Travel

Airports

Baku Bina (BAK) is 25km east of Baku and the journey between the airport and city takes about 40 minutes. The national airline is Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) (J2), which operates regular flights to Ankara, London (via Istanbul), Kiev, Dubai, Tehran and Tel Aviv.

Ground transport

Azerbaijan’s road network totals around 57 770km. While the condition of roads is improving, many are poor quality and badly lit. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for journeys into the mountains, e.g. west of Kuba.

Car hire facilities are available through Avis and Hertz in Baku. An International Driving Permit or a license issued by a European Union (EU) country is required. Driving is on the right and visitors should note many locals do not adhere to traffic regulations and most of the cars are badly maintained. There is zero tolerance for alcohol consumption while driving.

Taxi fares should always be negotiated before starting a journey and visitors should be aware that rates proposed initially are likely to be unreasonably high. There is an underground system totalling 28km, but most visitors use a taxi or private cars. Baku Metro is poorly maintained and the system is often unsafe and overcrowded, as with the buses that run from central Baku to the suburbs.

Hotels

There are several hotels in Baku, built and operated to Western standards - Hyatt Regency Baku, Park Hyatt Baku, Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel and Hotel Europe are the most commonly used.

There are numerous private apartments readily available, at a monthly rate, in different parts of town, those located in the downtown area tend to be expensive. 

Dining

Azerbaijani food combines Turkish and central Asian elements and although the majority of Azeris are Shia Muslims, alcohol is widely available.

National specialties include:

  • Plov, a delicious, spicy specialty made with pine nuts, vegetables and dried fruit, in addition to rice and mutton. Certain types of plov use chicken instead of mutton and include chestnuts.
  • Grilled kebabs of various kinds are popular, including lyulya kebab made from spiced, minced lamb pressed onto skewers.
  • Meals often start with rich, heavy soups. Piti is a mutton soup bulked out with chickpeas and slowly cooked in individual earthenware pots in the oven and served in the same pots. Dogva is a sharp, yogurt and spinach-based soup containing rice and meatballs.
  • Sturgeon is served both smoked and fresh.
  • Caviar has traditionally been fished from the Caspian Sea.
  • Kutab pastries are stuffed with spinach or pumpkin and are similar to Turkish birekas.
  • Kutum Lavangy is stuffed fish with cherries, walnuts and raisins.
  • Dolma is minced mutton flesh with onions.
  • Badimjan Dolmasi is mutton served with plenty of aubergine and tomatoes, basil, sour cream and butter.

National drinks:

  • Wines and brandies are produced locally.
  • Sherbets are popular soft drinks made of sugar, lemon, saffron, seeds of mint and basil and other fruit.
  • Tea is often served accompanied by various jams such as quince, fig, apricot, white cherry and plum. Sometimes dried leaves or flowers of savoury, clove, cardamom and other spices are added to tea. Tea made of cinnamon (darchin) and ginger is popular and sometimes rose water is added.

Tipping

Tipping is appreciated, but not compulsory. Service charges are usually included in bills and it is common to give taxi-drivers, waiters and hotel staff some small change.

Tourist attractions

Although travellers should avoid the Nagorno-Karabakh area and the border with Armenia, they can pursue various activities in other parts of the country. There are some good beaches in Baku and several outdoor chess-playing areas (where Gary Kasparov reputedly practiced as a boy). The 70km long Aspheron peninsula (northeast of Baku) has some of the country’s best beaches, offers good hiking and coastal walks.

Several restaurants, late-night bars and nightclubs have opened in Baku in the last few years, catering largely for the foreign business community and wealthy local business people. Concerts, theatre, opera and ballet are a source of local pride and very popular.