Azerbaijan - Land of Fire
Azerbaijan - Land of Fire
A curious country, Azerbaijan shares the trait of its Caucasian neighbours of not really belonging to either Europe or Asia, taking elements from both but in a class of its own. With flaming hillsides, ancient temples and the grandeur of Baku, this intriguing little country is as unusual as it is enigmatic. Our short tour to Azerbaijan starts in the capital, a mish mash of Soviet planning, medieval architecture and modern buildings, distinctly unique and rather alluring. We explore the surrounding Absheron Peninsula with Yanardag, the fire mountain and the Temple of the Fire Worshippers, and then gaze in amazement at the bizarre mud volcanoes of Gobustan, yet another quirky side of Azerbaijan. After exploring the historic centre of Baku we head away from the big city to Sheki with its centuries old caravanserais, old Khan’s Palace and a distinct flavour of yesteryear, as well as visiting nearby monasteries and churches. Returning back to the capital, we have a little more time to soak up its ambience and also take a boat trip on the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest body of inland water. For those with a little more time to spare, why not extend your visit with a brief stay in Nakhchivan, a landlocked Azeri enclave with some fantastic old monuments and superb scenery.
Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●● | Wildlife ●●○○○
- Baku, famed for its medieval walled old city
- Khan’s Palace in Sheki
- The fire-worshippers temple of Ateshgah
- Gobustan’s rock engravings dating back as far as 40,000 years
Accommodation: Comfortable mid-range hotels, mostly with private en-suite bathrooms
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Baku
End Point: Baku
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 – Baku
Arrive in Baku and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. OvernightSapphire Hotel or similar.
Baku is a city with a decidedly split personality. While uber-modern buildings continually spring up and there is talk of turning the city into ‘another Dubai’, much of Baku is still made up of Soviet style apartment blocks. Oil wealth at the turn of the 20th century led to a profusion of rather elegant European style architecture, giving it yet another façade. But without a doubt Baku’s most enigmatic part is the historic centre, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Icheri Sheher with its ancient collection of mosques, palaces and caravanserais, some of which date back to the 11th century. Located on the Absheron Peninsula, Baku can be rather windy – one theory of the origin of its name states that it means ‘wind-pounded place’, and it has numerous parks and squares like many of the old Soviet cities. Its first heyday came at the beginning of the 20th century, when the city produced more than half of the world’s petroleum – after falling into decline during Soviet times, Baku is once again on the up.
Day 2 – Baku - Absheron Peninsula
Explore Azerbaijan’s capital, including the medieval fortress of Icheri Sheher, the Shirvanshahs’ Palace and the 15th century caravanserai among other sites. From Baku we head to the Absheron Peninsula to visit the ‘flaming mountain’ of Yanardag, continuously alight with burning underground gases that seep through holes in the earth’s surface. We then visit the Gala Museum, the ‘fire-worshippers’ temple of Ateshgah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and continue to the medieval fortress at Amirjan before returning to Baku for the night. Overnight Sapphire Hotel or similar. (BLD)
The burning hillside of Yanardag is one of Azerbaijan’s most bizarre sites. From beneath the earth flammable gases seep through the porous sandstone, erupting into flames that can reach 10 metres in height, although this is rare these days as extraction has considerably reduced the amount of gas. The flames are never extinguished having been lit accidentally in 1958. Most of the world’s ‘flaming mountains’ are situated in Azerbaijan and Marco Polo recorded similar sights nearby as he passed through the region.
Day 3 – Baku – Lahij – Gabala
Today we will travel west to Gabala city. En route we visit the Diri Baba Mausoleum in Maraza and the Yeddi Gumbaz Mausoleum at Shamakha. We continue across the Muganly Pass, with great views of the mountains along the way. We have a stop at Lahic village, a historical ethnographic reserve with local people producing handcrafts and carpets. There are also metal engravers, ancient mosques, baths and beautiful cobbled streets with original apartment houses in this ancient mountain settlement. From here continue to Gabala city. Overnight Qafqaz Caravanserai (BLD)
Day 4 – Gabala-Sheki-Kish
This morning we set off from Gabala to Sheki. The delightful town of Sheki is one of Azerbaijan’s highlights. An important centre on the Trans-Caucasian trade routes, it was an independent khanate up until the 1820s and evidence of its former grandeur is not hard to spot. The splendid Khan’s Palace was built in 1762 without the use of any nails and is elaborately decorated with ornate patterns on its exterior. There are also a number of old caravanserais and mosques to explore. Sheki is a delight to wander around, with winding streets and traditional houses giving the feeling of yesteryear. From Sheki we take a trip to the nearby village of Kish with its interesting Albanian church. Overnight Sheki Saray Hotel or similar (BLD)
Day 5 – Ganja – Naftalan
We head to Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second city. Upon arrival visit the local bazaar, the 17th century mosque of Shah Abbas and the unique ‘bottle house’ a local building decorated with nearly 50,000 bottles. Our final destination for the evening is Naftalan. Overnight Chinar Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 6 – Naftalan-Gobustan-Baku
This morning we discover more about Naftalan and the oil for which it is famous. There is the option to have a 15 minute oil bath before we then depart for Gobustan. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, Gobustan is rich in archaeological monuments with over 6000 rock engravings dating back as far as 40,000 years. The petroglyphs depict ceremonial dances, battles, warriors, boats and many other scenes, as well as more recent Roman ‘graffiti’ from the 1st century. But Gobustan is equally well known for its natural phenomena – mud volcanoes that simmer and belch muddy bubbles from their cones, an incredibly atmospheric place and probably unlike anything you will have seen before. Azerbaijan is home to more than half of the mud volcanoes in the world with nearly 400 of them within its borders. Roughly every twenty years one of them explodes with great gusto, showering tons of mud over the surrounding area. Overnight Sapphire Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Naftalan is a rare type of oil from Azerbaijan that is used for medicinal purposes. Azerbaijani doctors have prescribed it for years to treat various skin, joint and bone diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis and rheumatism. It is extracted from only one place in Azerbaijan not far from Ganja. The town in question takes its name from the oil, "Naftalan", which comes from the Azeri for "neft alan" (oil buyer). It differs from other types of oil in that its purified form has a high concentration of naphthene hydrocarbons, about 55 percent. Other kinds of oil have a much lower concentration, about three to five percent.
Day 7 – Baku
Our last day in Azerbaijan. We visit the History Museum for an insight into the various cultures and civilisations that have held sway here. We also visit the Heydar Aliyev Center, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and noted for its distinctive architecture and flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles The rest of the day is free for you to explore. Overnight Sapphire City Hotel or similar (BLD)
The Caspian Sea
Larger by far than any of the world’s lakes, the Caspian Sea became landlocked around 5 million years ago but still retains a certain level of salinity, hence its classification as a sea. Bordering Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, it measures an astonishing 143,000 square miles in surface area, and some of Eurasia’s greatest rivers including the Volga and the Ural flow into it. The Caspian is home to a broad diversity of wildlife – perhaps the best known being the sturgeon, and has its own species of seal.
Day 8 – Baku
Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)
Nakhchivan Extension (DAY 8 of the tour becomes Day 1 of the extension)
Day 1 - Baku to Nakhchivan
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Nakhchivan city. Nakhchivan is Azerbaijan’s enclave separated from the majority of the country by Armenia. On arrival you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel to drop off your baggage. We begin by exploring some of the surrounding sites. Visit the 12th century Momina Khatum mausoleum and the tomb of Yusuf Ibn Kuseyir in Nakhchivan city itself. After lunch visit Alinja Fortress - one of the strongest defensive constructions of the XII century. During Teymur’s attack on Nakhchivan in 1386, 1392 and 1399 the fortress served as a headquarters for the Atabayler dynasty. Return to Nakhchivan city for the night. Overnight Hotel Tabriz.
Day 2 - Return to Baku
After breakfast, we head to the Garabaghlar Mausoleum in Nakhchivan’s north west as well as the Duzdagh salt mines. After lunch, return to Nakhchivan city and visit Ashabu – Kahf Caves, the history museum and the carpet museum. There is lunch at a local restaurant before we transfer back to the airport for your flight back to Baku.
Note: You accommodation is not included in Baku on the return. You may book a late flight departing from Baku or we can arrange an extra nights hotel if needed.
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
E-Visa for Azerbaijan
Any airport taxes