One-week Azerbaijan itinerary + trip planning guide

Join us on our Azerbaijan itinerary and let’s see how you can explore the country independently and feel the unique mix of cultures and influences out there. Be ready to dive into a land of oil, fire, and pristine nature – from desert rocks to snow-covered mountains. Be ready to absorb Persian, Roman, Parthian, Arab, Mongolian, and Russian influences. Be ready to meet many crazy-driving Ladas and many smiling faces.

Azerbaijan is a destination for advanced travelers. In order to appreciate the country, you should keep in mind a couple of things. Azerbaijan doesn’t offer the typical shiny tourist attractions or spotless service attitude. You might find it quite hard to explore the country independently, you might observe those not-so-good practices in tourism that are gone from other places for the last 20 years now. Azerbaijan might be rough and might need tons of fine-tuning, but that’s what makes it such an interesting travel destination. That’s what drew us to the country, so not only did we become part of Formula 1 Baku, but we also organized a one-week road trip itinerary in Azerbaijan. In this article, we share all the important tips to plan your own Azerbaijani adventure.

Xinaliq, Azerbaijan

How to get Azerbaijan visa?

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You can get an Azerbaijan e-visa online. We did it with the official portal of the Azerbaijan visa authority and the process was smooth and simple, and it was way more expensive than if we had used the iVisa service. Don’t make our mistake and use this amazing website for applying and getting Azerbaijan evisa. You can also check if a visa is required for your nationality.

As your visa is electronic, you don’t need to print it and bring it when you want to enter the country. But to be on the safe side, we printed our visas to be able to show them anytime. The process got getting a visa is simple and costly, but you don’t need to spend a lot of time on the application – they ask the regular questions plus a photo of your passport photo page.

traditional wear in Baku, Azerbaijan

Traffic, road conditions, and renting a car in Azerbaijan

For moving around in Baku, we highly recommend installing Uber AZ and using it – it costs twice less than a regular taxi.

We decide to rent cars so we can freely explore the country. There are plenty of buses running inside bigger towns and connecting towns and villages which seem to be quite cheap but we wanted to be flexible with time and luggage and so on so we rented 3 cars for our group. We used this site as its quotes were almost double less expensive than our usual rental car website. In general, we had no issues. They blocked a 300 Euro deposit per car on our credit cards and in the end, they unblocked it when the car check turned out to be ok.

We chose SUV-like cars because we wanted to go to the mountains and we know dirt roads would expect us. Even on the highway, there were so many potholes, broken sections, and constant road works. All these really reminded us of our trip to Georgia. So the rougher the car, the better. If you want to really look like a local, rent a Lada and go crazy – that thing can drive everywhere, it’s like Batman in the body of an old nanny. With so many Ladas around in Azerbaijan, I remembered an old-time dream of mine to buy a Lada Niva and rock the world!

Qobustan mud volcanoes and Lada, Baku, Azerbaijan

Where to stay in Azerbaijan

There are so many options when you are already there, you can ask around for guesthouses and rooms for rent, but when you plan your trip to Azerbaijan and you don’t have spare time to search for accommodation, you’d like to book online. We used Booking.com for all our reservations.

For staying in Baku, we recommend finding a nice apartment in the city center or a cozy family hotel like Nur hotel in Baku. We stayed in a house in Quba, where the hosts were so welcoming and we had the most amazing breakfast ever! In the mountain village of Xinaliq, we stayed at Xinaliq Qonaq Evi. In Sumqavit we found Regnum hotel a good deal for the huge rooms at the seaside. In Lahic there was not so much choice so we booked Evim Otel with a nice garden to chill and have breakfast (don’t let them make you pay more for booking with Booking.com – they got punished for that). For local vibes and a chat with a local guide – go to Ilgar’s Guesthouse.

Staying connected in Azerbaijan

There was decent wi-fi in most of the places we stayed and the restaurants we ate, but if you need to be more connected all the time, we suggest getting a local SIM card. We did that at the airport (we suspect that prices are much higher than those stated on mobile operators’ websites). So we got an AzerCell SIM card with 10GB of data and 30 national minutes for 45 AZN.

