Azerbaijan in detail

Directory

Accessible Travel

Holes in pavements, steps, cobbles and various other impediments make the country challenging for those with mobility issues or vision impairment. Crossing major roads often requires using underpasses. Those in Baku were widely rebuilt around 2012 with escalators and, in places, with wheelchair lifts, but lack of maintenance means that few of these can be relied upon to function. The metro is not wheelchair-accessible. Although many buses are low-floor with dedicated wheelchair spaces, in reality most are too crowded for the system to work easily. Some tourist sites, such as Baku’s Carpet Museum, are disabled-friendly but many are not. There are a number of hotels advertising accessible rooms Baku.

Accessible Travel Online Resources

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Bargaining

In some market situations and at many souvenir stalls, bargaining is normal. It's essential with unmetered taxis. If you haven't reserved in advance, it is often possible to score a discount at smaller hotels and guesthouses in the low season with gentle haggling.

Dangers & Annoyances

  • Crime rates are very low, but take normal precautions
  • Border areas are sensitive, especially anywhere near the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire line and the Armenia−Azerbaijan border.
  • If hiking in the mountains, take a local guide and steer well clear of sheepdogs which can be vicious.
  • Make sure that you print a hard copy of your e-visa.
  • If staying 15 days or more in Azerbaijan be sure to register your visa.
  • The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a highly sensitive subject, and implying the slightest support for Armenia or for the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to be met with extreme disapproval or hostility.

Embassies & Consulates

Most foreign embassies and consulates are located in Baku.

Iran The Iranian Consulate in Baku, ie where you go for visa applications, is completely separate from the embassy. There is also a consulate in Naxçıvan.

Turkmenistan Applying for a Turkmen visa is a dark art and the process takes a minimum of three weeks. The consular section of Turkmenistan's Baku embassy is a block south then west of Ak H Əliyev pr, and queues can be massive, long before the doors open. Read https://caravanistan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=936 very carefully before applying.

Citizens of most wealthier nations get visa-free entry to Uzbekistan, many enjoy similar rights for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan or can get e-visas which is also the commonest requirement for Turkey (apply through www.evisa.gov.tr).

Emergency & Important Numbers

Ambulance103
Fire101
Police102

Etiquette

  • Bring a gift if visiting a family home, and take your shoes off on arrival.
  • If invited to a wedding be aware that you're expected to pay (in a gift envelope on arrival) a sum that varies with the venue but is rarely less than AZN100 per person.
  • If talking about possible future plans, adding the proviso insh'Allah (God willing) is sensitive and can win you respect.
  • If sitting on a full bus and an older person gets aboard, younger passengers normally give up their seats without comment. Men will often stand for women too. The exact hierarchy of who stands when is quite complex. Don't expect to be thanked.
  • Don't throw away bread with general rubbish.

Internet Access

Almost all accommodation, many cafes and restaurants and some public spaces provide free wi-fi. On mobiles, 4G coverage is remarkably good even in fairly rural areas.

LGBT Travellers

Although homosexual acts have been technically legal since 2001, Azerbaijan has been rated the country in Europe with the lowest level of protection for LGBT rights. Under the radar, same-sex relationships are far from uncommon but traditional and religious values prevent open identification of a non-heterosexual orientation. In 2017, the press reported anti-LGBT crackdowns and in 2019 a TV presenter called for those of different sexual persuasion to be killed.

Despite such frightening news, however, LGBT travellers should encounter no problems if they are discreet. Two men or women sharing a bed is not automatically construed as having a sexual motive and indeed will often be considered far less scandalous than an unmarried mixed couple doing the same.

Advocacy & Support Groups

Azadaz (www.azadaz.org) Promoting LGBT understanding in Azerbaijan since 2012.

Gay.az (https://gay.az) Support website, mostly in Russian with a forum in Azerbaijani.

Minority (https://minorityaze.org/en) Magazine and LGBT news source.

Money

Azerbaijan’s Manat is denoted AZN or by a special 'M' that looks like a euro symbol rotated through 90 degrees. AZN1 equals 100 qəpiq (100q).

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1AZN1.56
CanadaC$1AZN1.29
Eurozone€1AZN1.89
Japan¥100AZN1.59
NZNZ$1AZN1.11
UKUK£1AZN2.06
USUS$1AZN1.70

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

In restaurants, tipping up to 10% is highly appreciated but not usually expected. Simply rounding up the bill is more common in less fancy places. Rounding up is also important when using app-based taxis where drivers are very poorly paid, but much less so in unmetered flagged cabs for which fare haggling is more appropriate.

Credit Cards

Many transactions still require cash but Visa & Mastercard usage is becoming increasingly widespread and ATMs are available in all cities and regional centres.

Opening Hours

Museums, restaurants in big cities and especially shops may stay open longer than these general hours. Offices may open as early as 9am and close as late as 6pm; lunch breaks at offices last an hour or more.

