Between East and West

Perched on the very edge of Europe, Azerbaijan occupies an unusual position both geographically and culturally, intertwining elements of Russia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Central Asia.

Our short Azerbaijan itinerary takes you on a journey through a land that has remained shrouded in mystery for centuries. We start in Baku, the oil-rich capital, which blends the ultra-modern with the staunchly traditional. We visit its historic quarter and explore its unique architecture. Outside of the city, there are strange geological phenomena. We visit the flaming mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes that have given Azerbaijan the name ‘land of fire’.

We explore unique communities and historic towns packed full of ancient mosques and mausoleums, where the past never seems too far away.  Then we head into the mountains where villagers welcome us into their homes with traditional Azeri hospitality.

For the truly adventurous, the enclave of Nakhchivan is a short flight away, nestled against the borders with Iran and Turkey. Few people ever make it this far and you can expect to be almost the only western travellers here.

Azerbaijan deserves more recognition than it currently receives and once you’ve travelled here, we’re sure you’ll agree.

Between East and West

Highlights

  • The mud volcanoes of Gobustan
  • Explore vibrant Baku
  • The mountain village of Xinaliq
  • Visit atmospheric Shekhi

Day 1 - Baku

Arrive in Baku and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar.

Baku

Baku is a city with a split personality. Sitting on the edge of the Caspian Sea its fortunes have long been tied with the discovery of oil, and in the early 19th century the city provided half of the world’s petroleum. This boom led to a massive programme of construction, and in the streets of Baku today the visitor can find grand mansions and elaborate religious buildings harking back to the days of the ‘oil barons’. Today this continues, with Baku in the midst of transforming itself into a city of the future – glittering glass-faced buildings sprout up in the centre, their designs modern and brash, and some call Baku the ‘Dubai of the Caucasus’.

Look beyond this though and you will find a much older city in the Icheri Sheher, the traditional quarter characterised by winding alleys and hidden mosques, bounded by robust city walls. It is here that you will find some of Baku’s most interesting monuments including the enigmatic Maiden’s Tower, which features on just about every piece of tourist literature about Baku – stretching almost 30 metres into the sky its origins are unclear but have given rise to many theories. The Shirvanshahs’ Palace dates back to the 15th century, a large walled complex of domed roofs and quiet mausoleums that was the seat of rule in centuries past, while outside old caravanserais attest to the importance of Baku on the old Silk Road.

One of the few cities in the region to have escaped the predations of the Mongols, Baku is a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and ultra-modern, reinventing itself but not forgetting its heritage.

Day 2 - Gobustan - Absheron Peninsula

Head out of Baku to Gobustan, known for its prehistoric rock art and unique mud volcanoes. From here, continue to the fascinating Absheron Peninsula with its ‘flaming mountain’, Yanardag, and the Temple of the Fire Worshippers at Ateshgah. Return to Baku for the evening. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)

Absheron Peninsula

Jutting out into the Caspian Sea, the Absheron Peninsula is home to some of the country’s finest sights, all within a day trip from Baku. One of the most unusual is the ‘flaming mountain’ of Yanardag, another of Azerbaijan’s bizarre geological features where natural gas seeps from the rock, accidentally ignited in the 1950s and burning to this day. At Ateshgah, the ‘temple of the fire-worshippers’ surrounds an eternal flame, another reminder of why this country is often called the Land of Fire. In Mardakan a fine medieval fortress stands, dating back to the 12th century and part of the defensive system of the peninsula, while all around the area smaller shrines, caravanserais and palaces attest to a rich history.

Gobustan

Gobustan is known for two very different things. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rocky landscape holds a number of rather impressive petroglyphs depicting warriors, boats, camel caravans and battles dating back between several thousand years, as well as the remains of settlements and ancient burial sites. Equally impressive though are the mud volcanoes – there are almost four hundred here, which represent about half of the world’s total. Gases bubble up through the mud and belch their way to the surface, and every few years flames erupt from the earth. This is a rather otherworldly place and a real pleasure to explore.

Day 3 - Baku

Spend today exploring Baku. We visit the National Museum and the historic quarter with buildings dating back to the 14thcentury including ancient caravanserais, mosques, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the enigmatic and mysterious Maiden’s Tower, among other sights. In the early evening, we visit the Hedar Aliyev Centre – a Zaha Hadid masterpiece. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 4 - Guba – Xinaliq

Head north to the town of Guba. On the way we stop at the mountain of Beshbarmag, a natural fortress that is a local site for pilgrimage. From here we continue to the traditional mountain village of Xinaliq, to explore the area on foot and have lunch at a local family home. Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, Xinaliq is Azerbaijan’s highest mountain village and its remote location and stunning scenery is a real highlight of the trip. Return to Guba for the evening. Overnight Terrace Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 5 - Shamakha – Lahic - Qabala

