The Absheron peninsula: a travel guide to the best day trips from Baku

The Absheron peninsula: a travel guide to the best day trips from Baku

Backpacking Azerbaijan: A travel guide on the best things to do in the Absheron Peninsula for the independent budget traveller

This post is all about the best day trips from Baku into the Absheron peninsula. The Absheron peninsula is the heart of Azerbaijan’s land of fire and has plenty of things to do with some of the best day trips from Baku you can make.

Why visit the Absheron peninsula?

I wanted to learn more about Baku’s vast reserves of gas and oil and to see what was behind the glitter and glamour of the modern city centre. I had seen enough of Azerbaijan’s capital and was ready to make some day trips from Baku.

In my hostel I met a friendly lady in her sixties who decided that now was the best time to travel. We decided to explore the Absheron peninsula around Baku together and our hostel convinced us to take a tour with them.

Beyond Baku you will find a strange world of pollution, but also ancient history that shows the interesting past of Azerbaijan. Ottomans, Persians and Russians dominated the landscape in different times resulting in Azerbaijan’s own unique cultural traditions. They are hard to find in Baku, but the Absheron peninsula offers a glimpse into the soul of Azerbaijan.

A tour might not be enough to get a full sense of Azerbaijan’s essence, but with a little exploring by yourself you will be rewarded with interesting experiences. After our tour we took another day to explore the Absheron Peninsula on our own with public transport.

Absheron Peninsula

The fascinating Absheron peninsula

The sights on our tour were rather peculiar. What was maybe the most amazing thing of the day was how ugly things were outside of Baku.

We were in shock because of the pollution. Every inch of the soil was exploited by the oil industry with abandoned pipes and machineries left to rust. Whole fields of iron donkeys dotted the dry desert landscapes.

A quick search on Google showed that nearby Sumqayit is in fact one of the most polluted cities in the world.

This is not a reason to dismiss the Absheron peninsula. It gives a fascinating look into Azeri culture where ancient traditions and superstitions survive alongside the cultural influences left behind by the Ottomans, Persians, Russians and others that once passed through the lands of fire.

Exploring the Absheron peninsula was an interesting way to look beyond Baku where people live a less glamorous life. Soviet flats still dominate the suburbs and the local citybuses are rusty and always packed. There is maybe not deep poverty but people live a simple life amidst pollution. Moreover the oil wealth is nowhere to be found.

Absheron Peninsula

The best places to visit in the Absheron peninsula

1. Qobustan mud volcanoes

Our first stop on our tour were the Qobustan mud volcanoes. Far outside of the city we drove through polluted desert untill we stopped in the middle of nowhere. In the distance we saw the blue sea waters, but all around us it was an empty wasteland, except from some small hills spitting mud.

Almost half of the 800 mud volcanoes in the world are in this area. We weren’t too excited about the bobbling and spitting muddy waters. Although it felt like I was on the moon rather than in Azerbaijan.

How to get there: Either by taking a taxi straight from Baku or by taking Elet bound bus 195 till the south end of Qobustan and take a taxi from there. More tips on how to reach the places to visit in the Absheron peninsula is further down.

Absheron Peninsula

2. Gobustan petroglyphs

Our second stop was much more interesting. Up on a hill were several caves with very old petroglyphs of animals, hunters, warriors and dancing people. It shows the long history of human habitation in this region.

There are more than 600,000 rock paintings depicting prehistoric life. The landscape was once full of green forests which was hard to believe when we looked at the desert around us.

How to get there: Either by taking a taxi straight from Baku or by taking Elet bound bus 195 till the south end of Qobustan and take a taxi from there. More tips on how to reach the places to visit in the Absheron peninsula is further down.

Absheron Peninsula
Absheron Peninsula

3. Bibi Heybat mosque

On the way to Gobustan is the Bibi Heybad mosque. The Shirvanshah dynasty built it in the 13th century around the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum, a descendant of Mohammed.

In Azeri culture a pir is a holy place that is often associated with the grave of a holy person. The Bibi Hebat Pir became an important place of worship for local people.

During communist rule it was destroyed, but when Azerbaijan gained its independence they immediately reconstructed the mosque to its original design.

The new building is quite impressive, but most pirs are simple shrines marked by a piece of colorful cloth tied to a tree. They have grown rapidly throughout the country after the collapse of the Soviet union and there are several important pirs in the Absheron peninsula.

To read more about pirs in Azerbaijan I can recommend this article about the persistence of pirs.

How to get there: Bus 124 from 28th may or Sanahil bus station

Absheron Peninsula

4. Yanar Dag: the burning hill

The last stop was a burning hill where natural gas evaporates from the earth. It was accidentally set on fire 50 years ago by a shepherd lighting his cigarette. It has been burning ever since, despite rain and snow.

Even some of the streams near Yanar Dag can be ignited with a match. Locals believe that the burning springs have curative powers.

How to get there: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 217 to Yanardag Reservation till the last stop (45 minutes)

Absheron Peninsula

5. Ateshgah: the fire temple

The next day we decided to explore some of the suburbs of Baku on our own. Our first stop was Ateshgah, the fire temple. Like Yanar dag natural gas evaporated from the soil and lit a fire that kept burning. It was a place of worship for both Zoroastrians and Hindus.

It’s origins remain unclear, but in the 7th century people already believed it was a holy place. In the late middle ages Indian merchants built the current structure. You will find inscriptions in Persian, Sanskrit and Punjabi.

The current fire is no longer natural as the gas reserves have been depleted under Soviet rule.

