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Azerbaijan travel agency "Azerbaijan24"
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Azerbaijan travel agency “Azerbaijan24” - tours, hotels, visas
Azerbaijan travel agency “Azerbaijan24” - tours, hotels, visas

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Simplified visa procedure to Azerbaijan for FIFA U-17 15th European Championship participants


President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on simplification of visa procedures for foreigners and stateless persons who arrive to Azerbaijan in relation to the final leg of European football championship among boys under 17 years old.

According to the document, those arriving to take part in championship will be able to obtain entry visas to Azerbaijan upon arrival in all international airports of the country.

The basis for obtaining visas at simplified procedure are:

1. an official letter of invitation of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA);
2. a document confirming the accreditation in accordance with the relevant rules of UEFA;
3. original tickets or confirmation of ticket purchase to the final stage games of the European Football Championship among juniors up to 17 years.

The simplified procedure will be valid from April 1 to June 1, 2016. The members of delegations and the teams participating in the final stage of the European Championship will be able to enter Azerbaijan at simplified procedures from 20 April to 25 May. Accredited journalists and ticket holders will be able to get visas from 1st to 25th May.

The final stage of the FIFA U-17 15th European Championship will be held in Baku from 5 to 21 May. The European Championship will be attended by 16 teams, which will be split into 4 groups. Teams gaining 1-2 places in the groups will continue to fight for the cup. The winner will be determined in the final game.
Matches will be held on 4 stadiums - Olympic Stadium Baku, «Bakcell arena", "Dalga arena" and the stadium named after Tofig Ismayilov in Surakhani settlement.

As a host side Azerbaijani team won the right to participate in the European Championship without participation in the qualifying round. The remaining 15 participants of the championship will be selected during the qualifying round.
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NEW VISA RULES IN AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan has announced changed to visa rules following the president decree on simplifying the visa procedures in order to facilitate developing the tourism and business ties.

Starting from 1 February 2016 the simplified visa regime is introduced in all international airports of Azerbaijan for the citizens of Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. The citizens of these countries would be able to obtain tourist visas to Azerbaijan in airports upon arrival. The visas will be issued for the duration of 30 days.

Also, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they resume issuance visas in all international airports of Azerbaijan. Visa centers will be established in all airports to deal with these matters. Visas upon arrival were stopped 3 years ago and tourists had to apply for visas through the embassies of Azerbaijan. Later on they introduced electronic visas (evisa) that made the process much easier and convenient.

There are still some questions on how the procedure of getting visas in Baku airport will work, but more detailed information should follow within coming days.
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Azerbaijan simplified visa procedures for Japanese citizens

Starting from 1 February citizens of Japan will be able to visit Azerbaijan and have the visa procedure simplified, confirms the website of the Azerbaijan embassy in Tokyo. Japanese citizens will be able to obtain single entry 30 days tourist visas upon arrival in Baku airport.
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No more tourism growth in Azerbaijan

The number of tourists coming to Azerbaijan is not growing anymore because of the global economic crisis, confirmed the Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfaz Garayev. "The growth of tourism today is not observed throughout the world, the reason for this is the economic crisis. Only in Russia the number of citizens traveling abroad decreased by 70%, "- said the Minister. According to him, out of the 2.5 million tourists coming to Azerbaijan, 700-800 thousand were Russian citizens. "And if they have the number of people going abroad decreased, then we just can’t have the number of tourists growing" - he said.

"But what encourages us is the fact that we are witnessing people coming not only from the traditional countries, but also from Europe, Latin America, the geography of the countries expanding", - the minister said. He noted the increased influx of tourists from the countries where Azerbaijan participated in various tourist exhibitions.
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The condition that most of the travel companies in Azerbaijan are into as a result of Azeri manat devaluation can be called in one word – bankruptcy, say most of the travel agencies. Immediately after the devaluation of Azeri manat a number of customers of travel agencies sharply dropped. In the years before November and December were always a boom season for travel agents with significant increase in sales of tour packages, but this year, on the contrary, they have barely any sales at all. Travel agencies have to pay to foreign air carriers and hotels in dollars, and this led to increase in the cost of travel packages. And most of the people can’t afford the packages at double prices and people began to return previously purchased packages.

