Azerbaijan, the ultimate Caucasian country and, probably, one of the least visited places in both Europe and Asia, is a fascinating and unique country, as it is the place where East literally meets West.
A real blend of Europe, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union, for years, people have struggled to figure out where it actually belong:
Is it part of Asia or, perhaps, Europe?
Well, the truth is that you really can’t tell, because the imaginary line that separates Europe from Asia goes through the middle of Azerbaijan.
This imaginary partition is not only geographical but it has also defined the cultural lifestyle of the Azerbaijanis who, due to their geographic location and history, have adopted customs from both continents.
After going backpacking in Azerbaijan twice, I have compiled all the places I visited in a 1 to 3-week itinerary, including plenty of places off the beaten track.
This guide contains all the things to do in Azerbaijan. For practical information to the country, such as transportations tips, visas, budget, etc. don’t forget to read my travel guide to Azerbaijan
Backpacking in Azerbaijan: 1 to 3-week itinerary
Travel Insurance for Azerbaijan
1-week itinerary (Baku, Qobustan, Quba, Xinaliq, Laza)
2-week itinerary (1-week + Ivanovka, Lahic, Sheki, Kish, Zaqatala)
3-week itinerary (2-week + Republic of Nakhchivan, Ganja, Goygol, Dashkashan)
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Quick tips for backpacking in Azerbaijan
When to go – If you want to visit the mountains, the best to visit is from April to October, or only summer, if you want to do some trekking. In Baku and around, the climate is continental, which means that summer is utterly hot and winter extremely cold. Therefore, unless you want to do some serious trekking, mid-spring, and mid-autumn would be the ideal time to go backpacking in Azerbaijan.
Visa for Azerbaijan – When I first visited the country in 2016, you had to apply through the classic embassy process but now, since January 2017, the Government has liberalized its visa regime and most countries can apply for an e-visa through this portal. Typically, it costs 23USD and takes 3 working days. The urgent visa costs 50USD.
How to move around – Backpacking in Azerbaijan is very easy, as there is a wide public transportation system, even to the remotest towns and villages. Typically, locals travel in marshrutkas, the small mini-vans from the former Soviet Republics. They leave once they are full and are very, very cheap. Local shared taxis are also common.
Going to Georgia? Here’s everything you need to know for traveling to Georgia
Travel Insurance for Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is an adventurous destination and, as such, you must go there with the proper travel insurance.
I strongly recommend World Nomads for the following reasons:
- It is the only company that covers you with an unlimited budget
- It covers the largest number of adventurous activities, something really useful in this kind of country
- You can apply while on the road (many companies don’t allow that)
If you want to know more options, read how to find the right travel insurance
Backpacking in Azerbaijan – 1-week itinerary
Most travelers I met were backpacking in Azerbaijan for just 7 days.
No problem because a 7-day Azerbaijan itinerary is enough to get a decent feeling of the country.
1-week Azerbaijan travel itinerary – Map
Day 1, 2 – Baku
Once the world’s top oil producer, today Baku is a modern metropolis which will leave the visitor more than surprised.
Despite being a Muslim capital, it has only a small number of mosques, which means that Baku is mostly secular but people are still quite traditional.
From a pretty, historical old city, to the most extravagant luxury buildings and all sort of pubs, bars, and restaurants, Baku has it all.
Things to do in Baku
You can visit the Old Town, where you can find perfectly restored buildings from the 7th century; stroll down the promenade, visit ancient temples or check out some futuristic buildings.
For more information, I wrote a very comprehensive guide:
Where to stay in Baku
Backpackers Hostel – Sahil Hostel – A very busy hostel, as it is cheap and the facilities are great. It is also a cool spot to meet fellow-travelers.
Budget Guest House – Khazar Old City Guest House – A beautiful traditional house in the heart of the old city. Recommended for couples or those who are on a budget but don’t want to stay in a hostel.
Mid-range Hotel – Denize Inn Boutique Hotel – The boutique hotel with the best reviews in town, also located in the old part of Baku.
Top-end – Four Seasons – Located in a very beautiful building, this is the best 5-star hotel in Baku.
Day 3 – Qobustan
Located 50km south of Baku, Qobustan is one of the country’s top tourist sites for having some of the most ancient petroglyphs ever found, but also, this is the place where you will discover the real ex-Soviet Azerbaijan.
I recommend you come here on a day trip from Baku.
