The Caucasus Mountains are more than just the continental divide between Europe and Asia. They are, instead, a spectacular setting for great hiking and unprecedented exploration. Nestled gentle among the majestic peaks is a tiny village called Xinaliq. This village, so isolated for so long has developed their own language unrelated to Persian, Turkish or Slavic (the other major region languages). While some may be turned off by the fact there are no official accommodation choice, for those wishing to commune with the locals this may be seen as an advantage. Only simple home-stays are available in town. Sadly, hiking and camping opportunities in the region are somewhat limited as the area is largely military controlled. This can be quickly circumvented by merely hiring a local "guide" (aka a local kid) to bring you around. However you choose to visit, the wonderful hospitality and spectacular scenery will make the place truly memorable.
Azerbaijan's attempt at rural tourism comes in the form of the tiny village of Lahic. But don't let that dissuade you. The remote village, where Lahiji is spoken (a Persian dialect) has been renowned for it's mastery of handicrafts, particularly copper-ware, for centuries. Today, Lahic maintain much of it's traditional feel. This is combination with it's beautiful natural setting in the Caucasus Mountains make it an ideal destination for travellers. While there are a few accommodation choices either on the outskirts of town, or a few kms out of the centre, it is instead a down-to-earth home-stay with a local family that will make the experience all the more special.
Former home of Khans (kings) the town of Sheki, in western Azerbaijan, is a treasure-trove of historical architecture. On a small fortified hill, near the centre of town, sits the wonderful Palace of Sheki Khans. An amazing example of period architecture in all it's splendour. Also within the fort grounds are several excellently preserved Albanian churches. And while the town has a number of hotel choices, one cannot resist staying in the 18th century Caravansary Hotel. Although rather simple, this is an absoute bargain considering the building seemingly transports you back to a time long since past. Priceless!
Caucasus Mountain range
Part of the charm of Azerbaijan are the quaint little villages that dot the Caucasus Mountain range. And possibly none are more charming or quaint than Kish. Located a short hop away from the more touristic town of Sheki, Kish is about as traditional as they come. Dating back some 1,900 years, it has changed little over time. Women still gossip around the numerous wells throughout the town (no indoor plumbing), men gather in central squares possibly to complain about whatever it is old men complain about. The narrow cobble-stoned street bob and weave their way up the hillside in a silence only broken by the singing of birds and the playing of children. For those needing more of a goal, the well marked Church of St. Elise has some interesting displays, including ancient burial sites.
Mud volcanoes and Rock art
Gobostan National Park
A short day trip south of the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, sit two rather different attractions. One of the particularly odd natural phenomenon is the mud volcanoes. With the majority of Azerbaijan's nearly 700 mud volcanoes (over half the number in the world), Gobostan is a great place to see the bubble-bubble action. Although not for bathing, simply wandering around the other-worldly landscape is worth the trip in itself. But, sharing the site is the UNSECO listed Rock Art Cultural Landscape. On the plateau overlooking the mud volcanoes are some 4,000 rock carvings covering 40,000 yeas of rock art. Gobostan is a rare chance to see both natural and man made wonders with having to wander too far.
© John Smith
Nagorno-Karabakh is a republic recognised by nobody, especially not Azerbaijan. It lies inside Azerbaijan but is "occupied" by Armenians - the Armenians have always lived in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the region was given to Azerbaijan during the Soviet times. When the USSR dissolved, the conflict reemerged with fierce fighting going on in 1991-1994 which left Nagorno-Karabakh wartorn. Today, it is possible to visit Nagorno-Karabakh Republic - but only from Armenia. You will be denied entry to Azerbaijan if they find any proof (souvenirs, photos, visa from NKR) that you have been to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Disclaimer: We are not political here on Globe Spots, we are just presenting things from a traveller's point of view.
Seemingly cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia, the exclave of Naxchivan sees very few tourists. With some saying the region was settled by Noah himself (of biblical fame) the area, including it's capital Naxchivan seem to be stuck in the past. Although largely used for Iranians looking to blow off a little steam in otherwise alcohol-less Iran, there is sufficient tourism infrastructure in the city to use as a base for region explorations. For those not wishing to wander too far off into the unknown, Naxchivan City has several mausoleum scattered throughout the town to occupy a day or so. Keep in mind, the people here are not as friendly as other in the region, and they are VERY sensitive about issues with Armenia. In fact, it is possible that you will be denied entry to Naxchivan if you have an Armenian visa (a practice not enforced in the rest of Azerbaijan). To get here, you'll either need two Azerbaijani visas, or fly from Baku.
No trick photography nor photoshop magic, the red lakes of Masazir are an odd site to behold. Although not unique in the world, the colour salt lakes make for a interesting day trip on their own (from Baku) or as part of a larger area exploration. The reason for the colour is due to a microscopic organisms that thrives on the extreme salt nature of the lake. Best seen on sunny days with high humidity in the mid afternoon, the colours can be quite stunning. As an extra souvenir, travellers can even buy some of the processed salt from the village as it's production is a major economic staple for the otherwise uninteresting village of Masazir.
Located in the North-West of Azerbaijan, the village of Ilisu offers some good options for camping, hiking or just setting out a nice picnic. The picturesque little stone-house village itself makes for a nice day trip. The simple architecture is highlighted by the simple way of life. But the place is made all the more special as it's perched on the edge of the Ilisu State Reserve. A popular place with locals in the summer, there are easy to challenging hikes available for the more adventurous as there are no map or tourist information for the region. Important note, there are no accommodation or restaurant choices in Ilisu, for these a traveller will need to use the nearby town of Qax as a base.