Reasons why you must visit Baku, Azerbaijan
So I know that this place might not be in your top ten travel destinations (probably not even close) but trust me, you really need to give Baku a chance. We did, and boy was it a wise decision! 🙂
To begin with, Azerbaijan has quite a bit to offer in terms of history, culture, architecture, and hospitality. It’s stuck right in the middle of Georgia, Armenia, Russia (and a little bit of Turkey and Iran). Hence, the culture is a fascinating blend of both Eastern and Western. This gives it a modern, yet historic allure.
Now coming to Baku itself, I found it mesmerizing and quite laid-back. The streets are clean, people are friendly, you can walk everywhere and the metro system is easily accessible. We went during Eid long weekend and since Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, they had a long weekend too.
Anyway, here are some of the reasons I have given to my friends and family on why they must make a trip to Baku ASAP!
1. A simple and easy visa process
I’ve done my fair share of traveling and hands down, the easiest visa to obtain was this one. All you have to do is apply for an e-visa (https://evisa.gov.az/). Just make sure to have a clear copy of your passport page. Although e-visa options might not be available for everyone, here’s the list to see if your country is eligible: https://evisa.gov.az/en/countries. The single entry visit visa costs about USD 20 and you will receive it within 24-48 hours. Most of my friends ended up getting it within a few hours.
2. Baku is only a three-hour flight from Dubai
Weren’t expecting that were you? Yep! The direct (non-stop) flight from Dubai to Baku on FlyDubai was about 2 hours and 50 minutes. There are multiple airlines that fly from Dubai to Baku including Air Arabia and Azerbaijan Airline. Our flight tickets cost us about AED 1,650/USD 450 (this was during the Eid long weekend) however, currently you can find return tickets to Baku for as low as AED 900 (USD 245) from Dubai.
3. Pretty easy on your pocket
The currency conversation is AED 2 = 1 Manat (the local currency of Azerbaijan). To be honest, sightseeing/tours, hotel, food, etc. were all quite reasonable. Cost per meal on average was anywhere from AED 20- AED 40/USD 5 – USD 11 (depends on where you eat of course!). Our hotel for five nights cost us about AED 600/USD 163 per person (we wanted to stay inside Old City, so yeah). Shopping in Baku was also very reasonable and most places on the street etc. are bargain friendly. For those who love collecting souvenirs, shops inside the Old City were cheaper than other parts of Baku. In terms of transport, From Heydar Aliyev International Airport to the center of Baku city by taxi is about 25 minutes and costs anywhere between AED 40 – AED 50 (USD 10 – USD 15). Buses are definitely much much cheaper (I think less than AED 10/USD 3).
4. Old City aka Icheri Sheher (Inner City)
This walled city is located in the historic center of ancient Baku and is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. With architecture as old as the 12th century, Old City was hands down my most favorite part of the trip. The quaint yet lively atmosphere with its cobblestone streets, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars is a place you must visit in Baku. The nightlife here is also pretty cool compared to other areas in the city and places stay open till 1am-2am.
5. Take a half-day trip to the Qobustan Rock Formations and Mud Volcanoes
The journey is bumpy and about an hour away from Baku. You can go to the mud volcanos instead of stopping to see the rock formations (it is included in the tour though). Our hotel arranged the tour for us and it cost us each about AED 100/USD 27 (this included a private van, an English speaking tour guide and the entry fee of the Qobustan museum as well). I would recommend you take this tour ONLY if you’re in Baku for more than four days though.
6. Spend time at the Fountain Square
Fountain Square is the most popular public spot in downtown Baku. With shops and outlets (including designer stores), boutiques, a mall, restaurants, and hotels around, it is easily a local favorite. It starts from the walls of Old City and stretches through Nizami Street (popularly known as Torgovaya Street). You will cross Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs which you must admire considering how well they have been preserved.
Other places to visit in Baku include the Baku Boulevard, which is a promenade located parallel to the sea. You can also see the Flame Towers from here (beautiful skyscrapers adding to the architectural development to Baku). The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center and Carpet Museum are also some of the tourist spots one should not miss (but we couldn’t go so I can’t say more on them).
7. Nightlife. Yes. You read it right.
Contrary to popular belief, people of Azerbaijan are quite into partying all night! If you’re looking to take a break and would prefer a short trip nearby Dubai, this is a great option. Some of the places we visited during our stay in Baku were the Pacifico Lounge and the Enerji Club. Both places were very different with the latter being almost like a club. There are also places like Hard Rock Cafe, Movida, Finnigan’s and Buddha Bar that you can check out (the reviews are all pretty much the same).
8. Food (especially if you love eating meat)
The Azerbaijani cuisine is very heavy on meat. It is highly diverse yet healthy and the abundance of meat, fish etc. makes it a paradise for those who love eating non-vegetarian food. If you do not consume meat, then finding a decent meal might get a bit difficult. One of our friends is a vegetarian and she had a tough time finding decent options. We did manage to find an Indian restaurant called Maharaja near Fountain Square and the food there wasn’t bad. There are standard places like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC etc. as well in downtown Baku.
There were a few really good places we tried, including Riviera (continental), Firoze (local cuisine) and Chinar (Asian). I would honestly recommend all of them.
9. Beautiful mountains and waterfalls
There are many cities and towns around Baku that we really wanted to visit but weren’t able to. Towns like Quba and Gabala up in the mountains look absolutely stunning in the photos. If your trip is going to be longer than five days, I would highly recommend visiting one of the two (all of the locals told us to do so but we did not have enough time). Both of these places are on opposite sides of Baku and will take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to reach by car.
Baku has my heart. And I will definitely be heading back.