Things to see and do in Qobustan
Petroglyphs – During the Stone Age, around 12,000-15,000 years ago, when the Caspian coast was richer and more fertile, a big group of hunters settled down in a set of caves in which they carved more than 600 petroglyphs (from the Greek words petros meaning “stone” and glyphein meaning “to carve”). Today, many of these stone carvings still remain and, the Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve has become a UNESCO-listed Heritage Site.
Mud volcanoes – Azerbaijan has the largest mud volcanoes in the world, which are formations created by geo-exuded mud
For further information (history, how to get there, etc.), read my article: Qobustan: Petroglyphs and Sovietism
By the way, if you want to make things easier and go on a tour, I recommend the guys from GetYourGuide, which offer a tour that includes a visit to the petroglyphs + mud volcanoes + an ancient mosque from the area.
Day 4, 5, 6 – Quba, Xinaliq, Laza
A region with immense historical importance, the Greater Caucasus has some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe and, in Azerbaijan, Quba is one of its main gateways.
Located 180km north of Baku, Quba is a small city and a great base for exploring the Caucasian villages around it.
How to get from Baku to Quba
You need to take the metro to Avtogavzal, which is the main bus station.
The buses to Quba cost 6AZN (3.50USD) and the journey takes 3 to 4 hours.
Quba doesn’t really have touristic sites but it is a very local city with a great bazaar and a very tangible local vibe.
Some travelers prefer to stay here and then do day trips to Laza or Xinaliq, while the most adventurous prefer to stay in a mountain homestay.
I decided to stay in Quba for 4 nights because I came in November and it was cold in the mountains.
If you are short of time, you could actually skip Quba and go straight to Xinaliq from Baku, stay there overnight and come back to Baku on the next day.
Otherwise, I recommend you spend the first night here, check out the local vibe and go to Xinaliq on the day after.
Where to stay in Quba
Backpacker Hostel – Hostel Bay Quba – If you are looking for a budget option, as far as I know, this is the only hostel with dorms in town. However, neither cleanliness nor facilities are their strength precisely but, at least, the owner is kind.
Guest House – House in Quba – A great, traditional guest house, a bit expensive for solo travelers but it has 3-bedroom rooms which are great value for money.
Xinaliq is a lovely Caucasian village located at 2,350 meters above sea level which, if you count it as part of Europe, would be the highest village in the continent.
Xinaliq is not only surrounded by the most striking scenery in the country but also, its inhabitants belong to a different ethnicity and speak a distinct language.
You can come here on a day trip, no problem, but you can also stay in one of the many warm homestays.
As per things to do, day treks are plentiful and maps.me shows quite a few trails that can be completed in a maximum of 2 or 3 hours.
Xinaliq is a must-to-see in your Azerbaijan itinerary.
How to get to Xinaliq from Quba
There is no public transportation and the road is a muddy mountain road, but an amazing one.
In high season, you can find local shared taxis but I came out of season and had to go on a private taxi. In 2016, I paid 30AZN (18USD) for a round-trip taxi. The waiting time was pretty much the whole day, basically because the driver was from there and he had some business to do.
In 2018, they were already asking for 40AZN (23.50USD), which is understandable, as the tourists in the area have increased exponentially.
Where to stay in Xinaliq
There are quite a few homestays in Xinaliq, most of them being brand-new.
One piece of advice is that you should choose a guest house that includes breakfast because those that charge it separately ask for a lot of money for every meal.
Laza is another Caucasian village, not as high as Xinaliq, but very beautiful as well.
In winter, it becomes the most popular ski resort in the country, so there are all sorts of accommodation, from budget lodges to 5-star hotels and homestays.
The village itself, nevertheless, is still untouched and there are many day-trek opportunities.
Some readers of Against the Compass who didn’t have a lot of time asked me whether I would recommend Laza or Xinaliq. Both places are equally pretty but Xinaliq is higher and the road to reach it is epic, so I would choose Xinaliq.
Like Xinaliq, visiting Laza from Quba requires a full day, so plan accordingly.
Read: Azerbaijan travel tips
How to get to Laza from Quba
A one-way taxi costs 15-20AZN (9-12USD).
If you want to go by public transport, you first need to take a bus to Gorus (1AZN, 20 minutes).
From Gorus, you have two options: either take a direct taxi to Laza (10AZN) or catch the noon bus to Kozam. You should let the driver know that you are going to Laza, so he will tell you where to get off. From there, you have to walk up the road for around four to five kilometers but you can hitchhike.
Where to stay in Laza
Budget Homestay – Laza Guest House – If you want to stay in a cheap, traditional house with a super, lovely family, this is your place.
