The summer in Finland has been atrocious. For the longest time the temperature hovered around +15°C, which felt more like spring, which has also been atrocious with its constant rain. So at some point it was clear that if we want to see the sun, we should book some flights. Azerbaijan and Georgia was a spur of the moment decision, but those countries are virtually guaranteed to have sunny and warm weather. There was also an opportunity to have some very cheap flights with Air Belarus, but the flight times were in the middle of the night, so we decided to pay some more money to have much better flights with Turkish Airlines. We flew from Helsinki to Baku via Istanbul and flights back were from Batumi, also via Istanbul. The flights cost 487€ per person.
While the price level in both countries is quite a bit cheaper than in Finland, the hotels were surprisingly expensive. Also Azerbaijan doesn’t really have hostels and only a few Airbnb apartments, which weren’t very inviting. We needed to book the first accommodation as soon as possible because my boyfriend needed to apply for a visa to Azerbaijan. I have dual citizenship, so luckily Russia is one of only a handful countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to Azerbaijan.
Lonely Planet warned that getting a visa to Azerbaijan is a bit tricky, but it turned out to be kind of weird, but not tricky in the end. There are some web pages that look completely legit, but then they try to force you to book an airport transfer or a city tour in order to get a visa. My boyfriend applied for a visa on here. The application cost $24. He got a response next day that his application was rejected without any explanation. He asked for a price estimate for Azeri visa from a local travel agency, who quoted us a price of 146€ plus three weeks waiting time. After that he just resubmitted e-visa application with a minor change to his name (ä -> ae) and the day after that, he got the notification that his application was approved. 😀 So after all this the visa cost $48, but that’s still waaay less than what the agency quoted. We printed the form that was attached to the email and you need to present it at the passport control booth and that’s it. Oh, and you need to keep this document with you as they ask to see it when you exit the country.
We ended up booking a room in Old Street Boutique Hotel, which turned out to be quite a good option. It is located inside the old city walls, which only means that the cars need to pay to enter the old city. I think it’s 1-2 AZN and it is added to the price. So when we wanted to take a taxi, we usually just walked for a couple of minutes to reach the old city gates, where there were always plenty of taxis. The same thing on the way back, so the taxis just dropped us off at the gates.
The hotel room itself was spacious and very clean. It is located centrally, but on a very quiet street. We kept windows open all the time and still didn’t hear any noise from outside during the night.The only issue was a spotty wifi, which first worked fine, then didn’t work for a day, and after that worked mostly fine again for the rest of our stay, but was quite slow at times. The hot water was during our last night at this hotel, but that apparently happens occasionally in both Azerbaijan and Georgia. We also didn’t particularly like the breakfast and chose to eat in a cafe nearby instead, but I still think that 684 AZN (approx. 340€) for five nights was a good deal compared to other alternatives in Baku.
If you stay more than ten days in Azerbaijan, you need to ask your hotel to register you with the authorities, but if your stay is under ten days, nothing needs to be done.
We chose to book the airport transfer with the hotel for 25 AZN (12,40€) as we were arriving quite late. The driver was late as he was stuck in some sort of police check where the police checked his car thoroughly, but at least we had time to get a local SIM card at the airport. We were staying five days in Azerbaijan and figured that 1.5MB of data would be enough, but in hindsight we should’ve chosen 5MB as the hotel wifi wasn’t that great and the difference in price was minimal (I think 5 AZN). But there are several desks at the airport, which sell SIM cards, so there are different options. We kind of stumbled on the first counter we saw, which was for NAR Mobile. Their mobile data worked really well, but we’re not sure if there would’ve been better options.
What was also surprising to me is that when entering Azerbaijan I was told that my last name sounds Armenian and asked whether I had any Armenian relatives. I almost joked about how I don’t know everyone in my family, so that could be possible, but remembered at the last moment that joking at customers is never a good idea and that Armenia and Azerbaijan are basically at war over Nagorno-Karabakh. So no, I do not have any Armenian relatives. They didn’t push the issue and I was let into the country. Also I understand that you will not be admitted to Azerbaijan if you have Armenian stamp in your passport. And especially if you have been to Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan sees as their territory occupied by Armenia, Armenia obviously sees it as theirs, and Nagorno-Karabakh consider themselves independent of course. 🙂 I have been to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh three years ago, but luckily I needed to renew my passport after that as it expired a couple of years ago.
So on the first day we only flew to our destination, got a SIM card, and checked into our hotel. It was actually quite cool to drive from the airport to the city center as the entire city was lit up with different lights. Also the positive side of airport transfer is that you don’t need to think whether the driver knows where he’s going or not. 🙂