Sheki Karvansaray Hotel (Sheki Caravanserai Hotel) is one of the most unique and memorable accommodations in Azerbaijan. Here’s what it’s like to sleep inside a historic Silk Road Caravanserai – plus everything you need to know to organise a visit.
Long before I’d ever considered setting foot in this part of the world – before I knew about the Silk Road or had any knowledge of Central Asia – I’ve been enamoured with one word: caravanserai.
When I was in my teens, a Turkish restaurant bearing the name Caravanserai opened close to my house. This was probably the first time I heard the word uttered, and I’ve been fascinated with caravanserai and everything it conjures ever since.
Sheki’s Karvansaray Hotel is a phonetic corruption of the word I love so dearly, but this is as authentic (and impressive) a caravanserai as you’ll ever see.
Staying two nights at this hotel in the historic town of Sheki (Shaki) in northern Azerbaijan will surely go down as one of the highlights of our time in the Caucasus.
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History of the Sheki caravanserai
Caravanserais were constructed in the early 19th century to accommodate travellers on the Silk Road.
The Caucasus aren’t traditionally considered part of the famous trading thoroughfare that connects China with Turkey and Europe. But the Silk Road was actually an ad-hoc series of different routes that extended across Central Asia and branched out into Sheki, Northern Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
You can find a few beautiful caravanserais in Tbilisi, too – one of the biggest surviving inns has been converted into a museum/shopping/wine bar precinct.
This particular caravanserai in Sheki is actually classified as two separate buildings – the yukhary (upper) and ashaghy (lower) caravanserais.
I can’t emphasise how huge the stone and brick structure is. There are close to 600 individual rooms of various sizes – that’s counting the underground storage cells that merchants could access from their sleeping quarters by stepladder if they wanted to check on their goods during the night.
In 1988, after a period of abandonment, a number of these rooms were turned into basic guest accommodation and travellers once again started treading the stone paths of one of Azerbaijan’s oldest accommodations.
Staying at the Sheki Karvansaray Hotel
After a couple of rough nights in Quba and a long bus journey from Baku, we arrived in Sheki ready to relax. The rooms at the Karvansaray Hotel (now officially called Yukari Karavansarai Hotel) are certainly not luxurious, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it.
As you can imagine from the pictures, every room has an impressive domed brick ceiling. The rooms are split into two parts, with a quaint sitting area in the front and a bedroom at the rear. Private bathrooms are very outdated in terms of design and fittings – but there is steaming hot water.
I somehow neglected to take photos of the room during our visit. A big thanks to Montana López for sharing these two:
Another thing: The old brickwork and poor sealing around the doors means that the rooms are a little cold at night. But every room does have a heater.
There were more than enough blankets to keep us warm in bed, but walking around inside the room after sunset was almost too chilly. Get under the covers before dark if you can!
This isn’t the only caravanserai you’ll see in Sheki, but it’s certainly the only one you can sleep in. If you are planning to visit Azerbaijan, make sure you get to Sheki and stay at Karvansaray Hotel for at least a night or two: It’s a truly unforgettable travel experience!
Location & how to book
Sheki Karvansaray Hotel is located on Mirza Fatali Akhundzada opposite the Sheki Palace Hotel. A taxi to the hotel from the Sheki Central Bus Station costs around 4 AZN.
At the time of writing, it’s still not possible to make a reservation online. You have to options: Chance it and ask for a room when you arrive in Sheki (which is usually fine in the low or shoulder season), or call ahead from Baku to reserve a room.
Yasin at reception speaks a little English and can be contacted on 055-755-55-70 (or on +994-55-755-55-70 from outside Azerbaijan). They also have an (inactive) Facebook Page.
If you can’t get a hold of the hotel, try contacting the Sheki Tourism Office on 024-244-60-95. Staff speak English and may be able to help out with your reservation.
Rooms at the Karvansaray cost 30-50 AZN a night.
