame of Yanar Dag

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

If you’d like to see a living “eternal flame,” Yanar Dag is worth a visit. While opinions vary on whether or not it’s worth seeing, I’m of the opinion that it makes a good portion of a trip that combines with Ateshgah or some other sights in the Absheron peninsula. I’ve heard it’s more impressive after dark, but I’ve also read that it’s closed after 7 PM, so really you’d only be able to see it in the dark in the winter.

According to lore, the fire at Yanar Dag was started by a shepherd, who carelessly flicked a cigarette and ignited a small fire that started in the 1950s, and decades later, it still hasn’t gone out or spread further. It’s fed by a natural gas reserve, which is kind of remarkable to see.

I believe we paid 2 manat each to enter, but I don’t recall. There is also a small Soviet era WW2 memorial quite close by to Yanar Dag (walking distance or only a few minutes by car) that is also worth seeing if you have a car or have a taxi arranged.

See the castles in Azerbaijan

Who knew that the outskirts of Baku had not one but two castles? Ramana Tower, which is built on a hillside amidst a bunch of nondescript oil fields. The drive around Ramana Tower is quite unappealing, honestly – the oil boom has not been kind on the landscape.

The Mardakan “Quadrangular” castle is also quite interesting, and you’ll hardly see another tourist there — we got quite a few surprised glances from the locals when we showed up there. There is theoretically a caretaker who has the keys to the gate and can show you around, but we didn’t see a way in when we were there.

Check out the National Museum of History of Azerbaijan

The National Museum of History is in a gorgeous building, the former residence of oil magnate Haji Taghiyev. The museum is ambitious, covering everything from prehistoric people to present-day Azerbaijan, with a heavy focus on the conflict with Armenia. While I won’t get into the politics here for reasons that should be obvious, there’s no denying that the National Museum of History of Azerbaijan has some… opinions.

Tell us how you really feel.

Bias aside, I found it worthwhile, and it was certainly an interesting insight on how Azeris see themselves (at least through the national, official lens). Entrance costs 5 manat and almost every exhibit has sufficient English-language descriptions.

Stroll the seaside

Baku is located on the Caspian Sea, and you can’t miss walking down the seaside promenade during your time in Baku. I walked from the Maiden Tower all the way down to Crystal Hall, passing several interesting Baku points of interest which I’ll go into more detail on later. It took me about an hour and a half to walk from the Old Town to Crystal Hall, stopping for plenty of photos along the way.

Ride the Baku Eye

Right on Baku Boulevard, you can’t miss the Baku Eye on your way towards the Crystal Hall.

Yes, not one to be left out, Baku has its very own touristic Ferris wheel. Fortunately, though, riding the Baku Eye will only cost you a fraction of what pricier Ferris wheels will cost you — 5 AZN (less than $3 USD) to the London Eye’s whopping $30.

I walked past it and meant to go back at night to take a whirl given how cheap it was and that the views would have been killer, but I got sleepy instead. This is why I’m a terrible blogger.

See the strangely shaped Crystal Hall

Built in 2012 when Baku hosted Eurovision, the yearly song contest I couldn’t give less of a shit about, the Crystal Hall is now a weird fixture on Baku’s architecture circuit. While it’s supposed to be modern, it actually looks slightly Brutalist to me in its form.

It’s still widely used, and artists as famous as Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Christina Aguilera have performed on its stage since its inception.

It’s also right by the National Flag Square, with what used to be the tallest but is now only the second-tallest flagpole in the world. If you’re curious, the city that bested it is — oddly — Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Former Soviet countries like big flags, I guess.

Check out the old Soviet circus

Hat tip to Megan Starr (you need to read her article on 25 things to know before visiting Baku — it made my trip go really seamlessly because I knew to anticipate certain quirks and inconveniences in Baku), who posted about this circus on her Facebook and sparked my interest.

While I don’t support circuses and wouldn’t recommend you actually attend a show (I don’t know if it’s still in use, actually – there is zero information on the internet), I am fascinated by Soviet architecture. Azerbaijan has done a pretty thorough job of keeping its Soviet past out of eyeshot, likely due to the fact that its oil reserves make it one of the richest post-Soviet countries. But you can still find little reminders here and there, whether it’s a war memorial with a hammer and sickle, or a strange Soviet circus in the middle of Baku.

