- Tolerance and multiculturalism
- Etiquette, Culture and Business Conduct
- Sports & Leisure
- Road & Rail
- Transport Within Baku City
- Public Transport
- Visas in Advance
- Useful links & Contacts
Azerbaijan’s electrical supply is 220V 50Hz.
Sockets use the European standard CEE-7/16 round-pin Europlugs so most Western European equipment will work just fine in Azerbaijan. However, British and North American travellers, amongst others, will need an adapter and suitable transformer (already provided with most modern portable electronics including cameras and computers) to use their home appliances.
Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten something. You’ll be able to find virtually any product or electronic peripheral in Baku. A good place to look for everything from hair driers to memory cards is the large electronics chain misleadingly named Music Gallery (www.mgstore.az) with a big branch in Baku’s big central 28 Mall shopping centre.
Power supply is reliable in Baku and most major centres, but in rural areas there can be occasional power failures or surges so it can be worth carrying a suitable adaptor for vulnerable equipment.
Money & Currency
Azerbaijan’s national currency is the Manat, divided into 100 gapiks (q) with coins available in 10q, 20q and more rarely 50q denominations. The manat is written with a M symbol that looks like the Euro E swivelled through 90 degrees.
Where to exchange
A large number of banks offer exchange services. Especially in central Baku you can find remarkably low buy-sell rate splits for Euros, Pounds, Roubles and especially US Dollar cash. Reconverting any extra mantas back to dollars or Euros is not problematic. Rates at hotels tend to be significantly poorer.
- Service charges are included in some but not all restaurants. Adding around 10% is appropriate.
- Porters at the airport or in a good hotel might expect around AZN 5 to 10 according to the amount of luggage.
- In taxis where you have to negotiate a fare then that sum should suffice. However, in London-style cabs working on the meter, it is polite to round up the fare to the nearest Manat for a short ride.
Credit cards are accepted in boutiques, better restaurants and upper-range hotels, but not generally in grocery stores, cafes, guesthouses or small local shops. Visa and MasterCard are most widely accepted, with Amex also respected in some establishments. The start of China Union Pay card acceptance in Azerbaijan has been mooted for 2014-15.
Cash machines are widespread throughout central Baku and increasingly common all across Azerbaijan with at least one ATM in even the smallest regional centre.
Online payment systems
There are two major domestic bill-payment systems in Azerbaijan. MilliÖn (www.million.az) has a nationwide network of terminals in public locations allowing for direct payments. GoldenPay (www.goldenpay.az) is an online service along the lines of PayPal.
If you’re bringing in more than US$1000 or the equivalent in other foreign currencies, you should declare that sum on a customs declaration and get that declaration stamped on arrival. Should you have over US$50,000, you might be asked to provide bank statements to explain its provenance. On leaving the country you are not allowed more than the total amount you initially declared on arrival. However, this does not apply to sums less than US$1000. Nationals of Azerbaijan are allowed to export up to US$10,000 in foreign currency without documentation other than the customs form.
International country code + 994
Dial-out code 00
Sometimes it seems that every Azerbaijani has their ear soldered to a mobile phone. Indeed many people have more than one phone, or use dual-SIM phones to allow for cheaper calls to different networks. Coverage is remarkably comprehensive even in rural areas, though some villages do still have only single network coverage. Some key points:
- The GSM 900 system is used. That’s the same as across Europe but not compatible with most Japanese or US cell phones.
- There are three mobile operators – Azercell (codes 050, 051), Bakcell (055) and Nar Mobile (070, 077).
- 3G service is widely available even within the Baku Metro underground railway system.
Buying a SIM Card for unlocked mobile phones is inexpensive and straightforward from one of numerous specialist shops. You will need to show a passport and to give your local address.
Most good hotels are fully equipped with WI-FI connection throughout and big hotels will also have business centres with at least a few computers. WI-FI is sometimes charged extra in major hotels but is free in dozens of cafes and restaurants across Baku and beyond. Internet cafes are fairly widespread and inexpensive. Mobile phone providers offer relatively inexpensive dongles so that you can access the web to your computer through 3G mobile networks.
Post and Courier services
Azərpoçt (AzerPost) operates the national postal system. Most domestic customers receive their mail through the nearest post office rather than by door to door delivery. Service provided is usually reliable, and seems to be getting faster: mail from North America that used to take up to a month now usually arrives in less than two weeks. For faster delivery there are a considerable range of courier service providers. All major international post and courier service companies are operating in Azerbaijan.
