Called the 'land of fire', Azerbaijan is famed forits old-world ties, oil spas, healing springs, and (eternal fires). History buffs and wellnesstourists will not be disappointed. The country lies between Asiaand Europe and is an important player in the South Caucasus' energyspace. Indeed, Azerbaijan was first to explore the region'stremendous potential in the sector.
Azerbaijan is also renowned for Naftalan: a unique,medicinal oil. The remedy is thought to be an effective treatmentfor arthritis, psoriasis, and rheumatism. Naftalan town has specialspas and treatment centres, where patients sit up to their necks inbaths of the rare oil. Visitors can choose from more than 1,000mineral springs throughout the country as well.
The capital, Baku, is the largest and mostcosmopolitan city in the Caucasus region, and is Azerbaijan'scultural, economic, political, and scientific centre. Situated onthe Caspian Sea, it is about 5,500 years old.
History lovers can see some wonderfully preservedrelics, ancient mosques, cities, oases, fortresses and palaces.They can also visit the ancient fire-worshipper temple complex,Ateshgah, and walk the natural gas-fuelled Yanar Dag (FireMountain), which is one of many impressive eternal fires on theAbsheron Peninsula. For the most part, Azerbaijan is mountainousand dotted with beautiful lakes. Many resorts line the CaspianSea's sandy beaches.
On a cautionary note, there is ongoing conflictbetween Azerbaijan and Armenia over the small Nagorno-Karabakhenclave. Though largely populated by Armenians, it is officiallypart of Azerbaijan. The trouble began with the collapse of theSoviet Union in 1991, when both countries gained theirindependence.
Baku has a semi-arid climate with warm, dry summers and coolwinters. The city is located in the most arid part of Azerbaijan,where precipitation is less than eight inches (203mm) per year.Even in the winter (December to February), when Baku experiencesthe majority of its rain, precipitation levels are still relativelylow.
Strong gale-force winds are possible throughout the year and,for this reason, Baku is known as 'The City of Winds'. Also,because of these winds, the city experiences fierce snow stormsduring the winter months.
Average high temperatures during summer (June to August) reach87°F (31°C), with the Khazri winds providing a much-needed coolingeffect. In winter, average temperatures drop to around 39°F (4°C),with temperatures on the coast dipping below freezing.
Nine out of the 11 existing climate zones are present inAzerbaijan, although most of the country is dry semi-arid steppe.Generally speaking, summers are hot and winters are mild and wet,with snow in the mountains. Average temperatures range from 41°F(5°C) in the mountainous regions to 81°F (27°C) in the lowlands insummer, and 14°F (-10°C) to 37°F (3°C) in winter. The best time totravel for warm and dry weather is between April and October, butmountainous areas are best visited in the summer months of July andAugust. Baku is very hot and humid in the summer.
Late spring and early summer, between April and June, are thebest time to visit Azerbaijan, as the weather is warm and theflowers are in bloom.
The official currency is the Azerbaijani Manat (AZN), which isdivided into 100 qapik. Credit cards are not widely acceptedoutside of large hotels and restaurants in Baku and travellers areadvised to carry cash, preferably in Euro, British pounds, or USdollars. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and officialexchange bureaux, but visitors are advised to keep all receiptsuntil departure from Azerbaijan. ATMs can be found in most majorcities and towns.
Azerbaijani, or Azeri, is the official language. Turkishand Russian are widely spoken; few people speak English.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round, two-pinattachment plugs and Schuko plugs are in use.
US nationals require a valid passport and a visa.
UK nationals require a valid passport and a visa.
Canadians require a valid passport and a visa.
Australians require a valid passport and a visa.
South Africans require a valid passport and a visa.
Irish nationals require a valid passport and a visa.
US nationals require a valid passport and a visa.
New Zealand nationals require a valid passport and a visa.
A valid passport and a visa are required for travel toAzerbaijan. Visas are only available on arrival if the passportholder also has an official invitation letter from Azerbaijan.E-visas can be obtained before departure. Passengers visitingrelatives must register with local police. If staying at a hotel,the hotel staff will do this for the visitor. It is recommendedthat passports be valid for six months after departure from anyholiday destination.
