Let’s start with getting to the country. There are regular flights to Baku from Doha and Dubai so for travelers from many countries this may be the easiest way to get there. My journey was not short: a 10 hours flight from Cape Town to Doha, an 8 hour-long layover in the port of transit (nope, couldn’t go out to explore, it was in the middle of the night) and a short flight from Doha to Baku.
Where to Stay?
Baku, as any modern city, has a number of options for every budget. They have expensive 5-star hotels as well as more affordable ones. Hostels in the city centre are also very popular and are always a good solution for a solo traveller. We wanted some privacy and independence so we opted for Airbnb. Our first host cancelled a week before our arrival but we managed to find a new accommodation, also in the city centre. Our apartment could look better but has an amazing location and a very good, responsive and helpful host. Definitely recommended for the price.
Pro tip: You should remember to book your accommodation before you apply for your visa, as they’ll ask you about it. Have a printed e-visa, a confirmation of your accommodation and your return ticket ready for the immigration officers too.
Best to always check the requirements for your country with a local consulate/embassy. Some countries are eligible for a visa on arrival. I also saw e-visa self-service terminals at the airport but I have no idea how and if they work.
As recommended, we got our e-visas before our trip using the super useful Azerbaijani e-visa system. The usual processing time is up to 3 days but if you’re travelling last minute you can opt for an express service at additional cost. In my experience, the process is very quick and easy. You provide your personal details, your address, pay the fee, wait a bit, print out your e-visa and voila, you’re ready to go! With this in hand you’ll obtain your actual visa at the port of entry.
The Airport and Getting to Baku
The airport, as it usually happens, is slightly outside of Baku. If you want to have a local simcard (useful for data, wi-fi isn’t available everywhere), the easiest is to buy it straight at the airport. You’ll see the stand as you get out of the terminal after picking up your baggage. There are also places to exchange or draw money there.
You can get to Baku by bus or by taxi. Whatever your choice, do yourself a favour and act decisively once you leave the airport. The moment the door closes behind you, taxi drivers will surround you like harpies, trying to use all sort of tricks to get you to their taxi. E-hailing services such as Uber and Taxify/Bolt are available and are cheaper than the taxis waiting for tourists at the airport. It cost us 10 manat (6 USD) to get to the city centre using Taxify/Bolt.
As we were driving from the airport my first impression of Baku was: WOW. I was expecting great architecture but perhaps not immediately. The beautiful modern buildings on our way from the airport to the city centre surprised me. The highway is wide and in perfect condition.
The First Day in Baku
After we unpacked and showered we decided to go for a walk on the seaside Boulevard. Locals use it for walks, runs and other sport activities. I was surprised to see so many people (even adults) on scooters and roller-skates. The pathway is smooth like Philadelphia cream cheese so it’s perfect for all kinds of activities.
On our first day we also climbed a hill, starting from the Carpet Museum. It leads to the Upland Park, famous for being the best spot for panoramic shots of Baku. You can take a funicular to get there, if you prefer but it’s a very nice walk. It’ll also make you feel less guilty about all the baklava (or paklava as it’s called here) you’re going to eat during your holiday.
We also discovered a pretty cool restaurant on our first night in Baku. As we were walking home, we noticed an elderly woman making a qutab (traditional Azerbaijani flat bread with a filling of choice) in a window. “Mangalia Food Baku” serves traditional Azerbaijani food but surprisingly, we managed to find some vegetarian options on the menu. They actually told us they had vegetarian kebabs and they didn’t lie! We were also impressed with great service and a live band. Apart from the food we enjoyed the local signature tea, Azerçay. It has a particular flavour and it’s really delicious. I’m planning to bring more or less 5 kilos back with me to South Africa.
Baku was one of my most impulsive travelling choices – a Russian translator I was working with was based in Azerbaijan and I started to research the country. It looked like an amazing location to travel to with its rich history and not too many tourists visiting it yet. My husband agreed with me and here we are. Almost one week into the experience and we certainly don’t regret the decision!