The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Nakhchivan
Nakhchivan, a peculiar autonomous exclave republic of Azerbaijan bordering Iran, Turkey, Armenia, but not Azerbaijan itself. "How does that even work?", you asked? I have the same question myself when I started planning a trip to Nakhchivan.
You see, Nakhchivan was one of the first district to declare independence from the USSR in 1990 but due to the Armenia-Azerbaijan War that ravaged the land, the republic got cut off with Armenia controlling Kraki exclave, leaving Nakhchivan isolated from Azerbaijan mainland.
This peculiar situation was one of the reasons that drew my attention to Nakhchivan and so I decided to travel there and see what the exclave republic is like first-hand.
Many years have passed since the cut off and with the population of 400,000, the republic is striving against all odds and is becoming one of the most interesting places to visit for travelers who are looking to really get off the beaten paths.
Within this guide, you will find all the information you need to travel to Nakhchivan from what tourist attractions are there in the republic, how to get there, and a complete 4-days backpacking itinerary for you to use. Without further ado, let's begin with a look at the itinerary map:Table of Contents
- Nakhchivan 4-Days Itinerary Map
- Azerbaijan Travel Video
- When to Visit Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- Where to Stay in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- How to Get to Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- How to Get from Nakhchivan Airport to Nakhchivan City Center
- How to Get Around Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get Around Nakhchivan
- How Much Money Do I Need for Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- Is it Safe in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan?
- Internet in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- Travel Insurance
4-Days Backpacking Itinerary for Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- Day 1: Explore Nakhchivan City
- Day 2: Visit Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave
- Day 3: Visit Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar
- Day 4: Explore Ordubad, the Second Largest City in Nakhchivan
- Where to Eat and Drink in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
- Further Reading for Azerbaijan
Nakhchivan 4-Days Itinerary Map
Azerbaijan Travel Video
When to Visit Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Nakhchivan is a semi-desert region and the weather can get quite extreme at both ends so I would recommend visiting Nakhchivan during Autumn from September to November. During autumn, the temperature should hover around 20 - 25°C and the sky should mostly be clear, allowing you to maximize your time outdoors without the heat of the summer months.
The mid-summer months of June - August is also not a bad time to visit if you can handle a bit of the desert dry heat. The temperature during this period will be around 30 - 35°C and the sky will be as clear as day.
During Spring, although the temperature is quite comparable to Autumn, you get likely to experience overcast days and rain during this time than Autumn which may hinder your ability to experience the beauty of the outdoors of Nakhchivan.
Winter in Nakhchivan from November to March is very cold with the temperature hovering between -6 - 3°C making it the least ideal time to visit Nakhchivan.
Where to Stay in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Unfortunately, there is no hostel in Nakhchivan and the number of options for hotels is pretty limiting but the ones that are available are actually very good for the price. Here are your options:
Mid-Range - Grand Nakhchivan Hotel - 24 USD/Night (Standard Single Room) - Spacious rooms, attentive staff, and I appreciate the free breakfast here.
High-End - Tabriz Hotel Nakhchivan - 48 USD/Night (Standard Double Room for 1) | 69 USD/Night (Standard Double Room for 2)
How to Get to Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
How to Get to Baku
Getting to Nakhchivan is a little more complicated than most places in Azerbaijan due to it not being connected to the mainland.
First and foremost, you will have to get to Bakum the capital city of Azerbaijan. Fortunately, Baku has a very well established connection with Istanbul and Ankara so you can easily fly into the city via Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Airlines.
From the US, there is no direct flight to Baku but you can fly via Turkish Airlines to Istanbul or Ankara and transfer to Baku from there.
From within Europe, you should be able to fly direct from the UK via Azerbaijan Airlines, from Paris via AirFrance, or from Frankfurt via Lufthansa.
From Asia, there is no direct flight from the far east to Baku but the region is pretty well-connected via Turkish Airlines so you can fly to Baku via Istanbul or Ankara. Other Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad Airlines are also a great option as well.
How to Get from Baku to Nakhchivan
After arriving in Baku, the only way to get from Baku to Nakhchivan is to take a domestic flight via Azerbaijan Airlines, the only operator, and they have 4 flights going to Nakhchivan and back daily.
The cost is fixed at 70 AZN for a foreign passport holder so do not expect to see a discounted price if you book way in advance. That said, many locals travel this route every day and the flights get booked out a lot, so if you don't want to be flying late at night, I would still recommend you book your flight at least a week in advance.
The flight time from Baku to Nakhchivan is about 1.5 hours and you will arrive at Nakhchivan International Airport where you will have to get a taxi to Nakhchivan City.
