After a wonderful trip in Georgia we now reach to Azerbaijan, the land of Fire. A land where east meets the west, a land where you can see the glimpse of west in the east. It is the country of hospitality and friendliness. Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, is bounded by the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains which span Asia and Europe. Its capital Baku, the biggest city in Caucasus, is famed for its medieval walled Inner City.
Packing for Baku
Baku is known as the City of Winds due to its location on the Caspian Sea. We travel Baku in the end of the March and the temperature around this time was 6 degree centigrade. This temperature combined with wind and intermittent rain, don’t make a good travel time during this time of the year. The winters are very cold and summers are hot and humid. Bring your warm clothes, warmers, hand gloves, winter caps and jacket with you. Always dress in layers and carry a light jacket or wind breaker with you even if the outside is warm.
The power socket in Azerbaijan is two round pin power socket of type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Bring an universal travel adapter with you to power all your gadgets.
Prepare your offline map
We do this for all the places before going. We mark all the point of interest on the map and prepare our walking map. The Tourist area Baku is very small, specially in the inner walled city and walking maps is not required but still you can mark a few special attractions you want to see. You can also mark the restaurants where you want to eat. We have marked all the Indian restaurants in Baku near the Fountain Square since we don’t find any vegetarian food option in Azerbaijani food.
The official currency of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani Manat and its symbol is ₼. Manat is accepted everywhere in Azerbaijan and we don’t find anybody quoting or accepting USD to euro. In Azerbaijan the best exchange rate you will get for Manat is from the popular currencies like USD GBP and Euro.
Inside the airport terminal, before the exit gate there is an exchange /Bank in the left side. After exiting the airport there is one more exchange/ bank on right side of the exit Gate. The bank inside the terminal is offering exchange rate very less, so exchange a small amount of USD/Euro there to cover your expenses for one day.
Once you are in the city you can exchange your currency in any of the banks. They will provide you better rate as compared to the airport matching the rates in online currency converters. Some of the banks are operating 24 hours so you can utilize your time and go there for money exchange after sightseeing. Credit card is accepted at most of the shops and restaurants in Baku.
Just before the exit gate at the International Airport Terminal there is a mobile operator Kiosk operated by Azer Cell selling sim card with 1GB data for 25 ANZ. If getting the sim card is not urgent, you can buy it in the city. You will find mobile shops selling sim card in almost every other Street in Baku. You can get free SIM card of Azer Cell with 1GB data for 5 ANZ.
Day 1 – Upland Park
We reached the Baku airport at 1:00 PM and the first thing we experience was cold and chilling wind. Immigration was without any problem and we get our Visa on arrival within half an hour. For more about Azerbaijan tourist visa and visa on arrival read this;
After all this formality completed, we left the airport in our pre booked car and reach to our apartment. For transport options from Baku airport to city center read this;
For using public transport inside Baku city read this;
Our Apartment was near the Fountain Square which was close to all the tourist attractions. This was a two-bedroom apartment with heated floor at the entrance and a very good and efficient heating system. If due to bad weather there is nothing to do outside, still we can relax inside in a warm place. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this apartment in Baku.
Today evening we have planning to visit an upland Park. There are at least two or three ways you can go to upland park. One is from Boulevard side you can go to the funicular Station and from funicular will take you to the upland park. If funicular is not working there is a stair just parallel to the funicular and you can use the stairs to go there. However, we don’t want to take chance with funicular which is mostly not working and don’t want to climb the stairs, so we take a taxi and go to the upland Park the from the martyr’s lane side entrance which is near the flame Tower.
The Martyrs lane or Shahid lane is the graves of War heroes who died in the line of Duty specially the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Most of the Graves are with their names and many with pictures also. There is also a mosque in front of the Graves.
The whole Park is lush green and well maintained. All the lanes are converging to a point which is known as eternal flame where there is a gas fired flame continuously burning. Evening was very cold and we spend sufficient time near the flame to keep us warm. After visiting the eternal flame, we went on the stairs right hand side which is going on the top of the hill but there is nothing to see.
We came down and start exploring the other side of the parks. From this side of the Park had got very good panoramic view of Baku and the whole boulevard from crystal hall to the other end of the Boulevard ship pier.
