Offroading in Azerbaijan

Pristine nature, diverse topography and seemingly infinite areas of uninhabited land make Azerbaijan one of the most exciting destinations for offroading. Leaving behind the city jungle and entering into a completely different world of vast, roadless terrain will be a challenging experience both for beginners and off-road savvy drivers.

author: Etibar Jafarov

author: Etibar Jafarov

The sport is among the most popular in the country, and if you’ve ever experienced the traffic in Baku, you will quickly understand why. 

source: ann.az

source: ann.az

Fans of offroading in Azerbaijan are united by several clubs, of which the largest is Club 4×4. Competitions organized by them every year always gather hundreds of dauntless motorists driven by desire to challenge themselves in a difficult mountainous terrain carved by rivers or covered in dense forest. The possibility of getting where no one has set foot for centuries regularly attracts adventurers from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and many other countries.

The SUVs used off-road are equipped with reliable systems of radio navigation, and are carefully checked before every ride to ensure that nothing will spoil the experience. For the time being, the highest point conquered by Azerbaijani offroaders is situated 2,440m above sea level but they still haven’t said the last word. Azerbaijani offroading fans claim that if there is a mountain path with a width of at least 1.5m they will definitely pass it.

Image: ann.az

Image: ann.az

SW Travel organizes 4 day (3 nights) offroading tours on the route Baku-Guba- Shamakha. This road passes through the picturesque and historically significant city of Shamakha, the ancient capital of Shirvanshahs, and through the old carpet weaving and trading center, Guba.  It leads as well via mountain villages of Haltan, Pirbelli and Pirguli. During the tour participants cover the distance of 500km, of which 200km is off-road. The tour provides participants not only with the opportunity to test their driving skills in the tough terrain of the Greater Caucasus, but allows as well to get a glimpse at the life and traditions of local communities.

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Trekking, hiking and climbing in the Caucasus

Mountaineering in Azerbaijan

Approximately 60% of Azerbaijan’s territory is mountainous, which makes it a perfect place for climbing, trekking and hiking. The history of mountaineering in the country is approximately 100 years long but only very recently Azerbaijan started promoting itself as a possible climbing spot. This resulted not only in a steady development of infrastructure and some exhilarating climbing routes, but also in an intensive training of climbing instructors and guides who know very well not only the ‘’technicalities’’ of ascending a given mountain but are also perfectly familiar with fauna and flora, as well as the history and culture of mountain regions.

Climbing in the Greater Caucasus

Particularly suitable for climbing and hiking is the Greater Caucasus mountain range with the 4243m high Mount Shahdagh (King Mountain) located on the border with Russia (the Dagestan Republic).

Image: brantandclotho

Image: brantandclotho

Anyone visiting the area will be impressed with its spectacular mountain scenery interspersed with alpine wildflower meadows and waterfalls, highland pastures where shepherds graze their sheep and goat flocks, and lush pine forest shrouded by light haze. Most of the country’s highest peaks, including the tallest mountain of Azerbaijan, Mount Bazarduzu (4,485m), are located in the nearby Shahdagh National Park. ‘’Bazarduzu’’, which  means ‘’marketplace’’, owes its name to the market fairs that used to be organized in the Shahnbad Valley located just east of the mountain.

Mt Bazarduzu image: k-2007 (Panoramio)

Mt Bazarduzu image: k-2007 (Panoramio)

If you want to combine outdoor activities with cultural  experience then head to Khinalig, a beautifully located ancient Caucasian village,  situated high up in the mountains of the Quba region, not far from Mt Bazarduzu. It is one of the highest and most remote villages in the Caucasus with approximately 1500 inhabitants that speak their own language, the Khinalig language, belonging to the Northeast Caucasian language family. The tongue has been classified by UNESCO’s Atlas of the World Languages in Danger as ”severely endangered”.

