Hotel: Velotrek Hotel (Baku, Azerbaijan) $30
The plan today was to visit the petroglyphs at Qobustan
, a village about 50km south of Baku
. We wandered outside the hotel into the taxi melee to find someone to drive us there. The Lonely Planet book had said it was only a $20 trip, but noone would back down from $50. Most people didn't seem to know where it was we were going either. We finally chose a Saddam Hussein looking guy, who said he had been in the Afghanistan war (Russian side). He didn't speak English, but a friend of his did, so we arranged things through him via cell phone.
The driver was quite excitable and was talking and waving his arms most of the trip. The drive to Qobustan took about an hour; past a beach resort with oil rigs just offshore. The driver had to ask for directions several times to find the place with the petroglyphs, but finally we arrived. The petroglyphs here were about 20,000 years old, when the level of the Caspian sea was much higher. There is a small museum there and we hired a guide to show us around the carvings. Our taxi driver tagged along too, as he'd never seen them before. The carvings were quite impressive, showing bulls, pigs, dancing people, boats, etc, and looked like they had been carved yesterday. The next places we visited were the Roman Graffiti and Mud Volcanoes; our driver did not know the way to these either so we took one of the guides from the museum with us.
Don't ask us how we managed to fit 6 people in a LADA (D and I are both over 6') but it wasn't very comfortable! The Roman Graffiti was carved by a Roman centurion, this is the easternmost record of Roman occupation. The mud volcanoes were another 20 minute drive away. On the way, our driver started getting upset and saying he wanted more money; D had to argue with his friend on the cell about how we'd already agreed on price. We found the mud volcanoes with the help of the guide, they were certainly very remote and eerie. The whole Caucasus area is geologically active; the mud volcanoes are formed by cool mud bubbling up from 2km below the surface. They formed fairy chimneys from a few inches to 20 ft high cones, many of them were bubbling and gurgling. There were some Italian tourists here when we arrived.
After leaving the volcanoes and dropping the guide back in Qobustan, we returned to Baku. We had the driver drop us off in the Old Town of Baku (World Heritage site), which is still surrounded by the city wall. We had lunch in the Caravanserai restaurant, an old Silk Road hotel. We had an excellent and cheap meal, the 4 of us easily ate for under $20. This was one thing we discovered about the Caucasus; you can eat very well and have plenty of change left over. We next went to the Maiden's tower, an oddly shaped tower. We climbed up inside to the top, which had a great view out over the old town and the harbor. There were several carpet merchants around the square, but they did not seem to be into high pressure sales, we weren't hassled at all. We wandered through the narrow winding streets for awhile until we arrived at the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs.
Palace of Shirvan Shahs
This was the castle where the rulers had once lived, and showed alot of Persian influence; Iran is only a few hundred miles to the south of here. After returning to the hotel, we decided to go to Fire Mountain (Yanar Dag) at sunset. Yanar Dag is where natural gas comes out of the hillside in a 30-foot wide wall of flame, it is popular to go at sunset when the flames stand out. Our new taxi driver didn't seem to know where it was either, and it was almost dark by the time we found it after going through several villages. The owners at Yanar Dag have setup an area for tea, they do not charge admission but it is customary to pay a few dollars for tea and sweets. The flames themselves were impressive, and we'd certainly never seen anything like it before. All we needed were the marshmallows!
Baku Hotels & Accommodations review
One of the few decent budget places in Baku
There isn't a lot of hotel choice in Baku; there is either $200+ a night Hyatt or Radisson (for the oil execs), or $5 a night fleapits, with not much … read entire review