There is a restaurant in the park and many vendors are selling their fresh fruit and other produce. After done with the park, we started waiting for the flame Tower light show which is started every day at 7:30 PM. We were waiting like many other people but after 7:30 flame Tower light Show not started. It was very cold we could not wait for very long so we decided to leave the place. Once we reach down near the funicular station light show started by 15-minute delay. All the three towers are clearly visible from the bottom parking area. We enjoyed the light show for some 10 to 15 minutes and then we left for Fountain Square for dinner. After dinner we went to the near by Nizami street for a night stroll. This street was live, full of people with little or no effect of cold on them, full of high end shops and beautifully decorated baroque and neo-gothic buildings. After walking the whole stretch of the Nizami street we left for our apartment.
Day 2 – Exploring around Baku
Today our plan was to visit around Baku and see the wonderful things outside Baku. We had already booked taxi for the day trip and 10 AM tour start time agreed with him. By 9 o’clock we were ready and we left for Fountain Square for our breakfast in Entree Bakery Chain which was our breakfast restaurant for the next three days. Most of the shops in Baku are opening late including restaurants. Only few restaurants in Baku like Entree open at 8 o’clock. There is one more restaurant in front of Entree by name “MADO” which opens early but we did not try. We choose Entree because we were familiar with “Entree Bakery Chain” restaurant and they were serving veg sandwich.
After finishing our breakfast, we call our driver to confirm whether he can come near The Fountain Square or the apartment but till 9:45 driver was sleeping. He just wakes up with our call and he told that he will come in half an hour but he finally came at 10:50 and we left around 11 AM. Our one hour lost before starting the trip.
We left Baku and after leaving there are plenty of donkey head oil pumps which we have seen on the way. Our first destination was Bibi Heybat mosque which is next to the roadside. Our driver inform that everybody can visit the mosque outside prayer times, so we decided to go and check the mosque from inside and outside.
The mosque architecture is very beautiful and its interior is also well decorated with colorful stones, ornaments and stained glass. There are few graves inside. We asked the caretaker and he told that photography is allowed, so we click some beautiful pictures inside the mosque.
After visiting the mosque, we left for Gobustan petroglyph Hills. Our guide first takes us to the petroglyph museum which is before the main mountain with all the actual petroglyph. This Museum is very informative and explains the history of the area, people living here and the interpretation of all petroglyph. If you are visiting the Museum on your own, guides are available in different languages from the museum. After we have seen the Museum, we left for nearby hill to see the actual petroglyph.
The hill is full of boulders where petrography wear made by ancient people some 15000 year before. All the stone carvings are properly visible and well preserved till date the whole area is properly marked for walking and signposted. This place is at height and you will get a good view of Caspian Sea.
There was some signpost about snakes moving in the area which make the kids scared and they start pushing us to leave the place early. After visiting this place, we left for mud volcanoes. Our hired vehicle cannot reach the mud volcano, so our guide/driver insist to hire another vehicle with driver which will take us to the mud volcano. From Gobustan town to mud volcano there is a dirt track which is difficult to be crossed with normal car. If you have 4 x 4 vehicle you can directly go to the volcanos with your vehicle, else there are plenty of cars available in Gobustan which will take you to the volcano, wait there for you and bring you back for 20 Manat.
We left for mud volcanoes in a small old Russian car. We also requested our driver to accompany as so that he can explain the things and translate for us when required. Mud volcano is a very unique and wonderful place. Mud with water and gas is gushing out from the earth.
First, we visited the biggest Mud volcano and then all the remaining. It was a clear day and there was no rain in previous 2-3 days, so the mud was not spread everywhere and it was easy to walk.
After spending sufficient time mud volcano and mud pool, taking many pictures, putting our hand in mud and finding small mud holes which just started emitting gas/mud, we left for Gobustan town.
We were back in our car and our next destination was Yanar Dag. It is a small hill where fire is burning from long time the whole experience can be done in around half an hour. The place is developed like amphitheater for watching The Fire. Some new facilities are coming up inside and the whole area is under construction. There is nothing much to see and do at this place.
From Yanar Dag we left for the fire temple of Baku. This place was in our bucket list and should be a must visited if you are visiting Baku. Now this temple is functioning as a museum and the fire is extinguished along before due to heavy exploration of oil and gas in the area. The fire burning in the temple is now through the piped gas.
The Museum is well maintained and informative though some places no information is provided. Overall it is a good experience.
