Updated: Jul 20
In one of the most remote corners of Central Asia lies an autonomous republic that virtually no tourists visit. It’s home to one of the most picturesque secrets of Azerbaijan.
This place is called Naxcivan - it’s an exclave - meaning it shares a border with Turkey, Iran and Armenia but not Azerbaijan. Fascinated yet? Yeah, I was too. I first read about it many years ago in BBC as one of the most ‘sustainable’ nations and it piqued my interest.
We decided to hop on a plane, took another one hour flight from Baku and landed in this unbelievably beautiful little corner of a mainstream country. We wandered through the empty roads, crushed on gorgeous minarets and fell in love with every part of Naxcivan.
Highlights & Itinerary:
Naxcivan - 2 days
Qabala - 2 days
Baku - 2 days
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Flights + Visa
We flew directly with Fly Dubai - just a short two and half hour flight took us to Baku.
Now if you want to head to Naxcivan - there are two ways to do so. You can either via fly Baku with Azerbaijan airlines or fly from Istanbul. We flew from Baku - just one hour way. The flight costs $80/person both ways. I tried to book online but I was unsuccessful, so I had our guide book it for us at the local offices. I suggest you do the same, to avoid issues. The flights do tend to fill fast from Baku - so plan ahead and book your tickets well in advance.
If you are an Indian passport holder, living in the UAE, you can easily apply for the visa online, pay $26. We got ours by email in 24 hours. Immigration took 2 minutes; I was wondering if they will ask me about my visit to Armenia but no questions asked.
Azeri is the main language spoken. We noticed that some people speak English in Baku but once you enter the villages, they only speak the local language.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit is spring or Fall. We went in February to experience snow. Naxcivan in particular was just lovely this time of year. If you plan to do hikes, then summer is best.
Dollars in the city but local currency is better for Naxcivan and in the smaller towns.
Hiring a guide vs Independent travel
You don't need a guide if you are looking to cover just Baku. If you plan to venture out of the city, I highly recommend guide + driver.
For Naxcivan, you definitely need a guide to book tickets and take you around. There aren't very many of them though. I recommend contacting Naxcivan Travel on whatsapp (+994 70 2121213). He is the most reliable person offering a tour there. We had the best time.
For the rest of Azerbaijan, you can contact Tair (+994 55 268 76 58). He was punctual and very reasonably priced. He will also give you wonderful hotel suggestions to suit any budget.
How much time to spend in the country? You can spend anywhere from 5-10 days depending on what you plan to do and how much you want to drive. I would say carve out 2-3 days just for Naxcivan. That was the highlight of the trip for us.
Where we stayed
In Baku we stayed at the Landmark hotel. It is correctly priced, and located right in the middle of the city with easy access to the old city.
In Naxcivan, you have two choices - both are about the same price too. We stayed in Grand Naxcivan hotel.
Like with most of Central Asia, the cuisine is meat based. As a vegetarian, you can ask to customize the dishes. We tried the local saj and qutabs. Both delicious and freshly made. You can also find a whole lot of hot tea and bakhalava at every stop.
First up, the main feature and probably one of the most breathtaking views in all of Azerbaijan - the Alinja Fortress.
This place is often called the ‘Machu Pichu’ of Eurasia owing to its epic location and composition. Sitting atop a cragged mountaintop, it’s a reconstructed former fortress. It was legendary for being impenetrable, in fact the struggle to conquer lasted 14 years. The Mongol leader Tamerlane eventually conquered and destroyed it.
As we hiked our way up 1800 steps to reach this point on a freezing cold day, I could certainly imagine what a well-protected place this must have been. The highlight for me though was the panoramic view of the northern Iranian mountains. Uffff. If you can only visit one place in Naxcivan, this should be it.
Next up is my favorite monument in Naxcivan - the Qarabaglar mausoleum, located about 40 kms from the main city.
It’s well worth the effort of driving to this tiny village. This striking blue tile work on this structure along with the two minarets will instantly remind you of the monuments in Samarkhand, Uzbekistan.
So cool right? It’s astonishing how much overlapping history and culture you find in remote corners of the world.
Said to be the resting place of Noah, the details on these monuments deserve a whole post.
The oldest mosque in Naxcivan as seen from the fortress walls of the Yezidabad castle
Momine Khatun Mausoleum
A monument dedicated in loving memory of the wife of a former ruler. I liked two things about this one - first, the inscription on the walls; look closely you will find allah written over a thousand time and second, the room beneath the mausoleum which stands to date on a single pillar.
Located right next to the Momine masouleum, this former palace is now home to beautiful arrifcats from a bygone era. The most cool feature was the mirror room.
One more distinct monument, this one stands out in two ways - the pinkish color of the tiles and the bright red mountains in the background. Such a stunner!
Snake mountain or Ilandag mountain
If you are a person who lives the outdoor hikes, then I recommend you travel in the summer just to hike up the Snake Mountain in Naxcivan.
One of the oldest salt mines in the region
We had a couple different options to choose from - Sheki or Quba or Qabala. We went with Qabala as it was the most scenic route of the lot and the shortest of the drives from Baku city. The road trip did not disappoint. Apart from Naxcivan, we visited Qabala in Azerbaijan. Located about 200 kms from Baku city, a three hour drive from the city will take you to this forest area.
We stopped in the forest to watch local Babushkas making the most delicious fresh veggie Qutabs (dough rolled thin & cooked with meat or veggies or cheese).
Then we took a hike up to a waterfall, and walked around the partly frozen Nohur Lake. The lake reminded us of the Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. So pretty and blue, the winter vibes were spot on.
If slow living is your thing, this is the place to do it. No matter when you go, Qabala offers something for everyone - from skiing in the winter to wine tasting in the spring to mesmerizing forest drivers in the Fall. It will be a worthy addition to your Azerbaijan trip.
The last few days of our trip was focused on the beautiful capital city. With its long coastline, and modern buildings, this bustling city has a lot to offer for travelers. We are not city people, but what I loved most was the old meets new vibe the city had.
Here are a bunch of must-see places when in the city:
📌 Carpet museum on the seaside boulevard makes for a stellar backdrop
📌 View of the city from Highland Park. Get up close to the iconic flame towers by hiking up to Highland Park
📌 Icherisheher Fortress walls
📌 Old City - this was my personal favorite
📌 Heydar Aliyev Center
📌 Nizami street vibes
📌 Bibi Heybat mosque
Said to be built in the 13th century, it is a little unusual because it is believed that this was the only building that was destroyed under Stalin’s rule; then reconstructed. Today it is an elaborately decorated mosque, with interiors in green and gold and is a resting place for Ukeyma Khanjm, a descendant of Muhammad. It reflects the Shirvan architecture and has three domes. You can also see the views of the Caspian sea from here. Definitely check out the inside if you go here.
This is a place many people outside of the gulf region will struggle to place on a map. If you are a resident of the middle east countries, this is an easy win with it's simple visa process. From skyscrapers to idyllic villages, this country will is a contrasting mix of a futuristic vision that meets the former Soviet Union vibe.
The skyline is a breath of fresh air, compared to the more simple Georgia and Armenia. Set beneath the Caucasus mountain range, you will find fascinating muddy volcanoes, Parisian style boulevards and picturesque corners in this country.
I love how simple it was to plan this trip. As much as I enjoy a challenge, sometimes easy wins are the way to go. I hope I have inspired some of you to add the dazzling Naxcivan to your travel plans this year. It is so refreshing to find gems like this, quietly tucked away in relatively unknown corners of the world.
Thank you for reading. Follow along our journey on Instagram and leave us your comments.
Lots of love