Trailblazer guidebooks provide practical information on specific routes in less accessible parts of the world.
 — Wanderlust

Azerbaijan with excursions to Georgia

by: Mark Elliott

UPDATES

Updated information

Thank you to the readers who send in updates including Ilse Pogatschnigg, Joseph Dowse, Corina Langlois, Frederik Carlier, Balint Toth, Robert Younger and family, Max and Deborah O'Kane.

The information has not yet been checked by Trailblazer but it will be for the next edition.

Updates relate to the 4th edition

28 October 2015

p140 Qobustan. Fantastic new petroglyphs museum outside Qobustan/ Gobustan.

p141 Qobustan and the Mud volcanoes/ and map. The walk into the volcanoes. The book's description goes...  Cross the rail line and briefly follow the white pipeline. Where pipeline turns left,  continue,.....
One reader suggests change to....
Climb over a second now cream/pale yellow painted pipe and use diagram on page 141. The trail you want to hit is quite visible rising up the low hillside in the distant left. To get there head straight to the first power line pole to the right of the power line pylon. Ignoring tracks made when installing power lines then head straight for the visible decapitated test well in  distance. After a very short distance there is a set of old tyre ruts heading diagonally off to the left towards the set of clear tracks on the hillside. When you reach the clear trail follow it....  (back to the guide's description)

p141 map bottom right,  could add a power line to the left of your rusty pipe (now painted cream/pale yellow).

p172 Quba. The Armenian massacres memorial in Quba,

Qax Hotel is quite neat.

 

3 June 2013

VISAS
 
Very important: since October 2010, visas are NO LONGER available on arrival at Azerbaijan's airports. Getting a visa now requires somewhat of a palaver with invitations or tourist vouchers. Although things are quicker and a little easier in Georgia and (reportedly) Iran, you should normally allow a couple of weeks to arrange the visa.

 

28 October 2012

p183, Hikes around Xilaniq  Frederik Carlier writes: 'The current natural park seems to render any long-distance hikes impossible, especially the Xilaniq–Laza routes which are blocked.   With some creativity and persistence, we’ve been able to find an alternative route which still gets you across the Caucasus but avoids the military zones. The route goes Xilaniq–Haput–Qalaciq and ends at the Qabala–Ismaiily route. It’s clearly visible on the old USSR maps and the route is still in active use.
 
We recorded our route using a GPS and published it online, you can find it here (including typos & the last leg of the trip which we’ve done in a shared taxi): http://adventures.garmin.com/en-US/by/frederik-carlier/azerbaijan-crossing-caucasus-via-xilaniq-haput-and-qalaciq/#.UI4ukGY1heU .
 
For practicalities, these are the things that come to mind:
-        From Haput to the passing of the Caucasus, most of the trail runs in a valley which means water is abundant. There are also various shepherd settlements so tea & bread is always available.
-        At Haput, we rented a horse (+driver) that took our luggage to the pass and got us over the river a couple of times, saving wet legs, costing approx. 40 AZM
-        The views at the pass are stunning, I hope to upload the pictures to the Garmin site one day
-        Once you cross the pass, the trail runs over the crest of the mountains which means there are no camping sites and there is no fresh water. It’s a very long and knee-busting descent.
-        Haput to Qalaciq should be a two- to three-day trek, so camping is required
-        With a GPS device and the Russian maps you can follow this route.

 
17 September 2012

Community Based Tourism (CBT) Azerbaijan is a Peace Corps Volunteer started initiative that has grown into a business, focused on developing tourism in Azerbaijan and providing sustainability to local areas.

CBT Azerbaijan has family homestays in 7 regions, and over 2 dozen villages across Azerbaijan. The majority of proceeds go directly to the families and communities in which they operate, with a small amount going to the local managers who are training in business skills and tourism. The business provides tourists with an authentic Azerbaijani experience, and they've had great feedback and success in the past few years with clients.

There are few and far between tourism opportunities in rural Azerbaijan, and they provide tourists with a rare opportunity in this culturally-rich country. The website is:  http://cbtazerbaijan.com/

 

Susai to Qala Xudat  We recently did a trip from Susai up the valley to Qala Xudat. The road is still very difficult outside Susai and nearly impassable in one or two areas but as it was dry we were able to pick our way up and through the clouds. I would suggest you regard the road to Qaiz as closed as the old road on the side of the mountain was broken by a rock fall. If it still exists I am not sure how people get there. There is a new road down to the main road in Qala Xudat so no point in trying to pick your way around the hills to the back of Xinaliq. It’s easier to come down to the main road and then drive up the valley. There are some serious sheep dogs so be careful getting out of the car for walking any trails.
 
We stayed in Long Forest and it's much improved. They have a menu that is reasonably priced and the cottage was clean and tidy. The manager did not speak English but tried to make everything work and he had cold beers and no rip off prices. Be aware that breakfast did not start before 9.The electricity worked all the time we were there and the new power station at the base of the valley may have helped. The price of 100 manat a cottage a night for up to four people also seemed reasonable.
 

11 July 2012

p207  Lahic  Ther is a new hostel called Evimotel, evim@evimotel.net, http://www.evimotel.net/
 
p228  Kish The guide at the Kish church is mentioned in the book, Ilhama.  You can reach her by mobile 050 631 0246 and mail ilhame633@mail.ru

 

May 2012

BAKU

Accommodation

Beware that since the last guidebook was researched, the Baku accommodation scene has been through some breathtaking changes. For up-market and business travellers there is good news with a large number of sparkling, new, world-class hotels opening in 2012.