Bazaars 8am–2pm are busiest hours

Museums 10am–5pm, many closed Monday

Offices 10am–5pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants 8am–9pm in rural locations; 11am–11pm in big cities

Shops 10am–7pm

Public Holidays

New Year’s Day 1 January

Novruz Bayramı 20–26 March

Genocide Day 31 March (mourning day for those killed in Baku, 1918)

Victory Day 9 May

Ramazan Bayram (Apr–May, date varies) Eid al-Fitr, the holiday after the end of Ramadan

Republic Day 28 May (founding of first Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918)

National Salvation Day 15 June (parliament asked Heydər Əliyev to lead the country in 1993)

Armed Forces Day 26 June (founding of Azerbaijan’s army in 1918)

Gurban Bayramı (Jun–Jul, date varies) Eid al-Adha, Festival of the Sacrifice

National Independence Day 18 October (date of Azerbaijan’s breakaway from the USSR)

Flag Day 9 November (celebrates the 2010 unfurling on what was then the world’s tallest flagpole)

Constitution Day 12 November (framing of constitution in 1995)

National Revival Day 17 November (first anti-Soviet uprising in 1988)

Solidarity Day 31 December (breaking down of border fences between Azerbaijan and Iran in 1989)

Telephone

Azerbaijan’s country code is 994.

Mobile Phones

  • SIM cards typically cost from AZN5 for pay-as-you-go, with SMS messages costing 4q, calls per min 4q and data around AZN6 for a 1.5GB package. To buy a SIM card you’ll need your passport and may need to go to the main office in any town of one of the three providers (AzerCell, Bakcell or Nar).
  • Mobile phones not purchased in Azerbaijan can be used for up to 30 days but after that you'll need to register the phone's IMEI code through www.imei.az or at a post office. The cost can be anywhere between AZN5 and AZN90 depending on the value of your phone. To find its IMEI code tap *#06#.

Tourist Information

The new Azerbaijan Tourist Board is undertaking a massive revamp of the nation's tourist information offices and is working on themed tour ideas including wine (azerbaijanwine.com), golf (golfazerbaijan.com) and skiing (skiazerbaijan.com).

Post

Post offices are widespread but international mail can be pretty slow.

Smoking

A ban on smoking in most public buildings came into force during 2018. The law's effectiveness has been patchy, with many flouting the law in cafes and significant numbers of drivers apparently unaware that taxis and buses are also theoretically no-smoking zones. The smoking of shisha (nargilə) water pipes remains common in nightclubs and some restaurants where tobacco smoking is otherwise forbidden.

Time

GMT/UTC plus four hours year-round. Since 2016 there is a summer switch to daylight savings time but some older telephones and computers have a pre-set function that mistakenly autocorrects to what is now a false Az-summertime setting.

Travel with Children

Children are considered treasured gifts from God and bringing your children with you will ensure a warm reception in Azerbaijan. Local people love meeting kids and are very relaxed with them. If you get onboard a crowded bus with a baby, don't be surprised if someone takes him or her from your hands. This is not kidnap but a helpful courtesy.

Baku has plenty of children's play centres, some fair rides along the Bulvar and amusements in most of the shopping malls. Bigger hotels often have play areas and sports facilities. The resort hotels of Qəbələ (Azerbaijan) are especially family-friendly and that town has Azerbaijan's biggest theme park. There's a smaller, summer-only version beside the Quba Palace near Quba.

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.

Volunteering

Short-term volunteering with beach clean-ups and litter collection in the mountains can be organised through one of the many tour companies. Camping Azerbaijan runs a Father Christmas gift-delivery service to remote villages, though most volunteers are friends of the organisers.

Women Travellers

  • Baku and some of the resort areas are relatively liberated, but in provincial areas it's wise to dress modestly, keeping shoulders and knees covered in public places.
  • Modest dress is obligatory in mosques and churches, where you'll normally also need to don a headscarf.
  • Other than in mosques, covering one's hair is a woman's personal choice and an expression of piety (unlike in neighbouring Iran it is certainly not a legal requirement).
  • Moderate drinking is generally fine in Baku but unaccompanied women ordering alcohol or smoking publicly can raise eyebrows in more conservative towns like Zaqatala or Şәki.
  • Sitting alone at a cheap, local restaurant or çayxana (teahouse) can be uncomfortable as these tend to be all-male preserves. However, there are plenty of family restaurants and cafes that are female-friendly.
  • Some cheap lodgings aimed at truck drivers are uncomfortably male-dominated.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures The metric system is used.

Work

There is some call for English and other language teaching in Baku but you'll need to apply for the work visa at home.

Taxes & Refunds

Azerbaijan levies 18% VAT which, since 2016, can be reclaimed by foreign visitors on purchases made in around 200 accredited stores, 99% of which are in Baku. Details are explained at www.taxfree.az.

Toilets

  • All but the most basic hotels use sit-down-style toilets.
  • Outdoor squat toilets are more common in small villages and at bus stations.
  • Toilets are usually free in restaurants but carry a charge in public places (typically 20q or 30q).
  • While some public toilets in Baku are clean and well-maintained, many provincial ones are frightening.
  • Toilets at major petrol stations are often better than average and typically free to customers.