If you live in the UAE and love travelling, chances are you would not have missed an opportunity to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan. Take a look at your Instagram or Facebook feed, there would be at least one person you’d find holidaying in the picturesque Eurasian destination, posting pictures of quaint streets, great food, vibrant nightlife and stunning architecture. It’s easy to see why. Visa is on arrival, flights are inexpensive and it makes for a perfect extended weekend destination away from Dubai.
However, there is much more to discover in this charming country than just the city of Baku. And that’s the objective of the ‘Take Another Look’ campaign, launched by Azerbaijan Tourism recently. If you have already been there, the campaign urges you to make another trip and discover some hitherto-unknown gems the region has to offer. On the other hand, if you haven’t made the time, it coaxes you to book your tickets asap. So what more does Azerbaijan has to offer than what we know already? Hear it from Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of Azerbaijan Tourism who has 6 reasons for you to visit his beautiful country …
New Tourist Experiences
One of the reasons why Baku is so popular is because it has positioned itself as an ‘upscale vacation destination’ available at an affordable price. But Baku is not all there is to Azerbaijan. If you extend your trip by a couple of days, it would be wise to travel to Shahdag mountain resort with its world class skiing facilities. The ancient city of Gabala is coming up in a big way as a tourist and wellness, hotspot especially now that there are flights directly from Dubai to Gabala. Lankaran, on the coast of the Caspian Sea, has some delightful treats and is once again, known for its wellness platforms. If you plan a slightly longer trip, a visit to Sheki is a must. Time stands still in this city on the silk route as the folks here try and preserve their ancient culture. So expect authentic, quaint villages with fascinating little stores and markets, lush green mountains and the like. Plus there are other unique attractions to discover such as the mud volcanoes and naturally burning fire mountains (in an area around 30 minutes from Baku).
Friendly for South Asian travelers
Let’s admit it, if you have an Indian or Pakistani passport, the thought of running around for a visa is always at the back of your mind when you plan a holiday. 8 out of 10 South Asians would gladly love to travel to a place if it meant saving them the headache of waiting in queues, spending time on paperwork and waiting anxiously for the stamped visa before they take off. Well, destinations like Azerbaijan is the answer to these woes. With a UAE residence visa, you get visa on arrival. If you are an Indian passport holder, you can apply and get it in a matter of days. Or in urgent cases, a matter of hours. The country is going all out to woo tourists from South Asia be it families, single travelers or weekend holiday lovers. Apparently, in the last few years, the number of Indian travelers has increased by over 100 per cent.
Fun Events and Activities
It’s not just natural beauty or charming villages, there are several events and activities that make Azerbaijan interesting for the modern traveler. From Formula 1 to a music festival in July, the bazaars and fairs during winter to a Jazz music fest and of course, football (there UEFA Europa League Final will be held here), there is something for everyone. One of the most exciting things to look forward to is the proposed grape tour that will take a tourist from Georgia to Azerbaijan. Other unique new attractions include shopping tours, kite surfing, Naftalan spas and therapeutic centres. The region is promoting wellness holidays in a big way.
Enjoy the region as a whole
If you are the sort to plan the 12-day- 4-country trip across Europe, this region is offering a similar option. The Tourism Boards of neighbouring countries are coming together to promote the region holistically. So your itinerary can begin in Georgia and take you through Baku and Armenia or vice-versa. At half the price and equal the charm.
Wedding Destination and Bollywood shoots
Surprise, surprise! The great Indian wedding has reached Azerbaijani shores as well. With a direct flight starting from India (Delhi) that reaches Baku in 5 hours, this is a new destination wedding planners are seeking to promote. Similarly, Indian cinema is slowly looking at this region with a few film shoots already taking place, thanks to the infrastructure, facilities, freebies and tax rebates. Recently, a Telugu movie was shot here and it won’t be far when Bollywood too follows suit.
An Amalgamation of the East and West
Azerbaijan is one of those countries that boasts of a perfect East-meets-West vibe. Walking around the boulevards and streets, you may get a distinct feel of Europe while it retains the essence of its own culture as well. And this mix extends to everything from architecture to food. With upscale bars and a happening nightlife scene, luxury hotels, chic boutique properties, the modern and well-travelled tourist can get a complete experience. Plus, there are alternative sub-cultures being developed that makes it attractive for those looking for a different experience.