Without a plethora of stories and information written about traveling in Azerbaijan as we write this, it’s completely understandable to be asking this question! Is there peace in the country? Is there petty crime? Can I drink the water? On top of that, it is just human to be a little on guard visiting anywhere new. We know that ‘safe’ can mean different things to different people depending on your personal life experiences— but we will try to give a general overview of a few main topics to help.
To summarize- yes Azerbaijan is safe to travel to for multiple reasons! We will discuss below.
1. Peace in the Country
There is no ongoing war in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan has great relations with most of its neighbors. We say ‘most’ because as you may have read in previous posts or already knew, there is a land conflict in the western regions after Armenia occupied territories at the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the war with Armenia officially ended in 1994, and since there has not been any major events in Azerbaijan. Occasionally, there is gunfire between these two countries in this specific land which does not last more than a few hours. But as long as you do not go to the border with Armenia, especially the southwest region, (which you won’t stumble upon on accident!) then you won’t have any surprises. If you are traveling to both countries as part of your trip through the Caucasus (which is quite common!), trains between the countries always go through Tbilisi, Georgia. Otherwise traveling directly to Azerbaijan’s other neighboring countries- Russia, Turkey and Iran are routine and safe as relations are good.
2. Many Tourists Visit Each Year
You are not alone! According to the official report, 3 million people traveled to Azerbaijan as a tourist in 2018. This number is increasing each year since the government is rapidly investing in tourism and easing travel from approved countries. Now eVisas can be obtained from many countries and are received within 3 hours to 3 days online from applying. Read how to apply for an e-visa article for more information. Tourists are finding Baku and Azerbaijan to be a welcoming place. Actually, recently a new division of the Baku police was added strictly to help foreigners. Visitors feeling safe is taken very serious here.
3. USA Travel Board Says Azerbaijan is Safer than Germany and Italy
If you visit U.S. Passports & International Travel and check the safety and security map, Azerbaijan is categorized as the same level as most other European countries such as Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. On top of that, you will notice bars filling in the color- this indicates that the areas of any concern for conflict is in a very specific part of the country. This is referring to the land conflict with Armenia in the western part of the country (mentioned above), where again you will not accidentally find yourself!
4. Any Form of Extremism is Taken Seriously by the Government
The Azerbaijani government is very serious about religious (or any kinds of) extremism. It closely monitors any indications for it and freely acts upon preventing it. The country is very open to the peaceful practice of any kind of religion. Therefore, you can see not only mosques but also churches, synagogues across the country.
5. A Secular Governed Country
Why is this included on the list of why Azerbaijan is safe? To be honest, your writers debated this one. But we wanted to underline that Azerbaijan is considered to be the most secular country in the Muslim world. What does this mean and how does it relate to safety? We want visitors to know there is no kind of enforcement of religious practices that would take choice of dress away or in turn cause judgement if not conforming. To consider that Azerbaijan was at one point part of Persia, and that present-day Iran (their southern neighbor) has a legal requirement for women to wear scarves, it is worth mentioning the contrast here. Women have the same rights as men- people are free to wear whatever they want and alcoholic drinks are part of traditional ceremonies and daily life. There is at times some subtle conservatism relating to gender roles, but these are more slowly revealed for someone living here and it doesn’t affect experiences for tourists. As Azerbaijan was part of USSR for a long time, practicing religion was limited due to socialism’s oppression of religion. Eventually, people became less religious compared to other near-by Muslim-majority countries. Most people in Azerbaijan are culturally-religious.
6. The Water is Safe
The tap water in Azerbaijan may be different depending on your region- for example in villages, the water comes from a well or natural springs- but in general the water is not toxic and safe to drink. To be fair and transparent, many locals still use a filter in their home for more long-term assurance. But, if you are thinking you need to use bottled water for say brushing your teeth (as is advised in many countries) do not worry about that! We personally have not come across any stories of people or travelers getting sick from the water or food.
7. The Food is Safe
We realize saying all food is safe all the time is probably not fair because no matter where you are in the world there is a risk of something going wrong. BUT in general the types of foods that are most common here lack opportunities to cause sickness. Compared to say Vietnam—(where your writer got food poisoning, eek!) where seafood and fresh stir-fry is very common, so cross contamination with uncooked meat is very possible— most of Azerbaijan’s foods take hours to cook. Stews are very common, along with breads and hot teas. Shish Kebab is also very popular, which is also cooked very thoroughly. Plus, yogurt (nature’s wonderful probiotic) is readily available which always helps while eating foods in new places. Order some fresh cold ayran if you can! It’s the cold yogurt beverage that can have fresh mint, dill and cucumber inside. Quite refreshing and good for the tummy!
Baku and other towns used to having tourists are quite welcoming and open minded. If you are in areas that have less tourists and are a woman with large obvious tattoos, you might have people turning heads to look but don’t feel this is threatening to your safety- people aren’t too used to it yet. This is quite common throughout the Caucasus. Also if staying in Baku during summer you may learn that night time is actually the busiest time of day with families out and about because of the cooler weather.
If you are ever nervous for whatever reason, you can always make sure to book a hotel in the city center near the hustle and bustle (we recommend near Fountain Park). Here there are always other tourists walking around and its also just a nice place with many cafes, restaurants, and shops to peruse.
Crime levels in Azerbaijan towards foreigners are very low. Just keep general precaution as you would anywhere. Remember, do not do drugs, it is illegal and it can get you into serious problems.
Most importantly, have FUN and take lots of pictures!
Thanks for reading,
—Go Travel Azerbaijan Team