This tour gives you a good overview of Azerbaijan, exploring its history, culture, natural beauty and diversity, and enjoying the modern city that Baku has become. The tour is designed to end at the border with Georgia if you want to continue your journey through the Caucasus. If this is the case, we have many itineraries for Georgia that you can connect to this one to further your exploration of the region.
Welcome to Azerbaijan! On arrival at Baku’s International Airport, you will be met and transfer by private transfer to your hotel with a professional guide. Overnight at your hotel (check in after 14:00).
After breakfast at your hotel, we proceed to the Old Town-Icheri Sheher, which is also a fortress. The heart of the historic city is Ichari Shahar (the Inner City, or Old Town). While Baku had a reputation of a city blighted by old extraction, it has recently been completely transformed into a gorgeous capitol city of seaside promenades and extraordinary architecture, including Zaha Hadid, Sir Normal Foster and others from the list of the most famous architects of our time. Gone are the crumbling Soviet buildings of the 1960’s, replaced by brand-new, limestone-clad almost Parisian architecture of the new Baku. In many ways, this is a city, indeed country, reborn with the oil wealth that for the first time is being spent at home. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited parts in the region – and indeed in the Middle East. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers, dating Baku to over 1,500 years old. This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, dead ends and caravanserais sometimes called the ‘Acropolis of Baku.’ You’ll see carpet shops and cafes and you shouldn’t miss a stop into a tea café to sample hot lavash bread as it is pulled straight from the clay over that greets you as you enter.
Later, your guide will take you to the Shirvanshah’s palace that was built between 1761 and 1762, and is surprisingly small. Here in Old Town, you’ll also see the Maiden Tower and can climb to the top for a wonderful panoramic view of the historic neighborhood.
Lunch at the local restaurant.
Depart to Gobustan. This open-air historical-artistic preserve with Neolithic rock drawings. It has come 6000 inscriptions that go back 12000 years (along with 2000-year-old Latin graffiti to boot). Stone Age folks sporting loin-cloths pose, hunt and boogie down in the petroglyphs. Their dances are thought to have been accompanied by the melodious strains of the Gaval-Dashy (Tambourine Stone) – a rock that has a deep, resonating tone when struck. Because of huge rocks, leaned heavily, 20 caves and tents formed there, which were shelter for inhabitants in bad weather. Gobustan is included to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Gobustan reserve clearly showing the longships that led Thor Heyerdahl to trace his Viking roots here. “Scandinavian mythology describes a god called Odin that came to northern Europe from a place called Azer. I have studied the writings and concluded that it is not mythology. It is real history and geography” wrote Thor. He found similarities in the drawings to those found in Scandinavia, particularly some in Alta, Norway. According to Icelandic Sagas, written in the 13 th century, the Norse God Odin (Wotan) migrated from the Caucasus in the first century AD. By local legend a skeleton found underneath Kish temple near Sheki (Azerbaijan) showed these early Vikings to have been two meters tall, and blond with blue eyes.
You will also have a chance to visit quite a unique site where 300 of the planet’s estimated 700 mud volcanoes sit Gobustan, Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. Many geologists as well as locals and international mud tourists trek to such places as the Firuz Crater, Gobustan, Salyan and end up happily covered in mud which is thought to have medicinal qualities. In 2001 one mud volcano 15 kilometers from Baku made world headlines when it suddenly started spewing flames 15 meters high.
Dinner at the local restaurant and overnight at your hotel.
After breakfast we begin the sightseeing day with a visit to the local Bazar to see the local art of shopping. Like in many Middle Eastern cultures, the bazaar is the place where seasonal and local produce is offered as juiciest melons, sweet-scented peaches, great tomatoes and etc. This will be followed with a visit to the History Museum and Taghiyev’s Mansion.
Later you will visit the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. The Heydar Aliyev Center is a 619,000-square-foot building complex in Baku, Azerbaijan designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and noted for its distinctive architecture and flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles. The center is named for Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Soviet-era Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of Azerbaijan from October 1993 to October 2003. The Center houses a conference hall (auditorium), a gallery hall and a museum. The project is intended to play an integral role in the intellectual life of the city. Located close to the city center, the site plays a pivotal role in the redevelopment of Baku. The Heydar Aliyev Center represents a fluid form which emerges by the folding of the landscape’s natural topography and by the wrapping of individual functions of the Center. All functions of the Center, together with entrances, are represented by folds in a single continuous surface. This fluid form gives an opportunity to connect the various cultural spaces whilst at the same time, providing each element of the Center with its own identity and privacy. As it folds inside, the skin erodes away to become an element of the interior landscape of the Center.