Day 7 – Back to Baku
There are, of course, many marshrutkas going back to Baku. If you miss the last one, there should be local shared taxis. The taxi station is outside of the bazaar and the bus station is here: 41.371446, 48.553006.
Backpacking in Azerbaijan – 2-week itinerary
If you are backpacking in Azerbaijan for 2 weeks, after Quba, you can go all the way to Sheki and Zaqatala and visit some cool spots in between.
2-week Azerbaijan travel itinerary – Map
Day 1 to 8 – Baku, Qobustan, Quba, Xinaliq
Already explained but, if you have 2 weeks, I would definitely stay 1 extra day in Baku and even 1 extra day in the mountains around Quba.
Day 8, 9 – Lahic
Home to artisans and blacksmiths, Lahic is the Azerbaijani capital of handicrafts, a region that, due to its harsh mountain climate and isolation, developed other types of subsistence.
Lahic is a medieval-looking town full of handicraft shops which can only be reached through a spectacular road that goes along the edge of some very jagged, frightening cliffs.
The landscape is composed of velvet-smooth rolling hills, similar to Kyrgyzstan, so trekking here is dope.
You can actually trek from Lahic to Xinaliq in 2 days and, apparently, it is a really awesome trek, but you should only attempt if you have some experience, as there is nothing in between, so you need to be self-sufficient. The trail is on maps.me.
How to get to Lahic from Baku
Again, marshrutkas leave from the main bus station in Baku. The easiest way would be to take one to Ismaili and, from there, find a second marshrutka or local shared taxi to Lahic.
Ismaili is located after the intersection that leads to Lahic, so a more adventurous and quicker way would be getting off before, at that intersection, and hitchhiking (or waiting for a marshrutka) from there.
Where to stay in Lahic
Homestay – Ancient Lahij Guest House – Lahic is about homestays and this one is the most comfortable and recommended, run by a lovely local family that makes amazing local, warm meals. Look no further.
Day 9, 10 – Ivanovka
Sorry for the expression but I fucking love Ivanovka.
Most people don’t, but I do.
Ivanovka is, in fact, not a place for everyone but, if you are interested in history and dark tourism, you are going to absolutely love this place, as it has a significant population of Molokans, a Christian branch, or a sect, from eastern Europe, mainly Russia, that didn’t get along with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Two centuries ago, during the Russian Empire, the Russian Orthodox Church kicked the Molokans out of Russia and, for some reason, they all ended up in a small village called Ivanovka, located in today’s Azerbaijan.
In Ivanovka, most signs are in Russian and many of its inhabitants are blue-eyed blonde people.
What to actually do in Ivanovka
The main reason to come to Ivanovka is to visit the collective farms.
And what is a collective farm?
To make it even more surreal, this is one of the very few places in the world where Soviet collective farms still exist.
Basically, they are farms which, during Soviet times, were controlled by the Soviet government, meaning that they were like public companies where the farmers were just employees.
Today, these farms are fully functional and not much has changed since the Soviet Union: they still use the same rusty machinery and people working there are employees. To be honest, the ownership is partially private now but I was told that the Government still has a big share.
Technically, visiting them is not allowed but you can sneak in very easily. The complex is huge and, if a worker sees you, he won’t say anything to you
In my second visit, in 2018, I entered the complex twice and spent one hour there until a big guy with a fancy car came and, gently, kicked me out. He was a big boss but workers just ignored me.
Many people have emailed me saying that they either didn’t find it or they were not allowed to get in. The reason is that the main entrance is secured by a guard, so you need to enter from the other side:
The yellow pin is John & Tanya Guest House.
The red pin is center of the actual Collective Farm complex.
The green pin is where you can access from.
Seriously, if you have the time, don’t miss Ivanovka in your Azerbaijan travel itinerary.
How to get to Ivanovka from Baku
From Baku, take a marshrutka to Ismaili, located on the main road, 22km from Ivanovka.
Once there, take a taxi to Ivanovka, which shouldn’t cost you more than 3-4AZN. Hitchhiking is also possible. I did it on the way back.
Where to stay in Ivanovka
Budget Guest House – John and Tanya Guest House – The owner is a young local guy from Baku (son of Tanya). It is a good guest house. I stayed here twice, in 2016 and 2018. The rooms haven’t changed much but, when I first came in 2016, they were offering local home-made meals which were delicious. In 2018, they have a set menu which mostly consists of international food, so that was a huge downgrade for me.