Tolerance and multiculturalism
Whether superstitious or religious, the faithful converge in great numbers on the Ziaratgah at Shuvelan some 35km east of Baku. With its sparkling mirror-tiled interior and beautifully patterned turquoise domes, the building looks typical many classic Islamic shrines. Yet the cemetery in which it sits hosts not just Muslim graves but also memorials to Soviet Atheists and Orthodox Christians.
This is more than a curious coincidence. Azerbaijan is determinedly multicultural, both on a personal level but also as a matter of state policy. Indeed President Aliyev declared the country one of the “world centres of multiculturalism”
Few cities in the world are as safe as Baku. Petty crime is minimal. Locals with bulging wallets sticking out of a rear pocket seem blissfully unconcerned getting onto a packed full public bus. Local women generally feel suitably secure to walk home alone even at night, or at least to jump in a taxi though it is often considered a sensible precaution to use a familiar taxi company or driver. The main hazard in Baku is crossing the road given ever busier traffic that can feel a little chaotic until you’re used to it.
A few days a year, Baku is subjected to very high winds. It’s worth being very cautious on such days as flying debris can come from unexpected directions.
Etiquette, culture and business conduct
- Azerbaijanis tend to dress more formally that Westerners both at work and when attending evening events.
- Bakuvian women typically show a preference for impractically high heels, immaculate make-up and elegant if slightly showy fashions. While some more strict Muslim women do cover their hair, this is by no means common and many that do so still have a very fine eye for Islamic chic.
- For men a smart suit and tie is usually de rigeur both for business meetings and for the theatre. Younger entrepreneurs are starting to go for the ‘Silicon Valley’ look with jeans and striped open-collared shirt, but that can be a risky choice if you aren’t sure of who you’ll be meeting. Appearances count.
- To show respect when addressing a man/woman, add the suffix –muellim/-khanum after their first name.
- Remove your shoes on entering an Azerbaijani home
- Don’t blow your nose or pick your teeth in company
- Don’t speak while chewing gum
- If someone steps on your foot, don’t be surprised if they shake your hand immediately afterwards by way of automatic apology.
- Maintain close eye-contact when talking with people of the same sex.
- Azerbaijanis are generally comfortable with less personal space than Westerners, especially between those of the same sex.
- In Baku you’ll probably find that most of your contacts speak Russian but it is polite to make preliminary greetings in Azerbaijani rather than assuming that Russian is an acceptable mode of communication
- While it’s wise to be on time, don’t get too insulted if your Azerbaijani counterpart is late for your meeting. Timing tends to be somewhat fluid.
- Be aware of an underlying protocol that is sensitive to status in assigning who speaks first, who sits where and when etc
- Politeness and tact is important. Building relationships through tea and apparently off-topic discussions are often an essential preamble to any significant agreement and should not be rushed. It is essential to build a genuine rapport. That doesn’t mean that you won’t need to be a tough negotiator but the haggling should be done within a good humoured human context.
- Eye contact is seen as a sign of sincerity.
- March 8th, International Women’s Day, is a big deal. If you’re male, it will be appropriate to give small gifts to female colleagues and staff. Indeed not doing so might be seen as mildly insulting.
- If male a male contact invites you to drink and dine at a sauna, this is not some sort of underhand pick up, but a perfectly normal social practice.
- Azerbaijanis consider it polite to refuse a couple of times before accepting so beware that no doesn’t necessarily mean no if one insists.
- Don’t tempt fate! Just as a Westerner might “cross fingers” or “knock on wood”, an Azerbaijani is likely to add the term “Insh’Allah” (God willing) to any mention of future plans.
- The term “qonaq-ol” translates approximately as “be my guest”. But while that might theoretically imply that you don’t have to pay, it is usually said as a formality… you are expected to refuse!
- If giving flowers, only give an odd number. Even numbers are only appropriate to place on graves.
- There is a special reverence for bread which, if dropped, should be kissed in apology!
- Going out with wet hair is thought to cause serious health issues while some locals think drinking ice-cold drinks will be similarly dangerous.
- Spilling salt suggests an impending argument, but can be countered by sprinkling sugar on top.