Gleaming Hilton and JW Marriott towers have replaced the once iconically ugly Hotels Azerbaijan and Absheron. Built in lavish Parisian style, the Four Seasons should soon be open in the Azneft corner of the Old City. Up in Batamadar (a little beyond the Botanical Gardens, near bus route 3 and not as far out of town as you might fear) is the remarkable new Kempinski with its aquapark and waterfall. The nearby Monolit Hotel has a wine tasting cellar though it's rarely used.

However for budget travellers the news is almost unmitigatingly bad:

The following have closed down:

              1000 Camels Hostel

              Cenub Hotel

              Hotel Velotrek

              Hotel Azerbaijan

              Hotel Absheron

              Station Hostel

 

That means that the only really cheap option in Baku is the Caspian Hostel, essentially a single dorm room in a simple, Old City family house.

              Hotel Araz is still open and still decent value if you don't mind a busy road outside and a bit of a bus ride into town  However, the cheaper rooms that once shared bathrooms have all been upgraded to en-suites so they are no longer really a backpacker priced option.

              Normally the best idea if you're on a lower mid-range budget is to trawl around the Old City where there are ever more mini-hotels. Given the visa rules that have put off most casual travellers of late, many of the cheaper places (ie under US$90) are half empty meaning that you can often get a decent discount. This is especially true in summer. 

              *Note that if you do take a taxi the smart new London-style cabs are, counter-intuitively, generally cheaper than old lurking Ladas - at least for shorter distances. And best of all they are metered - a previously unknown form of stress relief in Baku.

Public Transport

In late 2011 Baku decided to renumber all the bus routes. The principle is that buses within the city are now numbered with only (one or) two digits while those heading further afield to the Absheron will have three digits. Thus the 36 to Mardakan has become the 136. Sadly not all changes are so simple and there appears to be no easy-to-reference list of all the changes. Good news, however, is that there is now a direct bus to the airport from the southeast corner of Vurgun Gardens. It departs every 30 minutes until 6.30pm and costs 40q. At the airport it waits at the side of the car park furthest from the terminal as though to be deliberately hard to find for anyone except the airport staff who are the main passengers.

 

Beyond Baku

Azerbaijan's massive changes aren't limited to Baku. One of the biggest and most astonishing transformations has been the once-dowdy regional centre of Qabala that is now being groomed as a big rural resort area with a theme park and gigantic and glitzy new hotel-complex in what was once a peaceful riverside glade. Internal air travel has become easier with return tickets now available for pre purchase, new airports functioning at Zaqatala and Lankaran and foreigner mark-ups no longer so offputting. Hiking on the Xinaliq-Laza routes has become virtually impossible due to new regulations which will, hopefully, be relaxed in future years. Reaching Xinaliq has, however, become somewhat easier with a minibus that now leaves most days from Xinaliq around 7am and returns from Quba about 2pm.

Maps

When I first researched the Azerbaijan guide, Internet was in its infancy and even in 2008 there were few online maps. Now, however, gomap.az has arrived offering excellent zoomable online maps that - as far as I can see - offer pretty accurate representations of the country's infrastructure and have good city-scale maps too including points of interest.

 

Thank you to Balint Toth for the following update.

August 2010

First of all let me congratulate on your book, it is brilliant.
I'd like to add footnotes here to a possible future edition.
I just came back from Azerbaijan (August 2010), i spent a week there.

I and my friend tried to find the mud vulcanoes near Baku. To save money we got off a bus at the right place, in front of the "oil factory site", not far from the petrol station. We started walking up the hill but after 10 minutes we had to go back down because the police were after us. They took our passports. Their biggest concern was that we both had cameras with us. We had to follow them, got into a police car and we ended up in their headquarters in Baku not far from the airport where we were interrogated. I am a photographer so i take lots of photos. They searched our bags, viewed all of my photos, many of them they found suspicious, i had to explain why i took them then i had to delete them. After 5 hours we were free again.  So I don't recommend anyone to try and find the mud vulcanoes alone especially with a camera. Much better to take a taxi.
They told me i cannot take any photos of the following objects: anything that has to do with oil, army, navy, trains, train stations, airports, metro, metro stations, anything that can be considered strategic.

I stayed at the Caspian hostel which is a very nice place.

In Xinaliq i was warned 2 times not to cross the way of the soldiers, not to go in that direction at all. Maybe with a local guide it is possible.
I got to Xinaliq through a driver arranged by Kheyraddin, i would recommend him to anyone, the driver was in time at my hostel in Baku, everything was done perfectly. I was the only guest at the guesthouse.

 

From Robert Younger and family, August 2010:

My family and I have traveled most everywhere in Azerbaijan & Georgia and have found your guide invaluable.  We have even made the epic vehicle journey from Baku to Batumi.  We have spent the last week on holiday in Azerbaijan and I thought I pass along some information that I gathered along the way. There are some new hotels in Lahic and Ilisu.  We stayed in the Evi Motel in Lahic and quite enjoyed it there. There is a place  to stay in Ilisu - did not stay, but was quite surprised by the large swimming pool.  There are new tourist information centers popping-up in many of the tourist destinations eg Sheki. If you have not been in Azerbaijan in some time, I think you will be surprised at how things are continuing to develop.

p167 Map and text on page 191, Hazra to Samur  We were pleasantly surprised to find a new road connecting Hazra to Samur.

Azerbaijan with excursions to Georgia