Staying in Baku was truly amazing. The fact that we ended up in the Four Seasons Hotel made our trip is even more memorable. Azerbaijan should definitely be on your list to visit. In order to get a visa to this amazing country, you will need to fill out an online visa application and pay a $24 fee.
We had no visa problems, and got through customs just fine. Immediately after that, we were overwhelmed with getting a taxi. It is probably the only thing that I didn't like about Baku. I knew beforehand that the Taxify app works there. Using the app, we ordered a taxi, but as soon as our driver arrived, he asked us to cancel our trip and pay him by cash. To be honest, it felt a bit weird and shady. I reported him right away to the company. I understand that these drivers might not get paid well, but these types of people make the app company look very bad. After dealing with this weird guy, we walked to an official taxi - a purple cab. As we found out later, we overpaid for our ride as well. So, my dear friends, be careful when you step out at the airport. I would advise you to order taxi in advance, so that the taxi driver can meet you at the gate, avoiding all the stress and hassle of shady taxi drivers. I don't want to say anything bad that might dissuade you from traveling to Baku, because this happens in many countries. But I hope that the government will regulate these taxi drivers. After a long flight, tired tourists don't want to deal with this, and it can set a negative tone for the visit. So, besides this one horrible experience with taxis, we had a pleasant trip for the rest of our stay!
Usually, I have a plan for what I want to do and see in the country. Unfortunately, my busy life in Tbilisi didn't leave me time to do my homework. All I knew about Baku was that they had a beautiful Old Town, mud volcanos, a burning mountain, and oil everywhere. Also, the famous book "Ali and Nino" ia quite popular among Georgians and Azerbaijanis. If you are considering a trip to Baku, here are 10 things you can do in Baku over the course of 3 days:
1. Old Town is very small and nicely renovated, yet remains unique and charming. After walking and eating in the Old Town, I wanted to watch the movie "Ali and Nino," which was filmed there as well. It is very beautiful movie. Definitely watch (free on YouTube) or read the book in order to live through the romantic atmosphere of Old Town of Baku.
2. Maiden Tower. While in the Old Town, you should stop at Maiden Tower, a symbol of the city full of myth and legend. From the top, it opens to a fantastic view over the city. The only drawback is that the roof top is surrounded by glass, which was a bit dirty. Make sure to purchase tickets 45 minutes before they close the door.
3. Palace of the Shirvanshahs is another beautiful place for sightseeing that you should not skip in Old Town. The palace has a romantic feel and its small museum was very interesting. I hope in the future they will display more historical pieces of art.
4. Baku Boulevard. If you have nothing else to do, definitely take a walk on Baku Boulevard. It is very clean and you can find street cafe stands. The water in the Caspian Sea is sadly dirty (covered in oil) around the city. Locals do not advise you to eat seafood out there. So, don't be silly, and stick with delicious and hearty beef and lamb dishes.
5. Heydar Aliev Cultural Center is another unique place in Baku. It is very modern and was designed by famous architect Zaha Hadid. I feel that her every single work is so recognizable. It is always amazing to see her projects around the world. Anyway, in the cultural complex, you will be able to enjoy the museum that features a wide collection of porcelain dolls, a retro women's clothing collection, mini Azerbaijan building models, an art exhibition, and the Heydar Aliev personal car collection.
6. Upland Park Baku. Here, we got to enjoy the most beautiful view over the city. It is definitely the most scenic spot over the city. It is also the place to find Martyrs' Lane a sacred place dedicated to those who died resisting the Soviets. An eternal flame burns large and bright 24 hours. You can reach the park via steps or take a cable car to get up the hill.
7. Philharmonic Fountain Park is the perfect spot to relax and cool down in the heat of Baku. Since we were there when it was still a bit chilly, we just walked around the little park, and continued toward Old Town. I still found it to be very pretty though.
8. Gobustan. If you run out of things in the city, or just want to get a taste of the historical side of Azerbaijan, I am advising you to rent a car or hire a driver to take you to Gobustan National Park, where you will get to see ancient rock paintings. Locals say this place used to be completely unprotected. Kids had no idea how important it was to save these rock paintings or petroglyphs, and many of the areas treasures were destroyed. Don't miss seeing the museum, because it was very cool and clearly explained about petroglyphs and early life around the Caspian Sea. Also, make sure you see the Roman stone, that has writing in Latin language that says "Time of the Emperor Domitian Caesar Augustus of Germany, Lucius Julius Maximus, Centurion XII of the Lightning Legion." Basically, you've reached the end of the Roman Empire.
9. The Mud Volcanos was another entertaining sight to see in Azerbaijan. The road there was a bit tough to traverse. I wouldn't advise you to drive out there by yourself. The funny part was when we tossed a little rock inside one volcano, it erupted! Luckily, we didn't get dirty. You will see that the little eruptions are constantly happening. Staying on the top of volcano, you will feel small underground rumbling. It was really the best experience. Also, the mud is considered great for medical purposes.
10. Yanardag is famous for eternal and natural fire coming out from the ground. The fire doesn't stop even if it's raining or snowing. As the story goes, during World II, the local people tried to cover the flames in order to protect their territory from the Germans. As we many of us learned in school, the German army wanted to seize the Azerbaijan oil fields. However, the Azerbaijanis could not hide Yanardag, and it continued to burn bright, as it has non-stop for centuries. Nothing can destroy this immortal flame.
Of course, when visiting the country, we couldn't leave without trying some delicious local Azerbaijani cuisine. We tried a different types of kebab, dolmas and my favorite - qutab. Qutab has all kinds of exotic fillings - honey, vegetables, cheese, lamb, and even camel! We washed it all down with local pomegranate wine.