Bound by the grandeur of the Caspian Sea and South Caucasus, Azerbaijan (known officially as the Republic of Azerbaijan) is situated upon the crossroads between Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia. Harbouring nearly 10 million inhabitants and stretching upon an area of 86.600 square kilometres, it is bordered by Russia to the north, Iran to the south, Georgia to the north-west, Armenia to the west, and, of course, the Caspian Sea to the east. So, before you hit the closest airport to fly to Baku (the capital city), let us halt you for a second and give you these top six facts as travel-guides (wink)!
1. Language barriers:
Before you head to Azerbaijan, you have to understand the fact that language barriers are quite a problem there. Even though there are some touristy locations in Baku and on the coast of the Caspian, it is unlikely that you are going to find many English speakers in general. The native language there is, as you might have guessed, Azerbaijani and it is used by over 92% of the population. This is definitely a country where getting down the basics of the native tongue is as useful as Google Maps (wink)! An extra reason would be that over 50% of the local population is monolingual. Other regional languages that you might encounter include: Kurdish, Avar, Budukh, Georgian, Juhuri, Tat, Armenian (within the bounds of Nagorno-Karabakh), Khinalug, Kryts, Lezgian, Russian (this is your best bet if you can’t get your meanings across in English as it is often unofficially considered the second language in the country), Rutul, Talysh, Tsakhur, Budukh, and Udi. If you happen to be versed in either of the aforementioned, do not hesitate to try your luck!
Tipping in Azerbaijan is not something that you are going to have to worry about for it is not customary. However (and this is a big “but”), you still have to keep a close eye on where you are because the workers of more “luxurious” restaurants, for example, are going to demand it indirectly. This is, of course, still not the work of tradition, but of the constant influx of tourists who bring their ways into the country inadvertently. If you are feeling generous, leaving a 10% extra for an exquisite service is ok, but it is by no means a must. Taxi drivers, however, do expect you to round up the bill, so be prepared to do so to avoid frowns. Hotel staff and bartenders do not expect tips, so unless you are in some pompous area where too many foreigners hang out, you can leave it out!
If you are wondering what to pack for Azerbaijan, then your dilemma is justified. Why? Because the proud homeland of Baku harbours 9 different climate zones within its bounds. While this alone is enough for one to scratch one’s head in confusion, it is best to pack according to the season. First of all, understand that Azerbaijan is situated within the Northern Hemisphere – this means that summers are between June and August and winters are between December and February. The former months, thus, are the warmest and the latter ones are much wetter and colder. The best thing to do is to prepare for a temperate climate that may shift at any time. Wind-blockers and protection against downpours is recommended.
4. Tea heaven:
If you thought that the Azerbaijanis were heavy drinkers, you might want to know that it depends on what your mind was focused on. Why? Because no social event or gathering within the bounds of the country can go down without tea. Yes, Azerbaijan is home to some of the heaviest tea consumers in the world and they will do anything to make it appealing to visitors as well. Be sure to check out their crystal-served (within those pear shaped glasses – armudus) and freshly-brewed beverages before you leave the country.
5. The wonders of Baku:
In most of the cases we tell people to explore beyond the bounds of the capital cities of countries but we have to say that Baku defies all logic. Its architecture is haphazard, flamboyant and beautiful. Its people are welcoming, open, and will share their traditions with outsiders gladly. Oh, and did we mention that Baku has a man-made waterway system called Little Venice? That’s right, you can even float through a relatively large chunk of the city without worries. You cannot waste this opportunity – before you head out of the capital, be sure to spend a few nights there!
It is very important to know that bread is sacred in Azerbaijan. It is customarily separated from other trash to signify its meaning and be sure to not leave any lying in inappropriate locations. Abandoning bread on tables is quite queer there and it is a tradition to kiss it if you accidentally drop it on the ground. If you want to appear polite, be sure to adhere to this little unwritten rule!
Did you enjoy our list? What experiences have you had in Azerbaijan and what aftertaste have they left you with? What can you share with the world? Do not refrain from hitting the comment section below and telling us all about it! See you next time!