Four of the best hiking trails in Azerbaijan

This quartet of hiking trails take in some of Azerbaijan’s wildest landscapes, winding past magnificent peaks, ancient fortresses, picturesque villages and thundering waterfalls.

By Azerbaijan Tourism Board
Published 13 Aug 2021, 16:09 BST
Khinalig, in the northern region of Guba, is one of the country’s highest inhabited villages.

Khinalig, in the northern region of Guba, is one of the country’s highest inhabited villages.

Photograph by Azerbaijan Tourism Board

1. North: Galakhudat to Khinalig

Distance/duration: 5 miles/3 hours

Revel in the bewitching scenery and cooler temperatures of northern Azerbaijan on this trek from Galakhudat to Khinalig, one of the country’s highest inhabited villages. Covering five miles of marked paths cast in the shadow of Bazarduzu, Azerbaijan’s tallest peak, this route can be completed in three hours and is suitable for any skill level. Set out from the village of Galakhudat, served by taxis from the centre of Guba. From there, it’s a steady climb to the pass before you reach the wide, flat road that forms the main part of the trail. You’ll be treated to a glut of Azerbaijan’s most magnificent topography along the way, from Gizilgaya’s milky cliffs to terraced farmlands and the seemingly never-ending Gudyalchay valley, tinted 50 shades of green in the summer months. The high point comes when you first cast eyes on Khinalig, a cluster of stout houses sprinkled along a narrow ridge. Pause at the spring that marks the entrance to the village, then continue on to visit the mosque and decompress over a compensatory chai at the local tea house. The trail is verdant in the warmer months, but for exceptional winter scenery and views of snow-capped mountains, set off between December and February. Carry plenty of water with you and avoid drinking from the river. Guest houses at either end offer food and a warm bed.

The former axis of the 18th-century Ilisu Sultanate, Ilisu village is home to remnants of strategic glory in the form of the Ulu Bridge, the Ulu Mosque and the charming red-tiled houses.

Photograph by Azerbaijan Tourism Board

2. Northwest: Ilisu to Gashgachay

Distance/duration: 10 miles/9 hours

With the Greater Caucasus as a backdrop, this 10-mile route traverses forest and pasture before finishing in the village of Gashgachay. This is a physically demanding hike, albeit one with plenty of chances for reprieve at the ancient ruins and shepherd’s huts along the way. Start in the village of Ilisu, reachable by taxi from Gakh in under 30 minutes. The former axis of the 18th-century Ilisu Sultanate, it’s home to remnants of strategic glory in the form of the Ulu Bridge, the Ulu Mosque and the charming red-tiled houses. Make a brief detour to visit Galacha, a stone fortress, before bracing yourself for the most challenging part of the hike: an ascent up to an elevation of 7,400ft. After conquering the mountain pass, you’ll descend into a ravine before embarking on a gentler climb and the final passage into the Gashgachay river valley, where the water is usually low enough to safely cross on foot. You can conclude your hike in the village, or continue on to Sheki via Gumukh and Kish. The Ilisu to Gashgachay route demands nine hours or more, so take advantage of the longer days between May and September to tackle this trek. Be vigilant of shepherd dogs and note that as there are only a handful of freshwater springs en route, it’s important to replenish at every opportunity.

3. West: Javadkhan to Azgilli

Distance/duration: 8 miles/6 hours

This trail winds through the highlands of Ganja and the foothills of Murovdag — home to some of the highest peaks in the Lesser Caucasus — to link Javadkhan peak with the village of Azgilli. As you trek down sloped paths and backroads, transfixing views of Mount Kapaz abound. To reach the trailhead, you’ll need to charter an off-road taxi from Goygol bus station to just outside Togana village, at the monument to Javad Khan — the last ruler of the Ganja Khanate, and Azerbaijan’s national hero. There are several forks in the path, so follow the markings to stay on course. A swift hill climb is the only ascent, and it’s well worth the burn for the mountain panorama at the top. This all-season route can be done in either direction. Shops are in short supply in Azgilli, so bring your own provisions and refill your water bottle at the many natural springs along the way.

Hikers on the Sim waterfall route. In the Talysh language, Sim means ‘slippery rock’ — a fitting title for a hamlet set a stone’s throw from a towering waterfall.

Photograph by Azerbaijan Tourism Board

4. West: Sim waterfall loop

Distance/duration: 4 miles/3 hours

In the Talysh language, Sim means ‘slippery rock’ — a fitting title for a hamlet set a stone’s throw from a towering waterfall. This small village is the departure point for an easy four-mile roundtrip to the cascades of the same name. The gentle path hugs the periphery of Hirkan National Park, granting ramblers a brief encounter with the enigmatic Talysh Mountains. Before you set off, admire the ancient trees and mossy boulders that give Sim its fairytale-like appearance. Once you reach the outskirts, you’ll plunge into deciduous broad-leaf forest — a playground for wolves, brown bears and the elusive Persian leopard. The high humidity of subtropical Astara makes the climax of this hike — a refreshing dip in Sim waterfall — even sweeter. Along the way, you’ll pass mandarin orchards burdened with heavy fruit and humming bee hives. If you’re feeling up to it, press further into the park and tackle one of the higher peaks for views all the way to the Caspian Sea.

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