Xinaliq image: azernews.az

Xinaliq image: azernews.az

Trekking in national parks

As a Caucasian country located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is one of the richest in biodiversity among the European states. In an attempt to protect the uniqueness of local environment, over the last years the country’s government established eight national parks, which provide excellent trekking opportunities. Altiagaj National Park, situated 1.5h drive from Baku, is among the most popular.  To reach the park you have to cross Candy Cane Mountains – a seemingly never-ending set of pink and whitish striped hills that owe their unique color to groundwater that has changed the oxidation state  of the iron compounds in the soil.  The hills, nearly stripped of human presence, are a perfect place to escape the hectic life of the capital and breathe some fresh air.

Candy Cane Mountains author: teuchterlad (Panoramio)

Candy Cane Mountains author: teuchterlad (Panoramio)

Apart from providing a nature retreat, Altiagaj National Park serves as well as a rehabilitation center for wild animals that were negatively affected by human activity such as poaching, or natural disasters. The purpose of the center is to treat wounded animals and help them adapt to life in the wilderness so that they can be brought back to nature. The shelter was established by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and is located in the village of Dash-Burun.

Why trek/climb in Azerbaijan?

  • Unlike in many other Caucasian countries – it’s very safe,
  • High mountains with some challenging ascents,
  • Pristine mountain trails & the excitement of discovery,
  • Friendly people,
  • Beautiful, unspoiled landscapes & fresh air.

If you want to get more information about SW outdoor tours email us at alina@swtravel.az or r.valiyev@swtravel.az.

Some useful links:

Beautiful images of Khinalig villagers: http://www.instituteartist.com/feature-Khinaliq-Village-Rena-Effendi

Azerbaijan Mountaineering Federation: http://aaf.az/eng/

Visa to Azerbaijan fuss-free

image: travelmaestro.co.uk

image: travelmaestro.co.uk

Visa-related questions are among the most frequently asked when it comes  to planning a trip to Azerbaijan. The procedures have been modified over the last couple of years and many people seem confused by what is actually required at the moment. In this post we will try to address these doubts by providing comprehensive and up-to-date information on how to get a tourist visa to the country.

Visa on arrival

This service has been stopped in October 2010. Except diplomats and passport-holders from visa exempt countries, anyone who will come to Azerbaijan without a pre-arranged visa will be sent back.

Nationals of the following countries don’t need a visa to enter Azerbaijan:

For up to 90 days: Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan

For up to 30 days: China, Turkey

For up to 15 days: Iran

Electronic tourist visa with SW Travel

SW Travel is among travel agencies licensed to issue online visas to Azerbaijan. The visa fee is 35 EUR if you book the accommodation with us, otherwise the cost is 60 EUR. The procedure is very simple.

Send the following documents to visa@swtravel.az:

  • Scanned completed and signed visa application form (JPEG format) – possible to download from our website
  • 1 color photo 3×4 against white background (JPEG format)
  • Color Passport copy ( JPEG format)
  • Copy of air ticket booking confirmation (JPEG format)
  • Confirmation from the hotel that you will be staying with them (not needed if booking accommodation through SW Travel)
  • Payment confirmation

Within 15 days you will receive your visa by email.

image: azernews.az

image: azernews.az

Consulate

You can also apply for the visa at an Azeri consulate closest to your place of residence. You can do it in person or by mail. If you’re staying abroad but don’t have the resident status in that country check in advance if the local Azeri consulate accepts applications from non-residents.

Required documents:

  • Completed application form
  • Photos 3×4 against white background
  • Passport and a copy of the first page of the passport
  • Invitation letter
  • Confirmation of payment for the visa
  • Completed & printed e-survey

Before applying for the visa you should also complete the evisa survey, print it out and submit it with the rest of the documents:

Among consulates issuing tourist visas for non-residents is the consulate of Azerbaijan in Batumi (Georgia), which might be very helpful for those planning a trip around South Caucasus. The Consulate in Batumi issues tourist visas within 3 working days, and it doesn’t require an invitation letter. As of now, the Consulate in Tbilisi issues only business visas to Azerbaijan.

Note: filling evisa application IS NOT ENOUGH to receive the visa. It’s used by the Ministry but you still have to go through the old procedure.

