Gobustan and Gobustan National Park are among the most fascinating places to visit in Azerbaijan. The area can be reached on a day trip from the Azeri capital of Baku. Even if you are short on time, it’s worth carving a day out of your schedule to visit Gobustan.
- 1 Gobustan, Azerbaijan
- 2 The Main Attractions of Gobustan
- 3 Getting from Baku to Gobustan
- 4 Prices of Visiting Gobustan
Gobustan (sometimes spelled as “Qobustan”) is home to some of the most unique landscapes in the world. Here you will find the remnants of an old Soviet-style town, a fascinating archealogical park that boasts 40,000 year old cave paintings, and the weird and wonderful natural phenomenon that is the mud volcano.
Wandering through the plains and desert-scapes of Gobustan feels more reminiscent of taking a trip to Mars than it does the Caucasus region. The atmosphere is almost ethereal.
Internationally, very few people have even heard of Gobustan or Gobustan National Park. The benefit of this is that the site is seldom if ever, occupied by more than a handful of tourists. Boarding an old Lada cab and venturing out into the desert with locals here is a true adventure.
The Main Attractions of Gobustan
Gobustan sits approximately 67km south of Baku. The archaeological park here dates back to 1966. In 2007, it was designated as being a UNESCO world heritage site.
The main attractions of Gobustan can be summarised as:
- Gobustan National Park
- The Mud Volcanoes
- Gobustan Town
Gobustan National Park and Petroglyphs
Gobustan National Park and its resident petroglyphs sit just west of the town of Gobustan. You will find this area marked on the map as “Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape”.
“Petroglyphs” is a funny old word that you may not be familiar with if you’re not incredibly into archeology. The word “petroglyphs” actually comes from ancient Greek.
The name originates from the word “petros” meaning stone, and “glyphein” meaning to carve. In simple terms, petroglyphs are caveman engravings that have been carved into caves and stones.
The collection here at Gobustan is the largest of its kind in the world. They date back over 40,000 years to the time of the ice age.
The site is expansive and stretches over 537 hectares. There are more than 6,000 petroglyphs to be found here.
Admiring the Gobustan National Park Petroglyphs
It is fascinating to see how detailed some of the carvings are. Particularly since they were created during a time when people had very few tools and resources.
Within the rocks and caves, you can find the old settlements, cave homes, and burial sites. It is believed that the site was inhabited by humans from the last Ice Age, through the Upper Paleolithic Age, and up until the Middle Ages.
The Petroglyphs depict scenes of prehistoric life such as tribal dances (it is presumed that they did this in preparation for a hunt) and hunting for animals. Earthquakes have led to the national park looking so higgledy-piggledy with rocks seemingly strewn all over the place.
However, many of the caves here where cavemen once lived are still standing today. Some of the groupings of rocks are actually ancient burial mounds.
Gobustan National Park Museum
A small museum sits at the entrance to the Gobustan National Park site. Its exhibits include weapons, carving tools, and artefacts recovered from the Gobustan region.
The exhibitions showcased here are displayed in a number of different languages including English. It is best to visit the museum before exploring the caves and petroglyphs site.
The museum helps you to put everything into context, and it provides some information on where specific carvings are located. Additionally, the information placards can help you to understand what various symbols and imagery mean.
Remeber that Azerbaijan is Still New to Tourism
Tourism in Azerbaijan is still a relatively new concept. It wasn’t until Baku hosted the Eurovision song contest in 2012 that people really started to consider visiting the country.
Consequently, be sure to be armed with lots of patience when you visit. The tourism infrastructure is still developing. However, that’s all part of the fun and adventure.
The Gobustan National Park petroglyph site itself isn’t very well signposted. As in, this is just a really huge field of rocks and you are just wandering around trying to find things.
There are no information boards next to any of the petroglyphs either. As such, you may find yourself looking at a group of squiggles.
However, you have no information about what the squiggles are thought to represent, or when the squiggles were carved. Damn those squiggles!
Admission to Gobustan National Park
Admission to Gobustan National Park costs 4 Azeri Manat per person (£1.70). This includes the museum and the national park site.
Gobustan town is nothing to write home about really. It is far from an aesthetic place. However, if your time in Azerbaijan is short, a brief wander through the streets can be an interesting experience.
Gobustan has a completely different feel to it than Baku. Arriving here can be something of a culture shock when you compare it to the glittering hi-rises of the capital.
The town is filled with dusty roads and Soviet-style tower blocks. It makes you question if you are still in the same country.
The Gobustan Mud Volcanoes
Gobustan’s mud volcanoes are arguably one of the most fascinating sites in all of Azerbaijan. You may have never heard of this phenomenon before. However, Azerbaijan is home to more than 50% of the world’s mud volcanoes.
What is a Mud Volcano?
These strange volcanoes can be formed when gases below the surface of the earth find a weakness in the ground.
As the name suggests, the mud volcanoes spew gooey, sticky mud instead of the usual volcanic ash and lava. However, what you may not expect is that this mud is actually ice cold. By contrast, the heat of the desert means that the mud solidifies and cracks in a matter of seconds before your eyes.
The Mud Volcanoes of Gobustan, Azerbaijan
The scenery while wandering around the Gobustan desert and looking at these mud volcanoes feels almost like you are walking on the moon. Little gargling and bubbling noises can be heard from the craters.
Every now and then, one of them will “erupt”, splurting out thick, gooey mud. Occasionally the explosion is bigger than the usual dribble, absolutely drenching an unsuspecting tourists in mud.
Hanging out at the Gobustan mud volcanoes
Azeris say that the mud from the Gobustan mud volcanoes is good for your skin. Don’t hesitate to take a bottle or a jar with you so that you can scoop some of it up in preparation for a home face mask later!
