Azerbaijan travel guide
The original ‘East-meets-West’ destination, Azerbaijan sashays between space-age cityscapes and Arabian Nights exotica, taking in some of the most extraordinary landscapes in Caucasia en route.
Sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, this former Soviet Republic is marginally bigger than Ireland, yet boasts an astonishing variety of natural wonders – from snow-capped mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes to sandy deserts and subtropical forests.
The northern hinterland is arguably the prettiest region thanks to the Caucasus Mountains, which rise to the misty heights of 4,466m (14,652ft). These lofty peaks are home to bears, wolves and leopards, not to mention nomadic shepherds, who move their flocks up and down these mountains in search of fresh pastures, as they have done for thousands of year.
Meanwhile, along the boulevards of downtown Baku, nouveau riche residents butterfly between expensive boutiques. The capital’s exclusive shops, modern architecture and luxury hotels – spoils of Caspian Sea oil – jar somewhat with the UNESCO old town, not to mention the poorer communities outside Baku. Visitors may feel the black gold bounty is not benefitting everyone.
Though oil has transformed the economy in recent years, Azerbaijan has always been of strategic importance. Nestling on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the camel caravans of the Silk Road once passed through the land, which, over the centuries, has been incorporated into the Persian, Turkish and Russian empires.
Today Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and, although Islamic, the mood is determinedly secular. Alcohol is not only readily available, but proudly produced; grapes have been cultivated here for millennia, and local vineyards are developing some excellent wines. Azeri cuisine is also enjoying a renaissance thanks a profusion of new eateries popping up in downtown Baku.
Sounds like the next big thing, then? Not quite, but the government has ambitious plans to boost tourism to Azerbaijan. Go while it’s relatively quiet.
86,600 sq km (33,400 sq miles).
9,915,179 (UN estimate 2016).
112.9 per sq km.
President Ilham Aliyev since 2003.
Prime Minister Artur Rasizade since 2003.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels in Baku are generally low, but muggings do occur from time to time after dark in the centre of town around the western bars and clubs and near dimly lit entrances of private apartments. Take sensible precautions: be vigilant, avoid carrying large sums of money and don’t walk alone at night. Try to arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible by a private/company driver, or a known taxi firm.
You can report a crime at any local police station or by telephoning the police on 102. English speaking staff are available on the telephone, but when reporting a crime at a police station take someone with you who can interpret. Don’t sign any documents you don’t understand.
Corruption is an everyday aspect of life in Azerbaijan. You should avoid paying bribes.
The FCO advise against all travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the military occupied area surrounding it. This area is the subject of a continuing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and although a cease-fire has been in place since 1994 there are regular exchanges of gunfire across the Line of Contact. Tensions along the line of contact and the international borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia remain high in 2016. Some areas may be heavily land mined.
The land border between Azerbaijan and Russia (Dagestan) is no longer closed. The FCO continues to advises against all travel to Dagestan (for further details, see our travel advice page for Russia). If you hold a valid visa it’s possible to cross the Iranian border at Astara.
You can drive in Azerbaijan using a UK or EU driving licence. Right hand drive cars are not permitted in Azerbaijan.
Many cars are poorly maintained, and the standard of driving is erratic. Accidents are common, mainly due to poor or reckless driving and inconsistent enforcement of traffic rules. One-way only signs are often ignored and road closures and diversions are not marked. Traffic lights are often switched to flashing amber at night, which means both directions can proceed with caution. Many taxis don’t have seat belts.
Take care when driving particularly at night. Many roads are of poor quality and badly lit.
Drink driving laws are strict and there is a zero limit on drinking alcohol and driving. Observe the speed limit and make sure you have adequate insurance.
If you’re in a vehicle that’s travelling at an unsafe speed you should instruct the driver to slow down.
In the winter months snowfall often causes problems. Keep a blanket, shovel, torch, snacks and old carpet (to help if you get stuck in snow) if you intend to travel out of Baku in the winter months, or if heavy snowfall is forecast in Baku.
See the RAC guide on driving in Azerbaijan.
The Baku Metro is reasonably maintained and has basic safety equipment and procedures. However, signs are only in Azerbaijani. There are police at each station and security checks of bags and belongings.
If you travel by overland train, secure your valuables, don’t leave the compartment unattended, and lock the door from the inside.
A list of incidents and accidents in Azerbaijan can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
In 2008, an International Civil Aviation Organisation audit of aviation safety oversight found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Azerbaijan was below the global average.
The European Commission publishes a list of airlines banned from operating within the EU. The list is based on random inspections on aircraft of airlines that operate flights to and from EU airports. The fact that an airline is not included in the list does not automatically mean that it meets the applicable safety standards.
The FCO is unable to offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The political situation in Azerbaijan is generally calm.
Demonstrations and opposition rallies occasionally take place. There were small-scale protests in some regional towns in January 2016. Demonstrations are usually heavily policed and there has been violence on occasions. Keep well away from any large gatherings. British media representatives should make sure they are clearly identifiable.