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Transport to/from Naxchivan

Getting there

You have one of three ways to get to Naxchivan. The most logical is by flying from Baku. Unfortunately, the heavily subsidised flights don't really benefit foreigners as locals pay $35 and foreigners pay $100. Furthermore, getting a flight has it's challenges and it is not uncommon to wait for a week as demand far exceeds supply. The other option is by entering overland via one of the two borders. Naxchivan has borders with Turkey and Iran, both open. Taxi ride is possible. Buses can be caught at the border for hours, whereas a taxi will drop you off on one side, you walk across and get a different one on the other side. The problem is by entering overland you will need 2 Azerbaijani visas if you want to visit the rest of the country. And at a cost of up to $100-160 (depending on citizenship), it's expensive. Not to mention the need to obtain a letter of invitation that make it even more challenging and costly.

The border with Armenia is firmly closed and very sensitive. At Culfa you can cross to Iran by taxi (no cross-border bus) or train (Mon and Sat 07:00 Nakhchivan-Tabriz, returns at 16:00). The border to Turkey near Sadarak has 2km of no-man's land and walking isn't permitted. You could pay a taxi (5-10 AZN) but it's better to use one of the eight buses a day that run from Nakhchivan main bus station all the way to Istanbul via Igdir. The main expense may prove to be spurious fees at the notoriously corrupt border.

Should you manage to get a flight, Naxchivan would make for an interesting alternative route through the region. Visitors are rare here and kept at a distance. Any exploration near the Armenian border might even be treated with hostility. But at a much slower pace than the rest of Azerbaijan, Naxchivan is a comfortable place to relax while preparing for onward travel.

AZAL flies from Baku (4 times a day direct, $100) to Nakhchivan City. To save money you could take the train to Ganja and fly from there (dep 10:30 Tue, Thur, Sat, Sun, $50, ret 13:00). Despite apocryphal horror stories the planes are neither overcrowded nor filled with sheep. Indeed the flights are worth the money for the great views of Mt Agri(Ararat) and (on the Ganja flight) of Armenia's Lake Sevan. The central ticket office in Nakhchivan opens 9-17:00 Mon-Fri, and 9:30-13:00 weekends, but tickets are often available on the day of departure if you turn up at the airport before 09:00. The airport is a mere 3km from Nakhchivan City. A pack of taxis and buses await air arrivals and can whisk you off to Ordubad or even Turkey.

Naxchivan city to Turkey

The drive to Turkey is slightly less picturesque than that to Ordubad, but the looming approach of Mt Agri (Ararat) gives a constantly mesmerising focus when visibility allows. Around 7km out of Naxchivan City a spur road leads up to Duzdaр where sanatorium patients come in the evenings to sleep in the asthma-reducing environment of a disused salt mine. It’s not open to visitors, but the mountain’s candy-striped pink and white contours are very attractive viewed from the road a couple of kilometres later. Around 35km from Naxchivan City, a 5km spur road leads to Qarabaрlar, where a famous 14thcentury tower, crusted with blue glaze-work, entombs a wife of the great Mongol-Persian ruler Hulugu Khan.

Permits and hassles

No special permit is required to visit the enclave. Nakhchivan City is a very friendly, relaxed place but in small towns your presence is liable to cause confusion, suspicion and thinly-veiled accusations of spying should you find yourself anywhere near the Iranian or Armenian borders. And that means pretty much anywhere. Visiting Cuga or Gamiqaya (soon to become a national park) you'll need to get ministry clearance which is unlikely to be granted to casual tourists. The Iranian Consulate issues transit visas for Iran based on a double-/multi-entry Azeri visa but they need clearance from Tehran which for many Western nationalities can take weeks to come through. Hakhchivan City is more than ever the logical base for touring the enclave.

Crossing the border between Nakhchivan and Turkey, nebulous 'charges' can end up quite exorbitant.