Solo female travel in Azerbaijan is far from the most common travel choice. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a rewarding and challenging one.
Azerbaijan, a country and former Soviet Union republic, in the northern Caucuses is one of the least-visited countries in Central Asia. And let’s be honest, Central Asia isn’t the most frequently explored part of the globe anyway.
Aside from the occasional intrepid travellers that like to venture off the beaten path to places such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan, not all that many people travel here. Azerbaijan has started to fall more on people’s radars in recent years.
That is after the country won the Eurovision song contest all the way back in 2011, and started hosting the Grand Prix in 2017. Prior to that, there were plenty of people who had never even heard of the nation, let alone who could place it on a map.
Still, outside of the glittering capital of Baku, Azerbaijan feels like something of uncharted territory. And that is what makes the experience of travelling here so wonderful, particularly if you like to venture off the beaten path.
Solo Female Travel in Azerbaijan
You can have a safe, memorable, and enjoyable experience travelling alone in Azerbaijan. You just need to use the same common sense and precautions that you would anywhere else in the world.
The tourism infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired
Since Azerbaijan is far from being a popular tourist destination, the infrastructure here leaves a lot to be desired. Travelling through the country is a lot different to say, travelling solo as a woman in Vietnam or Southeast Asia where there is an established backpacker trail.
Public transport in the country is extremely limited. Trains connect Azerbaijan to neighbouring Georgia and Iran, but within the country, the service is extremely slow and only runs between Baku and Ganja.
Bus services are also extremely limited and predominantly run around the area surrounding Baku. Other than that, the best way to get around is by marshrutkas.
Marshrutkas are one of the best ways to get around
Marshrutkas are shared minivans that service various routes in and between towns and cities. They leave when full and accommodate 8-10 people.
You may be familiar with these types of minivans if you have travelled elsewhere in Central Asia and in former soviet countries. In some areas, there is only one marshrutka per day headed to a particular destination.
If you plan on venturing outside of Baku and exploring the more rural areas of Azerbaijan, you may find that there is very limited information available online. To get to some places, e.g. to get to Lahic, you may have to take a marshrutka part of the way, and then hitchhike or take a cab for the remainder of the way.
Since transport information online is limited, you may have to use travel groups and forums to find the details that you need. Your hotel receptionists are also usually able to tell you when and where you can get certain buses and marshrutkas.
Travelling alone as a woman in Azerbaijan
Women travelling alone are not a common sight in Azerbaijan. In many parts of the country, people haven’t seen tourists before, period.
Still, for the most part, people are friendly and curious, even when they are unable to communicate with you. Catcalling and advances are not unheard of, particularly in less travelled regions.
It is better to ignore such attention and not let it affect your day. Obviously, as women, we should be able to wear whatever we please and travel wherever we please, free from harassment.
However unfortunately you cannot control the actions of others and there are always going to be occasional disrespectful people. Do not confront harassers as you never really know what their mental state is or whether they are going to become angry/violent. Dismiss it as someone being idiotic, hold your head high, and don’t let it ruin your day.
Azerbaijan and Armenia conflict
You may be aware of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The two countries have been in a dispute over the ownership of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
In 2020, the two countries signed a ceasefire agreement, though there have been a number of violations since then. In 2022, tensions between the two countries have been increasing so it is a good idea to keep an eye on the news and the latest developments.
As a tourist, you should avoid travelling to areas close to the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. If you plan on travelling to the two countries as part of a wider Causcuses itinerary, it is better to travel to Azerbaijan first, then Armenia.
You may be refused entry into Azerbaijan if you have previously travelled to Armenia. It is a good idea to check your local government travel advice before travelling to a new country and the same applies when embarking on an Azerbaijan itinerary.
You can find the UK government travel advice for Azerbaijan here. The USA government’s advice for Azerbaijan is here.
Azerbaijan Entry Requirements
You need to obtain a visa in advance in order to travel to Azerbaijan. This was notoriously difficult in previous years, but as the country starts to open itself up to tourism, it is becoming easier.
Citizens of most countries can apply for an Azerbaijan E-Visa in advance but do check with your specific government travel advisory/Azeri consulate. You can find the E-Visa application portal here.
You should also be very cautious as scams are abundant in Azerbaijan and start before you even set foot in the country! There are several websites that have been set up to look just like the government visa portal but they are third parties.
They charge you substantially more for a visa, and you really do not need their assistance. Getting an Azeri visa is a very straightforward thing to do independently.