Day 10, 11, 12 – Sheki and Kish
Also situated in the heart of the Caucasus, Sheki is, by far, the most tourist-friendly destination in Azerbaijan, as it’s home to a large cultural heritage, defining almost 3,000 years of Azerbaijani history.
Sheki was an important market place on the Silk Road, linking the Caucasus with Russia.
Awesome day hikes, the best local food and beautiful medieval architecture which reminds one of many villages in Europe, make Sheki a must place to visit.
Most cultural heritage can be found inside Sheki’s fortress and the Palace of Shaki Khans, which used to be the Khan’s administrative building, is claimed to be the most iconic building in South Caucasus and, also, a UNESCO-listed site.
Visit Kish on a day trip
Around 10 kilometers from Sheki, Kish is a lovely village with tile-roofed houses and stone pavements, located in a valley that looks towards high-altitude snowy peaks.
Kish can be easily visited on a day trip from Sheki. I walked there and took me around two hours, with frequent stops.
The village has a beautiful cemetery with epic valley views.
The most iconic building in Kish is an Albanian church, which was built by the commonly called mysterious Caucasian Albanians, a Christian nation that once lived in the northern part of Azerbaijan.
How to get from Ivanovka to Sheki
From Ivanovka, you must go back to Ismayili and get off at the exact same place where the bus coming from Baku dropped you off.
Simply, wait there for any local bus going to Qabala. From Qabala, take a second bus to Sheki.
Where to stay in Sheki
Budget Homestay– Ilqar’s Guest House – Ilqar is a knowledgeable, local guy who speaks awesome English. He has a couple of double rooms which can be shared with other backpackers. It’s a great homestay for the most budget travelers.
Guest House – Guest House Sah Ismayil – One of the best guest houses in Sheki this is the best choice for couples or travelers who are looking for something which is not a hostel for backpackers. It’s very affordable too and it has a lovely garden where to hang out.
Day 13, 14 – Zaqatala, back to Baku or go to Georgia
For the following days, your Azerbaijan itinerary will depend on where you are going next.
Going back to Baku requires a full day, so if you need to catch a plane, better go there the day before.
If you are traveling to Georgia, I recommend you stop in Zaqatala. That’s what I did. I spent a few hours there, just exploring its fortress and busy square. It has its own charm.
The place is also famous for dushbara, a local dumpling soup. You can find it in some restaurants in Baku but it is originally from here, so you will find the best. Just go to any of the local restaurants nearby the station, in the center.
How to go to Georgia – From Zaqatala, take a marshrutka to Balakan (like 1AZN) and, from there, take a taxi to the border. Very easy and straightforward. Once in Georgia, you will officially be in the wine region called Kakheti and, from the border, you can find transportation to Signaghi.
If you have more days, continue reading 🙂
Backpacking in Azerbaijan – 3-week itinerary
If you have 1 extra week for backpacking in Azerbaijan, consider exploring the region around Ganja and go to my favorite place in the country: Nakhchivan.
The only problem is that, in Azerbaijan, you can’t really follow a loop but you always have to go back to Baku and make some inconvenient detours.
3-week Azerbaijan travel itinerary – Map
Day 1, 2, 3, 4 – Baku and Qobustan
Day 5, 6, 7 – Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan
Have you ever heard of Nakhchivan?
Nakhchivan is an exclave of Azerbaijan, which means that it is geographically separated but it belongs to Azerbaijan.
It is actually located between Turkey, Armenia, and Iran.
Nakhchivan was actually the first territory to ever declare its independence from the Soviet Union, becoming the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan and, one year later, it became part of Azerbaijan. Today, it is an autonomous region with its own Parliament and Ministries.
For decades, this region has been in complete isolation, so that’s why the people there have a distinct culture and, basically, you won’t see any tourists at all.
In fact, this is one of the most off the beaten track places I have ever visited.
To be very honest, if I was you, I would go to Nakhchivan even if I only had 7 days in Azerbaijan.
Things to do in Nakhchivan
There are loads, loads of things to do in Nakhchivan and you really need a few days to visit it.
Nakhchivan City – The capital of the region has plenty of mausoleums, like the one where Noah is buried. Actually, it is said that Noah anchored his ark right in the middle of Nakhchivan.
Alinja Castle – An epic medieval castle placed in an even more epic location.
Ordubad – The second largest city has a beautiful historical old town.
Qarabaglar – Beautiful mosque and Mausoleum
For more information, read this post I wrote for Chasing the Donkey:
How to get to Nakhchivan
If you are in Azerbaijan, the easiest way is flying in from Baku. Tickets are inexpensive and the rate is always flat. You can book them through Azerbaijan Airlines.