Experts agree that the total impact of devaluation on tourist business could be assessed in full in February at the start of period when there is a traditional high season for tour packages to Turkey. Most of the travel agents are already complaining about the low interests among customers.
"Even those who bought the tickets a few months ago, en masse return previously bought tour packages," – confirmed in VIP Travel agency. According to several travel agencies, virtually no one else wants to travel to Europe or visit Dubai that used to be the most popular tourist destination in the winter. If before the crisis the holiday for two in Dubai costed on average 1,200 manat, now Azeri tourist will have to pay 2,400 manats. Air ticket per person rose from 260 manat to 383 manat, making it all an unbearable price for the local tourists.

Fly Travel employee Mamed Aliyev said that the increase in ticket prices by AZAL has also seriously affected situation when people stopped buying packages. "The cost of the ticket for the AZAL flight Baku-Istanbul-Baku increased from 250 manat to 380 manat. This is exactly the reason why people refuse to travel "- said M. Aliyev. According to him, the agency has tour packages for nearly all destinations, but people do not want to buy them.

Head of Azerbaijan Tourism Association Nahid Bagirov confirmed that there is a serious drop in the number of people who travel abroad. The reason for this Bagirov sees the devaluation of the manat. "Agencies are working with foreign air carriers and hotels, whose services are paid for in dollars and euros. For this reason, travel packages rose. But the rise in price of tour packages cannot be blamed on the agency, as this rise in prices caused devaluation of manat. "

Economic crisis has also affected local hotels that are seriously under-occupied. Firstly the crisis was felt by hoteliers in Georgia, whose main customers were tourists from Azerbaijan. With the price of manat dropped the flow of Azeri tourists dried and hotels in Georgia are now struggling to survive. Now hotels in Baku started experiencing problems with occupancy rates. A poll conducted by local information agency among 4 and 5 star hotels in Baku confirmed that most of the top-niche hotels are almost empty.

So far the better situation is in Fairmont Baku Hotel, where 127 out of 318 rooms have guests, making the occupancy rate at 40%. The siation is worse in Four Seasons Hotel and Qafqaz Baku City Hotel & Residence. Occupancy rate in JW Marriott Absheron not exceeds 205 and out of total 243 rooms 195 are currently empty. Another 5-star Hilton hotel has only 30 % occupancy.
Even worse the situation in the regions. Samaxi Palacе Hotel have 80 rooms empty out of total 102. The same situation is in Qafqaz Riverside Hotel. Interestingly, in Sheki Palace Hotel there are now 45 rooms empty out of total… 46 rooms. No need for further comment.
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Foreign tourist coming to Azerbaijan should be aware of the recent devaluation of local currency (Azeri Manat) and subsequent problems it caused. Azeri manat seriously dropped in price to American dollar in December 2015 that caused panic among population that was trying to preserve their savings by converting them to foreign currency. The problem is that they expect a further devaluation of manat in the coming days and all those with manats are desperate to change them to dollars. But all exchange office currently either are closed or not selling foreign currency. They still might be buying dollars at the official rate set by Central Bank but there is hardly anyone willing to exchange USD for manat. Withdrawing dollars from cash machines is also not realistic now as they are not reloaded with Euros and USD.

So what problems the current situation might bring to foreign tourist? It is still would be possible to pay for accommodation in larger hotels by card, but smaller transactions in shops and restaurants have to be done in cash only, as it is still mainly a cash economy and all small businesses are not accepting cards. So tourists will have to bring enough cash to cover their day to day expenses. Besides it is not advisable to exchange large amounts of dollars to manat as there are serious concerns of another devaluation within coming days, so it would be better to change a bit by bit.