You may be refused a visa if you have previously travelled to Armenia. Be prepared to answer questions and provide information on any previous trips to Armenia.
Safety in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a safe country to visit. There is some petty crime in Baku, like in most large cities around the globe, but this is mostly opportunistic and easily avoided.
Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times and don’t flash expensive designer labels, cameras or electronics. When walking in crowded marketplaces, consider walking with your bag in front of you.
You may also want to consider investing in a theft-proof backpack such as those offered by Pacsafe. Theft-proof bags are slash-proof, water-proof, come with a long-term multiyear warranty, and have a TSA-approved lock.
Don’t do anything in Azerbaijan that you wouldn’t do in your own country. Don’t walk alone at night and be wary of overly friendly strangers.
If you go to social events and meetups for travellers and ex-pats in Baku, watch how much you drink and never leave your drink unattended. Uber works in Baku and it can be a safe, affordable way of getting back to your hotel, especially at night.
Arguably Uber is safer than taking a street cab as there is more accountability. You can see the driver’s details, license plate and past reviews via the app. Furthermore, you have the price before entering the vehicle, and you are far less likely to be overcharged than if you were to get inside a random street cab.
Very few people speak English
In the Azeri capital of Baku, you will encounter locals that speak English for their work. Digital Nomad events and social mixers are a great way to meet Azeris who are eager to practice their English.
Similarly, a lot of international ex-pats live in Baku and work at various oil companies here. The capital has seen a steady increase in tourists over the last decade or so and so, some staff working in hotels, local tour companies, and tourist restaurants may speak some English.
Since some tourists also like to visit Sheki, in Northern Azerbaijan, for the old caravansaries and silk road architecture, you may find some English speakers there too. Aside from that though, English is not widely spoken at all.
Few people in the country speak it or have even heard of it! The national language of Azerbaijan is Azeri, a Turkish dialect.
If you can speak Turkish at all, even just a few words, it may come in helpful. The two languages are certainly not the same, but Azeris will tell you that people from the two countries are able to understand each other.
To help you to communicate, download the Google Translate app on your phone. People here are friendly enough and when you are not able to verbally express something, you can type it out as a message.
Interestingly, in some parts of Azerbaijan, the people don’t even speak Azeri! For instance, in the mountainous village of Lahic, people speak Tat.
This is closer to Iranian Farsi than it is to Azeri. Fascinating, huh?
Solo female travel in Azerbaijan can be isolating at times
Travelling alone can be a wonderful and massively rewarding experience. For the most part, when you travel solo, it is very easy to meet people and you are only really totally alone when you specifically want to be.
That is true in Baku, where you will find it easy to meet people at hostels, or via social travel apps such as Couchsurfing and Meetup. However, outside of the capital, you are likely to encounter very few other travellers (if any).
This can be isolating as you are unlikely to find anyone that you can converse with in English. It is important to be comfortable with your own company if travelling alone in rural Azerbaijan. Still, even if you aren’t, you can plan your trip so that you are only in remote areas for a few days.
Culture and religion in Azerbaijan
Beautiful, ornate mosques are scattered throughout Baku and wider Azerbaijan. However, you seldom hear their calls to prayer as the country is mostly secular.
Approximately 99% of Azeris identify as Muslim, with the majority of people identifying as Shia Muslims. Less than 15% of the country’s Muslim population identify as Sunni Muslims.
Still, a lot of Azeris don’t actually practice religion. Alcohol is widely available here and a lot of people love vodka as much as the Russians! You will not see Azeri women wearing headscarves, nor will you be expected to dress a certain way.
Some charming aspects of Azeri culture are reminiscent of travelling in nearby Iran or in the Middle East. For instance, people love to hang out at shisha bars after a long day at work or on weekends.
Similarly, there are many quaint traditional tearooms around the country. Azeris take their tea just like their Iranian neighbours. They enjoy it hot, black and strong, sweetened with a dollop of sugar or two, and served in little crystal glasses with colourful plates.
Scams in Azerbaijan
Scams are rife in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, this can really start to impact your experience and opinion of the country after a while.
As a tourist, you are likely to be perpetually charged exorbitant rates for things (especially cabs) by opportunists who assume you do not know the correct price. When you eat out at restaurants, triple-check the price on the menu.
It is not uncommon for the bill to come at the end, and the prices listed be completely different to those displayed on the menu. On occasion, vendors became argumentative and intimidating.
