5 ways to get outdoors in Azerbaijan

Beyond Azerbaijan’s towns and cities, you’ll find endless opportunities to get close to the country’s diverse nature. Here are five ways to explore its best fl

Team Wanderlust
23 October 2023

Azerbaijan is a land of incredible geographical diversity. Its Caucasus Mountains make up some 60% of the country, providing an undulating natural playground filled with wildflower-strewn hiking paths and splashed with glistening lakes. The country’s many nature reserves provide green and tranquil homes to an abundance of wildlife and birdlife while lush meadows stretch out across rural horizons, waterfalls splash dramatically down rock faces, mud volcanoes provide otherworldly sights and the beaches of the Caspian Sea await. Here are five ways to get outdoors in all of that nature…

1. Hiking

Candy Cane Mountains

From trails that take you to thundering waterfalls and high up in the Caucasus Mountains to routes that will wind you through rural villages and past glistening lakes, there are myriad hiking trails to choose from in Azerbaijan to suit all abilities and fitness levels. There are plenty of walking routes within striking distance of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. One of the finest is the 8.2km-long Khinalig – Galakhudat route, where you’ll soak up vistas of the towering Gizilgaya cliffs, ancient farmland and the yawning Gudyalchay valley. Other walks include the 8km-long KuzunYergi Kek trail, which connects two namesake villages and has you treading through subalpine meadows and the looming cliffs of Mount Shahdag. The 9.3km-long Galakhudat – Griz route serves up widescreen views of the Caucasus and the canyons of the Gudyalchay river valley, while the 6.5km-long Laza – Kuzun trail will have you passing pockets of forest, waterfalls and vertiginous cliffs as you walk through the Gusarchay river valley. Further afield, if you’re after glorious mountain views, don’t miss the Azgilli – Chiragli trail which joins the Goygol region with the Dashkasan region across an 9.3km route that takes nearly four hours and serves up magnificent mountain views of Kapaz and Goshgar, as well as the surrounding peaks of the Murov mountain range.

Those after more of a challenge can head to Kish Village to take on the Bash Goynuk trail. This 14.6km trail takes around eight hours to walk and will take you through forest and right up to the top of Mount Uzunyaylag where you can drink in the panoramas before descending to Bash Goynuk village. Another difficult yet rewarding hike is the Yergi Kek – Kuzun trail. Yergi Kek is one of the highest villages in Azerbaijan and this route will allow you to stand above an undulating world of Lish meadows set against the rugged cliffs of Mount Shahdag and the plateau of Mount Gizilgaya.

In 2022, the Transcaucasian Trail extended its route into Azerbaijan, where you can either hike through a 97km-long slice of the thick forest of the Sheki and Zagatala regions, or a 102km-long route that cuts through the deep canyons and cloud-baiting mountains of the Guba and Gusar regions of northern Azerbaijan. For something different, book a hike to the Candy Cane Mountains, a series of dramatic shale mountains known for their red, orange and pink-coloured swirls.

2. Birdwatching

Blue-cheeked bee-eater (Shutterstock)

Azerbaijan is a particularly exciting destination for birdwatching as there are so many birds in the country that cannot be found in other parts of Europe. Visit during the spring, and you may be lucky enough to spot some 200 species that you are unlikely to see elsewhere. The Caucasus Mountains is a good place to start as the region is home to many endemic species including the Caucasian snowcock and Caucasian grouse. The nature reserves here are also honeypots for bird lovers and one of the best is the 1,000 sq km Gizil Aghaj National Park. Located 260km south of Baku, its shallow lagoons and wetlands are populated by rare wintering species in the cooler months and provide a feeding ground for an array of migratory seabirds. Another beautiful spot for bird lovers is Shirvan National Park. Although it’s celebrated for its once-endangered goitered gazelle, this 540 sq km reserve, located on the Caspian coast bird migration path plays home to more than 270 different bird species.

Elsewhere, the peaceful Aghgol National Park; Mount Beshbarmag; and small (but easily accessible) Absheron National Park (also known for its Caspian seal spotting) are all brilliant birdwatching havens. Recently classed as a nature reserve, the Beshbarmag migration site (named after a nearby mountain considered sacred by Azerbaijanis) is a narrow coastal strip found 90km north of Baku and wedged between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea. It serves as a natural migration corridor, which is known internationally as the Beshbarmag ‘bottleneck’. Visit Absheron from mid-January to the end of February and you may even be lucky enough to see flocks of flamingos. Don’t miss a visit to Nakhchivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan and a highlight of any trip to the country thanks to its contrasting landscapes, around 400km west of Baku, for your chance to spy a dozen species not found on mainland Azerbaijan like the Mongolian finch, Caspian snowcock and the see-see partridge.

3. Paragliding

Brave paragliding

If you have a thirst for paragliding, you’re in the right place. One of the top paragliding destination is the Qusar district’s Shahdag Mountain Resort (which, along with Qrizdahna, is open seasonally from May to September), located in the eponymous national park, some 210km north of Baku. Taking you to heights of 2,250m, flights here are often captured on GoPro cameras and, coupled with quad biking, ziplining and segwaying, make for a one-of-a-kind adventure in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. You can also experience the thrill of paragliding alongside beautiful views at Mount Beshbarmag State Historical, Cultural and Natural Reserve.

4. Horseriding

Discover Azerbaijan on horseback

The Karabakh horse is the national animal of Azerbaijan, originating from the country’s mountain steppes. And seeing the country on horseback, following in the footsteps of ancient Silk Road travellers, can be a special experience. One of the most intriguing regions to do horse riding is in UNESCO-listed Sheki, where travellers are drawn in by its trove of historical and architectural monuments and layered Silk Road history. But on the doorstep of this picturesque town, is a magnificent mountain region, well-suited to equine adventures. Many tours start from the historical church of Kish, around 5km away from Sheki, and take in various routes and local attractions – from the scenic Khan’s Plateau to the beguiling Gelersen-Gorersen fortress, being consumed by the forest. Dedicate a couple of days to your adventure and you can stay in shepherd’s huts, discover mountain villages and see some of the country’s dazzling mountain passes and big river banks. You can go horse riding in horse clubs such as Elite, Omar and Cidir in Baku and Absheron. When it comes to Karabakh horses, one of the few places where you can experience riding these horses is Karabakh Equestrian Complex, located in Agjabadi.

5. Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing at sunset

Come winter, Azerbaijan’s mountain region turns into a haven for winter sports and those who head north to the picturesque Gusar district, home to the eponymous town, are rewarded with spectacular snow-covered slopes, ripe for adventure.

While Gusar town itself has the interesting Gusar State Art Gallery and the Gusar History-Ethnography Museum, the main attraction of Azerbaijan’s ‘northern gates’ during winter is the Shahdag Mountain Resort, named after its 4,242-metre peak.

Visit nearby Shahdag National Park and you’ll be enticed by charming ancient villages and the scenery of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range, home to Mount Bazarduzu, the country’s highest mountain. Shahdag mountain resort itself is relatively underdeveloped too, so visitors here enjoy a unique, off-the-radar feel. Its snowshoeing trails (try the 1.2 km-long route for beginners or more challenging 3.8km route for the more advanced) are a great way to explore one of Azerbaijan’s most breathtaking corners.

Feeling inspired?

For more information and to start planning your visit to Azerbaijan, head over to the official Azerbaijan website.

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