On an average day, rolling out of bed seems to be the hardest thing to be done. But occasionally, I wake up ready to take on the world, my heart pounding with the excitement of having achieved something. Even if it is something minor. Like perhaps having convinced you to plan a trip to one of the beautiful places I’ve written about. And wishfully thinking that you are planning that trip to Azerbaijan and will be booking your tickets soon. And it is my duty then to equip you with some tips to make travel smoother and safer.
Travel & documents
- Applying for a visa to the Republic of Azerbaijan is easier with the e-visa facility. Fill up some details on the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Electronic Visa Application System website, pay the said amount and visa will be issued within two-three working days. An urgent visa is issued within hours. Apply for the visa here https://evisa.com.az/en/
- The country issues a visa for 90 days but you cannot stay in Azerbaijan for more than 30 days. For a stay beyond 10 days, register with the State Migration Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Luckily, this process is free of cost and can be done online.
- Figure out your place of stay before embarking on the visa process. Why? Because ‘Place of stay in Azerbaijan’ is information you need to provide when applying for the visa.
- The country has around 10 airports. Airlines flying to Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport include Azerbaijan Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, among others.
- The local currency is the Azerbaijan Manat that is NOT available at exchanges outside the country. Get some local currency at the foreign exchange in the airport and other select places.
- Credit and debit cards are accepted at shopping malls and restaurants in Baku. But most local provision stores and eateries prefer to transact with cash. Smaller cities outside Baku also prefer cash over plastic.
- Don’t forget to inform the credit card company about a possible transaction from a foreign location.
- The capital city Baku is a delight to walk through with its pedestrian walkways and underpasses.
- If walking is not your cup of tea, use the taxis, buses or even the metro links.
- To visit other parts of the country from Baku, you have the option of buses that ply between cities. Or you could hire a taxi to drive you around as we did for the trip to the mud volcanoes in Gobustan. Rock Etchings & Mud Volcanoes of Gobustan lists all the reasons why you must visit this rocky region.
- Other than the health-related questions that pop up when you are applying for the visa,
“Confirm that you aren’t a carrier of any of the diseases listed below: 1. HIV infection 2. Hepatitis B and C”
there are no vaccines that the government has deemed necessary. But check with your general physician and get shots needed to keep you safe.
- Don’t forget to carry your basic first aid kit and medicines for general ailments. Not that the country does not have its share of chemist stores. But language can be a deterrent when trying to buy medicines.
- Carry an insect repellent. You will need it during the trips to the mountainous regions.
- Avoid drinking tap water unless it comes directly from a spring. Even the locals prefer to drink bottled water. If travelling to the outskirts carry water purifier tablets.
Clothing & some not so random tips
- Don’t forget your basic travel precautions, especially if you are travelling alone. Check out the dos and don’ts of a fellow solo traveller How to travel solo: Tips from an expert and some more tips for female travellers on ‘Trust your gut!’ Tips from a solo female traveller.
- Azeri and Russian are the predominant languages. The number of English speaking people is lower but most tourist spots have English-speaking guides. Don’t forget to ask for one.
- Be careful not to be run over by cyclists, joggers and skaters while walking along the Baku Boulevard.
- Don’t skimp on the Azeri tea routine unless you are off caffeine. Not only is it impolite to turn down tea, but that drink also keeps you hydrated and helps digest all the yumminess you’ll be gorging on. Read more about the Azeri tradition of drinking chai in Chai, halva & Azeri hospitality.
- Depending on the location of cities you will be visiting while in Azerbaijan, you need to pack for winter-summer-monsoon. The temperatures vary through the day so layering is the best option as is carrying a light raincoat while in Baku and a windcheater or waterproof jacket while in the mountainous regions.
- You will be walking a lot and some it will be done in the heat so don’t forget the sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses and comfortable shoes.
- At mosques, women are required to cover their head, arms and legs. Dress appropriately or grab one of the capes that are available at the entrance. When in a mosque, you may be approached by strangers who will give you toffees or sweets. Accept these graciously and be a part of their joy in having their wish fulfilled by the Almighty.
What to buy & save!
- Magnets: You can never go wrong with magnets so buy a couple of the ones that fit into your budget. The shop inside the Palace of the Shirvanshahs (mentioned in Baku, a potpourri of influences #Chapter I) sells interesting handmade magnets. Or you could buy the cheaper ones at the duty-free.
- Carpets: Carpet weaving is an age-old profession of Azerbaijan and there is a variety you can choose from depending on your aesthetic style and the budget. Carrying the carpet out of the country will require an export certificate that the seller can help procure.
- Armudu glasses: The traditional glasses used to drink tea in Azerbaijan, the armudu glasses are available in glass, stained glass, silver and even ceramic. Essential to the traditions of the land of flames, they make for a perfect gift or a souvenir.
- Backgammon: Among the oldest known games in the world, backgammon or its versions have been mentioned in written records for years. Buy a handcrafted set made of bone, stone or wood.
- Ceramics: The range of ceramic products available in Azerbaijan is diverse. You can buy massive fruit trays, Azeri tea sets, pots made in traditional designs or smaller artifacts to gift.
- Halva, jam & tea: You cannot go to Azerbaijan and not buy yourself some local sweets like the pakhlava, Shaki halva, shakerbura, badambura to go with the locally sourced jams and some tea. Carry home small packets of these. You can snack on these when missing your travel. Or serve the jams and sweets with a cup of Azeri tea to your friends as you regale them with stories from your trip.
- Tickets, leaflets: Save the tickets that you buy for entry at the tourist spots and those pamphlets that you pick up. They make for the loveliest souveniers. I have loads collected from past travels and often look through them, reliving and reviving my memories.
Note: If you are wondering why I have not provided information about accommodation in Azerbaijan, it is because I stayed with a host at her residence. Most cities in the country, however, have hotels that facilitate online booking.