To give you a retrospective overview of how the situation evolved:

1 USD = 0,78 Manat (before Febraury 2015)
1 USD = 1,02 Manat (after Febraury 2015)
1 USD = 1,56 Manat (after December 2015)
1 USD = circa 2,00 Manat (January 2016) black market rate
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65 tour operators are authorised to issue evisas to Azerbaijan

A number of companies authorised to issue electronic visas to tourist coming to Azerbaijan has been significantly increased to 65 travel agencies. This number is not limited to new companies holding travel agency license and that could also be accredited for joining the evisa system after passing some procedures with Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan.

Electronic visa (evisa) for the tourist should be issued within 10 days after application submission. Both Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are engaged to make this process even faster to make possible issuing evisas within up to 5 days. There are now 284 travel agencies operating in Azerbaijan.

Ministry of Tourism also informs that they have completed Tourism Development Strategy for Azerbaijan for 2015-2025 that envisages the development of this sector as one of the key priorities in developing non-oil sectors of economy in Azerbaijan. 

If you are planning to come to Azerbaijan why not check our visa support services including arranging you evisa to Azerbaijan, which is indeed is the most convenient way to secure entry visa to the country. 
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Azerbaijan shares land borders with Russia (Dagestan), Georgia, Armenia, Iran and also shares a border with Turkey via the exclave of Nakhchivan. As mentioned below, the border with Armenia is closed.

Georgia border

The most commonly used border crossings from Georgia to Azerbaijan are the Lagodekhi-Balaken border (connecting Telavi and Zaqatala) and the 'Red Bridge' border crossing (known in Russian as Krasniy Most, connecting Rustavi with Qazax). 

Lagodekhi-Balaken border is more frequented by tourists, and it has a scenic road all the way down to Baku. There are minibuses from Telavi to Lagodekhi (1,5h), from where you can walk or take a taxi for the remaining 4km. There is also a bus from Telavi to Balaken (7 GEL), just across the border on the Azeri side.

Russia border

Yarag-Kazmalyar – Samur crossing is the only crossing between Azerbaijan (Yalama) and Russia open to foreigners. If you are heading from Russia then keep M29 highway all the way to Yalama. There is another crossing near the Russian town of Filya, but foreigners will be diverted from there to Yalama. It used to be impossible for people who come from non-CIS countries to cross the Azeri border with Russia, but the rules have changed, so it is possible to cross from Azerbaijan into Dagestan. Be ready to get an unusual degree of scrutiny on both sides as foreigners crossing this border is a rare sight here. It is about one hour from Derbent to the border, about an hour total to cross the border and then 3 hours drive to Baku. To get to Derbent from Makhachkala take marshrutka from Makhachala’s South Bus Station (2 hours drive). Marshrutkas depart quite frequently, at least every half hour.

Turkey border

Despite the strong ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan, the countries only share a border with the Azeri excalve of Nakhchivan, with one border crossing coming in close to Aralık in Turkey. This border is accessed through a narrow strip of Turkish land that runs close to the Iranian border and Turkey. If you want to travel between the main part of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, then you will need to go via Iran.

Nagorno-Karabakh-Armenia Border

While Nagorno-Karabakh is de jure part of Azerbaijan the de facto state considers itself independent and can only be accessed via Armenia. There is no need to get a visa in advance, just go to Stepanakert and your passport will be registered at the border, where you’ll get a piece of paper saying that you will need to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stepanakert, where you can pay for your visa. It takes 20 minutes to do so. The main border is at the Lachin corridor, but you can also enter from the north via Sotk, or on the southern road that scouts the Iranian border. We strongly advise you do not travel to Azerbaijan after having been in Nagorno-Karabakh, since this is illegal in Azerbaijan and you will be refused entry into the country, and if you have been public about your travels there, then you will also been blacklisted. It goes without saying that if you are Armenian, or even of Armenian descent, you will also be forbidden entry into the country.

