Tips for Visiting Baku as a Solo Traveler
Baku, Azerbaijan is a popular destination for travelers coming from Russia and the Middle East but not well known among American tourists. Azerbaijan is a predominantly secular Muslim country. You won’t see women wearing head scarves or burkas. You won’t hear call to prayers broadcast like you would in a place like Jordan.
Located on the Caspian Sea, Baku is on the eastern side of Azerbaijan. The country borders Russia to the north, Georgia and Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south.
I visited Baku in July 2022. It was far from my favorite city but still I found it interesting to visit for a couple of days. Here are some tips I picked up that might be helpful to others visiting Baku.
- It used to be extremely difficult to get a visa, at least as an American, to Azerbaijan. That changed in 2017 and you can now easily get one online by completing your information and paying a fee. Note that if you have visited certain areas of disputed territories in Armenia, you cannot enter Azerbaijan. Armenian citizens are banned from entering the country.
- The airport that serves Baku is the modern Heydar Aliyev International Airport about 25km from the city center. Taxis are available just outside the terminal. I took a Bolt to my hotel in the city and it cost under $5 USD. Note that it is good to have small bills; my driver asked for 2 manat bills (about $1) to pay for exit toll from the airport which I didn’t have. When departing, I advise getting to the airport early. As I was trying to get through passport check, the entire immigration area shut down for about an hour — not sure if it was computer failure or a work slowdown or what. Just be aware that there may be issues.
- ATMs are very common at both the airport and around the city. It is a good idea to get some manats from a cash machine as most places I went couldn’t accept US credit cards. This included the national airline, Azerbaijan Airlines. A work around was to book through Priceline. My hotel (a Hyatt) did accept US credit cards but most other places did not including tourist sites like the ticket booth for the Maiden Tower.
- The center of Baku is the walled old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where you’ll find the Maiden Tower which offers views of the entire city from the top (15 AZN to enter). The old city is easy to walk around and can be explored in an hour or two. It offers a nice juxtaposition to the Soviet era and modern structures throughout the city.
- A park promenade stretches along the Caspian Sea shoreline. You won’t want to go swimming though; the Caspian Sea is 89 feet below sea level and, at least in Baku, has a good amount of oil in it.
- If you want to get another vantage point and also see the Flame Towers up close, there is a modern funicular from just outside the old city up to the Flame Towers. It costs just 1 manat.
- I visited Baku in the summer and I lucked out with a cooler day in the 80s. I wore shorts but it is not common for local men to wear shorts so I probably stood out a bit. I don’t think it is a sign of disrespect to wear them, just not common for adults (kids wear shorts).
- I found locals to be outwardly more stoic than friendly. American’s might be feel that locals are rude, but I think it is just a cultural difference. Everyone I encountered were polite and hospitable. For example, every time I took a Bolt (taxi), the driver would offer me a drink of his water or soda before they would take a drink. Not that I would ever take a swig of a strangers beverage, but it is the idea of being polite and generous to your “guest”.
- I always felt safe as a solo traveler. I saw numerous police throughout the city. I never felt targeted as a tourist with the exception of guides in the old city wanting me to join one of their tours (which was a nuisance not a safety issue).
- It is easy to grab lunch or dinner from a doner stand or order through the Bolt Food app. I enjoyed the BİR İKİ Döner Shop chain where I was able to get doner and fries and a drink for 10 manat (under $6 USD). Doner shops are everywhere in Baku and tends to be their most common lunch spot.
- Not everyone speaks English but I didn’t have a problem with communication. When using Bolt or Uber, you picked your destination on the app so didn’t need to direct the driver. At restaurants there was always someone that spoke English.
Have you visited Baku? What tips or suggestions would you add?