Baku Gay Travel
Is Azerbaijan safe for gay travelers? Local Baku gay travel tips, plus hotels, restaurants, things to do & gay life.
The Gay Travel Experience: Baku, Azerbaijan
Welcome to one of the world’s newest luxury travel destinations. Azerbaijan translates to “the land of fire” and after visiting the city of Baku, you certainly won’t forget this.
Stunning buildings throughout the city emulate flames in one way or another. Most buildings have some sort of eloquent curve, resembling how fires dance and flicker.
While I personally did not have any bad experiences, I took some essential precautions. My travel buddy Hassan and I largely kept to ourselves.
Is Azerbaijan Safe To Visit for Gay Travelers?
Azerbaijan is a conservative country that has largely inherited ways of thinking from the Soviet era. Even though there are no longer any laws prohibiting homosexuality, gay life in Baku is still not so easy for locals.
However, it is definitely possible to safely travel Baku as an LGBT person, as long as you’re careful and keep a low profile.
Azerbaijan authorities have been known to arrest gay individuals on suspicious charges. Gay travelers should remain alert for any political unrest or unusual activity. Follow basic travel safety guidelines and always plan ahead.
In my opinion, if you are not looking for trouble, you will not find it. I recommend you avoid all public displays of affection. Additionally, do not meet with anyone you don’t know, especially on dating apps.
To remain safe while traveling in Azerbaijan, utilize a VPN browser (like NordVPN) to browse privately. If you do not have a VPN connection on your phone, then be sure to turn off any location-based dating or other gay apps.
I personally did not encounter any issues while traveling Azerbaijan with my gay friend Hassan. We even shared a single bed in a Baku hotel. While we were prepared for it, hotel staff did not ask us any personal questions or give us any suspicious looks.
Why Choose Baku Gay Travel?
You may wonder why I choose to visit a country like Azerbaijan. The truth is that I still love exploring new cultures and new cities. Opinions often starkly differ when it comes to the ethics of traveling to anti-LGBT countries.
My personal goal as a gay traveler is to test out the gay travel experience in Baku and other cities around the world. This way I can relay the most important information to other gay individuals about what different cultures and cities are like.
Baku Gay Travel: Where to Stay
You should be careful about which hotel you choose as a gay traveler in Baku. Since Azerbaijan is generally not LGBT-friendly, you want to ensure you’ll feel comfortable wherever you stay.
Central Baku is the most convenient place to stay as a tourist. Baku city center hotels make it much easier to get to surrounding major attractions. The well-known international hotel chains like Hilton and Hyatt are the safest bet, especially for LGBT couples.
I stayed at Boutique Hotel Baku, located on Alovsat Guliyev Street in central Baku. Honestly, this place honestly blew me away! The overall experience was so much better than I anticipated.
I loved Boutique Hotel Baku for the immaculately clean rooms, the friendly staff and the adorable balconies overlooking the street.
The breakfast was unbelievably delicious at the hotel, too. They served everything you could ever ask for and truly made me feel cared for as a guest.
I’ll never forget eating breakfast in the rooftop dining room, looking out of the floor to ceiling windows with spectacular mid-level views of the Baku skyline. Here’s a short video that shows how wonderful Boutique Hotel Baku is.
For other options of places to stay, I recommend browsing hotels in the Baku Old Town. This area is so stunningly quaint, that you truly can’t go wrong.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider one of the many hotels in Yasamal. This neighborhood is a bit outside the center and has a lot of accommodations available. You’ll probably find much cheaper deals here.
Places To Visit In Baku
The iconic Flame Towers will be in plain sight as you travel around Baku. If you’d like to see them up close, head up to Highland Park. Take the funicular up the hillside and walk toward the lookout point.
There is a large plaza from which you can see the entire city as well as the Flame Towers. It’s a great photo opportunity.
The historic Walled City of Baku is beautiful, perfect for a late afternoon or evening stroll. This walled-in area of Baku has such a comforting and eloquent feel. I can guarantee that you will feel relaxed while wandering the ancient streets.
Restaurant options are plentiful near the entrance as well. I’ll mention some of these in the Baku restaurants section of this guide.
You may find yourself walking past a traditional bazaar while in Baku. There is a large one not close to the Heydar Aliyev building. These kinds of shops will just about always try to overcharge tourists, so make sure you barter. It is easy to start by asking the price per kilogram.
Heydar Aliyev Center
If you love modern Architecture, then the Heydar Aliyev Center Building will be a perfect place to visit in Baku. The building was designed by Zaha Hadid, a famous architect known for her bold and unique modern designs, most of which incorporate dramatic curvature.
The campus surrounding the Heydar Aliyev building is a wide-open field with nice views of surrounding Baku. If the temperature is accommodating, it would be a great place to sunbathe or have a picnic in the grass.
The Heydar Aliyev building actually contains a museum, however I only visited to see the campus. The structure’s curves paired with the sun beaming off the white exterior make this work of art unforgettable.
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Fire Temple Ateshgah: A Baku Gay Travel Must-See
The Ateshgah Fire Temple is a must-see while visiting Baku. In this region, Hindus discovered the natural phenomenon of fire emanating from the ground, burning from natural gas.
Tourists come from all corners of the world to pay a visit to this compound. You can book a Fire Temple tour in advance that will also show you the surrounding area.
Plan to spend one to two hours here, depending on how many of the history exhibits you plan to read.