Be careful when paying with larger notes, particularly if the person has to go away and come back with change. They may short-change you, or never return to give you the amount you are owed.
Similarly, people may make up almost laughable additional charges for the extras on the table. For instance, an extra dollar here for the use of the ketchup, another dollar for mustard, etc.
Do not get into a random taxi outside of Baku airport and try to use Uber where you can. It is a good idea to organize your transfer from the airport to your hotel in advance to avoid having to interact with hustlers.
When you are overcharged, it is usually not a marginal increase either. As a tourist, you may be quoted as much as 10 times to correct rate.
It is unfortunate that then many of these people then become aggressive when you call them out. It does not paint a good picture of these people’s attitudes toward women.
Registering with the Azeri police
If you plan on spending more than 15 days in Azerbaijan, you need to register your presence in the country with the Azeri police. If you are staying in a hotel, they will do this for you.
However, if you are in rented accommodation (e.g. an Airbnb) or staying with a local, you need to do this yourself. You can go to the local State Migration office or do it online here.
Generally, if you can, it works out better to stay at a hotel and have them do it for you. It takes a lot of stress and hassles out of your trip.
Hotels are used to doing this and it is no bother for them. They are accustomed to doing these dozens of times per week.
Where to Travel in Azerbaijan
A long weekend in Baku with the occasional day trip outside of the city centre, can be a nice first introduction to solo female travel in Azerbaijan. Alternatively, if you want to explore the country more in-depth, you can start in Baku and head from north to south.
Finish your itinerary in the city of Sheki and from there, cross the border from Azerbaijan to Georgia. An Uzbekistan itinerary is also a nice add-on for a trip to Azerbaijan.
The glittering Azeri capital of Baku offers a fabulous juxtaposition of tradition meets modern city living, and east meets west. Here, you will see historic, centuries-old mosques sit beside towering, all-glass skyscrapers and contemporary buildings.
Dedicate a morning to getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets and passageways of Icherisheher. This is Bakus 12th century old town, and many of its historic defensive walls still remain in great condition, all these hundreds of years later.
Be sure to stop by the Maiden Tower while you are here. This is the oldest structure in the city and nobody is sure of the exact reason why it was built.
Many stories and legends have been told about the tower. One of the most famous is the tale that a King’s daughter took her own life after leaping from the top floor. This legend (and the name of the tower) is the same as that of the Maiden Tower in Istanbul, Turkey.
While in Baku, you can also learn why Azerbaijan has been nicknamed ¨the land of fire¨. Take a day trip out to the Atesgah Temple of Eternal Fire.
This unique temple has been used by Zoroastrian Fire Worshippers, Sikhs and Hindus over the years. The torches here are constantly alight with fire.
Why? Because of the natural gases escaping from beneath the earth’s surface and reacting with the atmosphere.
Fire rituals have taken place here since the 10th century. The current temple is believed to date back to the 17th or 18th centuries and has been built in a similar structure to caravanseries.
The little town of Sheki in northwestern Azerbaijan is charming and filled with history. It is one of the best places to visit in the country if you are interested in learning about the days of the Silk Road.
Opt to stay at the Sheki Caravanserai Hotel. This is an actual caravanserai where merchants and their camels would spend the night when travelling from East to West with merchandise consisting of fragrances, apparel, ceramics, etc.
The property and its gardens are breathtaking. However, despite the initial glamorous appearance, you will be pleased to know that a stay here only sets you back around $25 a night.
The rooms are rustic and simple yet comfortable. They are cave-style with stone walls, lanterns, and original fireplaces. It gives a great insight as to what it may have been like travelling here some 300 years ago.
Even if you don’t spend the night here, it is usually ok to stop by, visit and snap some pictures. Nearby, be sure to pay a visit to the colourful Palace of Shaki Khans.
It was built in 1797 by Muhammed Hasan Khan. It was a summer home for the Shaki Khans who hailed from Afsharid Iran.
You can take a tour inside, and tours are available in English. The glittering chandeliers, intricate azulejo tilework, and ornate furnishings are reminiscent of an Iranian palatial home.
The mud volcanoes and petroglyphs of Qobustan (pronounced Go-bustan) make a popular day trip from Baku. Even if you are only visiting the capital for a couple of days, it is worthwhile to make a visit here.
You can opt to take the bus, hire a private driver, or take an organized tour. The latter is a great way to meet other travellers and save on costs.
