Baku And Beyond: Your Essential First-Timer's Guide To Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, officially known as the Republic of Azerbaijan, is a transcontinental country situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia
Guide to Azerbaijan
Flame Towers in Baku, AzerbaijanPhoto: Shutterstock

Positioned at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is a transcontinental nation of 11 million people. Since the turbulent post-Soviet era of the 1990s, Azerbaijan has transformed, thanks to its oil wealth. Now a notable global player, it hosts events like Formula 1 races and Europa League football matches, which have boosted tourism. In fact, Skyscanner's Travel Trends 2024 report highlights a 438 per cent increase in searches for Baku, the country's capital, in 2023.

Ankur Talwar, a PR professional from Delhi, chose Azerbaijan for his vacation in late 2023. He found it to be an excellent choice, with budget-friendly rates, including five-star hotel stays at just INR 6,246 per night. "A full-day chauffeur-driven city tour was a mere INR 3,331, while round trips to destinations four hours away were a steal at INR 8,329. Azerbaijan proved to be a haven for a budget-conscious traveller like me," Talwar told OT.

Top Attractions

Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, blends ancient heritage with modern opulence. Influences from Turkish, Russian, Persian, and European cultures converge here. The city's oil wealth fuels its contemporary skyline, notably the iconic Flame Towers. İçəri Şəhər, the Old City, features historic sites like the Maiden's Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs. Modern attractions include the Heydar Aliyev Centre and Şəhidlər Xiyabanı. Baku offers a vibrant nightlife, including Agabala, Balagan, Enerji Club Baku, and Hashtag Bar. Beyond Baku, visit Nakhchivan, GanjLand in Ganja, Baku Zoo, and Sheki for varied adventures. Explore vineyards in the Caspian shoreline, Shirvan foothills, Ganja, Karabakh, and Lankaran-Astara.

Visa

Azerbaijan has an electronic visa system. The process involves three steps: applying through the government portal, completing the necessary information and payment, and receiving the visa via email within three days. The cost for the e-visa is INR 1,600.

Currency

The designated currency in Azerbaijan is the manat. As per the present exchange rates, INR 1 equals AZN 0.020. While debit and credit cards are common, carry cash to avoid foreign exchange markups.

Flights

A flight from Delhi to Baku typically lasts approximately five hours. Round-trip tickets generally amount to around INR 30,000.

Accommodation

Azerbaijan boasts numerous luxury hotels, including nearly 250 in Baku alone, such as The Merchant Baku and Winter Park Hotel Baku, with rates starting from INR 9,000. The country also offers diverse accommodations, from upscale to budget-friendly dormitories with bunk beds. For example, A & F HOSTEL in Baku caters to solo travellers with bunk beds priced as low as INR 683. Additionally, moderately priced options like Cityland Hotel Baku, located in the capital city and well-rated, offer rates starting from INR 5,000.

Local Travel

Transportation within Baku is quite affordable. A single trip on the metro or bus costs approximately INR 10. Travelling from Heydar Aliyev International Airport to Baku City Centre (28 May Metro Station) typically amounts to around INR 73. Meanwhile, public transportation like marshrutkas (minibuses) and trains are cost-effective for moving between cities. Fares for journeys between destinations typically stay under INR 668, and shorter distances might only cost around INR 160.

Dining

Dining out doesn't usually exceed INR 1,600 per person daily. You can explore local eateries for authentic dishes, where a satisfying meal with a beverage costs under INR 800. Restaurants around Baku's Nizami Street and Fountain Square tend to be pricier. For budget-conscious travellers, opting for supermarket purchases and self-catering can keep daily expenses under INR 400.

Shopping

Food lovers shouldn't overlook Yashil Bazaar in Baku, renowned as one of the largest food markets in the Caucasus, brimming with diverse culinary treasures. For those keen on shopping, Baku offers an array of options, from exploring malls to browsing local markets, where you can discover everything from costume jewellery and traditional antiques to spices and designer attire. Venture into craft shops in Sheki or engage in kelaghayi (four-cornered silk shawl) making in Bagsal for distinctive shopping adventures.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Azerbaijan is just before summer, between April and June, for blooming flora and lush greenery or in October for autumn. While the lowlands can be scorching during summer, higher elevations offer moderate temperatures. Despite the chilly winter, you can still enjoy Baku's New Year celebrations.

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