Our original plan was to see Ramana Castle also which is in the same area but due to shortage of time we cannot go there. So, after visiting the fire Temple we decided to return to our apartment. While returning still daylight was available and we decided to stop at Heydar Aliyev Center.
We left our taxi at Heydar Aliyev Center and spend around 1 hour in the park and around the building of Heydar Aliyev Center before returning to our apartment.
Day 3 – Exploring Ichari shahar
This is the place where history of Baku begins. For many centuries Baku was limited inside this place. After so much development in Baku, this place still doesn’t lose its charm. People still live there with all of their vehicles moving in the narrow streets. There are many art galleries restaurants, Hotels, flourishing business and many embassies inside the walled city.
We entered the walled town from the double gate side. Next to the gate there is a tourist information centre and audio guides are available from there. There are many tour operators inside the old town and if you are a history nerd or want in depth knowledge of the area you can hire a guided tour. There are many souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels spread throughout the old town.
Our first destination today was karvansaray. These are generally located everywhere on the ancient trade routes. Most of them now a days are functioning as restaurant. We want to show our kids the inside of Caravan Sarai and tell them about their history and take a tea break there. At the day both the kervansaray’s were closed, so we move on to our next destination Maiden Tower.
We have no intention of climbing the tower. It was very windy so we decided to watch the tower and move on.
Next to the maiden Tower was Haji Bani bath house. When we are near to Maiden Tower rain started. Next to maiden tower and Haji Bani bath house there are many Souvenir shops so we utilize this time for shopping. The Souvenir shops here are cheaper than the Souvenir shops at Nizami street.
After souvenirs shopping, we start walking in the street and the next building was Cuma Mosque. This is a very beautiful Mosque and everybody is allowed inside including women up to the gate. The main gate of this Mosque was beautifully crafted.
After this we walk for some time admiring the old town defensive wall. We reach to the miniature book museum.
This is a very good museum with largest collection of miniature books. Our kids enjoy watching those small books. Our next destination was Palace, but due to rain and increase in the cold our kids not interested in visiting any more places. So, at this point we decided to go back to our apartment.
Before leaving we stop at Ali shamsi studio. He is a painter and he has decorated his house walls in a very unique way. He also painted a tree near to his home, giving it a lady’s face.
After admiring his art it’s time to say goodbye to Ichari shahar. We find this old city not as touristy as some of the walled cities in Europe.
Late afternoon the sky was clear and there was no rain from the noon. During afternoon weather was not good so we were unable to visit the carpet museum but we decided to spend our evening in the boulevard area. Baku boulevard is a very big area full of plants, flowers and parks. The whole area was cleaned and pleasant to walk.
There is a place called little Venice in the boulevard area near the carpet museum. Here Small water ways are made with few bridges and small boats are there for boating around the so-called canal. During the time of our visit little Venice was closed.
After this we reached near the carpet museum and spend some time there admiring this architectural beauty. It’s becoming dark now we decided to see the flame Tower lighting from this point Before leaving.
While returning to our apartment we decided to stop at the winter Park. Like all other buildings in Baku the building behind the park is also lighted in the evening looks stunning. This building was visible from our apartment and we decided to check it out. Baku looks wonderful in night.
Day 4 – Crystal Hall, Flag Square
Outside it was very windy and cold all. We don’t have any specific agenda for today but some of the things which we want to see but we haven’t, so today we decided to head to flag square and see the Crystal hall. The flag square which hold for record for some time for the highest flagpole in the world was not visible for the last three days. There was some construction activity going on and they have not hoisted the flag.
From there we walked to the Crystal hall. I don’t want to go inside and check but just want to see it from nearby. The whole area from the Boulevard side to the Crystal hall is well developed with lot of plantation and garden. Crystal hall is in the open area and the weather to much windy. It was difficult to stand there for long time so we decided to leave the place. Next we went to a park in memorial of World War 2 greatest spy Richard Sorge.
From there we returned to check freedom square but the whole area was barricaded. There was some construct activity going on for Baku Grand Prix preparation. Overall in Baku many places near the Boulevard and all the Grand Prix track was barricaded hindering Clear View.
It was very cold and windy and kids are no more interested in sight seeing, so we decided to return to our apartment after lunch. This was our last day and we have to catch late night flight for Dubai.We miss some of the things we want to explore, but overall it was a great trip.