To book your flight from Baku to Azerbaijan online, visit Azerbaijan Airlines Official Website.
How to Get from Nakhchivan Airport to Nakhchivan City Center
The moment you arrive at Nakhchivan International Airport, there will be several taxi drivers waiting at the entrance. More often than not, they will be looking for 3 people to fill up their taxi before going to Nakhchivan City and you will be sharing the cost among the passengers.
A shared taxi to your accommodation should cost you no more than 2 AZN per person. For a private taxi, it should cost you 3 AZN to get from the airport to your accommodation and vice versa.
Usually, I do not go with a taxi driver that approach me at the airport because they are usually scammers in disguised but the guy seems genuine, the price he gave me was reasonable, and due to the lack of tourists visiting Nakhchivan, I believe most of the people there are probably just looking for work.
So do not hesitate if a taxi driver approaches you at the airport. Just ask for the price and if it's between 2 - 3 AZN, you should be fine. Here's a tip, when negotiating for a price, use a calculator app on your phone to show the driver the exact number because sometimes, they mixed up the number in English.
How to Get Around Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Most of the tourist attractions within Nakhchivan city are all concentrated in one area with around 30 minutes of walk to cover them all so you should have no trouble exploring the city but it is another story when it comes to visiting the other tourist attractions outside of Nakhchivan city.
As you may have guessed, the tourism infrastructure in Nakhchivan is non-exisitent and to get to many of the remote places outside of Nakhchivan City like the Alija Castle and Batabat Lake, you will need to hire a taxi driver for the day.
Usually, the taxi seems to be operating on a fix price plan depending on the places you want to see. You can organize a taxi for the day through your accommodation and they should be able to quote you the price.
How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get Around Nakhchivan
From my experience traveling around Nakhchivan with a taxi to different places, here is what I paid to visit Alinja, Ashab-i Kehf Cave, Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar:
How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get from Nakhchivan to Alinja and Ashab-i Kehf Cave
For a half-day trip from Nakhchivan to Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave, I paid 60 AZN for the 3 - 4 hours trip. The hotel I stayed in (Grand Nakhchivan Hotel) organized the taxi for me and the taxi operator quoted me the price.
I tried negotiating the price but they rejected all my proposals, telling me that they quote this price for every tourist, local or foreign. Of course, there is no way in knowing that this is true but from playing the negotiation game for hours and realizing that they are not going to sway, I decided to accept the price as it is.
So if you are planning to visit Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave, expect to pay at least 60 AZN (per car) for a half-day roundtrip with a taxi.
How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get from Nakhchivan to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar
For a full-day trip to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar, the taxi quoted me 90 AZN. All the 2 of the 3 places are in a different direction and the road to Batabat Lake is quite mountainous so I believe the price was reasonable.
That said, if you really want to save cost and you have some time to spare in Nakhchivan, you can get go to Batabat Lake and Duzdag with a taxi for 70 AZN and then travel to Qarabaghlar on your own with a marshrutka for about 2 AZN although the bus schedule seems rather unreliable.
If you are planning to take a marshrutka to Qarabaghlar, I would recommend you ask your accommodation for the bus schedule to Qarabaghlar and back. Otherwise, you can improvise and go to the Nakhchivan Bus Station in the morning and acquire the latest schedule from there.
So to conclude, a roundtrip taxi from Nakhchivan to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar is 90 AZN and a roundtrip taxi to only Batabat Lake and Duzdag Therapy Center is 70 AZN.
How Much Money Do I Need for Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
With our 4-days itinerary in Nakhchivan, we can calculate the minimum amount of money you can expect to pay for the trip as follows:
Accommodation: 24 USD x 5 nights = 120 USD (204 AZN).
Food: A good meal in Nakhchivan will cost you 5 AZN per meal and with free breakfast provided by your accommodation, you can expect to pay around 40 AZN for 4 days in Nakhchivan.
Transportation: As outlined above, you will be paying a lot for taxis to get around Nakhchivan. You can expect to pay 4 AZN for a roundtrip from Nakhchivan to the Airport, 60 AZN for a roundtrip to Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave, 90 AZN for a roundtrip to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar, and 2 AZN for a roundtrip on a marshrutka to Ordubad. In total, you can expect to pay 156 AZN for transportation
Activities: I was pretty surprised to see that all the tourist attractions in Nakhchivan do not have an entrance fee, so you will be paying nothing for activities on this trip.
Total Budget: 400 AZN (235.3 USD)
Is it Safe in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan?
Like most cities that have not been plagued with mass tourism, Nakhchivan is extremely safe to the point that it would be difficult to get scam there as a tourist.
