The forgotten country, Azerbaijan has recently started the tourism game, a little late though after the breakdown of Soviet Union. This Eid ul Fitr, I decided to start my travels in this country. I took a direct flight via Azerbaijani Airlines (read my review about their Airlines here) to arrive in Baku and exchanged some currency to Azerbaijani Mannat (AZN) at the airport for a terrible rate but due to Eid holiday, I knew that all the exchange shops would be closed in the city.
I was going to stay here only for four days and had to make the best of it so I got in touch with locals and made some amazing friends who opened their culture and doors for me and I learnt so much about Azerbaijan in those 4 days. Read about it here.
Azerbaijan has relaxed its visa regulations in the past 2 years for a lot of countries by either allowing a visa on arrival facility or the option to obtain a visa online prior to departure from home country. Those from the GCC countries, China and Indonesia can easily get a visa on arrival no matter which airlines they take. US Citizens get a visa on arrival for 30 days if they take a direct flight to Baku via their national carrier, Azerbaijani Airlines.
The other 95 countries (excluding African countries and a few others) are eligible for an ASAN online visa and there’s a very good chance that your country falls under it.
If your country does fall in the online visa eligible countries, then visit the Official Azerbaijan Visa Application Site to apply for your visa online. You’ll only need a scanned color copy of your passport as an attaching document for the application. Beware of other sites that claim to process your visa application. They aren’t scam. They are legit but they charge more than double the fees and they trick you by making their website address look similar to the official one. One of those unofficial websites is https://evisa.com.az/en. Do NOT apply through them!
Cost of visa (on the official website): 20 USD plus 4 USD service fee
Processing time : 3 days for normal processing but expect to receive it earlier than that.
What to eat and drink
Since Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, it’s a all-you-can-eat haven. Everything is halal and you do not have to worry about pork being served in any restaurant. Alcohol is served though but you can opt out of it.
Here are a few amazing local dishes that I tried in Azerbaijan and absolutely loved it:
Bread is a staple food item here. You will find varieties of breads sold for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can’t remember most of their names but my favorite ones were:
Lavash: A thin bread like Indian “romali” roti also resembling the bread used in Saroukh shawarma, is a famous delicacy eaten all over Azerbaijan.
Tandir: A tandoori Nan like bread which is eaten with cheese or meat.
Bughlama: Lamb with bone is cooked in mild spices along with tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. It is so juicy and tender that it simply falls off the bone. Some bughlamas are soupy and do not have a curry like consistency. I preferred the curry than the soup.
Dolma: This is another name for “warq enab”, the stuffed grapevine leaves. The filling can be rice and carrot or beef. Almost every household and restaurant serves it.
The 3 sisters: The Azerbaijani name for this is quite difficult for me to remember. I kept asking for its pronunciation so many times but to no avail, haha. This dish has minced beef stuffed in bell pepper, tomato and eggplant. Since three different vegetables are used for fillings and served together on a plate, the name 3 Sisters was coined by the locals. (Okay, I know, tomato is a fruit, but you get the point.)
Julu kebab: These kebabs are a mix of minced lamb, beef and fat cooked to juicy perfection and eaten with fresh yogurt as a side. Other kebabs with bone are equally delicious. I ate a lot of them during my entire trip. If I ever go back to Azerbaijan, it might be for Julu Kebab 😉