There’s always something very romantic about overnight train travel, even on the hectic & crowded ancient Indian trains there was a magic to the experience of settling down in your cabin watching the sun set over the landscape whizzing by through the window. With these fond memories in mind, we decided to make the journey between Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku, Azerbaijan and back again by sleeper train.
Having low expectations of comfort and cleanliness from previous trips we were pleasantly surprised to enter our second class 4 berth cabin and find it spotless and spacious! The staff is friendly and attentive, and although they don’t speak much English, this is not something to worry about. We heard that in first class the cabin has the TV but only in Russian, we didn’t miss it though and made the most of the time to relax, read and sleep on the comfortable beds with the sheets that were provided 15 minutes into the journey.
What is the route?
From Tbilisi, the train traveled about 45 minutes to the Georgian border town Gardabani where our passports were taken and checked. During the hour-long stop here you will be given entry forms to complete. Once the train departs again, your passports will be returned, and from here you will make the short journey across the border to Böyük Kesik in Azerbaijan. The process here was quite straightforward as there were English-speaking officials who boarded the train to inspect all of our belongings, passports, visas and entry forms. The final step was to see the customs officer in another cabin so that he could stamp our passports and visas.
After this second hour-long stop we were free to relax until the next morning when the training staff came to collect sheets and pillows shortly before we made our arrival in Baku. Luckily our hotel was happy to arrange an early check-in, but it`s worth checking that this possible first to avoid hanging around so early in the morning!
Where to buy the Ticket? How much is the ticket?
We bought our tickets in cash at the station the day before traveling, paying less than $30 per person for a 2nd class cabin, this had four beds in total, but luckily we were the only passengers in it so we could spread out in luxury! The first class option just has two beds and features a TV, costing about $70 per person.
We visited during winter but were told that during summer it’s much busier so may be better to buy tickets further in advance. It is possible to book online via railway.gov.az, but only four tickets can be bought per transaction, tickets can then be collected from the ticket office in the station with your passport and the printed confirmation no later than 1 hour before the train leaves. We found the process so easy at the station and would recommend this way if you are in Tbilisi a couple of days before taking the train.
How long is the trip: Tbilisi, GEORGIA to THE Border and FROM THE Border to Baku, AZERBAIJAN?
The total distance of this journey is 551km; both ways take roughly 13 hours taking into consideration that Azerbaijan is one hour ahead of Georgia time.
We left Tbilisi at 6:30 PM then arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan at 6:30 AM. The journey back to Tbilisi leaves Baku later, at 8:30 PM arriving in Tbilisi at 10:00 AM the next morning which is much better for hotel check-in! The longest leg of this journey is from the border to Baku, taking around 10 hours and you will notice this is not a high-speed train moving quite slowly for the majority of the journey.
The Political Issue of having Armenia visa or stamp:
It is thought not to be a problem to have an Armenian stamp in your passport when entering Azerbaijan, provided you do not plan to visit Nagorno-Karabakh the Azerbaijani town in dispute between the two countries. The situation is currently unstable, however, so while border officials will currently just ask your reasons for your previous trip to Armenia, it’s possible they could decide to deny entry in the future based on this.
10 Tips for the TRAIN Journey FROM TBILISI, GEORGIA TO BAKU, AZERBAIJAN
1. Bring your food and water; they will serve tea but nothing else!
2. Do not take fruit on the train; it will be confiscated
3. No need to worry about the pillow and blanket, these are provided free of charge
4. Prepare your passport and printed Azerbaijan visa when entering and exiting the country (should be the same copy when you enter and exit because of the stamp)
5. Buy the ticket at least one day before the day you want to travel (especially in summer) and take cash as a card is not accepted at the station.
6. If buying the ticket online buy at least 2 hours before departure time (again remember summer is busier!)
7. You must have your passport when buying or collecting tickets from the station
8. The cabins can become quite warm as air-conditioning works only when going fast, take cool sleeping clothes
9. Check current political situation between Azerbaijan & Armenia before booking trip
10. To avoid inconvenience, if you plan to visit Armenia after Azerbaijan and have any documents/books related to the country, it is best to hide these while your bags are searched as they will raise more questions.
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