No vaccinations are required for entry to Azerbaijan, buttravellers should ensure that all routine vaccinations are up todate. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommendedfor all travellers. Most health facilities are state-owned andequipment and staff training often fall short of Western standards.Outside of the capital, medical care and supplies may be difficultto come by and serious medical problems will require air evacuationto another country; comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Service charges are usually included in bills and tipping is notcompulsory. However, taxi-drivers, waiters and hotel staff arecommonly given some small change.
The crime rate is relatively low, but muggings do occur incentral Baku, particularly at night. Political gatherings anddemonstrations should be avoided as these have become violent inthe past. Unlicensed taxis should be avoided. Corruption iswidespread. The area around Nagorno-Karabakh has long been thesubject of dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia and most foreigngovernments advise against travel to the region due to ongoingoutbreaks of violence -- despite the ceasefire.
Most of the country is Muslim and visitors should respectreligious customs, particularly during the month of Ramadan, wheneating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours should bediscreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture.
Travellers should dress modestly, especially when visitingmosques or religious shrines. More specifically, women should coverarms and legs, and men should not wear shorts, even in summer.
Although homosexuality is legal in Azerbaijan, public displaysof affection will cause offence, especially outside the capital.Foreign nationals are routinely subject to police checks and it isadvisable to carry identification at all times.
Personal contact and relationship-building is critical inAzerbaijan, which means that meetings are more effective thanlong-distance communication. It is common to exchange businesscards in meetings, and these should be in Russian or English andhave an Azeri translation on the reverse.
The language of business is Azeri or Russian, and translatorswill be required for those who don't speak either language. Azeristend to be polite and visitors should be aware that a 'yes' mightactually mean 'no'.
Culturally, there is a strong emphasis on not causing 'loss offace' publically. Azeris should not be rushed into making abusiness decision. Gender roles are traditional and businesswomenmight be met with scepticism.
The international dialling code for Azerbaijan is +994. Areacodes are in use (e.g. 12 for Baku). There are few telephone linesoutside of the main cities, and international calls usually requirethe use of operators, many of whom do not speak English. Mobilecoverage is modernised and extensive, and service-provider branchesare easily available in towns and cities. Roaming charges are highand it is best to buy a local SIM card. Internet access isincreasing.
Travellers older than 18 may bring 600 cigarettes, 3 litres ofalcohol, 10kg of food products and goods up to the value ofUS$1,500 without paying customs duty. Banned items include weapons,narcotics and material encouraging terrorism or violence.Permission must be granted by the government before culturalartefacts, such as antique carpets, are exported from thecountry.
Official tourism website: azerbaijan.travel
Azerbaijan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 3373500.
Azerbaijan Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 20 7938 3412.
Azerbaijan Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 288 0497.
Azerbaijan Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 346 1018.
Azerbaijan Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6290 5600.
United States Embassy, Baku: +994 12 488 3300.
British Embassy, Baku: +994 (12) 437 7878.
Canadian Embassy, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible forAzerbaijan): +90 312 409 2700.
South African Embassy, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible forAzerbaijan): +90 312 405 6861.
Australian Embassy, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible forAzerbaijan): +90 312 459 9500.
Irish Embassy, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible for Azerbaijan):+90 312 459 1000.
Visitors will find a number of transport options. The Baku Metrois the capital's rapid transport system and consists of more than20 stations scattered throughout the city. It provides the cheapestway to get around. Baku also has a system of electric trains thatserve several locales and surrounding areas. Alternative modes ofpublic transport include buses and minibuses, which can take peoplealmost anywhere in the city. Destinations are clearly marked on thefronts of vehicles.
Taxis in Baku are similar to London's black cabs in style.Travellers can also hire a car in Azerbaijan and a number of carrental companies have offices at the airport. Road conditions andsignage are of a good standard in the city. Against that, foreigndrivers can sometimes struggle to deal with the erratic behaviourof local road users.