If you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s still possible to drop in for a walk around the courtyard. The caravanserai is open to non-guests during the middle of the day. There is a small teahouse-restaurant at the back where you can sit down to enjoy tea from the samovar and a sweet snack!
Things to do in Sheki & where to eat
The Karvansaray Hotel is located walking distance from the UNESCO-listed Sheki Khans’ summer palace (Seki Xan Sarayi) and a quick taxi ride (or pleasant meandering stroll through Sheki’s beautiful residential area) to downtown.
For a full list of things to do, see my Sheki travel guide.
The street-facing side of the caravanserai hotel is occupied by a collection of souvenir shops, bakeries, restaurants and – get this – an Illy Espresso House that serves excellent coffee. We also ate at the Shebeke Restaurant attached to the Sheki Sarai Hotel (probably the only place in Sheki where you can find a club sandwich on the menu!), and had a drink at the Buta Bar in the lobby.
Someone recommended we eat at nearby Gagarin Restaurant, but we enjoyed the stew at Piti House (located under the Karvansaray Hotel) much more. The Hotel also has a cafe/restaurant on the top level that boasts a decent range of home-cooked traditional dishes.
Other hotels in Sheki
If the Karvansaray Sheki hotel is booked out, there are a number of other accommodation options in Sheki. Here are my recommendations:
BUDGET: Central Hostel (⭐ 9.5). This popular hostel in Sheki offers four bright and clean dorms (mixed or single-sex). The central location is ideal for sightseeing. A great option for budget travellers.
MID RANGE: Yaffle Inn (⭐ 9.2). Also located in the centre of Sheki, this no-frills hotel offers big, tidy rooms. The owners are known for their excellent hospitality and can help out with transfers and tours.
BOUTIQUE: MinAli Boutique Hotel (⭐ 9.1). Furnished with antique silverware and carpets, this cute boutique hotel harks back to Sheki’s Silk Road days. A generous breakfast is included in the nightly rate.
How to get to Sheki from Baku
Baku to Sheki by bus or minivan
Marshrutka vans and coach buses both depart for Sheki from the International Bus Terminal in Baku (see the location here). There are four buses every day, with the first service leaving at 9.50am and the last bus at 4.30pm. There is also an overnight bus to Sheki that departs at 11.20pm.
The journey from Baku to Sheki by road takes around 6.5 hours, including one bathroom break at the halfway point. Tickets cost 8.40 AZN per person and can be purchased at the cash desk inside the bus terminal (location on level 3). Double check times and fares here.
It’s faster to travel from Baku to Sheki by marshrutka (minibus/van). When we went, it took us just 4 hours, but the journey can take up to 4.5-5 hours depending on conditions. Marshrutkas also depart throughout the day from the International Bus Terminal. Tickets cost ~7 AZN.
The road from Baku to Sheki is quite steep and windy in parts, so pack some non-drowsy motion sickness medication if you need it. Buses terminate at Sheki Central Bus Station in the north of the city. When you arrive, there will be taxis there to meet you. A cab to the caravanserai should cost 3 or 4 AZN.
Heading back to Baku, buses depart Sheki bus station hourly between 6.30am and 6pm. Tickets cost 9 AZN.
Baku to Sheki by train
Important note: Train services within in Azerbaijan are currently suspended. The only way to travel to Sheki is by road.
Another option is to take advantage of the overnight train service from Baku to Sheki. There is one train departing Baku’s 28 May Station at 11.30pm and arriving at Shaki Railway Station at 6.20am the next morning.
There are three types of train ticket available – plaskard (a seat in a carriage for 7.63 AZN per person), coupe (a seat in a middle-class carriage for 12.69 AZN per person), and spalny vagon (a sleeper bed for 20.34 AZN per person).
Tickets can be purchased at the station or online in advance through the official Azerbaijan Railways website. When searching for tickets on the website, enter Baku Pass. as the departure station and Shaki as the destination.