Where to stay in Nakhchivan
There are only 2 hotels and neither of them are budget.
Alternatively, you can try to Couchsurf. There are 1 or 2 active profiles.
Tabriz Hotel – Located in the city center. I used to come here for coffee and work for 2 hours in the morning. They claim it is a 4-star hotel but it isn’t really. Still, it is the best option in town.
Duzdag Hotel – Fancier but the location isn’t great.
Day 8, 9, 10 – Quba, Xinaliq, Laza
Already explained. After flying back to Baku, go north.
Day 11, 12, 13 – Ganja, Dashkashan and Göygöl
After visiting the mountains, you need to go back to Baku and, from there, take a marshrutka to Ganja.
Ganja is the second largest city in the country but, since it is not on the way to Sheki and northern places, not many travelers visit it.
The first thing you need to know about Ganja is that, despite being the second most important economic center, it is miles away from the modernities of fancy Baku.
In fact, I was very surprised to see some streets in the city center are still unpaved, which clearly shows the obvious corruption that tended to focus all resources on the capital.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I always defend this sort of barely-visited destinations but this time I won’t, because I really didn’t like Ganja.
I didn’t like it because it is just a big city where there isn’t much to do besides visiting some buildings in the city center and a lively market. You can see nice markets all over the region, and I personally think that Ganja is not worth the detour.
However (there is always a however 😉 ), Ganja is a great base to explore some wonders which are very close by plus it is on your way to Georgia if you plan to cross the southern border, the closest to Tbilisi.
Day trip to Dashkashan
WOW, Dashkashan was a big surprise to me.
I remember talking to a local woman in the train from Tbilisi to Baku, when I asked her to tell me her favorite place in Azerbaijan.
She said: Dashkashan.
I saved it on my map and since I had some spare days to visit around Ganja, I decided to go there based on her recommendation but I didn’t look for any information about the place.
That woman had told me that the area was very beautiful, and those mountains were nice indeed, but what she didn’t tell me is that Dashkashan was an old Soviet mining town.
Read my ultimate guide to all the places to visit in Tbilisi
When I arrived there and saw those big skyscrapers popping out among mountains, I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on but then, when I kept walking, I suddenly saw a huge abandoned mine, so I realized that Dashkashan must had been a very prosperous mining town during the Soviet Union, similar to Chiatura in Georgia, so that is why they built all those big buildings.
The mining activity has decreased but, today, they still extract some gold and other minerals.
I spent just a few hours going around but I wish I had more time. I also hired a taxi driver who took me around to a couple of places for 8AZN.
How to get to Dashkashan from Ganja – Easy-peasy. You first need to go to the bus station on the western part of the city. Here: 40.702096, 46.320566. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than a few Manats. From there, you need to take a marshrutka that costs 1 miserable Manat. The journey takes around an hour and a half.
Day trip to Göygöl National Park
50km south of Ganja you find Göygöl National Park. If you fancy seeing one of the most beautiful lakes in the lower Caucasus, you really should visit it.
There is not much to say about it other than it is a nice lake to picnic around. A few kilometers from the big lake, there is a smaller one, which is even nicer. The place is popular among locals, so there is even a marshrutka that moves around the two lakes but, seriously, don’t take it and walk.
How to get to Göygöl National Park from Ganja – A round-trip taxi would cost around 40AZN (23USD). Alternatively, you can take a marshrutka to the halfway village of Göygöl and hitchhike from there.
Where to stay in Ganja
Budget Hostel – VM Hostel – A pretty quiet and cheap hostel but everything super new and clean. Besides me, there was one German backpacker, that’s it. Highly recommended as a base to explore around Ganja.
Nicer – House in Ganja – Centrally located run by a very hospitable local couple. It’s like an apartment and they rent rooms.
Day 14 to 21 – Ivanovka, Lahic, Sheki, and Zaqatala
From Ganja, you can take a direct marshrutka to Ismaili, from where you can go to all the places I explained before, including going to Georgia.
More information for backpacking in Azerbaijan
Here you can check:
Going to Georgia as well? Here’s my mega guide to visiting Georgia
And here my travel guide to Tbilisi
After Azerbaijan, many travelers go to Iran. Here you can check all my articles and guides to Iran.
And many take the boat from Baku to Aktau in Kazakhstan. Here, you can check all my articles and guides to Kazakhstan.
And here all my content about Central Asia
These are all the places I visited. Do you have any other suggestion to add to this Azerbaijan itinerary? Kindly post it in the comments!