Other things to keep in mind

Various rules might apply to different countries and it’s always good to check the website of your nearest Azeri consulate for details. This is especially important when planning your trip. Make sure you always allow enough time for the visa application to be processed as in one country it might take only a couple of days but in another up to 3 weeks!

Due to the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, if your passport shows any evidence of travel to the Armenia-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan you will be denied entry to the country and banned from entering for life.

Registration with State Migration Services 

In April 2013 the Government of Azerbaijan has scrapped the requirement of Police Registration for all foreigners planning to stay in the country and replaced it with a less complicated procedure of Registration with State Migration Services (SMS).  According to the new rule, anyone planning to stay in the country longer than 3 days should register with State Migration Services within the first three working days from the arrival date. If you’re staying at a hotel, guesthouse etc. the staff should take care of it. However, if you’re planning to stay with friends or family, make sure they are aware of the new rule as otherwise they might face a fine. All you or your host has to do is send the following documents to this email address qeydiyyat@migration.gov.az:

  • Completed and signed application form
  • Copy of your passport
  • Copy  of the ID document of the receiving party

The application form can be downloaded from the SMS website:

Hope the information above clarified a bit the current rules of obtaining a visa to Azerbaijan. If you have any additional questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment and we will do our best to help. For more information regarding different types of visa, including transit visa, please see the links below:

http://azerbaijan24.com/azerbaijan-tourist-visa.html

http://www.president.az/azerbaijan/foreign/visa/

For those planning to apply in Georgia:

http://www.azembassy.ge/

http://www.azgenconsulate.ge/en/

For those applying in the UK:

http://www.visaforazerbaijan.org.uk/about.php

The flavors of Azerbaijan

 

The cuisine of Azerbaijan reflects centuries of various political and economic influences in the country – Iranian, Turkish, Central Asian and Soviet – which shaped the unique flavor of the local dishes. The particular topography and climate of Azerbaijan, with 9 out of 11 climate zones from subtropical to mountainous tundra, has also a major effect on the diversity and abundance of fruit, vegetables, pulses, herbs and spices the Azerbaijani cuisine is so rich in. Below you will find some information about the most popular Azeri dishes, but this is only a drop in the ocean of flavors and aromas in the country – for more, you will have to visit!

FOOD

Pilaf, or plov as it is called in Azerbaijan, is a dish of the country’s Persian past. Although there are over 40 types of plov in Azerbaijan, it usually consists of three main ingredients: rice, gara (fried meat, dried fruit, fish or egg) and aromatic herbs including saffron. During Russian times, the rice cultivation in Azerbaijan disappeared and the dish started to be served only on special occasions. Today however, with the import of rice and reestablishment of rice paddies in the sub-tropical south of the country, plov has made a comeback on Azeri tables.

Photo: Azerbaijan.travel

Photo: Azerbaijan.travel

Dolma is another of Azeri staple foods. There are four main types of dolma served in Azerbaijan – badimgan dolmasi (stuffed aubergine), bibar dolmasi (stuffed pepper), tomato dolma, and yarpag dolmasi (stuffed vine leaves). Interestingly, in some regions there is also quince dolma. The main ingredients are usually mutton, veal or beef, white onion, rice and herbs such as coriander, rice, mint and dill. Once the vegetables are stuffed they are left to simmer for a few hours. The tomato, pepper and aubergine dolma are usually served together.  The meal is always accompanied by cold qatiq (yogurt) and minced garlic.

Dolma photo: news.az

Dolma photo: news.az

Thanks to the Caspian Sea and abundance of lakes and rivers Azerbaijani cuisine is also rich in fish dishes, of which the most popular is Baliq Levengi – baked fish with traditional walnut filling, often served on special occasions such as Novruz, the Persian New Year celebrations in March. The filling is made of walnuts, onions, and paste from sour plums (sometimes replaced with fresh pomegranate seeds). Another way of cooking fish is by frying and serving it with narsharab, a thick, brown, slightly acidic pomegranate sauce.

