Backpacking in Azerbaijan: Exploring the Mountains of Xinaliq, ‘Europe’s Highest Village’

Backpacking in Azerbaijan - the remote village of XInaliq

Backpacking in Azerbaijan – the remote village of XInaliq

Xinaliq is a magical place. Anyone who has ever explored this spot has had a truly memorable experience for sure. Some references site Xinaliq as “Europe’s Highest Village”, a fact that could well be true, though geographically the inclusion of Azerbaijan as ‘Europe’ is slightly misleading. It’s more Middle East than Europe. Yet it’s more Central Asia than Middle East. Backpacking in Azerbaijan exposes you to places like this and has you staring out in awe. It’s one of my most under-rated travel highlights to date and I urge you all to get out to Xinaliq once you’ve got your Azerbaijan Visa.

xinaliq backpacking

Backpacking in Azerbaijan – the glorious mountains of Xinaliq

Where is Xinaliq?
Xinaliq is in the mountains of north eastern Azerbaijan. It’s just south of the border with Russia and is situated in an area of high altitude.

xinaliq azerbaijan

The tranquil mountain village of Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

views at xinaliq azerbaijan

Admiring the scintillating views in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

What is Xinaliq?

Xinaliq is an old school Azerbaijani village. There is no shopping mall, no commercial adverts. This is a proper medieval style village. It’s the Central Asia that I dreamed about before I went backpacking in this region.

The mountain village of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan - "Europe's Highest Village"

The mountain village of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan – “Europe’s Highest Village”

800 people live in Xinaliq, it’s a quiet village. Not a lot goes on here. It’s a place of agriculture and basic living. Apparently the numbers soar in the summer months when the weather gets hot – people who are originally from here also return to their village having made their money in Baku, the country’s rich capital.

azerbaijan rich xinaliq contrast

Contrast Xinaliq to this!: Baku, the rich capital of Azerbaijan.

How to get to Xinaliq
Unless you have your own transport, getting to Xinaliq will never be the easiest backpacking adventure you ever do, but we managed it OK in the end. Another fellow traveller from our hostel in Baku, Jacob was in Xinaliq just before us and gave us some tips on the route, by odd coincidence we also stayed in the same place as him in Xinaliq! Here is the route we took, from Baku.

baku bus station

At the bus station in Baku ready for the trip to Xinaliq.

1. Leaving Baku: After spending a few days (4 to be exact) in Baku, the nation’s capital city, we got a Marshrutky from Baku to the town of Quba. From the Main Bus Station in Baku, this costs 4Manat.

quba to xinaliq baku bus

Getting the marshrutky from Baku to Quba.

2. Baku to Quba The journey to Quba lasts around 3 hours, including a stop over.

The road from Baku to Quba.

The road from Baku to Quba.

3. Quba Quba is the best place to get to, in order to organise your transport up to Xinaliq. We got the Marshrutky out to Quba from Baku. Quba is a very peculiar village – one I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else on my travels.

Backpacking our ways through the unknown streets of Quba, Azerbaijan.

Backpacking our ways through the unknown streets of Quba, Azerbaijan.

On arrival in Quba we get hassled by a few drivers, but ignore them all. We eventually find the driver of a truck who is heading to Xinaliq and willing to take us for 16 Manat (8 Manat each).

quba truck

Our truck from Quba up the mountains to Xinaliq.

There are just no other travellers at all in this region, so we have no idea if this price is good or not. We bargained down to get it for this. We had a couple of hours to kill in Quba – and walked around the market – it’s quite a funny place!

quba azerbaijan

Having a laugh in Quba!

4. Quba to Xinaliq Honestly, dream it all up. This is easily one of the most spectacular journeys of my life so far for views! Onboard the rocky truck ride was the driver, Panny and I. Just three of us and our backpacks through the autumnal forest, rising up into the hills and valleys and offering tremendous views of lakes, rivers, mountains and fresh air.

The Autumn forest on route from Quba to Xinaliq in Azerbaijan.

The Autumn forest on route from Quba to Xinaliq in Azerbaijan.

The journey to Xinaliq lasted about 3 hours up bumpy, rocky roads in valleys. We stopped to savour the views and take some photos along the way.

quba to xinaliq

The view on the rocky road from Quba to Xinaliq.