Communication to arrange when we arrive, how to get there and etc. with accommodation was crucial – we did all that over What’s App. That seems to be the most popular messaging app just like in most other parts of the world (Balkans and China excluded).

The only place the local SIM didn’t get good coverage was the area around Xinaliq (with an elevation of around 2350 meters.), but hey – it’s Caucasian mountains up there. Wi-fi worked fine there though.

traditional wear in Lahich, Azerbaijan

Communication in Azerbaijan

The Azeri (Azerbaijani) language has something in common with Turkish, but nobody from our group spoke Turkish or Azeri so that didn’t help us a lot. As in a post-Soviet country, you will find many people speaking Russian (sort of) in Azerbaijan.

Some of the people in the tourism sphere speak English, you can find many menus (not only in Baku but also in other major places of interest) written in English. Some of the locals would prefer to speak in Russian, and others would be able to speak neither Russian nor English. Be ready to improvise and have fun while communicating in Azerbaijan.

A week-long Azerbaijan itinerary

Our Azerbaijan itinerary took a week, but you could easily extend it with few more days to explore at a slower pace. You can also include other parts of the country, like Ganja and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.

Baku, Azerbaijan drone photo

Day 0 Arrive in Baku and get ready to hit the road

We did arrive in Baku for our Formula 1 Azerbaijan experience (the first was Monza in Italy, the second was Hungaroring near Budapest). After having a mesmerizing F1 weekend accompanied by exploring the seaside promenade and the restaurants of Baku, we were ready to explore the country further.

Day 1 Qobustan – the ancient petroglyphs, the mud volcanoes and drive to Quba

One of the most popular day trips from Baku and the beginning of our road trip was Qobustan. First, we went to see the ancient petroglyphs in Gobustan State Reserve. The Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape Reserve is full of ancient rock carvings and petroglyphs that depict life in the Caucasus. Can we add that walking in between giant rocks carved with bulls, donkeys, and dancing people, sometimes exposes you to plenty of sunshine and amazing views?

Over there was the first time I tried the traditional Azeri qutab (thinly rolled dough with leeks (or something else inside) cooked on a saj). It’s so simple and yet super delicious, especially when prepared with lots of love by an elderly lady.

The other attraction in the Qobustan is the mud volcanoes. Azerbaijan has almost half of the mud volcanoes on the Earth (about 300) and it’s something very interesting to see. You can trek to the volcanoes from Qobustan town, or you can get the most amazing taxi – an ancient Lada – to drive you up there. We paid 15 AZN per car, and the drive was the ultimate off-road adventure. Watching the gas bubbles going out to the mud volcano surface was a very relaxing experience, followed by a crazy drive back to the bridge Lada pickup point in Qobustan.

Qobustan mud volcanoes and Lada, Baku, Azerbaijan

We drove to Quba – it’s a great base for exploring the greener part of the country. We checked in to the house we rented, then went out a bit out of town for dinner in a green forest. Our hosts at the house-made sure we can hardly move after a typical breakfast with so many tasty local and international dishes. Yummy!

Stay in Quba: We highly recommend the house of Xatira and Ali and their a-ma-zing breakfast.

Day 2 The mountain road to Xinaliq and the most amazing views in Azerbaijan

As we read a lot about Xinaliq – the highest village in Azerbaijan (2350meters above sea level) and the totally adventurous road to it, we had to go there! The road was curving around high rocks, layers of mountains, following rivers, cutting gorges, and leaving you breathless more than a dozen times.

