Marshrutka minivans are an easy and affordable form of transport in Azerbaijan. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling by public bus in Azerbaijan — including the Baku to Tbilisi bus, Baku to Sheki, and other popular routes.
Public transport is an affordable, easy and convenient way to travel around Azerbaijan – especially for inter-city trips. You can also use the Baku to Tbilisi bus to travel overland from Azerbaijan to Georgia, stopping off at Sheki and Qax on the way. Despite only taking a limited number of buses (just five in total) during our travels in Azerbaijan, we did a fair amount of research in advance and spent a decent amount of time hanging out at bus stations.
If you’re curious (or maybe anxious) about travelling around Azerbaijan by bus, I hope this post answers some of your questions. Scroll to the end for my report from the road, including all routes, times and costs from our recent travels in Azerbaijan.
Travelling around the Caucasus? Here’s my epic Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary to help you plan your route.
PIN THIS POST FOR LATER –
Public transport in Azerbaijan: The basics
The first thing to know is that a lot of Azeri people travel by bus. Every time we travelled, we were the only (obvious) foreigners on board. If there’s local demand for it, there’s a bus route – and as such, you can be sure that buses connect most major centres throughout Azerbaijan (except of course Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)). Baku is the largest hub, but even smaller towns such a Sheki are well-connected. I took the photo above at Sheki station.
Buses conform to a mix of regular scheduled routes and ad-hoc timetables that leave as soon as the vehicle fills up. Major routes run buses at least hourly. Other shorter journeys might fit around peak hour. Abundance mentality definitely applies here – there will always be a bus waiting for you or not far off. The only time you might get stuck is before 8am or after 5pm, so try to travel between those times.
Types of vehicle
‘Bus’ can mean a lot of things in Azerbaijan – coach, minibus, marshrutka (a glorified van that follows a fixed route), or maybe even a taxi. These seem to be used interchangeably depending on the day of the week, the time of day, or how many people show up at the station.
Some smaller vans and minibuses are privately owned, with the driver’s name and phone number pegged above the dashboard.
Bus fares are incredibly affordable, even for long journeys. Expect to pay around 1 AZN (0.60 USD) for a shorter trip (80km or so) and up to 10 AZN for longer legs. Fares are set (don’t attempt to haggle) and the same price for foreigners and locals.
Tickets are usually purchased on board the bus by paying the driver directly (always cash, preferably small bills). Sometimes drivers asked us for the fare up-front; other times we paid at the end of the journey. Even at the bus stations with ticket windows (kassa) desks, we still purchased a ticket on the bus.
It’s not possible to reserve tickets in advance, but you might be able to pre-purchase a seat on your day of travel (I doubt it though, since you always seem to pay the driver directly). You don’t need any ID.
Travelling with luggage
After our first few marshrutka experiences in Georgia, I was a little worried about travelling with a duffel bag. I needn’t have been – most buses have luggage space in the back. Seats aren’t roomy, but there’s enough legroom to fit a large backpack. Sometimes larger bags were placed in the aisle.
Stations are generally well equipped with public toilets (pay 0.20 AZN before you enter) and kiosks where you can purchase bottled water, chai, packaged snacks and bread. Some have a ticket desk where you can confirm departure times.
The International Bus Terminal in Baku is organised chaos. Marshrutky arrive and depart from the top level of the terminal, so your first challenge is to wind your way through the bottom levels of shops (we just followed a group of people who were carrying bags in the hope that they were headed where we wanted to go). We knew we had no hope of finding the bus we wanted ourselves, so we just stood around and waited for someone to approach us. There is competition between drivers to fill up their vehicles fast, so expect a certain amount of toing and froing.
Electronic timetables are displayed overhead, but in our experience, these don’t mean much. Popular destinations are signposted out in the parking area, so if you spot a white sign or dashboard placard marked with your intended destination, you can head straight over and approach the driver.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary to report here. Windows should be kept closed in winter, and there’s no smoking on the bus. The driver will point out a seat where they think you should sit – the front of the bus is prime real estate and usually reserved for elderly passengers (or whoever the driver wants to chat to on the journey).
Tips for travelling by inter-city bus in Azerbaijan
- Practice pronouncing the word for bus station – avtovagsal – so you know what to say when you jump in a taxi. Whenever we took a taxi or Uber to the avtovagsal, our driver always made sure we knew where we were going and asked around for the bus on our behalf. This is just one example of how people in Azerbaijan will often go out of their way to help you – if you look hopeless enough.
- All buses have the destination well-marked on the dash if not printed on the vehicle itself. But you’ll still need someone to point you in the right direction, especially in Baku. Learn how to accurately pronounce the name of your destination before you get to the station to avoid confusion.
- As mentioned, buses don’t always conform to set timetables. Buses between major destinations run at least hourly. The best place to check the schedule (other than maybe the station itself) is at the closest tourist information centre.
- You’ll often see multiple buses for a destination queued up at the station. You might jump at the empty looking bus thinking you’ll have more room – but that’s not the way it works. Buses won’t depart until they are completely full, so if you want to get a move on, go for the bus that’s already filling up.
- In our experience, passengers don’t smoke on the bus (drivers not included). Buses are usually kept pretty clean; some drivers even mop the floor between trips.
- All the buses we took made toilet stops every one-to-three hours at roadside restaurants.
- Towards the end of the journey, the bus will start stopping sporadically (sometimes in the middle of nowhere) to let people off in front of their houses, etc. Don’t jump the gun – if you want to end up at the final stop, make sure you’ve actually arrived there before you disembark.
- Depending on your destination, the bus may not end up at the ‘bus station’ proper but at some informal depot or exchange. Either way, there will be no shortage of taxi drivers waiting to meet you.
Baku to Tbilisi bus & other routes: Report from the road
We spent two weeks travelling around Azerbaijan. In that time we took five bus journeys, including one international leg.
Baku to Quba bus (and Quba to Baku)
Buses between Baku and Quba are very frequent. The journey covers a stretch of well-maintained highway and takes just over two hours. A ticket costs 4 AZN. We took a minibus on the way up and a large coach on the way back.
Visiting Quba? Make sure you see the incredible carpet weavers at Qadim Quba.
Baku to Tbilisi bus via Sheki and Qax
Baku to Sheki
This is another popular route and buses appeared to be leaving Baku quite frequently. We paid 7 AZN each for a seat on the minibus and departed at 11am. The trip to Sheki took around four hours.
Sheki to Qax
Our intention was to travel directly from Sheki to Tbilisi, but staff at the tourism information centre in Sheki advised us to go to Qax first. Sheki to Qax is a very short trip, taking around 40 minutes. Most of the other passengers on the journey were commuting to work. We took the first minibus of the day at 8am and paid just 1 AZN per person. There are additional vans at 10am and 11.30am.
Qax to Tbilisi
Once in Qax, we waited for an hour for the bus to Tbilisi. Qax has the smartest bus station of the towns and cities we visited, with a cafe, shops, and very friendly staff. Buses to Tbilisi were running at 8.30am, 10.30am and 1pm. Our bus pulled into the station just after 10.30 (note that it doesn’t originate in Qax but somewhere further down the road) and we were in Tbilisi by 4pm. A single ticket cost 8 AZN.
Have you travelled by bus in Azerbaijan? Do you have any tips for other travellers? Please leave them in the comments below.