Sports & Leisure
Sports & Leisure
Azerbaijan is rarely one of the first countries that people associate with sport. But that is all set to change with two big international sporting splashes. By 2016, Formula 1 motor racing will introduce a Baku Grand Prix. And in 2015, the nation plays host to the first ever European Games. This ‘Euro-Olympics’ will feature many of Azerbaijan’s pre-eminent passions including wrestling, boxing and various martial arts. However, as in most of Europe, Azerbaijan’s most popular spectator sport is football (soccer). Meanwhile on a smaller scale, archetypal local pass-times are chess and nard, a local form of backgammon.
European Olympics 2015
The idea of regional Olympics has been mooted for years but the first ever such European Games was held in Azerbaijan in July 2015. The nation has risen enthusiastically to the challenge with a plethora of new and revamped stadia built to international standards in a remarkably short period of time. Around 6000 athletes attended the games from 49 participating nations.
Wrestling, Boxing & Martial Arts
Some of Azerbaijan’s greatest athletic successes have been in combat sports. At the London 2012 Olympics, Azerbaijani wrestlers picked up an impressive haul of seven medals including two golds in men’s freestyle. The sport has a strong local following and Baku has hosted the FILA European Wrestling Championships (2010), the FILA Wrestling Golden Grand Prix Final (2011, 2010) and the European Freestyle Wrestling Championship (2002). Azerbaijani boxers have won Olympic medals in each of the games since Sydney 2000 and martial arts are also popular. Azerbaijan hosted the IJF World Judo Masters in 2011 and an IJF Judo Grand Slam in 2013. And the WTF World Taekwondo Qualification Tournament for the London 2012 Olympic Games was held in Baku.
Azerbaijan’s football league association (AFFA) is associated with the European footballing body,UEFA, and its teams fight for places in the Champions League, though you’re more likely to see Azerbaijan’s name in the international sporting press on the shirts of Athletico Madrid. In 2012 Azerbaijan hosted the FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup.
Common to many Turkic nations, Azerbaijan has an ancient tradition of horse sports. Today you’re far more likely to see western style horse racing than chovgan, Azerbaijan’s unique take on polo. Nonetheless, chovgan has been enjoying a minor resurgence in recent years and since 2013 has been considered by UNESCO as an intangible aspect of world cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding .
If you wander into a rural teahouse anywhere in Azerbaijan you’re likely to hear the distinctive slap of heavily placed dominoes or of counters for the local form of backgammon known as nard. While usually male-dominated, this is one local sport at which visiting amateurs might like to try their hand… but as you’ll soon find out, the rules are rather different from Western backgammon. You have been warned.
For so small a country, Azerbaijan has a great record at turning out chess grandmasters. One of the greatest names in 20th century chess, Gary Kasparov, was born in Baku while two of the great 21st century chess prodigies, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimur Radjabov, are both Azerbaijani. The national ability was nurtured for generations by Soviet chess schools, a heritage whose restoration gained a boos from presidential support in 2009.
The main gateway to Azerbaijan is Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD), 20km east of central Baku via a big new multi-lane highway. There are also modest international airports at Ganja, Nakhchivan, Lenkoran and Gabala and a domestic airport at Zaqatala.
The details of airlines and destinations is prone to rapid change. This is the situation as of May 2014.
Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) is the flag-carrier. Already offering an extensive selection of European and regional destinations, AZAL’s planned expansion will include the introduction of new intercontinental routes
Turkish Airlines offers connections across the globe via Istanbul from Baku, Ganja and Nakhchivan.
From Baku, extensive world links are also possible on Aeroflot via Moscow, Lufthansa via Frankfurt and Qatar Airways via Doha.
Other European Links
Air Baltic has budget flights Baku-Riga with numerous connections to northern Europe, often with relatively tight transfer times – possible as Riga’s airport is pretty small.
AZAL destinations include Milan and Paris
Belavia flies Baku-Minsk
Czech Airlines has twice weekly code-shared flights to/via Prague
Wizz Air has ultra-budget flights Baku-Budapest on a point-to-point basis. Baggage costs extra and transits at Budapest are likely to require you to go through immigration so these flights are not likely to suit those who need visas for Hungary,
Ukraine International Airlines (www.flyuia.com) flies daily to Kiev with numerous onward connections at decent prices.