Lunch at a local restaurant.
Later your guide will take you to the Baku Fire Temple, known locally as the Atashgah. This is a castle-like Hindu temple and monastery complex in Surakhani near Baku. The complex is now a museum and is no longer used as a place of worship. Local legend associates the temple at Surakhany with the fire temples of Zoroastrianism, but this is presumably based on a misunderstanding of the term ‘Atashgah,’ which in Azerbaijani is literally any fire-place, but in Zoroastrianism is synonymous with Middle Persian Atashdan, the technical term for the altar-like repository for a sacred wood-fire.
After visiting the Fire Temple head to the Absheron peninsula to visit Yanar Dag – Burning Mountain. One of the oldest and most attractive sights on Absheron is at Yanar Dag in the Mehemmedi settlement. Its name translates literally as ‘burning mountain’ and this is no illusion: it really is burning! The hillsides are embraced by fire day and night. Yanar Dag is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which itself is known as the “land of fire.” Flames jet out into the air 3 metres (9.8 ft) from a thin, porous sandstone layer.Yanar Dag is also known by other names such as “pilpila”, “bozdagh”, “ahtarma” and “gaynarja.” Unlike mud volcanoes, the Yanar Dag flame burns fairly steadily, as it is not a periodic eruption, but a steady seep of gas from the subsurface. It is also claimed that the Yanar Dag flame was only noted when accidentally lit by a shepherd in the 1950s.There is no seepage of mud or liquid, which distinguishes it from the nearby mud volcanoes of Lokbatan or Gobustan.
Return back to Baku and enjoy some free time before going to dinner at local restaurant. Overnight at your hotel in Baku.
After breakfast, check out and we travel by road to Shemakha, a former capital and trade center for western Azerbaijan and now a small town. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence. It is famous for its traditional dancers, the Shamakhi Dancers, and also for giving its name to the Soumak rugs. In its history eleven major earthquakes have rocked Shamakhi, but through multiple reconstructions it maintained its role as the economic and administrative capital of Shirvan and one of the key towns on the Silk Road. The only building to have survived eight of the eleven earthquakes is the landmark Juma Mosque of Shamakhi, built in the 10th century. The Juma Mosque, is a very large and attractive building. Construction date of the mosque- 743-744 – relies on research of a geological commission coming from Tbilisi, which was led by Prince Shahgulu Qajar. This date was defined with Arabic ligature on the facade of the Friday Mosque, stating the year 126 according to Islamic calendar as the establishment year.
Later we will visit Yeddi Gumbez ‘Seven Tombs’, yet only three of these desecrated octagonal royal tombs remain reasonably complete. Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum – is a cemetery located 1.5 km south to Shamakhi where three mausoleums from “Yeddi Gumbaz” group are still saved. Other mausoleums of the group are partly destroyed and are without cupola or walls. The mausoleum belongs to the beginning of the 18th century. This architectural monument was built for a family of Mustafa khan – the last khan of Shamakhi. The name of the architect – ustad Taghi – is also known due to a ligature on the mausoleum. The monument belongs to Shirvan-Absheron architectural school. The most ancient of them is dated to 1810, which is testified by a ligature carved on the mausoleum. This mausoleum is eight-edged. Its external edges have niches, which are covered with arch shaped half-cupolas. Lunch will be at a local restaurant.
Drive to Sheki – it is one of the most ancient settlements and cultural centers of Azerbaijan. Situated 2,300 feet above sea level, like an amphitheater surrounded by mountains and forests of oak trees, Sheki rises above fertile pastures and fields. It was founded more than 2,700 years ago on the southern slopes of the Major Caucasus Mountains chain. During its millennial history the town was devastated numerous times, so most of the historic and architectural monuments currently preserved date from the XVIII-XIX centuries. In the town you will see brick houses, shaded streets, weeping willow trees, and canals carrying spring water.
Arrive in Sheki then drive into the countryside to the village of Kish with the oldest church in the Caucasus dating from the first century and enjoy walks in the surrounding Caucasus foothills. Dinner will be at a local restaurant, overnight at your hotel.
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel, then check out. Sheki is famous for the Royal Summer Palace of Sheki Khans with magnificent frescos (one of them is 80 feet long) and exquisite stained glass work. It was constructed in 1762 without a single nail and is one of the most marvelous monuments of its time. Visit “Yukhari Caravanserai” an architectural monument. The setting here is stunning – lying in forested hills with views of the Caucasus. Afterwards, depart to Georgian border and arrive by 12:30. After border formalities pass to Georgian side to meet your Georgian guide and driver.
End of Services.
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Single Supplement: $90
Prices are per person, based on double occupancy, land only.