Overlooking the Caspian Sea sits the manmade land of eternal fire. Having grown extraordinarily wealthy out of its oil-gas resources, Azerbaijan is rumoured to be the next Dubai: with dramatic skyscrapers to match. This secluded country promises everything you might hope out of a holiday, as unwinding over tea is a way of life here. But the real fun can be found in the great outdoors; as Azerbaijan is home to a history that never grows old, and a landscape that never wears out.
Azerbaijan has a wealth of opportunities worth exploring in every region. To keep things simple for a first-time visit, this article will be focusing on its most notable region: Baku.
There is so much to see here alone that travellers can easily keep busy without venturing into a different region. If you are new to trip-planning, err on the side of caution, or have some serious money or time constraints, then this may be exactly what you are looking for.
But here at Skratch we encourage our readers to travel in a style that suits them. Stay tuned until the end of this article to read our honourable mentions section — giving you the rundown on the best places outside of the Baku region to see, and sparking some serious travel inspiration whilst doing so.
Go sightseeing in the capital
Your journey starts in the sunny streets of Baku, a spacious city with over 2 million residents. Ancient history and modern influences are intertwined, giving Baku an eclectic feel. If you want some time to take everything in, then stop by highland park: the best view of this varied capital.
Strolling along the Baku boulevard can keep you busy all day, but if you are on the lookout for more, then we have you covered. Unearth what lies inside the old city’s walls and you will be charmed by Islamic architecture dating back to the 12th century. Still lived in today, these quarters have aged like a glass of fine wine: a phrase that Azerbaijan knows all too well.
Explore Azerbaijan’s ancient past
Just one hour away from Baku lies this country’s astonishing national landmark: the singing stones. Its most famous of the four would be the Gaval Dash (translating to ‘tambourine stone’), which can be found at the park’s entrance. If hit with smaller rocks, this limestone instrument echoes out the first tracings of percussion music.
When visiting Gobustan State Reserve, pay close attention to the carved illustrations found on many rocks. Some of these petroglyphs date as far back as 40,000 years ago, with the rest spanning 5 significant periods of ancient history.
All this and more can be discovered on a day trip to Gobustan, as tracing past civilisations are not the only thing fascinating about this place. Half of the entire world’s mud volcanoes can be found in this region alone; a far cry from the luscious landscape imagined before the last Ice Age.
See a burning mountain (yes, really!)
If you ever needed convincing that Azerbaijan’s nickname of ‘the land of fire’, then look no further. For something that will add an unique touch to your travels, the blazing hills of Yanar Dag are like a rite of passage when seeing this country for the first time. These flames have been brewing for at least 700 years, with some records suggesting the fire has been alive since the 13th century.
The Yanar Dag is around 35 minutes away from Baku by car, meaning that it can easily be added to your travel itinerary. This unforgettable attraction makes for some exhilarating memories and photographs; just do not get too close to the flames when taking that perfect selfie!
Cool down by the Caspian Sea
Sometimes all you need is time by the sea. The Baku region may be packed with adventure, but it also has an appreciation for the finer things in life. From luxurious resorts to secluded beaches, this romantic setting is an idyllic choice for unwinding after a long day. Maybe even over a traditionally spiced tea, a drink that Azerbaijanis delight in at any time of the day.
But if you are the type of person who is always on the go, then not to worry as there are plenty of water sports that you can do here. Seek out Shorabad, a water sports centre where you can learn how to kitesurf!
Planning a trip? Skratch has partnered with Sherpa to offer simple, trusted visa applications. Get your Azerbaijan eTA here.
Our honourable mentions
In a country so awe-inspiring as Azerbaijan, it is difficult to narrow down all the places that are worth visiting: especially when people have different priorities whilst travelling. This list is by no means the be all and end all to Azerbaijan; rather a springboard for you to get creative with your own plans!
Those who cannot get enough of hiking, the emerald mountains of Qusar (also known as Gusar) are your best friend. An excellent alternative to more popular hiking destinations like New Zealand, Qusar has a special, secluded charm that takes you back to the basics. There are four hiking trails which you can find out more about here.
Follow the north-western route to Sheki, a small city that was once a legendary stop on the Silk Road. Wander down the historical centre’s cobblestone streets and admire the distinct style of architecture all protected by its UNESCO World Heritage status. The Sheki Khan palace exudes the wealth generated by Sheki’s old silk industry, adorned with rich shades of coloured glass. Aside from its fascinating history, Sheki is also a great spot for the foodies to try their hand at a culinary masterclass.
Photography fans will want to see the region of Khizi, which has gained quite the reputation for its ‘Candy Cane mountains’: a nickname dubbed by British travel writer Mark Elliott in his book Asia Overland. This rocky landscape contrasts wonderfully with the swirling hues of pink, white and orange — like a fantasy setting come to life. Its interior is just as impressive though, as inside some of these rocks you can find fossilised belemnites. These ancient squids can only be found in one other part of the world, California’s Death Valley.