A tour of Azerbaijan’s cuisine couldn’t be completed without a kebab. The streets are full of Turkish doner kiosks but for the real thing you need to go to a good local restaurant. Shashliks are prepared from ground lamb, beef, chicken, vegetables or sturgeon. Meat kebabs are always sprinkled with thinly sliced raw onions and sumac, a traditional Azeri spice of reddish-purple color and lemony taste, and wrapped in paper-thin flatbread, lavash.

WINE

When thinking about Azerbaijan, wine is probably one of the last things that come to mind, but this alcoholic drink has always been an integral part of the country’s history. The beginning of the wine production in the area is estimated at 2000BC, which makes it one of the first wine-producing countries in the world. Over the centuries more than 450 types of grapes have been cultivated in Azerbaijan, many of them autochthonous. Unfortunately, in the Soviet era the wine production  in Azerbaijan had gone through difficult times – not only the quality of the drink had greatly deteriorated, but also many of the vineyards were destroyed during Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, the Armenian occupation of 20% of the country, and the economic and political disorders in the early 1990s. Luckily these days are long gone, and now a group of viticulture enthusiasts is trying to revive the wine tradition in the country. There is a large wine growing in the north of Azerbaijan, especially in the regions of Ganja, Shamaki and Gabala, however some 20km away from Baku, in the Fireland vineyard, you will find excellent wines that will satisfy even the most demanding taste. To ensure the quality today’s wine growers use state-of-the-art equipment from France and Italy. Currently there are more than 20 grapes grown in Azerbaijan among them Chardonnay, Viogner, Pinot Noir, Rkatsiteli and Saperavi. The locally produced wines are an excellent match for the local foods  – Saperavi for lule kebab and Viognier for chicken and local fish dishes.

wine news.az

wine news.az

TEA & SWEETS

pakhlava

Tea and sweets are served in Azerbaijan for any occasion – whether you’re visiting friends or waiting for a business meeting you will certainly be offered a cup of chai that is usually drunk in a pear-shaped glass, armud, which helps retain heat. Tea is always served after the meal, and asking for a ‘cup’ before eating might stir a bit of controversy! The experience wouldn’t be quite the same without something sweet, so tea is usually accompanied by varenye, a very sweet preserve containing whole fruit. Apart from traditional flavors, such as cherry, fig or strawberry, you will find as well watermelon, olive, tomato or nut. The most popular local sweet is pahlava, a diamond-shaped pastry with layers of nuts, and halva. There are two types of halva in Azerbaijan – one is a moist, liquidy sweet made from butter, sugar and flour while the other is solid and prepared from nuts or sesame seeds.

regionplus.az

This is just a tiny sample of what you can expect from Azeri cuisine – there are also 30 types of soups, a wide variety of bread, dumplings, turnovers, meat and vegetable dishes, cheese and more. The country’s cuisine has evolved a lot over the last 100 years due to the Soviet influence and today along the old style traditional Azeri foods you will find Russian stuffed cabbage (dolme kalam), stolichnaya salad (shredded chicken, carrots, potatoes, peas, and mayonnaise), vinaigrette salad or cakes, which are served during birthday celebrations or at parties instead of/along with pahlava.  We hope this little tour of Azerbaijan’s cuisine has aroused some appetite to find out more and you will join us for a journey of discovery of local flavors.

See these links for more information and recipes:

http://azerbaijan24.com/component/content/article/48.html

http://azerbaijan.travel/en/cusine-main/116

http://www.azcookbook.com/

http://www.news.az/recipes

http://flavorsofbaku.com/about/

Uncornered Market – Exploring Azerbaijani Cuisine

Welcome to our first blog post!

As tourism industry in Azerbaijan is developing very fast and increasingly more people think about visiting the country, we decided to start this blog to provide travelers and tourists with a platform where they can find and share useful travel advice, look for some inspiration for their trips and learn more about the local culture, history and customs.

The information we will provide here in the future is based on our own knowledge and experience, and also on the experience of foreign travelers that recently visited the country. However, if you believe some details in our post are incorrect – please let us know. Your comments and advice will only add value to this blog!

So much for introduction.

Hope you will enjoy our future posts!