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Azerbaijan

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Azerbaijan

AZERBAIJAN INDEX
„ Litre of petrol 60q
„ Litre of bottled water 40q
„ Pint of draft NZS beer 60q
„ Souvenir T-shirt – make your own!

Visiting the country takes creativity and imagination, as the tourist industry is at best
‘nascent’. Although there are plenty of rural ‘rest-zones’ for holidaying city folk, they cater
mainly for locals who want to unwind with hefty feasts and family chats, so rarely provide
any activities. To reach the most intriguing mountain villages will take initiative if you can’t
speak at least basic Azeri (or Turkish or Russian). Very few people outside Baku speak English,
but the challenge is a great part of the appeal. With a positive attitude, and helped along
by Azerbaijanis’ deeply ingrained sense of hospitality, any visit is likely to be an enjoyable
and highly memorable adventure.

„ Street treat – döner kebab 80q, tea

20q–AZN20 (!)

HIGHLIGHTS
„

„

„

„

„

Baku (p236) – With grand stone architecture, a medieval walled city centre and
super-stylish dining, Azerbaijan’s exciting capital is a dynamic boomtown that
changes almost while you watch.
Şəki (p274) – Cupped in beautiful wooded
mountains with an 18th-century palace,
picturesque old town and unforgettable
caravanserai-hotel.
Qobustan (p260) – Explore Stone- and
Bronze Age petroglyphs, then move on
to a nearby ‘family’ of wonderfully weird
little mud volcanoes.
Laza to Xınalıq hike (p265) – A glorious
valley hike linking two of the Caucasus’
loveliest mountain settlements.
Lahıc (p270) – Copper beaters’ and carpet
weavers’ workshops line the delightful
cobbled main street of this unique Persianspeaking mountain village.

ITINERARIES
„

„

„

FAST FACTS
„ Area 86,600 sq km
„ Capital Baku (Bakı)
„ Famous for Oil, saffron, caviar
„ Official Name Azərbaycan Respublikasi
„ Phrases Salam (hello), sağol (thank you)
„ Population 7,830,000
„ Ubiquitous face Heydar Әliyev

Three Days Soak up the atmosphere of bustling Baku and make trips to Qobustan
and the Abşeron Peninsula.
One Week Work your way between Tbilisi
(Georgia) and Baku via Zaqatala, Şəki
and Lahıc or head up from Baku to Quba
and explore its mountain hinterland.
Two Weeks Combine the suggestions above
and consider adding a trip to the charming south, perhaps en route to Iran.

CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit lowland Azerbaijan is
April to June, when skies are clear and the
land is green and full of flowers. October is
also lovely in Baku, w...
AZERBAIJAN
AZERBAIJAN
lonelyplanet.com AZERBAIJAN •• Highlights
Neither Europe nor Asia, Azerbaijan is an incredible tangle of contradictions and contrasts.
It’s a fascinating nexus of ancient historical empires. Yet it’s also a new nation finding its feet
as it emerges from a war-torn post-Soviet chrysalis on a petroleum-funded gust of optimism.
Surrounded by semi-desert on the oil-rich Caspian Sea, the nation’s cosmopolitan capital,
Baku, is a dynamic boomtown, where flashy limousines and mushrooming skyscrapers sweep
around a picturesque Unesco-listed ancient core. Yet barely three hours’ drive away lies an
entirely different world: timeless villages clad in lush orchards from which shepherd tracks
lead into the soaring high Caucasus mountains. Where Baku is multilingual and go-ahead,
the provinces shuffle to the gently paced click of nard (backgammon) on tree-shaded tea-
house terraces: women stay home, herds of cattle wander aimlessly across highways, and
potbellied bureaucrats scratch their heads in confusion on finding that an outsider has
wandered into their territory.
Visiting the country takes creativity and imagination, as the tourist industry is at best
‘nascent’. Although there are plenty of rural ‘rest-zones’ for holidaying city folk, they cater
mainly for locals who want to unwind with hefty feasts and family chats, so rarely provide
any activities. To reach the most intriguing mountain villages will take initiative if you can’t
speak at least basic Azeri (or Turkish or Russian). Very few people outside Baku speak English,
but the challenge is a great part of the appeal. With a positive attitude, and helped along
by Azerbaijanis’ deeply ingrained sense of hospitality, any visit is likely to be an enjoyable
and highly memorable adventure.
Azerbaijan
HIGHLIGHTS
Baku ( p236 ) – With grand stone architec-
ture, a medieval walled city centre and
super-stylish dining, Azerbaijan’s excit-
ing capital is a dynamic boomtown that
changes almost while you watch.
Şəki ( p274 ) – Cupped in beautiful wooded
mountains with an 18th-century palace,
picturesque old town and unforgettable
caravanserai-hotel.
Qobustan ( p260 ) – Explore Stone- and
Bronze Age petroglyphs, then move on
to a nearby ‘family’ of wonderfully weird
little mud volcanoes.
Laza to Xınalıq hike ( p265 ) – A glorious
valley hike linking two of the Caucasus’
loveliest mountain settlements.
Lahıc ( p270 ) – Copper beaters’ and carpet
weavers’ workshops line the delightful
cobbled main street of this unique Persian-
speaking mountain village.
ITINERARIES
Three Days Soak up the atmosphere of bus-
tling Baku and make trips to Qobustan
and the Abşeron Peninsula.
One Week Work your way between Tbilisi
(Georgia) and Baku via Zaqatala, Şəki
and Lahıc or head up from Baku to Quba
and explore its mountain hinterland.
Two Weeks Combine the suggestions above
and consider adding a trip to the charm-
ing south, perhaps en route to Iran.
CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit lowland Azerbaijan is
April to June, when skies are clear and the
land is green and full of flowers. October is
also lovely in Baku, with warm days and crisp
nights, though much of the countryside is
parched brown. Summer is unpleasantly hot
in low-lying areas, with Baku unpleasantly
humid. However, in the higher mountains
July is the ideal trekking season, although you
might still need a decent jacket at night.
Winters are mild around the Caspian shores
but can get strikingly cold inland. You’ll need
heavy sweaters in Şəki and the mercury can
dip below -20°C in Xınalıq or Lahıc, with
snow ploughs struggling to keep the roads
open. See p312 for climate charts.
CURRENT EVENTS
Azerbaijan’s almost deified father-figure,
Heydar Әliyev, died in April 2003. A shame-
lessly dynastic handover then passed power
to Әliyev’s largely untested son Ilham.
Ilham’s new role was regularised by an
election that he doubtless won, although
probably not with the landslide margin that
brought protests of irregularities and alleged
ballot box stuffing. Pessimistic observers pre-
dicted chaos. So far they have been proved
very wrong.
The Ilham Әliyev years have been marked
by Azerbaijan’s dramatic economic recovery,
albeit tinged by widespread reports of nepo-
tism, corruption and press-gagging. Helpfully
the US$4 billion BTC (Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan)
oil pipeline began pumping Caspian oil to
Turkey just at the time that petroleum prices
peaked. While Azerbaijan’s oilfields have not
proved quite the treasure-troves planners
once dreamed of, they have been augmented
by very important finds of natural gas. In
2006 GDP rose by a staggering 36.3%. And
as money floods into state coffers there has
been a building boom, especially in Baku. All
across the country, roads are being upgraded,
buildings renovated and parks studded with
new Heydar Әliyev statues.
However, despite the economic progress
many provincial folk look back fondly to the
‘fairer days’ of the USSR when everyone had
work and there was not today’s gulf between
poor farmers and Mercedes-driving ultrarich
biznizmen. Apart from the continued short-
age of employment, the overwhelming po-
litical issue remains Nagorno-Karabakh.
Few Azeris understand why the world isn’t
rallying to help restore Azerbaijan’s territo-
ries occupied by Armenians since the early
1990s. Hundreds of thousands of refugees
and IDPs (internally displaced persons)
remain in makeshift accommodation and
although their conditions have improved
materially in the last few years, their plight
remains very personally felt by all Azeris.
FAST FACTS
Area 86,600 sq km
Capital Baku (Bakı)
Famous for Oil, saffron, caviar
Official Name Azərbaycan Respublikasi
Phrases Salam (hello), sağol (thank you)
Population 7,830,000
Ubiquitous face Heydar Әliyev
AZERBAIJAN INDEX
Litre of petrol 60q
Litre of bottled water 40q
Pint of draft NZS beer 60q
Souvenir T-shirt – make your own!
Street treat – döner kebab 80q, tea
20q–AZN20 (!)
© Lonely Planet Publications
226 227
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