8 reasons why you should travel to Azerbaijan

8 reasons why you should travel to Azerbaijan

Hello, Azerbaijan…

Have you ever heard of it? You have, right?

Do you know where is it exactly? 

Azerbaijan is a country located in the southern part of the Caucasus, at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe. It shares a border with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and a little bit of Turkey.

Due to its particular geographic location, Azerbaijan is a real blend of East and West, with a deep and intriguing history. For this reason, in my opinion, it is the most interesting Caucasian country. Yet, despite this huge potential, Azerbaijan is not found on tourist maps. In this article, I want to show you why Azerbaijan should be on your travel bucket list.

Sovietism and the Middle East are mixed up in the most chaotic way possible

Azerbaijan is an ex-Soviet Muslim country. Physically, Azerbaijanis are a mixture between Iranians and Turks, but they wear a Russian cap. They speak both Azerbaijani (a Turkish dialect) and Russian. They drink tea in the same way as Iranians, using the same cups, pots and add the same extravagant amount of sugar. They enjoy drinking it in Arab cafés, but do you know what the difference is? They drink it alongside vodka! When you enter a café, they greet you with ”Salam”. But when you have a vodka shot with them, they will exclaim ”Nasdrovia!”. They possess Middle Eastern cordiality but, at first, they may seem to have the seriousness of a Russian. It’s hard to tell where you actually are. Soviet buildings, Arabic food and Russian signs. The blend is too chaotic and, for me, this is the top reason why you should travel to Azerbaijan.

The most secular Caucasian country

Azerbaijan was the first Islamic country ever to declare itself a democratic and secular Republic ( in 1918). It was also the first Muslim country to open a theater. Perhaps, you think that this last statement is sort of stupid but, believe it or not, in conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, theaters and cinemas are not allowed yet.

Today, Azerbaijan still calls itself a secular Republic. Around 95% of the population are Muslims (85% Shia and the rest Sunni). Nevertheless, I invite you take the smallest district in Cairo, Dubai or Amman and you’ll find a larger number of mosques there than in the entire city of Baku. Atheism is common among young people, women barely cover their heads and alcohol is widely available everywhere. From a religious point of view, Azerbaijanis are more liberal than their Christian neighbors from Armenia and Georgia.

A westernized capital full of history, parties and Rolls-Royces

Why should the capital be among the reasons why traveling to this country? Because Baku is a city that shocks and surprises anyone. As soon as you land, check out the super modern airport and head to the city center to find a beautiful and historical old town, endless pubs and fine dining restaurants, luxury cars at every corner and the cleanest streets ever, you start wondering:  Why the hell has this country been off the tourist trails for so long? Baku is an extremely modern city built thanks to petrol. 

One of the cheapest countries in the world

If you find a cheaper country than Azerbaijan, tell me and I will pay you $1,000 through PayPal. Obviously, I am kidding, but seriously, this country is too cheap for what you get. It’s definitely cheaper than Armenia, Georgia and even Iran. Outside of the fancy places in Baku, at local eateries, you’ll pay a maximum of 4AZN ($2) for a filling meal. Since the country is rich in gas and petrol, the price of transportation is just ridiculous. A single ride by metro costs 0.20AZN (0.11¢) and you can easily find a pint of beer for as little as 1AZN (0.50¢). Azerbaijan is the backpacker’s dream. 

The biggest landscape contrast

Our beloved Azerbaijan is a tiny country, but it turns out that 9 out of the 11 climate zones can be found there: From high altitude Caucasian mountains to vast hot deserts, green meadows and coastal areas. Besides, did you know that 50% of the mud volcanoes in the world are found in Azerbaijan? They are located around Qobustan, 50 kilometers from Baku.

The food is not bad…

Strange thought, right? Why should I say something like that? After three days of backpacking, I came to the conclusion that food in Azerbaijan is not bad… All travelers I met told me the same: ”Hey, by the way, food isn’t bad here, huh?” The food isn’t amazing, but it tastes good, is relatively healthy, kitchens are clean and it’s fucking cheap. For that price, you won’t find better food in any country. My favorite dish is dushbara, a dumpling soup typical of the northern part of the country.  

The nicest people in the Caucasus

I can’t say this very loud, because some people might get slightly offended (especially the Armenians;) ) but, in my opinion, Azerbaijanis are the nicest people in the Caucasus.

Joking aside, how friendly the people of a certain country are is a subjective topic that depends on your personal experience. I haven’t been to Armenia (yet) but I’ve been to Georgia. I’m not saying that Georgian people aren’t nice, but I had a better experience in Azerbaijan. I spent nearly three weeks there and met loads of nice and kind people who invited me to their place and took me out for lunch. Mostly, Azerbaijanis don’t speak English, but they always strived to help and understand me. I love the people in Azerbaijan.

And it can’t be further off the beaten track…

Azerbaijan is one of the most off the beaten track countries I’ve ever been to. I went there during the shoulder season (October), but still, I met fewer tourists than in countries like Sudan or Lebanon. Azerbaijan is a real off the beaten track destination, as visas have always been quite hard to get. But you know what? From January 2017, the Government of Azerbaijan has started to seriously promote tourism and liberalize its visa regime. This is good news, right? Yes, it is… But this means that sooner than you expect, the last Caucasian country won’t be that off the beaten track anymore… For further visa information, read this post from Caravanistan.