Travel Azerbaijan: 7 reasons to visit the Land of Fire - PHOTOS

13:03   17 April 2017    3854


1. The Caucasus is one of the world’s most interesting regions

OK, I’ll admit to a certain level of bias here. After all, “interesting” is a fairly subjective term. But opinions aside, this is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse regions on earth, and is a historical and present-day nexus of Persian, Russian, and Turkic cultures. There are over a half-dozen language families spoken in this Montana-sized region, and many of these languages and cultures exist nowhere else on earth. No wonder medieval geographers referred to the Caucasus as “the mountain of languages”.

2. Azerbaijan is a land of tremendous contrasts

Azerbaijan is a small wedge between Russia and Iran, and is the only country in the world that borders both. Here, people celebrate Navruz (Persian New Year) in their neighborhood Soviet bloc. Turkish pop blasts on the street as Azeri babushki stroll by, gossiping in the language of Dostoevsky.

Adding to these contradictions, this country has undergone a rapid transformation due to its post-Soviet oil boom, which has made the country (or rather, a small subset of the population) incredibly wealthy. The capital, Baku, is an immensely modernized metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers and posh nightlife. However, several hours on a bus will lead you to isolated villages with the backdrop of the soaring Caucasus Mountains. Here, herds of sheep dot rolling green landscapes and villagers live a similar lifestyle to their ancestors several centuries ago.

Azerbaijan also hosts astounding geographic diversity. Of the eleven existing climate zones in the world, Azerbaijan has nine. (Note that this country is only about the size of Maine!) You can explore the lush, subtropical forests of Lerik, hit ski resorts in Qusar, or check out mud volcanoes and continuously-burning natural gas fields near Baku.

4. Azerbaijan is much more accessible to female travelers than you’d expect

I currently study in Baku, and have been quite surprised by how easy it is to live and travel here as a foreign woman. Though this country is predominantly Shia Muslim, it is remarkably secular. In the capital, I dress pretty much the exact same way as I do in the States, and have never heard so much as a catcall. In more rural regions, slightly more conservative dress is advised, but I have never encountered anything but hospitality and respect as a young foreign female.

5. The hospitality is something else…

Travelers can encounter a friendly welcome in many places. However, the kindness and warmth I’ve experienced in Azerbaijan is truly striking, and I’ve done quite a bit of traveling. From the elderly shopkeeper who ran for fifteen minutes in the sweltering heat to return my forgotten change, the rabbi who welcomed me into his home for food and drink well into the middle of the night, to the rural villagers who basically adopted me into their family for a weekend, these people have left a lasting impression.

6. … And so is the food

Again, delicious food doesn’t exactly set a country apart from the rest of the world. But Azerbaijani cuisine is a delectable medley of Turkish, Persian, Eastern European, and distinctly Caucasian delights. Due to Azerbaijan’s geographic diversity and geological peculiarities, and the fact that nearly all produce is locally grown, the fruits and vegetables here some of the world’s best.

7. Azerbaijan is well off the beaten path… for now

Sadly, the tangles of vastly different people inhabiting the Caucasus, paired with the region’s role as an arena for various empires new and old, has contributed to bitter conflicts and bloody wars. But I firmly insist that the unfavorable depiction of the Caucasus in the media does no justice to the region’s spectacular landscapes, culture, and people. Intrepid travelers are starting to uncover these fascinating, emerging countries and regions, with Georgia and Armenia remaining the most frequented destinations.

In all, traveling to Azerbaijan still requires a bit more creativity, resourcefulness and patience than many other parts of the world. But the country’s remarkable diversity in its people, landscape, and attractions mean that there is truly something here for every type of traveler. I simply can’t emphasize enough how much a trip to this fascinating corner of the former Soviet Union is worth it.

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