We were lucky that there was no snow or ice, and there was not so much traffic. We were passing picnic spots (there were so many of them in the area of Quba), later we were stopping every 5 minutes to take in views and photos. While passing one of the high villages, two kids came to us to sell knitted socks and slippers. We couldn’t resist…

Kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan

Xinaliq was so peaceful and full of sunshine. We were high enough to leave the clouds under. The sun would have been probably scorching if it wasn’t for the strong wind. We could see plenty of cows eating the greenest grass ever. In every yard, we could see hard-working people. Only the snow-covered peaks were looking down at us. We left the luggage in the hut and went out for a short hike. The area is an absolute paradise for outdoorsy people! We met two girls selling knitted items and we couldn’t resist again…

The village has a population of more than 2000 people (during summer) – when it’s cold and roads are not accessible, people move down to lower areas. Everyone seems to raise stock over here. People living in this high  Caucasian area are descendants of Albanian tribes who settled in the Greater Caucasus. Most of them speak the endangered Khinalug language (Kətş). That’s a 4000-years-old language. It might not be easy to learn – it has at least 49 letters in the alphabet.

Stay in Xinaliq: Mountain-lovers, we suggest you get comfortable with a cup of tea, dinner you can order to be cooked for you, the outside toilet, and be ready to sleep under thick blankets to keep you warm at night. We stayed at Evim Otel with our main host the village school’s sports teacher Elnur. We loved it!

Day 3 Drive to Nabran and to Sumqayit (a beach-facing neighborhood of Baku)

We drove back to Quba, down the amazing mesmerizing mountain road from Xinaliq. We decided to give a famous summer resort town a shot – Nabran. Nabran is very close to the border with Russia and was totally out of season when we got there (May 1st). Construction on the beach was taking place, everything was closed and a funeral procession was passing so we decided to take a dip in the Caspian sea later. Good, we found an old lady preparing qutabs so we wouldn’t stay hungry.

After some long drive with the classical road conditions – road works at the most unexpected places, crazily overtaking Ladas, gas stations with no toilets and/or cafes, we reached Sumqayit. Some say it is part of Baku but it’s like 40 minutes away from the city. We had late lunch (or early dinner) at the beach restaurant of our hotel and then took an evening stroll in the neighborhood in search of ice cream. We reached a park where people would sit for a dessert, or just find a bench to take a rest. The whole area seemed to be heavily in construction and huge blocks of flats were in progress.

Stay in Sumqayit: Regnum hotel that has access to the beach and lovely private restaurant rooms.

Sumqayit beach, Baku, Azerbaijan

Day 4 Driving north-east to the mountains – Diri baba turbesi and crafts in Lahic

The destination for the day was Lahic (or Lahij) – but first, we saw something nice on the map – Diri baba turbesi mosque in Qobustan (that’s another Qobustan, not the one with mud volcanoes from day 1). The mosque is carved into the rock and it’s so beautiful, not to mention very few tourists know about its existence.

Diri baba turbesi, Baku, Azerbaijan

We managed to find what seemed to be the only open restaurant in town, and we spent few hours drinking homemade wine (be careful with that), local beers, and trying foods we could communicate with the staff. In the evening we open the supermarket bag and enjoyed its contents in the exquisitely furnished garden gazebo. The breakfast was also in the garden, with blossom petals contributing to the ultimate romance. Each of these categories has its own village square, mosque, hammam, and graveyard. We were happy to browse the cobblestone streets freely and on our own.

Stay in Lahic: We stayed at the Evim Otel – they have a lot to learn in terms of hospitality, but the rooms were clean and the garden and the breakfast – were amazing.

Day 5 The last kolxoz of Ivanovka and the abundance of Sheki

We read in some blogs about a very interesting village in Azerbaijan, with a sad story though. So we gave Ivanovka a visit to see how the Molokan people live in their almost deserted village. They were chased away from Russia because of their religion and started their new lives in Ivanovka. The last collective farm (Kolxoz) of Azerbaijan is still there. Make sure you include this place to dive into a darker but intriguing history. The supermarket was one of its kind, as well as those many old-school vehicles.

old bus in Ivanovka, Azerbaijan

We stopped for lunch nearby Qabala to enjoy the next portion of lentils and choban salad with the regular coriander and dill. Our carriage table was situated nearby ponds full of frogs. Restaurants in the Azerbaijani countryside are quirky, old-fashioned but so intriguing. Don’t go there too hungry because you’ll have to wait.