I spent a fair share of my time walking around the seemingly empty city at night and did not encounter anything out of the ordinary, so there's nothing to worry about when traveling in Nakhchivan.
Internet in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Good reliable WIFI is hard to come by in Nakhchivan as it isn't as widely available in restaurants and cafes as in Baku or Ganja but your accommodation should have a good-enough WIFI for you to stay connected.
If Nakhchivan is part of a bigger trip to Azerbaijan, I would recommend you get a local sim card instead.
Azercell is a great option if you are looking for a local sim card to buy. You can buy one right at the airport in Baku when you arrive. The price ranged from 29 AZN (1 GB) all the way to 65 AZN (unlimited data) depending on the amount of data you need.
I would recommend you get around 5 GB of data (40 AZN) especially if you are planning to travel further in Azerbaijan after Baku.
For more information about Azerbaijan local sim card: Azerbaijan Prepaid Data Sim Card.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Azerbaijan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
4-Days Backpacking Itinerary for Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Day 1: Explore Nakhchivan City
On your first day in Nakhchivan, you can spend the day exploring Nakhchivan City on foot starting from one of my favorite places in the city, the Yezidabad Castle.
Yezidabad Castle is a reconstructed pre-medieval Sassanid castle named after Yazdgerd III, the last king of the Sassanid Empire. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city and yet, you will rarely find any tourists walking around it.
The castle consisted of a large spacious garden square with a museum in the middle, surrounded by a large wall that you can walk on. Along the walls, you will find a few cafes here and they are usually open in the evening.
In the morning, when the sun is not too hot, you can spend some time walking along the walls of the castle to get a view of the surroundings. From the wall, you might see a large mosque with pastel blue domes from afar.
As of 2019, the mystery mosque complex is still under construction but from the looks of it, once it's done, it will be another great tourist attraction you can explore. For now, I was only able to appreciate it from the outside.
After seeing the mosque from the wall, you will notice a mausoleum with a tall sharp roof. That is the Noah’s Mausoleum, a historical location of a mausoleum that was built in the 8th Century. The new mausoleum you are seeing was built on top of the old site in 2006.
According to Armenian tradition, and many sources from the 19th Century Russia and Europe, Noah's tomb is located in Nakhchivan and the locals here considered it a holy place.
Unfortunately, I was able to get inside to see the actual burial site as it was locked but at least the view from the Noah's Mausoleum is nice. You can see Iran across the river from the Mausoleum.
After spending a few hours at Yezidabad Castle, you can continue your exploration by walking north along the Azadlig Street and check out The Palace of Nakhchivan Khans, formerly known as the Museum of Carpets.
The Palace of Nakhchivan Khans used to be a carpet museum but it was moved into a new building leaving the Khan's Palace and it's beautiful interior for you to check out.
The palace is built in a beautiful 18th Century Nakhchivan-Maragha architectural school surrounded by beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, the exhibits inside are only in Azeri so don't expect to learn more about the history of the palace inside.
Located within the same park as the Palace of Nakhchivan Khans, you will find the Momine Khatun Mausoleum, one of the most important landmarks in the city. The mausoleum is 25m high and the exterior is covered in exquisitely carved Arab writings and a complex geometric pattern and quotes from the Koran.
There's a small museum inside but all of the content is in Azeri, so do not expect to learn about the history of the mausoleum from there either.
Just outside of the Mausoleum, you will find an open-air museum showing all the ancient stone artifacts, sculptures, and scriptures from different periods that were discovered in Nakhchivan.
After spending some time at Momine Khatun Mausoleum, you can walk a little further north to check out the Juma Mosque, another historical landmark of the city originally built in the 12th Century.
You can also walk a little bit further and visit a local bazaar to see what a market is like in Nakhchivan. You can always find nice and curious locals wanting to interact with you here.
The best place in the city to see the sunset is right back at where your day began, from the walls of Yezidabad Castle so an hour before sunset, be sure to walk out there and watch the sun goes down behind Aras Dam Lake over Iran.
Day 2: Visit Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave
After spending a day exploring Nakhchivan City, it is time to go out and explore what the Nakhchivan region has to offer. One of the most impressive sights you will see in Nakhchivan is the Alinja Castle, "the Machu Picchu of Azerbaijan".
The Alinja Castle is a 14th Century fortress built on a slope at the top of Alinja Mountain. Its scenic view from the top, unbelievable location, and the challenges required to reach the top are one of the few things why you will love Alinja Castle.
Right from the road, you will see the castle wall up above on top of a mountain, 1,811m above sea level and you will have to climb from the bottom to the top. It's quite a steep climb that takes about half an hour to reach the top.