Trains arrive at Shaki Railway Station, 17km west of the centre of town. A taxi into Sheki should cost around 7 AZN.
Baku to Sheki by shared taxi or private car
The fastest way to get to Sheki from Baku is by taxi. In a private car, the journey takes around 4 hours.
Shared taxis leave from outside the International Bus Terminal in Baku on ground level. If you ask around, someone will be able to point you in the right direction. They only depart when full, so you might have to wait while the driver gathers four passengers – or else you can pay for the empty seats and leave right away.
There are two options: Join a shared taxi (around 15 or 20 AZN per seat), or hire the entire car (60 to 80 AZN).
If you’re on a tight schedule, you can visit Sheki on a day trip from Baku travelling by private car – but naturally I recommend spending at least one night in Sheki so you can stay at the caravanserai!
Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Azerbaijan and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Baku on Skyscanner.
VISAS: Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Azerbaijan and apply for an expedited visa online.
DOCUMENTATION: Use OneWayFly to obtain proof of onward travel/hotel reservation for your visa application.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.
AIRPORT TRANSFER: Pre-book a private transfer from Baku Airport to your hotel.
ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Azerbaijan hotel deals on Booking.com or book a Baku hostel.
SHORT ON TIME? Get to know Baku on this Old City walking tour, or join this panoramic night tour to see Baku in her best light.
AZERBAIJAN GUIDEBOOK: Get your copy of the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (February 2022).
ALI AND NINO: Pick up a copy of Ali and Nino, Azerbaijan’s national novel. I can guarantee that Kurban Said’s evocative descriptions of Baku will get you excited for your trip!
7 things to pack for Azerbaijan
- An anti-theft backpack. As a general rule, Azerbaijan is a very safe place and petty crime against tourists isn’t really an issue. Still, a good anti-theft day pack is worth having to keep your valuables safe in the city. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are a few of my favourite minimalist backpack designs.
- A scarf for visiting mosques (women). A lightweight cotton scarf is my number one travel item. In Azerbaijan, it will come in extra handy for covering your hair when entering a mosque or for draping over your shoulders when visiting a market or a rural area. This neutral travel scarf goes with anything, and it even has a hidden pocket. Remember the dress code in Azerbaijan is quite conservative – women and men alike should avoid shorts and wear pants or a skirt that covers the knees.
- Walking shoes. From the cobbled streets of Sheki to the hills of Baku and the muddy landscape around Gobustan, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time on your feet in Azerbaijan. Comfy walking shoes are absolutely essential.
- A reusable water bottle. Avoid single-use plastics whenever you can. I love my S’Well water bottle for warm climates because it doesn’t sweat.
- Wine Wings. Should you decide to buy a drinkable souvenir in Azerbaijan, these handy custom-made bottle protectors will keep your vino safe and sound in your luggage. A travel corkscrew and a wine stopper are bound to come in handy, too.
- Entertainment for long bus/train journeys. If you don’t suffer motion sickness, an e-reader is great for passing the time on long bus or train journeys. If you have a travel buddy, pick up a headphone splitter – probably my favourite travel gadget of all time – so you can share a screen or a podcast. Check out my full list of essential items to make a long train or bus journey more comfortable.
- Biodegradable wet wipes. Try this convenient travel pack.
Sheki caravanserai Hotel: Pin it & share it!
More Azerbaijan travel resources
- My best photos of Azerbaijan to inspire your travels
- Plan your trip: The ultimate Caucasus itinerary or an efficient 10-14 day Azerbaijan Georgia itinerary
- How to travel to/from Baku and Georgia by overnight train
- Tips for travelling around Azerbaijan by bus
- Guide to exploring Baku Old City
- The 12 best day trips from Baku
- Why you must visit the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku
- How to take a day trip from Baku to Gobustan for the mud volcanoes
- Guide to Sheki, Azerbaijan’s most beautiful city
- Guide to Quba, Azerbaijani carpet weaving
- How to spend the night in a Silk Road caravanserai in Azerbaijan