As soon as we entered Sheki, we knew we were back in times of abundance, royalty, and luxuriance. Sheki is a charming town – touristy but still peaceful enough. Green hills, cobblestone streets, picturesque architecture, and Persian, Roman, Parthian, Arab, Mongolian, and Russian influences. And whoever shows you a photo of the inside of the Palace of Sheki Khans – they must be very rich! Some places are better experienced without cameras, anyway.

Palace at Sheki, Azerbaijan

We stopped at the old Kervan Saray which is a hotel nowadays – not to rest or stay, but to catch a glimpse of that old times. We said goodbye to another magical day from restaurant Qaqarin (q reads as g) – cosmically overlooking the setting sun over the fine roofs and green mountains.

Stay in Sheki: For very authentic local vibes, stay at Ilgar’s Guesthouse. Ilgar is a tour guide so he can share a lot about the country and its people.

Sheki, Azerbaijan

Day 6 The Albanian church in Kis and drive all the way back to Yanar Dag and Baku

Ilgar recommended the village Kis and its Albanian church. It was a ride in the fog all the way to the village. Then we hiked the cobblestones streets to see the old church – the first one to be built in the Caucasus and Caucasian Albania. We almost lost the drone over there so we decide to hit the long road to Baku.

Locals play backgammon in Kis, Azerbaijan, near the Albanian church

Our lunch was at another picturesque restaurant with its own lake and old trees. The landscape totally compensated for the clueless staff. But we were already used to cutting our own salads and not going starving for lunch.

Yanar Dag is one of the most popular places to visit in Baku. Well, without a doubt, flames coming out of the land is something spectacular and literally hot, but the whole infrastructure around, the entrance fee (that guards collected from us), the stray dogs, and the crazy traffic to get there – kind of ruin the magical fire experience.

Yanar Dag, Baku, Azerbaijan

At least we finished the day with a tasty restaurant in the Old City of Baku, where we could enjoy some live music performances, some chestnut qutab, and tasty White Shani white wine.

Stay in Baku: We stayed at Jireh City Center Apartment Baku which was spacious and well-decorated, but the staff was awful and walked on our nerves.

Baku Old Town, Azerbaijan

Day 7 Baku – Old Town and Ateshgah of Baku (Fire Temple)

On our last day in Baku and Azerbaijan, we decided to jump over to the Fire Temple (Ateshgah of Baku). First, we got lost (again) with another fake location on Google Maps. Then we found the temple and even took a guide to show us around the place where Zoroastrians and Hindus worshipped fire. It used to be an internal fire a while ago, but now they have to fuel it up because of the many oil pumps that sucked the natural fuel from underground.

Speaking of oil pumps – Azerbaijan is really the Land of Oil, as many call it. We couldn’t even count the pumps we encountered while traveling in the country.

One place we’re particularly fond of is the Heydar Aliyev Center – it’s one of the finest pieces of modern architecture we’ve ever seen! And we didn’t even get inside to join an event. The outside is mesmerizing and there’s a whole park around it where plenty of locals and visitors were chilling and having some refreshing time inside the bustling capital!

Later in the afternoon we returned the rental cars, went for lunch in the Old City, and did some souvenir-hunting. We finished the sparkling experience in the capital with a view from the 19th floor of the Fairmont Hotel inside one of the famous Flame Towers (they just let us take a look for free).  We walked along Martyrs’ Alley to get to a plaza with the best panoramic view of Baku. And we finished down the well-lit stairs of Pirvənzərə. Head to that place while dark and you won’t regret it!

Our ride in the early morning to the airport was the typical Azeri style – with the traditional 160km/h on the highway! An adventurous end to an adventure trip in Azerbaijan! Azerbaijan, çox sağ ol!

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Have you ever traveled to Azerbaijan? What was your favorite place and experience? Do let us know your suggestions for our next trip to the Land of Oil!

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