Admire the ultra-modern Carpet Museum

I didn’t actually go inside this museum as I’ve been to carpet museums in Turkey, but I did enjoy photographing this one from the outside — it’s one of the most interesting, and also most literal, museum buildings I’ve ever seen.

It is supposed to be really interesting on the inside if you’re interested in learning more about the craft of carpet making. Apparently, this is one of the best places to shop for a carpet if you are looking to buy as well, with quality guaranteed, knowledgeable sellers, and fair prices for the quality of the craftsmanship.

Go on a hunt for some of the strange architecture

While I’ve mentioned several strange architecture points by name already, I also think there’s a lot of fun in just walking around Baku and noticing some of the odd architecture. One of my favorite buildings that we just happened to stumble across was the Heydar Aliyev Sarayi (yes, every other building and street seems to be named after him. There are also billboards of him everywhere – I’ve never seen anything like it except Cuba)

Meet the local kitties

Similar as you’ll find in Istanbul (though to a lesser degree for sure), Baku has tons of adorable, well-fed street cats who love nothing more than a good head scratch. For the most part, they’re not afraid of people in the slightest and will even deign to wake themselves up from a nap in the sunshine to purr and give you some love right back.

If you’re a cat lover, you’ll love this part of visiting Baku.

See the iconic Flame Towers

While there’s really no need to actually go to the Flame Towers themselves (I learned this the hard way – you’re way too close to actually see them), there are several viewpoints where you can see the Flame Towers quite well. The best view is supposed to be from the TV Tower, but when I heard that there was a mandatory minimum of 20 AZN ($12 USD)  and that you could only take photos through extremely dirty windows, I decided I could skip it.

The Flame Towers were built on a hill; therefore, they’re quite easy to spot from many different spots in the city, and it’s not uncommon that you’ll see one of the three buildings of the Flame Towers peeking out between buildings like some all-glass tentacle.

You can get a good view of the Flame Towers from a lot of places… the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, the Soviet Circus (that’s where I snapped this photo – just turn around and it’s right there), certain parts of the Old Town, down on Baku Boulevard, even from Heydar Aliyev Center if you have a decent zoom…

See the strange modern public art

It’s funny, for as flashy and glassy as Baku’s modern architecture scene is, their public art is a bit… odd? Out of place? I’m not quite sure how to classify it.

Whether it’s the strange multicolored snails in front of the otherwise ultra-classy Heydar Aliyev Center, the rainbow stacked teacup structure in the Shirvanshahs complex, or the weird hand coming out from the ground to grab a tree (no, not creepy at all, Baku…) it’s certain to puzzle, if not delight, when you stumble across it.

Where to Stay in Baku

The value of the manat has dropped a lot since 2015; as a result, accommodations in Baku offer travelers quite a good value at the moment. Baku has accommodations to suit every budget, from backpacker hostels (though you won’t find many backpackers in Azerbaijan) all the way to insane, ultra-luxury 5* hotels.

Budget: If you are traveling Baku on a budget, there are some good options. I didn’t stay in a hostel during my time in Baku, but if I were to choose to stay in a hostel, I would definitely pick Salam Hostel Baku. It’s located in the heart of the Old Town, which is one of the most picturesque areas of Baku and is also super central to the major sights. It’s not the cheapest hostel option, but it is a step above the others, with perks like privacy curtains, a stunning hostel kitchen you’ll actually want to cook in,  beautiful interior décor, and air conditioning (a must in stuffy summers!). Check prices, reviews, and availability here. 

Mid-range: If you have a bit more flexibility in your budget, I recommend the trendy Seven Boutique Hotel Baku. Located in Fountain Square not far from the Old City, this is one of the best locations in Baku. The rooms are spacious and modern, the staff is friendly, and the included breakfast is very generous. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Baku does luxury ridiculous well! The famous Flame Towers are the most iconic place to stay in Baku, as the building is actually a Fairmont, one of the top luxury hotel brands in the world! You can check prices, reviews, and availability of the Flame Towers here – but book in advance if you choose it as this hotel often books up. Of course, the downside of staying at the Flame Towers is that you can’t see them from your room (because you’re inside them!)

How to Get from Baku Airport to Downtown

My friend Megan wrote a comprehensive guide to getting from the airport to the city center; personally, we came in via taxi since we just came from the old terminal where we had booked our tickets to Nakhchivan and we found some taxi drivers in front. We negotiated with a taxi for 25 manat to take us downtown. Had we been at the main terminal, we probably could have used Uber and saved some money!