Iran border (Astara border crossing)

The main border crossing going from Azerbaijan into Iran is located in Astara in the south of the country. This is the main road you’ll find from going from Baku. The drive from Baku to Astara by bus will take around 6 hours. The cost is around $7-10 USD. Border towns on each side are both called Astara and the good thing about this border is that you literally walk from one town into the other. No need to find transport to the border, just get a bus to Azeri Astara, and walk across to the Iranian Astara.

There is also a possibility to take a train from Baku that departs at 23.00 and arrives to Astara at 09.10 the following day (note that departure time is generally punctual, arrival time is flexible). The cost is around 6 AZN in a 3rd class / platskartny compartment. If you plan to move further on to Iranian border then take a taxi from the station - the short ride to border is 3-5 manat. Border opens at 09.00 (closes at 18.00), quite a busy crossing, but foreigners are usually let through very quickly. On the Iranian side youґll get ambushed by pushy moneychangers, just go 100m down the road and you can change Azeri money in one of the shops there. Any further into Iran, its questionable if youґll be able to get rid of it.

Then you can take a bus to Rasht (about 180 km). Getting from Rash to Tehran is quite easy. There are frequent buses from Rasht to Tehran so a late connection may be available. You can also buy a bus ticket to Tehran from Astara, but border crossing this way will be lengthier, so going through Rasht seems to be a better option. There is transport immediate at either end of the border so there isn't much walking involved. It takes about 7 hours by bus to get from the border to the Tehran - 2.5 to Rasht and about 4 hours to Tehran. it takes less than 6 hours if you do it by car. Of course consider the traffic if it is a weekend.

There is another crossing at Bilasuvar that is less frequented by international travelers and more busier with the locals crossing into Iran for business and medical treatment trips. 

Nakhichevan enclace also has 2 border crossings with Iran, both open for international travelers. Similarly one border crossing has same name for both sides: Jolfa – Julfa. Another one is Poldasht – Shahtakhti but we have not much information on that.
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We often get asked by customers planning to visit Southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) what is the best country for tourists, where to spend most of the time and how to budget expenses. Without lenghty considerations the first place will definitely will go to Georgia as the most tourist friednly place to go in the Caucasus – it is the easiest to visit, has the most developed tourist infrastructure, some of the friendliest people and the widest variety of sights and activities. At this point, it does not yet feel overrun with tourists, but get there fast as it likely won’t be long before the secret is out! The second and the third place can be shared by Armenia and Azerbaijan with each having its own pros & cons.

It is definitely worth to visit all three Caucasus countries as they all boast a wealth of ancient historical sites (some dating back to the 4th century!), beautiful mountain scenery and endless opportunities for adventure.  Still, allocate most of your time for Georgia with 3-5 days for the each of other two republics. 

Armenia is the cheapest out of three. One can eat a good lunch for about $3, take a taxi anywhere in the city for less than $4 and even marshrutka ride from Yerevan to Tbilisi would be cheaper than going the other direction. Georgia comes in second, with a plethora of hostels to choose from in most major cities, cheap food and reasonably priced taxis for most day trips. Azerbaijan comes in a distant third. Prices in Baku were nearly at western European levels (thoug with recent devaluation of local Manat in 2015 things should get easier for foreign visitors). The country has few hostels and rates at smaller hotels start from 60-70 USD. Even homestays and guiding services outside of the capital are pricey compared to neighboring Georgia and Armenia.

Getting around could reasonably be a three-way tie as each country in the Caucasus has its own benefits and challenges. In both Georgia and Armenia, the unfamiliar alphabets can make getting around a challenge – you can’t read the signs to tell where a given bus or marshrutka is headed. At least the Azeri language uses mostly a Latin alphabet. On the plus side, in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, digital signs at the bus stops include the Latin alphabet translations of bus route destinations, making things a little easier. Likewise, announcements on the Tbilisi Metro are made in both English and Georgian while those on the Baku Metro are only in Azeri.  The Metro in Yerevan might have been the most difficult as signs were only in Armenian and Russian and announcements only in Armenian.