Continue to Shamakha, visiting the 13th century mausoleum of Diri Baba in the village of Maraza en route. At Shamakha we visit the historic mosque, the seven tombed mausoleum of Yeddi Gumbaz, and the graveyard of the Shirvanshahs. From here we drive to the traditional village of Lahic with its old mosques, cobbled streets and craftsmen, and then continue to Qabala for the evening. Overnight Qabala Karavansarai or similar. (B)

Shamakha

One of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, Shamakha was once the regional capital and a major centre for trade and commerce. It was the base and key city of the Shirvanshahs – the rulers of the area – from the 7th to 16th centuries with a mixed ethnic population of Persians, Azeris, Armenians and Georgians, but was finally annexed by Russia in the early 19th century. During its existence, it has suffered numerous earthquakes with many buildings having been destroyed, and in previous times was famous for its traditional dancers.

Day 6 - Shekhi - Kish

Drive to Shekhi, one of the most interesting towns in Azerbaijan. After some free time to wander around at leisure, we visit the medieval fortress and the Khan’s Palace with its elaborate decorations, before heading to the nearby village of Kish, site of the oldest church in the Caucasus. Overnight Shekhi Palace Hotel or similar. (B)

Shekhi

One of the most historic towns in Azerbaijan, Shekhi lies on the forested slopes of the Caucasus Mountains amongst spectacular scenery. A centre of resistance against the Persians in the 18th century, it broke free to become its own khanate, and today its most impressive attraction is the Khan’s Palace with its attractive garden and colourfully decorated exterior. The building was constructed without the use of a single nail and is one of the most attractive monuments dating back to this era.

Not to be missed are the caravanserais – only three remain out of an original five but their state of preservation means that it is not difficult to envisage life here hundreds of years ago. Sheki also holds a number of museums and old mosques within its historic centre, and not far from the town lies the Albanian church at Kish, reputed to be 1500 years old.

Day 7 - Shekhi – Baku

We visit the bazaar in the morning for an insight into local life, then return to Baku for the night. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Baku

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)

Please note that this trip is part of a longer three-week tour travelling overland through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia and so while some people will be starting their tour in Baku and visiting only Azerbaijan, others will be continuing on to Georgia. If you would like information about our tour combinations in the Caucasus region please let us know.


Nakhchivan Extension

Day 1 - Nakhchivan

From Baku we fly to the Azeri enclave of Nakhchivan, separated from the rest of the country by Armenia and bordering Iran and Turkey. Nakhchivan holds some of the country’s most enigmatic sights and this afternoon we explore its eponymous ‘capital’. Visit the 12th century mausoleum of Momin Khatum, the tomb of Yusuf Ibn Kuseyir, the Imamzade Mosque as well as the ruins of the Alinja Fortress. Overnight Grand Nakhchivan Hotel or similar.

Nakhchivan

Nakhchivan is one of those curious entities dotted throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia, an enclave separated from its motherland by the machinations of the Stalinist era and a result of the ‘divide and conquer’ policy that typified Soviet attitudes towards ethnic minorities. Reputedly the land where Noah’s Ark landed after the flood (contested hotly by Turkey), Nakhchivan is most certainly an ancient land whatever the truth, having featured in the writings of Ptolemy in the 2nd century BC. It was an independent kingdom for its early existence, then conquered by the Seljuks before being absorbed into the Persian empire.

Day 2 - Nakhchivan – Baku

Visit the pretty village of Garabaglar, once an important trading centre, then drive to the holy mountain of Ashabu Kaf, where legend has it that seven holy men fell asleep in caves for over three hundred years. Today it is an important pilgrimage site and we can expect to see local people at the mountain and observe their unique traditions, a mixture of Islam and older beliefs. After lunch, we fly back to Baku for our final night in Azerbaijan. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Baku

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Traditional shrine - Azerbaijan holidays
Old men playing backgammon in Baku - Azerbaijan holidays

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

All travellers will require a visa to enter Azerbaijan, which must be obtained before travel. Should you require an invitation letter we will provide one for you. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum, you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Azerbaijan is the manat. It is best to bring either US dollars or Euros for exchange purposes – British pounds can be difficult to exchange.

It’s not difficult to change money in Azerbaijan, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are a good number of ATM machines in the larger cities, although these may not always work, so it is best not to rely on these as a source of funds. Credit cards are widely accepted in the better restaurants and hotels, but not so much elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to Nagorno-Karabagh, a disputed territory claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Traditional shrine - Azerbaijan holidays
Old men playing backgammon in Baku - Azerbaijan holidays
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
05 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,075
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
01 May 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,099
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
04 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,099
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available