You may find that locals are sitting or soaking their legs in some of the craters. However, you have to be really careful.
Some of the mud volcanoes at Gobustan are bottomless, meaning that you would just drown instantly. Sadly some travellers have lost their lives here.
Don’t be put off going. But at the same time, exercise caution and common sense. Don’t climb up the craters or go too close to their edges.
Apparently, there were once caution signs scattered around the desert here. However, the local Azeri cab drivers gathered them up and threw them all away so as not to scare tourists and lose business. Just be cautious!
The mud volcanoes are free to enter and explore. However, you will need to get a local Gobustan cabbie to drive you here.
Getting from Baku to Gobustan
Getting to Gobustan from Baku is not an easy feat and requires a little advanced planning, particularly if you hope to do the trip independently. There is no public transport that runs directly to the site.
Renting a car in Azerbaijan is not advisable due to the poor conditions of most roads here. It is even less advisable to attempt this when visiting Gobustan where you face a very real possibility of getting lost in the desert on your way to the mud volcanoes.
Your main options for reaching Gobustan National Park and the nearby mud volcanoes are to either participate in an organised tour or to hire a local driver to take you there. The various options for travelling to Gobustan from Baku are discussed below.
Organise a Gobustan Tour
One option for getting from Baku to Gobustan is to take a tour. There are many reputable tour companies that run daily tours to and from the area.
Several tour companies also stop by the “burning mountain” of Yanar Dag, and the spectacular Bibi Heybet Mosque. Opting to take a tour takes a lot of the stress and logistical planning out of organising a day trip.
Take the Bus from Baku to Gobustan
Travelling to Gobustan by bus is not that simple since you need to make a couple of connections. However, if you may prefer this option, the route that you need to take is outlined below for your convenience.
Step One: Get from Baku to Gobustan
First you need to take the metro to Iç Eriseher station. From the square near Baku old town, take the bus number 6 and tell the driver that you want to go to Gobustan.
He will know where to drop you off and will leave you in a place to get another bus. From here you need to take bus number 195, telling the driver you want to visit the petroglyphs.
You will disembark bus 195 close to the limits of Gobustan town. Consider downloading an offline map such as “Maps Me” so that you can follow your route and ensure you’re headed the right way.
Step Two: Find a Gobustan Cab Driver
You will need to take a cab to visit the Petroglyphs and the mud volcanoes from Gobustan town. The mud volcanoes are way out in the middle of the desert and you need a local to take you to them.
You will note that there is a large group of cab drivers that wait at the roundabout just outside of Gobustan. Most of them drive old Lada cabs that they will joke are “designed for offroading”.
You should expect to pay around 10 manat for the cab driver’s services but be prepared to haggle! Never take the first price offered. They may start their negotiations at around 35-30 manat.
Is it advisable to travel to Gobustan National Park by bus?
Opting for the metro and bus combo is the cheapest way to get to Gobustan. It will cost you no more than around 1 manat for all of your bus and metro connections.
However that being said, it can be difficult to communicate since most people here do not speak English. If you cannot speak Russian or Azeri, try to use google translate on your phone.
Alternatively, download a picture of the petroglyphs to show the driver where you want to go. This option can be quite stressful if you wind up missing a connection and waiting around for buses for long periods of time. As such, it is more advisable to opt to hire a private driver or join a tour.
Take a Cab/Hire a Private Driver in Baku
Hiring a driver is a convenient way to get from Baku to Qobustan. You can expect to pay around 90 manats for a return trip, including a brief stop at Yanar Dag on your way back to Baku.
Uber exists in Baku. Some drivers will be happy to take you out to Gobustan. You can also ask your hotel/accommodation provider to provide you with a quotation for hiring a driver for the day.
Always be prepared to haggle. The first price that you are offered for anything in Azerbaijan is always an inflated one that you are expected to negotiate. 90 manats for the round trip is pretty reasonable.
Be Prepared to Change Drivers
Note that you may have to exit your Baku cab and hire a local cab briefly when you arrive in Gobustan. Getting to the mud volcanoes requires going off road across sludgy, dirty desert plains.
Consequently, many Baku cabbies will not be willing to get their cars muddy. Not to mention, they probably don’t know where the mud volcanoes are since they are not local.
Don’t be alarmed if you have to change drivers briefly. It takes less than five minutes to get to the mud volcanoes, and the trip should only cost you 10 manat or so.
Additional Information for taking a cab to the mud volcanoes
Keep in mind that Gobustan/Qobustan is pronounced as Gobustan (Go-bus-tan). Make the “G” sound heard otherwise cabbies and bus drivers might not know what you are talking about.
Expect an adventure reminiscent of a comedy sketch as you make the short journey from Gobustan roundabout to the volcanoes. Many of these old Lada cabs have seen better days and the drivers often have to comedically get out, push their cars along, and top up the gas tanks with water at random intervals.
There are no seat belts in the cars. The fact that the ride is so bumpy means being thrown from left to right with every turn and bump.
Prices of Visiting Gobustan
The price cost for taking a trip from Baku to Gobustan will vary a lot depending on whether you choose to organise the trip independently or go on a tour. Tours can set you back around £75 per person. However, they are inclusive of everything.
Organising a private driver will cost you 90 manat (circa £40) before you take into consideration the extra fees for the museum admission, Gobustan local cab driver, and any lunch/drink costs.
Organising the trip independently works out cheaper if you are travelling as a group. If you are a solo traveller in Azerbaijan, you may prefer the comfort of a tour for a price that is not that much higher than doing it all independently.
Do you have any additional questions about Gobustan and Gobustan National Park, or about planning a trip to Azerbaijan in general? You may find this Azerbaijan Travel Guide useful.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need anything. Safe travels! Melissa xo