Azerbaijan is a small country so not many airlines fly here, but British Airways has daily flights from London to Baku; Turkish Airlines fly almost everyday from Istanbul to Baku and then there is Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and of course our national airlines AzAl !!! AzAl has direct flights to London, Paris, Kabul, Istanbul, Ankara, Moscow, etc. There are also small commercial airlines that fly to most destinations within former Soviet Union. AzAl is probably cheaper than any other airlines operating to and from Baku.
According to the guidebook there was no easy way to go from Seki (Azerbaijan) to Tbilisi. I thought I could take a minibus to Balaken and from there a taxi to the border. If I was going to find a bus or taxi on the Georgian side I didn’t know anything about. But I was very lucky and at Karavansaray Hotel they told me to take a bus to Qax and from there a direct bus (marshrutka) to Tbilisi.
Marshrutkas to Qax is not leaving from the bus station by the market in Seki, but from another place. A taxi to the marshrutka from the hotel was 1 Manat (1 dollar was 0,87 Manat). I took the 10.30 marshrutka to Qax. It was 1 Manat and took 1 hour and 15 minutes.
In Qax they told me to buy the ticket for Tbilisi on the marshrutka, but they called to reserve a seat for me. The marshrutka for Tbilisi arrived at Qax just before 13.00, and only a few minutes later we left.
At the border the gates were closed and we had to wait for our turn. There was no problems for me on either side of the border and I got my stamps quickly. A woman asked me if I had to pay anything, but no. For everyone to cross the border it took one hour.
The landscape along the road to Tbilisi was very nice. In Tbilisi the marshrutka was going to Ortachala Bus Terminal, but the driver told me it was best for me to get of before, near Isani metro stop, at a place where there was a lot of exchange offices. In this way I could take the metro to Marjanishvili where I was going to stay.
The trip between Qax and Tbilisi took 5 hours and 45 minutes (including an hour at the border) and it was 5 Manat. According to the time table on the wall at the bus station in Qax (where the hours were not correct) there were four buses a day from Qax to Tbilisi. I don’t know anything about the opposite way, but it should be about the same.
My first intension was to apply for the Azeri visa at the Azeri embassy in Tehran, but arriving to Tehran on a Friday and knowing it took about three days to get the visa issued (and not knowing if the embassy was open every day except weekends) I decided to buy a plane ticket from Tehran to Baku, as you can get the visa at the airport, but not at the land border.
I went to a travel agent in Nejatollahi Street where I bought a ticket with Iran Air for IR 1390000 (about 150 dollars).
The plane left from the new Imam Khomeini Airport at 13.45. I think it took about 1,5 hours to fly to Baku (or less). Not until I went off the plane in Baku did I take off the scarf, as only one woman had done so in the plane.
Getting the visa and going through the passport control was easy. I had already filled in two application forms, which I had downloaded from Internet and I also had two passport photos with me.
To Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran I took a taxi from Qazvin for IR 150 000. Arriving in Baku I shared taxi with two other people and paid 8 Manat to my hotel. Otherwise the fixed price from the airport was 20 Manat (July 2006).
There is one daily overnight train to Tbilisi.
Other destinations are Astrachan in Russia.
Remember to bring your passport if you want to buy tickets.
There are few destinanations inside the country.
Once you are in Baku you will notice that there are hardly any buses there. People mostly get around by the metro and taxis. Taxis are not at all expensive and the weird thing is that you do not negotiate about the price before you get in the taxi as you do in most former Soviet countries, but you pay as much as you see fit. The minimum price was 3 000 Manat which is less than 1$. There are very many taxis in Baku, they are usually yellow so they are easy to notice. The taxis can also be white, but they will then have a Taxi sign on them. You usually do not order taxis and there are no taxi parkings, but the taxis move around the city. In order to catch a taxi you just wave your hand. For safety reasons take only taxis that have taxi signs on them. You should have no problem finding those in Baku.
Baku is served by major airlines from Europe and the Middle East, and I think there is also an airport in Ganca (pronounced Ganja), but the label 'International' is probably a tad optimistic. There are trains from Baku to Tbilisi in Georgia, stopping at Ganca and a few smaller places near the border...for details of times, prices and other exciting facts, as well as some tips on how to handle the border guards please see my Baku or Tbilisi pages. There are also buses which travel the same route, as well as buses between Zaqatala and Laghodekhi in the Kakheti region of Georgia. I'm not sure if the land border at Astara with Iran is open to foreigners...probably not...but there is a ferry to Banzar-e Anzali on the Iranian Caspian coast, as well as a ferry to Turkmenbashi on the opposite side of the caspian in Turkmenistan. The border with Armenia is definately not open. As for Russia, well, there are certainly buses heading to Machachkhala and other cities in Daghestan, as well as to Moscow, but how safe these routes are at the moment is anyone's guess.
Buses are the only real way of getting round Azerbaijan...the trains are excruciatingly slow, and stations are in the middle of nowhere. However, the state of the trains is far superior to that of the buses, which are falling apart, and regularly break down....I'm sure they run on vodka some of the time! Also, why is it that my seat never ever reclines, yet the seat in front of me reclines to a horizontal position resulting in that passenger's head being practically in my lap?!! Bus journeys are long (Zaqatala-Baku is an overnight journey...and don't expect anything resembling sleep!), but at least they are cheap! Of course, the other option is to rent a car in Baku.
