‘We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.’— Anonymous
For the first post we explore the latest trip this August, Azerbaijan. The best part of the trip was the coincidence of having a friend being in the same country at the same time – isn’t the world a small place. A great short trip with some amazing landscape and tech explored.
To help Navigate I’ve created sections so that you can navigate to the section you are interested in: The Pre-Trip checklist, Our Journey Summarized and specific location based details and experience. This way you can focus on and jump to sections you are interested in. I have also mentioned the time in brackets, for ex: Gobustan (1 Day Trip) or Gobuland (1 Hour), to give you a thumb rule of how much time you should aim to spend at each location.
Minimal Pre-Trip Checklist for August travel:
- Visa Related – for UAE Residents there is visa on arrival
- Travel Essentials:
- Toiletries – the usual depending on hostel or hotel stay
- Tech – just your phone+power-bank would do apart from a universal power adapter; GoPro, Drone, Insta360 if you love good video captures
- Umbrella / Rain cover
- About 100 Manat (local currency) per day – depending on how much exploring you plan to do – does not cover hotel stay. 1 Manat = 2.15 AED (Aug 2019)
- Translator App – since most don’t speak English well
- Roaming Data or Local SIM – would be useful out of the airport to use the Bolt App (similar to Uber/Careem) for transport, really cheap compared to Taxi’s & booking.com travel service + there’s a cash option to pay.
- Clothes for rainy and humid weather mostly + 1 hoody or jacket for cable car ride to the top in Gebele.
Day 1: Baku Fountain Square Stroll > Sea Side Walk > Crazzy Bear (Conceptual Pub)
Day 2: Fountain Square (Starbucks, Morning Coffee) > Fountain Square (Koz Plus Doner, Lunch) >Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain) > Heydar Aliyev Center (Abstract Art Museum) > Old City Baku (La Mangerie, Dinner)
Day 3: Tour Day 1, Gobustan – Mud Volcano > Rock Art Cultural Museum > Rock Art Landscape > Bibiheybat Mosque > Great Mardakan Fortress > Fountain Square (Coffee House, Break) > Little Venice > People By Eleven (ISR Plaza, Restaurant & Lounge)
Day 4: Tour Day 2, Gebele – Gobuland (Breakfast with a view) > Jummah Mosque > Garagaya Rope Bridge & Mini Trek > Nohur Lake (Lunch with locals dancing in the background if you’re lucky) > Tufandag Mountain Resort (Cable Car ride to the top with a view) > Fountain Square (Bayramoglu, Dinner)
Day 5: Morning Flight back to Dubai
As soon as you land or before if you the proactive type download and install the Bolt app for all travel in Baku & other major cities in Azerbaijan – it’s their Uber! Compared to any Taxi or Travel booking service this is way more convenient to use. Also helps if you don’t speak the language.
Also recommended is staying somewhere central to the city, we stayed near Fountain Square – very easy to just walk around and find things to do, places to eat as well as walk to the Sea Side and Old Town. If you are from or familiar with Dubai you are more likely to find this place like home with all the regular shops, places to eat, coffee shops, shisha spots, bars and clubs – one key difference though, all of these places are a short walk away. The fountain square area comes alive in the evening with droves of people just walking around, sitting, chatting and catching up. Lots of cartoon character mascots, men with monkeys you can pet, pet friendly. Lots of tourists from the Middle East to be found here. The city goes through extra effort to keep clean and maintain order.
Some great places to just chill in Baku Central that we can recommend are:
- Little Venice, Sea Side near the Carpet Museum – exactly what it sounds like, a mini version of Venice with restaurants and shisha lounges on either side and boats passing through.
- La Mangerie, Old City – great restaurant ambiance and decor, great place for some snacks, drinks and a chat. A little on the pricey side though.
- Koz Plus, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Great Doner and local food options.
- Starbucks, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Morning Coffee and yes before you ask, I’m biased on this one.
- Bayramoglu, Fountain Square near McDonalds – Good Shawarma and decent shisha
- Crazzy Bear, near Fountain Square, Google it – Can not recommend this place enough, make reservations if possible or go early (around 6/7pm) if you can’t – good food and once evening turns to night the place comes alive with music and dance. Amazing decor and ambiance too!
- People By Eleven, ISR Plaza, Fountain Square – Music, dance, food; make reservations early on (the bouncer here is pricey) decent crowd if you’re willing to get the party started.
Yanar Dag or Fire Mountain
One of the most underwhelming points of the trip was the visit to the Fire Mountain. Yes, there’s fire but not there’s no mountain on fire. Due to natural and plentiful availability of natural gas and it seeping into the atmosphere from the porous rocks there’s a small subsection of the rock side on fire. This was accidentally discovered by a shepherd when lighting a fire near here and now serves as a tourist attraction. There’s a bridge near here taking you to the top of the hillside – don’t go there with high hopes though, no more natural fires to be seen across the hillscape.