There’s a restaurant next to the entrance, which is convenient given the Fire Temple itself is about 30 minutes by car outside of central Baku. Hassan and I stopped here to get a couple of espressos before the visit.
One of my fondest memories of Azerbaijan was the taxi ride leaving the Fire Temple. Along the streets leading away from the temple, we saw dozens of oil extractors.
Oscillating up and down, they were collecting massive amounts of oil non-stop. It was such a glorious sight—something tangible to connect to how Baku is redefining itself as a global economic center.
Baku Mud Volcanoes: Baku Gay Travel Experience Outside The City
The countryside surrounding Baku is a volcanic area. There are various places where you can see volcanic activity and absorb the wonderful vistas. The barren land can seem to stretch on forever.
My friend Hassan and I took a taxi to the entrance of a small village and then trekked up the mountainside toward the site.
I was expecting to see some bubbles popping up from the ground soon after reaching the top of the mountain. Upon arrival, we found out the volcanoes were not active at the time we visited. It was just unfortunate timing. We could still see the dips in the landscape where bubbles have previously formed.
I recommend booking a private mud volcano tour so you can have a better idea of where the activity is, instead of wandering around like I did.
If nothing else, you will see the dry, ashy landscapes that are straight out of a movie scene. It was a nice hike too!
Dolma Restaurant is without a doubt my top restaurant recommendation in Baku. It’s an authentic and eloquent Azeri restaurant located in the city center.
Physically underground, the restaurant’s interior walls are created with beautiful stonework, the lighting is romantic and the fabrics are eye-catching.
$20 USD per person at Dolma Restaurant will fill you up with several courses of delicious food and wine. That’s also a good indication of the cost of food in Azerbaijan.
No. 1 Shawarma in Baku might just be my favorite shawarma restaurant of all time. The flavor of the shawarma wraps blew my mind. They have a small outdoor seating area, perfect for lunch in the heart of the city.
Imeriti Restaurant is a great option for Georgian food in Baku. They have red wine by the pitcher and delicious cured meats. This place had some delicious food!
Try Some Shisha!
Note however that all the 145 Group lounges do not serve alcohol. These hangouts are more so for smoking shisha and perhaps having some tea or dessert. It is more of a traditional Muslim activity, but all are welcome.
Baku Gay Travel Tips
The people of Azerbaijan speak Azeri, which is a form of Turkish. Some things like road signs may be in Azeri, but for the most part everything is written in English.
Most people in Baku speak English, so you shouldn’t have any issues communicating in restaurants or hotels.
There are two particular areas that all LGBT tourists should avoid, if not all tourists. Tbilisi Avenue and Fountain Square are known for prostitution and intense struggles with police over the years. Once darkness fall, avoid these areas.
I arrived in Baku via overnight train from Tbilisi, Georgia. My friend Hassan and I booked overnight sleeper-car train tickets and lounged in a slightly crude yet private train car.
If you are heading to Baku from Tbilisi, then you can purchase train tickets in person at the Tbilisi main train station. wolfyy’s Tbilisi Gay Travel Guide has more information.
Azerbaijan is an oil rich country, which means transportation for you will be stunningly cheap! Taxi cabs cost next to nothing, so buzzing around the city by car will be more than economical.
Is Azerbaijan a Muslim Country?
Although Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority country, you may not be able to tell this by simply walking the streets. Few people are in traditional Muslim dress and I did not hear any prayer calls the entire length of my trip.
Taxis in Baku
I used mobile taxi applications many times while in Baku, and I noticed a certain trend each time we ordered a taxi. It seems that the taxi drivers in Baku do not place high importance on showing up exactly at your pickup point.
They tend to get as close to you as is convenient for them and then mark themselves as arrived. They expect you to walk to their location for some reason.
The taxi drivers do something similar while dropping passengers off. Instead of arriving directly in front of your destination, they will drop you off at the intersection that is most convenient for them.
This means you will likely walk a block or two for pick-up or drop-off. Not a big deal, but something worth pointing out.
Baku Gay Life
The Republic of Azerbaijan doesn’t provide any protections for LGBT individuals, so gay life in Baku is quite harsh. The country is ranked one of the worst places to be gay in Europe. Azerbaijan only regained independence in 1991 and reformed many laws soon after.
The old sodomy ban was removed from law in the year 2000. The removal of this archaic law however, was required in order for Azerbaijan to join the Council of Europe.
Gay Azeris face difficulty in expressing their sexual identities because most people in the country are simply confused about homosexuality. LGBT individuals thus go through life hiding who they truly are.
They fear retaliation by family and friends as well as arrest under false charges by the government. Many citizens of Azerbaijan do not possess the knowledge or have the resources to understand that homosexuality is normal.
LGBT Human Rights Issues in Azerbaijan
More than 80 LGBT individuals were arrested in September 2017 during a government crackdown targeting gays in Azerbaijan. Many were beaten and tortured in prison. The stories available online are terrifying.
Human rights groups sanctioned the nation for such atrocities. More of us need to spread the word about the help needed for gays in Azerbaijan.
Eurasianet published a touching story in 2018. The article is about an Azeri mother defying the odds and accepting her gay son. Have a read.
Nongovernmental organizations have been working over the past decade to increase LGBT awareness in Azerbaijan. New web resources have been created to help gay Azeris.
We must remain hopeful that Azerbaijan can make some progress in providing at least basic human rights to LGBT citizens.
Planning to visit Georgia during your trip? Check out wolfyy’s gay travel guide to the popular destination of Tbilisi. It’s reachable directly by train and definitely worth the trip.