Asia & Middle East
AZAL, Turkish Airlines and Pegasus offer a vast range of destinations in Turkey. Qatar Airlines and flyDubai allow various connections via the Gulf, AZAL also flies to Tel Aviv, Tabriz and Tehran (Iran Air also flies). AZAL flies to Beijing and to Ürümqi, the latter also served by China Southern with connections across China. Uzbekistan Airlines offers a couple of useful connections to South East Asia
Central Asia & Caucasus
Flights across the Caspian include Air Astana to and via Almaty, AZAL to Aktau, Lufthansa to Ashgabat, SCAT to Aktau, Astana & Atyrau, Tajik Air to Dushanbe and Uzbekistan Airways to and via Tashkent. AZAL and Qatar Airways serve Tbilisi.
There are numerous air links to Russia. Most of the airlines below offer a range of further destinations given a connecting flight. You could also fly via Minsk (on Belavia), Riga (Air Baltic) or Kiev (Ukrainian International).
- Aeroflot – Twice daily to Moscow-SVO, thrice weekly to St-Petersburg (operated by Rossiya Airlines)
- AZAL – Astrakhan, Krasnoyarsk, Mineralnye Vody, Moscow-DME, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Rostov, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg
- IrAero – Omsk
- NordStar – Twice weekly to Krasnoyarsk, at least weekly to Ufa
- S7 Airlines – Daily to Moscow-DME, thrice weekly to Novosibirsk
- UTAir – Thrice weekly to Moscow-Vnukovo, plus once a week each to Kazan, Khanty-Mansiysk, Nizhnevartovsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Surgut, Tyumen
- Ural Airlines – Weekly to Ekaterinburg
- Air Arabia – To Delhi via Sharjah
The most useful internal flight route is between Baku and Nakhchivan as there is no convenient overland route between those cities. Departures are around five times daily on AZAL.
Road & Rail
Long distance train and bus services operate to Tbilisi (Georgia) and several destinations in Russia. Note that crossing the Azerbaijan-Russia border is only allowed for citizens of CIS countries. To make the Baku-Tbilisi trip more interesting consider driving using the pretty northern route via Shamakha, Gabala and Sheki. Or take a series of bus hops on the same route, albeit using a pair of taxi hops to reach the border post from Balakan and to continue from there to Lagodeghi in Georgia from which minibuses run to Tbilisi.
Buses and minibuses ply most of Azerbaijan’s major roads, and even wind up to relatively isolated villages most days. Fares are relatively inexpensive and booking is generally unnecessary. The bus network is paralleled on some routes by an informal system of shared taxis. Domestic trains more relatively slowly, though the railway system is being revamped. For now at least, it’s possible to take sleeper trains inexpensively yet comfortably right across the country – most usefully to Sheki or Zagatala – though beware that the train stations are often a considerable distance from the towns they serve.
Transport Within Baku City
“Ride the aubergine!” In Baku taxis are ubiquitous, but if you can’t speak local languages it’s usually safest to jump into one of the large fleet of London-style cabs, painted a soothing shade of deep egg-plant purple. Unlike other taxis that you’ll find on the streets (mostly white or yellow), the London-style cabs work strictly on the meter so there’s no need to haggle… though it is customary to tip by rounding the fare up to the nearest Manat. Landmarks are often better than addresses when instructing the driver, few of whom speak much, if any, English. Better still have a local friend explain to the driver where you want to go.
Our suggested itineraries give you some walking suggestions. Do use the underpasses when crossing under major roads – traffic takes no prisoners.
Baku’s underground railway, currently undergoing expansion, is predominantly of use for commuters getting into the city rather than for getting around the central area. Nizami metro station is worth visiting for the mosaic murals.
Since September 2015, Baku has started phasing in a prepaid card system called BakıKart, which can be purchased at metro stations and at certain bus stops. There are two versions of the card – a plastic one costing 2 AZN plus credit that can be reused, and a disposable paper one allowing up to four credits (ie four rides will cost 1 AZN). For now the system is used by metro and some part of city buses, but it is likely that the system will be extended in the future.
City buses cost 20q per ride. For most services you pay cash when you get off. However, the sleek new red buses accept prepaid BakıKart credit.
Visas and Paperwork
Please note that this section is only for general guidance. For full details please check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfa.gov.az) or the nearest Azerbaijani embassy. Remember that rules can change!
Key points to check:
- Do you need a visa?