How to get there: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 184 to Surakhani railway station till the last stop (45 minutes)

Absheron Peninsula

6. Mir Movsun Agha pir

After the fire temple we took a bus to the Mir Movsum Agha pir. Mir Movsum Agha was a disabled person, but locals believed he had supernatural powers and cured many diseases.

People still visit his grave looking for miraculous cures believing that a visit can make any wish come true. As with many pirs people sacrifice animals, sweets and money to the shrine, especially when their prayers have been answered.

The Mir Movsun Agha pir receives hundreds of visitors each day and they collect enough meat to help 600 local people that could otherwise not afford to eat meat.

How to get there: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 136 to Suvelan Cimerliyi and get out at Mir Movsum Aga mescidi

Absheron Peninsula

7. Mardakan

Our last stop was the small town of Mardakan. One of the oldest villages in the Absheron peninsula with an old castle from the 13th century. Here was another interesting pir.

The Hassan pir is a shrine where they smash bottles above someones head to cure nervousness of spirit. Often patients first undergo childagh, a mystical treatment to relieve shock, fear and anxiety. The ancient practice involves burning cloth rolls that are used to touch certain nerve endings.

How to get there: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 136 to Suvelan Cimerliyi and get out at Nizami Merkezi

Absheron Peninsula

The best way to visit the Absheron peninsula

Option 1: Day tours from Baku

The easiest and most expensive way to explore the absheron peninsula is to take a tour. There are several daytours to Qobustan. Bag baku runs tours from 40 manat onwards depending on the amount of people that sign up. Therefore prices can vary a lot among the tour companies.

Most hostels also offer similar tours so I can recommemd to talk with your hostel and negotiate a good price with them. The more people, the cheaper it is per person. So it helps if you can find other people in your hostel to join the trip.

Option 2: Arranging your own taxi

In theory this would be the cheapest option if you dont want to take public transport. However, you need very good negotiation skills and a good intuition to know whether you have a trustworthy driver.

Also keep in mind that the mud volcanoes requires to go off road and not every cab in Baku wants to get their car dirty. In addition, they might not know where the mud volcanoes are and they are not easy to find.

Prices to Gobustan start from 45 manat onwards, depending on how many other things you include in your trip (Yanar dag, fire temple).

Option 3: Public transport

Travelling the Absheron peninsula by public transport is not straight forward, but not that difficult either. There are frequent buses and locals will help you find the right bus. Public transport is very cheap in Azerbaijan and this will save you a lot of money compared to the expensive tours.

Gobustan: Gobustan is the most difficult to get to by public transport. You can take elet bound bus 195 and get off at the south end off qobustan town (before the overpass bridge). From here it still requires a taxi, but it will be cheaper. 10 manat to see the petroglyphs and 25 manat if you include the mud volcanoes

Bibi Heybad mosque: Bus number 124 leaves from the 28th may bus station or Sahil bus station (both bus stations are easily accesible by metro)

Yanar Dag: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 217 to Yanardag Reservation till the last stop (45 minutes)

Atesghah fire temple: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 184 to Surakhani railway station till the last stop (45 minutes)

Mir movsun agha: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 136 to Suvelan Cimerliyi and get out at Mir Movsum Aga mescidi

Mardakan: From metro station Koroglu take bus number 136 to Suvelan Cimerliyi and get out at Nizami Merkezi

Absheron Peninsula

Exploring the Absheron Peninsula: Taking a tour or not?

As I explained above tours can be expensive, depending on the amount of people. That said it is worth asking at your hotel what they have to offer. They might have several people willing to go making it a cost effective way to explore the Absheron peninsula.

Personally I think it is easy enough to visit most places in the Absheron Peninsula by public transport, except for the Gobustan mud volcanoes and Gobustan petroglyphs. For that it might be worth sharing a taxi with other people. Make sure to include a stop at the Bibi Heybat mosque which is on the way

For the other places to visit in the Absheron peninsula. It is easy to travel from Baku to Atesghah and there continue with bus 136 to Mir movsun agha and mardakan in a single day. From the fire temple it is a 5-10 minute walk to the bus station where bus number 136 passes by.

The burning hill is also easy to visit from Baku by public transport and could be after your visit to Gobustan

Absheron Peninsula

Solo female travel in the Absheron peninsula

I travelled alone throughout Azerbaijan for two weeks and had no problems taking the usual precautions. Azerbaijan is a muslim country, but Baku is a very modern and liberal city. Outside the city things are a bit more conservative though, including the Absheron peninsula.

It helps to dress decently. For women this would be to cover your shoulders and avoid short skirts or trousers. You might occasionally get some male attention and it is best to ignore this or be firm and clear this his attention is unwanted.

When to visit the Absheron peninsula

The Absheron peninsula can be visited any time of the year. However, winters are cold and summers are hot making spring and autumn the best time to visit the Absheron peninsula

To read more about everything there is to see in Baku you can read my post about the best of Baku: Oil, wealth and history

Backpacking Azerbaijan: A travel guide on the best things to do in the Absheron Peninsula for the independent budget traveller

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs at 5:29 pm

    Nice post, I liked this trip as well, but the real beauty of Azerbaijan in my opinion is hidden deep in the North, in the heart of Caucasus Mountains 🙂

  2. Keri | Ladies What Travel at 5:33 pm

    Azerbaijan’s been appealing to me more and more recently – I’d love to go to Baku, but nice to know these day trips are also doable! #blogpostsaturday

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *