1. You will not have enough time to cover all historical sights
Baku has a UNESCO listed old center, so there is definitely a lot of old things everywhere. That might seem boring but with the right guide, a big bottle of cool water and maybe some tea and sweets stop on the way, the walk around İçərişəhər is a very pleasant experience. The most well-known ancient building in Baku is the Maiden Tower. Though the steps can be daunting, you should make an effort because the reward is an amazingly photogenic view of Baku and the Caspian Sea. Not far from there, you will find the Shirvanshahs Palace, a site not to miss. If you are lucky enough you will be guided by the wonderful Harzu H-va, who will happily show you all the highlights.
Outside of Baku there are many fortresses worth visiting: Qala, Mardakan and Ateshgah. If you prefer to not waste manats, you should try to get there by public transport (which can be quite an interesting adventure on its own).
Last but not least, do not miss the ancient drawings at Qobustan and the adjacent museum. No matter how hot it is or how little English people speak, do not miss the mesmerizing landscapes (careful not to fall off the cliffs while taking a selfie!) and the fascinating, prehistoric drawings.
2. You will get confused if you are in Europe or in Asia
Azerbaijan is geographically situated in Asia, but being in the Baku city center you will see yourself surrounded by more modern landscape than many European capitals. Despite staying in a Muslim country you will not see many hijabs. On the contrary, women enjoy their knee-length skirts and sleeveless tops.
When you get bored of that familiar view, just take a trip to the suburbs, where you can face a bigger cultural shock. Take advantage of people’s hospitability and enter an estate by the huge, colorful doors and find yourself in a local garden. Here you will see Azeri family members gathered with a cup of tea made in their samovar, eating local snacks and simply enjoying time with each other. There is no rush, no life in a hurry, but instead a warm and caring family atmosphere.
3. You will burn yourself with fire and get dirty from the mud
Azerbaijan is called the land of fire for a reason. If the sunburns are not enough for you, then visit Yanar Dag, the mysterious burning mountain, where the flames never go down because of the natural gas which blazes continuously on a hillside.
If you are still hungry for curious phenomena, take a trip to Qobustan and step off the beaten path to find amazing Mud Volcanoes. Just be careful, because if you approach too near you can find your t-shirt splashed with mud. However, I highly recommend dipping your hand into the volcano, the experience is unique!
4. You will be tempted to convert yourself to a different religion
Azerbaijan is mainly a Muslim country. But don´t expect to see women covered up in the streets (unless they are Arab tourists, who interestingly are not very well seen by the Azerbaijani people). In Azerbaijan there is a big mix of religions, so when coming here you can convert yourself into any you want. From the ancient Zorastrians who worship fire (of whom you probably have never heard about), to Muslims, Christians, Catholic orthodoxes, Judes, Hindus… There is everything for everybody! Do not miss the stunning little mosque just outside the center of Baku and the beautiful orthodox cathedral (that is if you can find it). Don’t forget to be respectful!
5. You will spend countless hours at the countless museums
In many senses Baku truly is a European capital. When it comes to museums there is a wide range of choice for everybody. If you have a taste in history, literature, carpets or modern arts you will find something for yourself. Some easily bored people can find it way too much to just stare at old stones or sometimes unexplained art.
However, you should really take the opportunity to visit really modern and fresh museums with a good guide for a cheap price and without the crowds of people you would find in Europe. You will improve your knowledge, most of the times the museum will be empty and there is a good chance that a kind employee will offer you a cup of delicious tea.
6. You might loaf all day once you come to boulevard and fountain square
It’s the best place to idle away your precious time. You can sit on a bench and watch the waves come and go, or see the fountain throws its silver spray into the air. The band on the boulevard will play you Azerbaijani songs as background music and the kids will join the chorus with their laughter; the fountain will babbled its familiar music. Don’t do the sightseeing in haste, just stop and sit. This is what a vacation should be.
7. You will forget your mother’s cuisine
In Baku, restaurants with menus in English are really rare, so each meal is a new adventure. You can never know what you’ll get until it’s on the table, which means you will taste all kinds of traditional food, like sac, qutab, kϋkϋ or dolma and wash it down with wonderful tea, kompot (tradicional juice) or ayran. On every corner you can also find very cheap döner with different varieties. After that, just stop by a supermarket and choose between a variety of cookies, baklava or shekerbura.
8. You will have to learn some manners
People in Baku are extremely well-mannered. If you are a girl be prepared to be offered a seat on the metro and bus, no matter your age. If you are a boy, well… then you will have to learn these manners. On the other hand, if you are a girl with 23kg luggage, an Azeri gentleman will help you carry it on the stairs. In the restaurant men pay for the women´s meals and even walk them to the bathroom.
However if you do not speak Azeri or Russian be prepared to use your body language. Only some youngsters know English. When you are invited to an Azeri home make sure you eat nothing before that, as they will make sure that you have tasted their unique and delicious food and tea. Don’t even try to wash your dishes – a guest at home is like a king.
9. You will be ashamed that such architecture doesn’t exist in your country
Baku is a unique city in this part of the world. The major reason is that there were different cultural and social inspirations on the development of the city. Baku has influences from the Orient Soviet Union, but also from a modern European style. The city has several beautiful green parks, where you can stay and take a break from all the buildings. And those buildings are far from ordinary. Be prepared to come across a giant rolled carpet, flames who light up at night with the colors of the Azerbaijani flag and huge in-the-making moon and flower buildings. On the other hand, there is also plenty of soviet buildings side by side with new full of glass ones that become truly impressive by night with the neon lights. What a wonderful mess! It just blends in a weird but exquisite skyline that you will never forget.
10. You will get yourself sunburned
Because probably you will not be able to resist spending at least a few hours at the beach. Although Baku is mostly known for its oil rig landscape you can find a lot of places to immerse yourself in the warm waters of the Caspian Sea. This will not only cool you down but will make you feel like you really are on vacation. While drying your body in the sun at the beach, don’t forget a sunscreen, so that you will not be mistaken as native American by the locals.
Written by our international volunteers in Azerbaijan: Katarzyna Biernat (Poland), Maria Silva Barros (Portugal), Nikola Tesic (Serbia), Ellie Zhao (China)