Heydar Aliyev Center
This Center in Baku (2 to 3 hours) is a sight to behold, the architecture alone will have you mesmerized for a good while – inside and outside. A building architects keep in their bucket list to visit!
The contents inside are no less, from the abstract art sculptures on the ground floor all the way till the heritage floor, toy floor, 3-D Building Model floor and the art & history floor – there’s something to capture everyone’s attention; even the non-musem goer’s.
My favorite was the toy floor, the detailing on some of the toys and models was spectacular. There were even abstract toys around. An artform to behold in my opinion – the building and the contents inside.
Gobustan or Qobustan (1/2 to 3/4 day trip)
Before you head out of Baku Central do keep in mind to have a good guide with you who speaks both English and Azerbaijani for trips outside the city – will definitely save a lot of translation time plus you help out the tourism economy a little.
Gobustan is an interesting place to visit, the way here too explains clearly the rich and easy availability of crude oil and natural gas in the region. The Mud Volcano’s (3/4 hour) are an interesting visit, bubbling mud pits and hundreds of them small and large spread across the landscape. People believe the mud to have properties good for the skin as well in case you are in the mood for a mud bath or take some home in a bottle for later.
The next stop could be the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Center (1 to 2 hours), a UNESCO World Heritage preserved site for its rock art collection from the past 40,000 years! Do ensure not to spend too much time in the Center though (unless you’re into that sort of thing) and head on over to the actual path through the eroded hillscape for the real thing. Art through the ages depicted across the walls here for you to admire and ponder over what the Azeri ancestral society of that age was going through when carving these out.
Drone’s aren’t allowed here, so ensure to get some really long selfie sticks if you want to get a heightened view or get up close for some shots.
There’s also some good look out points where the rocks fall off towards the landscape.
Bibiheybat Mosque & Great Mardakan Fortress (part of the Gobustan Trip)
The Mosque (1/2 hour) isn’t that impressive considering you are from the Middle East or a Muslim influenced country. Though once you get to the inside is where this is totally different – shiny green tiles, gold center, beautiful architecture and design; something pictures cannot do justice to. Comparatively a short stop unless you want to also look towards Caspian Sea and the dock below.
The Great Fortress (1/2 hour) a little ways away is one of five that you can look at, a strategic viewpoint in it’s heyday and currently just a view point to a suburb from days past. A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Baku Central.
Gebele, Gabala or Qabala (1 Day Trip)
We decided to start our tour mornings early (7am) so we could get more done, take our time and also maybe get back early – for this day, didn’t quite work out that way but was a good day nonetheless. This was the day though that we realized the importance of a tour guide who spoke both languages, since ours didn’t show up.
We started the day with a great big breakfast at Gobuland (1 Hour)! Totally recommend it just for the view. A deck balcony overlooking a small (probably man-made) lake. The staff here don’t speak the language so be careful of what you end up eating since there’s no menu. They usually bring a set menu to the table which is a whole host of things from bread and butter to honey and olives – send back what you don’t need as soon as it is set on the table. Can also ask for some other items apart from the breakfast set if you’re still hungry. Also, very much recommend the honey.
The Jummah Mosque is a quick stop (1/2 hour) with a great history and some good reconstructed architecture.
Garagaya Rope Bridge & Trek (part of Gebele Trip)
Save most of your time (2 to 3 hours if you chose to trek as well) for the Garagaya Rope Bridge on the way to Gebele! Not only is the crossing worth it over the flowing stream below, there’s hot tea waiting on the other end (not free of course). The most exciting thing is the trek around the hill and downwards towards the water stream below. Some cold gushing water, a great rocky river bed and a breathtaking view all around. Can also try to head to the little village up top for something to drink (something we regretfully did not find the time for). The trek is an easy one if you are experienced and a medium difficulty one if not. Keep in mind a local at the bridge entrance charges about 1/2 Manat per person.
Nohur Lake (part of Gebele Trip)
It might have been timing or just plain luck that we ended up here for lunch (1.5 hours) in the open ground Sahil restaurant during the Eid Break. A whole host of locals took to dancing on a makeshift stage – men, women and kids of all ages having the time of their lives; a better look into their culture we couldn’t have asked for and that too while having some delicious local food.
Tufandag Mountain Resort Cable Car Ride (part of Gebele Trip)
Another exciting part of the trip for us (2 to 3 hours), would recommend to go for the 3 line cable car ride to the top and also be prepared for cold weather – check the local forecast. Depending on when you travel (usually evening if you are coming in from Baku) you’ll see fog covered mountains great cold climate, maybe even some rain on your ride to the top. There’s also a restaurant up top should you feel the need for a hot cup of coffee or tea. They charge about 22 Manat per person for the 3 Line Cable Car rides.