I would recommend you visit Alinja Castle early in the morning and start the climb at about 8:30 - 9 AM as the trail will still be under the shade. After 9:30 AM, you will be exposed to the blazing heat of the desert sun, and it will make the hike even more unbearable.
After around 30 minutes of climbing up the stairs, all your tiredness will evaporate as you see Alinja Castle in its full glory.
Once you arrive at Alinja Castle, you will find yourself in a head-high roofless maze and a few empty buildings that will strike the imagination of what it would be like back when the castle was built in the 7th Century.
From the castle itself, climb a little further up to see the Castle from above. Now, you will realize why they called it the Machu Picchu of Azerbaijan.
At the center of the Castle, you will notice a pattern that resembles those gardens you find in Western Europe. The view from above the Castle is also quite a sight to behold.
If you are there in the early morning, you will find yourself all alone having the entire castle and the mountain all to yourself. You can sit at the top, relax, and enjoy the castle at your own leisure until local tourists arrive at about 11 AM.
After spending the morning at the Alinja Castle, you can continue on to the Tomb of the Sheikh Khorasan, located just east from the Alinja Mountain where you will be able to appreciate the scale of the Alinja Mountain from afar.
From the tomb, you will have to backtrack your way to the main road to get to our next destination, the Ashab-i Kehf Cave, or as it is known as the Seven Sleepers Cave.
The reason why it is known as the Seven Sleepers Cave is that the cave resembles a story told in both the bible and the Qoran about a group of youths who hid inside a cave to escape religious persecution and emerged some 300 years later.
The cave is an important religious site for pilgrims to come and visit. The cave itself is not huge. It sits at the foothill of a mountain and you will have to climb up more stairs to see the cave.
Right by the cave, a mosque was erected by the Ottoman in the 19th Century and you will find many locals attending and paying respect to the mosque and the cave.
After exhausting yourself from all the stairs you had to climb today, you can end your day after the cave and relax at Qala Restaurant and enjoy the delicious organic food they serve there.
Getting from Nakhchivan City to Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave
To get to Alinja and Ashab-i Kehf cave, you will need to ask your accommodation to organize a taxi driver to drive you up there, wait, and drive you back. The taxi will cost you 60 AZN per car and the whole trip should take about 4 - 5 hours depending on how long you stay at Alinja Castle.
For more detail on how to get from Nakhchivan City to Alinja Castle and Ashab-i Kehf Cave, check out: How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get from Nakhchivan to Alinja and Ashab-i Kehf Cave
Day 3: Visit Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar
On your third day, you will have to start early again as we will be hitting several spots around Nakhchivan that are not exactly near each other. The first destination you will visit for the day is Batabat Lake.
One nice photo spot I found along the way was long the road passing through Sələsüz village where the Heydar Aliyev Water Reservoir is located. The artificial lake is particularly beautiful in the morning and so when you drive towards it, be sure to tell your taxi driver to stop for photos.
Batabat Lake is a lake located among the mountains of the Caucasus at 2,500 m above sea-level, right by border between Nakhchivan and Armenia. It is a nice scenery break from all the desert you've seen the day before.
In the middle of the lake, you will find a floating island shifting around slowly at the center. The island is made out of grass and peat and it is not attached to anything underneath it. The weather is quite cold up there so prepare a jacket for the visit.
After the lake, we will have to go back to Nakhchivan City where you can ask your taxi driver to stop for lunch. After lunch, you can continue on to Duzdag Therapy Center, a former salt mine whose underground tunnels have been converted into a unique salt therapy center where one can stay overnight inside the salt cave.
The entrance to the salt cave is free as usual and you can walk along the main walking path being surrounded by 130 million tons of pure natural salt. Apparently, this amount of salts is known for its ability to cure allergies, asthma and pulmonary disorders so many people come here and stay overnight to help elevate their allergies.
Along the cave, you will find several places that were converted into a room for the patients giving you a glimpse of what it is like to stay overnight inside Duzdag cave.
Unfortunately, you do not have access to it if you are not a patient and you can only walk to a certain point where you will have to turn back. It is still a pretty cool place to visit in my opinion. I have never seen a salt mine turned therapy center before.
After you've cleared your body from all the allergies in Duzdag, it is time for us to visit Qarabaghlar Mausoleum, hands down the most beautiful mausoleum in Nakhchivan, even more so than the one in Nakhchivan city.
Qarabaghlar Mausoleum is a mausoleum complex consisting of a stunning 14th-Century cylindrical mausoleum 30m high and 2 minarets connected by a portal, that I was unable to get in.