- Can you get it on arrival? This applies to relatively few cases.
- Where should you apply? Normally you will need to apply at the Azerbaijani mission in the country of which you are a national or where you are a permanent resident. For those nationals whose home country doesn’t have an Azerbaijani mission, there is usually a specified mission elsewhere to which they should apply. Using an e-visa (click here) can save time, trouble and money especially if you fall into the latter case or if you are staying in a third country in which you are not permanently resident.
- Be aware that within ten days of your arrival in Azerbaijan you will need to register. It’s a simple formality and if you stay in a hotel, the registration will usually be done for you, but do read this section for fuller details.
NB Armenian citizens and persons of Armenian descent may require special permission to enter Azerbaijan. Unless expressly sanctioned by Baku, visits to the areas of Azerbaijan under the occupation of Armenian forces (essentially the self-proclaimed entity of Nagorno-Karabagh) are contrary to Azerbaijani law. Proof of such a visit might result in refusal of a visa or possible prosecution.
No visa is required for citizens of: Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Maximum stay is 90 days; registration is required within ten days.
Visa on arrival – Citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey have the opportunity to obtain single entry visas (up to 30 days) in all international airports of the Republic of Azerbaijan upon arrival. US citizens travelling by the New York-Baku direct flight on Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) are also eligible to obtain single entry (up to 30 days) Azerbaijani visa upon arrival at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku.
Pre-arranged Visa – Nationalities other than those listed above should arrange their visas in advance. Generally this will mean either visiting an Azerbaijani embassy/consulate/visa service or organizing an e-visa through a travel agency. For either system you will need either an approved invitation letter or pre-booked tourist accommodation. Apply at least two weeks in advance or else you might need to pay extra.
Your passport must be more than three months before its expiration date or else the visa will not be granted.
Visas in Advance
Visa Validity and Application
Most single entry visas are valid for one entry of up to 30 days, and must be used within 90 days.
Double entry visas, available for business but not tourist purposes, cost no more than single entry ones. Each entry allows stays of up to 30 days within a period of 90 days from the visa’s issue.
Multiple-entry visas are usually valid for a year but usually require a considerable degree of preparation and telexed approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some such visas allow a total of just 90 days in-country during the year of validity.
Instead of applying at an embassy or consulate, you can apply for an e-visa. Details are available through this link. E-visa is issued within 3 (three) working days, valid for 30 days and costs 20$.
Visa on Arrival
In a limited number of cases, visas are available on arrival at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport. The service is only available to:
- Citizens of Turkey and Israel (who can also get the visa at the airports of Ganja and Nakhchivan)
- Citizens of countries that have direct air links to Baku but that don’t have accredited Azerbaijani diplomatic missions.
- Those in receipt of special high-level invitations. See the list below for qualifying inviters:
- Employees of foreign diplomatic missions to Azerbaijan and their family members. Also those visiting Azerbaijan on special diplomatic missions
- Persons visiting Azerbaijan due to the death of a family member (documents confirming the situation will be required)
- the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Prime Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Milli Majlis (Parliament) of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Supreme Majlis (Parliament) of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic;
- the Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Prosecutor-General of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the head of any central executive authority of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Central Bank of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Head of the Administrative Department of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Head of the Special Medical Service of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the management of the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- the Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims Clerical Office
- the Ministry of Emergencies of the Republic of Azerbaijan (for those visiting to participate operations to deal with consequences of emergency situations)
- heads of certain foreign companies operating in the Republic of Azerbaijan where this is in accordance with international treaties and provided that the invitation is pre-agreed with the State Migration Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Registration upon arrival in Azerbaijan
Visitors are required to fulfill a very simple visa registration procedure within ten days of arrival in Azerbaijan. This formality will usually be done automatically on your behalf if you stay in a business or tourist-class hotel. If not, then you can register online through www.migration.gov.az or but do be aware that you will need access to a printer and scanner as the ‘online form’ needs to be signed by your landlord/landlady before being submitted (by e-mail).
The details given below are a guide but this is not a legal document. For more details and official explanations please refer to the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan www.customs.gov.az
What you can and can’t bring….
The import of foreign currency is unlimited, but you are expected to make a customs declaration for the total sum imported over US$1000 or equivalent. Keep the declaration as you might be asked to show it on exiting Azerbaijan.