Petroglyphs are caveman paintings and the collection here is the largest of its kind in the world. There are more than 6,000 images depicting scenes of prehistoric life!
They date back over 40,000 years to the time of the ice age. The paintings are contained within the Gobustan National Park.
As part of your admission, you can enjoy free entrance to the Gobustan museum. This is very worthwhile so as to gain further information and context on what you are seeing.
Nearby, you also shouldnt miss the mud volcanoes. They are located in the desertscapes essentially in the middle of nowhere.
So, if you are not visiting the area on a tour, you will need to find a local driver to take you there. (There are plenty around but be prepared to haggle on the price).
Mud volcanoes are a strange natural phenomenon that are formed when gases below the surface of the earth find a weakness in the ground. Instead of spewing out hot lava, as the name suggests, mud volcanoes spew out cold, gooey mud.
This is said to have healing properties and you will find people sitting around the volcanoes, slapping it on their arms and faces. You can even put some in a bottle to give yourself a facial later!
Lahic is a tiny mountain village situated in the Ismailli region of Central Azerbaijan. It boasts a culture that is quite unlike anywhere else in either Azerbaijan or the world.
The village dates back to the 5th century, making it one of the oldest in the country. It sits in the foothills of the Niyal mountain range.
Until a bridge and mountain road was built recently, Lahic was isolated from the rest of the country for hundreds of years. This is perhaps one of the contributing factors that led to the residents developing their very own language, Tat.
Since the remote location and mountainous scenery meant that working in agriculture wasn’t feasible, the locals turned to handicrafts to make a living. Lahic residents specialised in carpet weaving and copper crafts.
Their wares fetched high prices in Baghdad bazaars, making the tiny settlement an extremely important stopping route on the old Silk Road. Today, many traditional workshops still remain and the artisans are happy to demonstrate to you how they make their various handicrafts.
Lahic can feel a little bit touristy, with so many vendors on the main streets trying to sell you artisanal goods. However, that doesn’t detract from its beauty and charm.
You will find many quaint, traditional guesthouses here. Few things are better than waking up and looking out of your window to see the mountain scenery and wild horses running around the hills.
What to Wear in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan remains a somewhat conservative country and the men and women still dress modestly in most of the country. Baku is a little more liberal, and you will see a lot of western-style clothing being worn here.
Obviously, as a solo female traveller, you should be able to wear whatever you like and whatever you feel most comfortable in. However, it is also important to be mindful and respectful of the locals and not draw attention to yourself.
Outside of Baku, it is better to refrain from wearing tight dresses, low-cut tops that display cleavage, short skirts, tank tops, etc. Skirts and dresses are okay, but ideally, they should fall below the knee.
The climate also plays a role in choosing the specific clothing that you wear and pack for your trip. For the most part, the country sees hot summers and mild, yet cool winters.
In certain mountainous areas and at higher altitudes, it will be cooler year-round. Check the specific weather conditions for the areas that you are planning on visiting prior to your trip.
In the summer, opt for light, airy cotton clothing – long skirts, flowy trousers, and lightweight tops. In the winter, opt to layer up.
A Suggested Azerbaijan packing list
A suggested packing list for solo female travel in Azerbaijan is detailed below for your consideration. This is based on taking about 7-10 days’ worth of clothes.
- Comfortable walking sandals for hiking and city exploration
- A small 5L backpack for day use
- A mid-sized theft-proof backpack to double as hand luggage
- 3-4 light shirts
- 3-4 pairs of light trousers or long skirts
- 2-3 long jumpsuits or dresses
- 2 light jackets or cardigans for cooler evenings
- Coat or jacket if travelling during the Autumn and Winter months
- 1-2 nice outfits for dinners and evenings out in Baku
- Heels or other nice shoes for going out in Baku
- 2-3 sets of pyjamas
- 7 pairs of socks
- A week’s worth of underwear
- Flip-flops to wear around the hotel
- Period-proof underwear or a diva cup
- A reusable water bottle
- Travel medical kit, toiletries, makeup and any prescription meds
- A light pashmina for covering hair/shoulders in mosques
- Camera, camera equipment, and a selfie stick with tripod feet for phone photographs
- A light rain mac for rainy days
- Compression bags or packing cubes for reducing luggage size
Have you attempted solo female travel in Azerbaijan or are you considering it? Any thoughts or apprehensions?
If you are planning a trip to the country for the first time, you might also enjoy reading this Azerbaijan travel guide. Have a wonderful time! Melissa xo