The amount of detail that can be seen from the exterior of Qarabaghlar Mausoleum still blows me away today. The pattern and intricate detail reminded me of a Persian-style pattern found in mosques around Uzbekistan and Iran.
The facade ornament of the mausoleum that looks like a pattern actually consists of repeating words saying "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet. May God bless him", something I didn't catch on until later when I found out about it.
I have heard that you can climb up one of the minarets to see the complex from above but unfortunately, there was no one there to open the door for me so, in the end, I simply sat there and stare at the stunning detail of the mausoleum from the outside.
After visiting 3 places in one day, you are probably exhausted and so it is the perfect time to end your third day in Nakhchivan after Qarabaghlar. It should take about an hour to get back from Qarabaghlar to Nakhchivan City, just in time for another sunset at the Yezidabad Castle.
Getting from Nakhchivan City to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar
You will need to get a taxi to get to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar in one day. The taxi should cost you no more than 90 AZN per car and the whole journey should take you about 5 - 6 hours to complete.
For more detail on how to get from Nakhchivan City to these 3 places, check out: How Much Does the Taxi Cost to Get from Nakhchivan to Batabat Lake, Duzdag Therapy Center, and Qarabaghlar
Day 4: Explore Ordubad, the Second Largest City in Nakhchivan
Photos by Ordubadlixa.
Last but not least, you can spend your last day exploring Ordubad, the second largest town in Nakhchivan. Ordubad is a medieval city that is known for its exports of fruits, spices, and cuisine.
Photos by Svln4821.
In Ordubad, you can find quite a few old buildings worthy of your attention such as the Juma Mosque and Qeyyseriye that dated back to the 17th - 18th Century. You can also spend time walking around the old narrow streets of the town and mingle with curious locals who will likely come and talk to you.
Getting from Nakhchivan City to Ordubad
You can either rent a taxi for the day or you can catch a marshrutka that leaves from Nakhchivan Bus Station to Ordubad starting from 9 AM - 4 PM. The marshrutka should cost you 2 AZN per trip and it should take you about 1.5 hours to get there.
Where to Eat and Drink in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan
Eat Organic Local Cuisine at Qala Restaurant
One of the best restaurants I had in Azerbaijan is actually in Nakhchivan and it is called Qala Restaurant, located at the bottom of the hill where Yezidabad Castle is located.
The restaurant is decorated in different ways from the water platform above a pool of fish to a cave-themed section of the restaurant. They serve delicious kebabs and other organic local cuisine at a very cheap price compare to the rest of Azerbaijan.
The food costs about 5 AZN per dish. The menu is in Azeri but a few waiters here can speak English very well and he will explain all the menu for you and even recommend some if you ask.
I love this restaurant so much that I ended up going there almost every day and love every minute of it. It is also a great place to dine after watching the sunset at Yezidabad Castle.
And there you have it, a complete backpacking guide and a 5-days itinerary of things to do in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. Are you intrigued by what you have read and seen here? If you have any questions about Nakhchivan, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below.
Further Reading for Azerbaijan
Looking for more information for your trip to Azerbaijan? Here is a collection of articles about Azerbaijan that you might find them useful:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to Azerbaijan? Check out: 2 Weeks Itinerary for Azerbaijan.
- The hyper modern capital city of Baku is unlike any other city in the Caucasus. It’s full of surprises and you will need a good guide to see them all. Here are 10 Awesome Things To Do In Baku, Azerbaijan.
- Two of the best sights you will see in Azerbaijan is Khinaliq and Laza, the ancient mountain villages in the Caucasus and to get there, be sure to check out A Backpacking Guide to Khinaliq and Laza.
- Standing on the ancient Silk Road, Sheki is a historical town rich in history and culture. To visit Sheki, check out: Top 7 Things To Do In Sheki, Azerbaijan.
- Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan with a name that is hard to forget, has a ton of hidden gems for you to explore from Lake Goygol and Maralgol to the beautiful Imamzadeh Complex. Here’s everything you need to travel to Ganja: 8 Best Things To Do In Ganja, Azerbaijan.
- Looking for something more visual to convince you about visiting Azerbaijan? How about a travel video? Azerbaijan, The Land Of Fire Travel Video
- Wondering where to go after Azerbaijan? How about you drop by the charming hipster city of Tbilisi, Georgia and after, visit Yerevan, Armenia?
- For all articles about Azerbaijan, visit Azerbaijan Travel Guide page.
- Looking to travel to the Caucasus Region? Check out all my articles about the region here: The Caucasus Travel Guide page.
- You can see all my Asia related articles here: Asia Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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