Only Azerbaijani citizens are legally allowed to import or export cash denominated in Azerbaijani manats.
Permitted Duty Free Imports
- up to 1 000 cigarettes or 1 kg of tobacco products (for persons over 16 years old);
- up to 1.5 liters of alcohol and 2 liters of wine;
- perfume for personal use;
- other items amounting to $ 10,000. Some high value items might need to be listed on a customs declaration form. Double check if you’re worried;
Items usually prohibited from import without special authority include
- arms and ammunition;
- controlled drugs and narcotics;
- photos and printed materials considered to be “directed against the constitutional order of Azerbaijan” (which, for example, might include documents in which the occupied areas of Karabagh are shown on maps as being an independent country);
- fresh fruits and vegetables;
What you can and can’t take home with you….
You should not leave with more currency (or monetary instruments) than the amount you arrived with as declared on your arrival customs form. The requirement for customs declarations is waived if the sums involved are less than US$1000 or the equivalent in other currencies.
Technically only Azerbaijani citizens are allowed to take Azerbaijani mantas out of the country. However, this is aimed at preventing large sums leaving the country and does not mean that you are likely to have your pockets searched for a handful of loose change that you might be carrying.
- personal items
- handicrafts and products officially acquired in Azerbaijan.
- valuable items that you had brought with you to Azerbaijan and had listed on your declaration form
- a maximum of 125g of sturgeon caviar
Exports which are allowed if you have a relevant permit:
- carpets made after 1960. The easiest way to get the permit is through the dealer selling it to you, but be aware that the procedure can take up to a week as permission needs to be granted via the state carpet museum and once approved, certificates are only issued on Wednesday mornings (10am till 1pm, costs AZN46).
- handicrafts that give the impression of age but that are in fact less than 55 years old
- art works. Permits cost AZN15 per item, and take around a week to organise with certificates only issued on Wednesday afternoons 3pm-5pm. The process is through the national art museum at 9/11 Niyazi Street, Baku tel 012-492-5789.
Items usually prohibited from export without special authority include:
- arms, ammunition, narcotics;
- precious stones
- antiques (including carpets, coins, manuscripts, etc.) produced before 1960.
Any time is a great time to be in Azerbaijan, a country that crams nine of eleven major climatic zones into its modest boundaries. In a couple of hours you can go from Alpine high mountains to semi-deserts, or from forests to steppeland. With the country’s range of splendid event location options, there’s a venue for all seasons. And cosmopolitan Baku has an endless appeal year round.
Baku is particularly pleasant in spring. March might be ‘one-jacket’ cool but won’t be cruelly cold… and you might have the delight of witnessing Novruz festivities, Azerbaijan’s biggest holiday season celebrating the equinox. March and April typically have clear skies and in rural areas, freshly green fields make for charming landscapes especially where poppies and other wild flowers dapple the scene. As May progresses, you’ll likely find the Caspian beaches generously sun kissed but not yet swamped by local holidaymakers, making a seaside resort-hotel a great alternative venue for a conference or gathering.
With summer heating up, June is a great month to head into the Caucasus Mountains where evenings remain fresh and the highest passes can remain snow prone even into early July. The Caspian beaches become increasingly popular for city folk, with many new resorts blossoming on the Absheron Peninsula, less than an hour’s drive from the capital. In Baku, the humid summer heat is tempered by sea breezes and locals promenade in the tree shaded paths of the promenade park. This is also the time for an international music festival in the resort town of Gabala set at the foot of forested foothill mountains.
In September and October, temperatures are balmy and as autumn proceeds the array of local fruit and produce evolves adding colour and verve to the culinary scene. Fall colours burnish the deciduous forests and although you’ll be a little too late for the highest mountain hiking, the foothills are glorious. All the while Baku is comfortably warm and welcoming. It’s a season where you can’t really go wrong.
Some years, winter seems to almost bypass Baku, where temperatures tend to remain above freezing even on colder days, though other years there might be a couple of snowfalls, and it’s worth bringing decent coats and warm clothes. Up in the mountains temperatures obviously plummet much further allowing for the great conditions at Shahdag’s and Gabala’s fully equipped 21st-century ski resorts whose pistes typically operate between mid-December and early March. In rural northwestern Azerbaijan, driving the misty mid-winter lanes is made all the prettier by the leafless persimmon trees still decked with orange fruit as though designed like natural Christmas decorations.