When it comes to intercity transport, Azerbaijan seems slightly more organized than the others. The prevalence of buses in the country means there are schedules on which you can somewhat rely instead of the typical marshrutka that just leaves when full – although buses traveling between smaller towns tend to be decrepit Soviet-era buses.

The new bus station in Baku has clearly labeled bays for both buses and marshrutkas – it was heaven compared to the mass chaos that I found at Didube Bus Station in Tbilisi, where the only way to find the marshrutka you need is to wander around and ask. Likewise, transportation out of Yerevan is made more confusing by the fact that the bus station or parking lot from which a given marshrutka departs often changes without warning.

Georgia’s government has made it a priority to improve the country’s image as a tourist destination and you can feel the effects throughout the country. From the brand new border control stations to rebuilt roads up to mountain villages, the investment is clear. Whereas a few years ago a trip to the region of Svaneti would require an overnight train ride from Tbilisi followed by a six hour drive up perilous mountain roads, the construction of a new, paved road has cut the time down to three hours.
Tourist information is also readily available in nearly every city in Georgia – and tourist information offices in Tbilisi, Batumi, Mestia, and Mtskheta are managed by friendly English-speaking staff. 

While the Azeri government made a big effort to welcome tourists to Baku for the recent Eurovision 2012 finals and 1st Olympic European Games in 2015 in Baku, from all indications they have largely ignored the rest of the country concentrating just on Baku. Armenia arguably lags behind on the tourism front, with the Visitor Information Center in the capital of Yerevan closing due to lack of funding a few years ago. To Armenia’s advantage, most of the major sites are easy day trips from Yerevan.

The big question is – what does each country have to offer in terms of sightseeing and activities? Georgia and Armenia are very similar, with many, if not most, of their major sites focusing on the ancient history of Christianity in those countries. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its religion back in the 4th century and Georgia followed just thirty years later. This means that a majority of major sites are monasteries and churches, some of which are more interesting than others. Georgia additionally boasts a couple of cave monasteries built into the sides of cliffs and Armenia recently opened the world’s longest cable car taking tourists 5.7 kilometers across the Vorotan Gorge to Tatev Monastery.

In addition to its religious sites, Georgia has a burgeoning wine industry and a long history of wine-making, as well as an up and coming resort city in Batumi on the Black Sea coast. Add in the mountain regions and hiking opportunities in Svaneti and there seems to be a little bit of something for everyone.
Azerbaijan doesn’t have nearly the religious sites that its neighbors do, although a few ruined churches are scattered throughout the country.  Not far from Baku are petroglyphs, quirky mud volcanoes, a so-called fire temple and the James Bond Oil Field (featured in the opening scenes of The World is Not Enough). For some, the main draw would the mountains and hiking opportunities in the northern and northwestern parts of the country, although those closest to the Russian border have recently been limited.

Visa regime is most relaxed at Georgia with Western nationals allowed to visit visa free and stay for up to 360 days. Visas to Armenia may be obtained upon arrival at the airport and land borders and cost about $8 for a 21 day visa or $35 for 120 days. On the other end of the spectrum is Azerbaijan with tight visa regime, no visas upon arrival, with visa costs starting from 100$ and above. They introduced recently evisas to easen the process, but it still takes 2-3 weeks to get one through approved travel agency in Azerbaijan and costs around 100 USD. 
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Express bus to Baku airport has been launched

«BakuBus» company has launched express bus service to Baku airport from the city centre (28 May tube station). Modern comfortable İveco buses run from 06:00 to 00:00 every 30 minutes. Express bus will stop only for 1 minute to collect passengers at «Koroglu» tube station. To take a bus a traveller will have to proceed to bus stop that is located just outside the exits from Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. The cost of the ride is 1 manat (around $1 USD). Before that airport could only be approached by taxis costing around 25-40 USD for the ride.  
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