Baku has recently seen the introduction of a fleet of purple "London cab" style taxis. These are generally cheaper than the Lada or Mercedes taxis which have dominated in the past. A purple cab from the Hyatt to Fountain Square costs between 3 and 4 AZN, whereas an old, unsafe, unregulated Lada will probably cost you 5 AZN and a Mercedes will try and charge you 7 or 8 AZN (especially the Mercs which were regularly parked up outside the Hyatt). Fortunately, the Mercs have seen their business suffer as a result of the purple cabs arriving, and have dropped their prices in some cases.
From Sheki to Tbilisi was easy and cheap but with a lot of steps. First we took a marshrutka to Zaqatala from the bus station. The bus leaves at 7, 9 or 10 in the morning and costs 2 Manat. It took 2 minutes to take the next one from Zaqatala to Balakan (0,60 Manat). We got out at the petrol station at Balakan and took a a taxi to the border (5 Manat). The border you have to cross walking. At the border you can exchange your money. After crossing the border we took a taxi to Lagodekhi and from there with four persons we payed 40 Lari in total for a taxi to Tbilisi.(170 km)
If you are a foreigner in Azerbaijan, you are looking at being charged more than citizens for any domestic flight that Azal Airlines has. If you are going to Ganja, you are looking at anywhere between 20-40 manat for the taxi to the airport and $50(US) for the flight. Then you have to wait in line for the maybe-it-is-on-time-maybe-it-is-not flight. While flying is quicker, taking the night train to Ganja is much more comfortable and it saves on your pocketbook. At a cost of 7 manat, you get a berth in a two-person cabin sleeper. If you want a lower berth you should buy your tickets the morning or afternoon of your trip from the ticketing agents at the train station. During the summer, it is best to wait for the last boarding call as they do not turn on the air conditioning until a few minutes after the train starts moving. Clean sheets and pillows are provided. Granted, the ride was a little bumpy in spots, but I have never slept that well during a coach flight. You can take the express train during the day. It cost 3.50 manat. It is not as comfortable as the night train and while being advertised as being only 6 hours long, it usually takes well over 7. For me, for traveling domestically in Azerbaijan, the night train is the way to go. On the other hand, if you are in a hurry, consider the bus.
If you ask at the (wonderful) Caravanserai Hotel, they'll show you the timetable of marshrutkas going from Sheki to Qax, from where a direct bus goes to Tbilisi, I think twice a day, at 1030 and then after lunch sometime.
However, I chose to go in shorter steps, and found it easy, and quicker. At 9.00 a marshrutka left Sheki for Zataquala; from there to Balakan; and from there a taxi to the border. Easy crossing, polite guards, then a taxi from the Georgian side of the border to Lagodeki (4 Lari). I changed some money at the border but got a poor rate. At Lagodeki I had a short wait before a marshrutka left as scheduled at 1pm, arriving mid/late afternoon in Tbilisi - think that was 8 Lari.
Also, you could take a taxi to the border from Balakan - it's not that far, 12 manat or so.
In Baku my hotel and indeed the Lonely Planet tried to sell me the idea of a car from Baku to Gobustan and back, for a small fortune. Don't worry - the Marshrutkas as described in the Lonely Planet are pretty frequent and are an easy way there. From there any taxi driver will take you round the petroglyphs and to the mud volcanoes for a reasonable figure, way cheaper than taking a car all the way from Baku.
From T'bilisi (17,15) to Baku (9,00 next day) 80 lari/40 euros first class, second class about 50 lari. First class means 2 bed compartments, sealed windows, air con in the morning, but no water in the stinky toilet. The wagons' attendant, a fat old lady Russian speaking, usually requires some small change "for the sheets". Better do not argue, since you are at her's discretion for the next 12 hours.
The journey includes:
- 2-3 hours stay at the border
- no smoking on the corridor
- receiving food and drinks from friendly local travellers
- passing through Mad Max type scenery in the afternoon
- filling in applications in Georgian letters
The main bus hub in Baku is nexxt to 20 Januar metro station, outside city centre.
For Sumqayit, buses and marshrutkas leave every 10-20 minutes from a place next to the 20 Januar metro station, 100m down the road.
For Suraxani, marshrutkas leave from Nariman Narimanov metro station. There're also trains to Suraxani, but they take longer and are fewer than marshrutkas.
For Seki, there are air con buses all day and night almost every hour, 6-7 hours ride, 4 new manats, from 20 Januar bus station near the metro one.
Baku underground is a good way to go around the city, especially if you don't stay in the centre or if you need to get to marshrutkas or bus stations to get in/out Baku.
A problem is the lack of metro maps, while i found it hard to figure out myself which line the train was going. Plasmas are used for cartoons and advertisements, not for information, but you can always find help asking around.
Railways station - 28 May and Cafar, depending on destination, 28 May for the centre.
centre & the old town - between Sahil and Baki Sovieti metro stations
marshrutkas for Sumqayit and buses for Saki - 20 Januar metro
marshrutkas for Suraxani & Fire Temple - Nariman Narimanov metro
While I’ve seen some marshrutkas Telavi (Georgia) – Qax (Azerbaijan) on the road, I took a morning marshrutka (11,15) from Sheki to Balakan (1 manat, 2 hours), and a taxi from Balakan to the Georgian border (3 manat). Luckily, other taxis were waiting on the Georgian side (10 lari to nearest village, 30 lari for Sighnaghi after bargain).
Marshrutka/bus timetable is printed at the ticket office in the bus station, but only for routes within Azerbaijan.
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