Where to Stay in Xinaliq
OK for sure there is no hostel world or hotel booking website for this sort of place. It’s one of the most remote spots I’ve ever been to I reckon! We just played it by ear and our driver kind of knew that we would need somewhere to stay once we got to Xinaliq.

xinaliq driving

Arrival in Xinaliq – with our truck driver.

The driver will drop you off at a local family in the town who invite you for a homestay. We ended up staying with a guy called Rustam and his family! If you’re keen to get in touch, Rustam is on Facebook!

xinaliq homestay

Loving our homestay in Xinaliq.

They were awesome hosts, cooking for us and offering us tea and meals 3 times a day. We originally only were going to spend one night here, but loved it – it was so remote, special and dreamy we decided to stay for 2 nights!

xinaliq homestay

At home in Xinaliq watching TV with our host family.

The price will vary of course depending on if they are busy, how many of you are there and if you want all the meals etc. There are no shops or restaurants in Xinaliq so taking the meals is a good option, unless you have brought enough food to last you a few days.

A feast at our homestay in Xinaliq

A feast at our homestay in Xinaliq

Round the table for breakfast in Xinaliq

Round the table for breakfast in Xinaliq

We paid 40 Manats for 2 nights for 2 people, but it was a quiet time – we were the only 2 tourists in the village and I told Rustam I love to travel and write about it, so this could well have influenced the price. It’s rude to try and pay less I think, and 50 Manats for 2 nights for 2 people would be fair enough.

Exploring Xinaliq
So the main thing to do in Xinaliq is just get out there and explore Xinaliq and its many nooks and crannies! It’s a dreamy mountain village with some of the best views around. Here are some cool photos from dreamy magical Xinaliq!! Meet the locals, walk around, take some fruit and tea with you and enjoy it.

Magical Xinaliq.

Magical Xinaliq.

The edge of the village of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

The edge of the village of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

Meeting the local lads of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

Meeting the local lads of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

azerbaijan homestay

Our homestay and the mountains in behind, Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Loving the landscapes of Xinaliq

Loving the landscapes of Xinaliq

backpacking xinaliq jonny blair

Touring and exploring Xinaliq

Hanging out with the kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Hanging out with the kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Hanging out with the kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Hanging out with the kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

While touring the village I also played football with the kids. Football is truly a global game. All you need is a ball and you can play anywhere. I loved it.

Game on in Xinaliq! Proper country football in the mountains of Azerbaijan.

Game on in Xinaliq! Proper country football in the mountains of Azerbaijan.

xinaliq football team

Playing football with the kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Farming, agriculture and rearing and slaughtering animals is part of the lifestyle here, we got to see some lamb slaughtering. As a person who once worked in a butchery, this was nothing grotesque for me. For some it might be.

lamb killing xinaliq

A lamb being slaughtered in the mountain village of Xinaliq

A lamb for dinner

A lamb for dinner

xinaliq azerbaijan

Panny Yu, the Travelling Hong Kong Kong loved exploring Xinaliq.

Main Sights in Xinaliq
Aside from meeting the locals, watching the farming life, admiring the views and playing football, there is a kind of “village centre” of Xinaliq. Here are the actual “sights” of the village of Xinaliq that I recommend seeing:

1. Xinaliq Post Office – One of the most remote post offices in the world!

Xinaliq Post Office

Xinaliq Post Office

2. Xinaliq Peak – Head up to the Azerbaijan flag which marks the peak of the village – the views are tremendous. You’re top of the town!

peak xinaliq

At the highest point in the village looking down.

3. Xinaliq Mosque – Azerbaijan is a muslim state and so here you have a few Mosques, the nicest one was lower in the village near our homestay.

xinaliq azerbaijan

The Mosque sparkles in the mid-day sun in Xinaliq.

4. Xinaliq School – We were able to get a FULL guided tour of the school (a post for another day perhaps) of this cool Azerbaijani school!

The Main School in Xinaliq

The Main School in Xinaliq

xinaliq school

Inside the school in Xinaliq on a tour

5. Xinaliq Museum – What? There’s a museum here! Yes, it’s up in the hills and in one of the medieval style buildings.

There's even a medieval Xinaliq Museum to check out.

There’s even a medieval Xinaliq Museum to check out.

Leaving Xinaliq
Like the arrival, leaving Xinaliq is not entirely an easy thing. No bus stations of course so just ask your homestay hosts to arrange it for you. Our departure from Xinaliq was completely crazy!!!

lada ride xinaliq

In the back of the crazy Lada ride with 9 in the car!

xinaliq lada

Our crazy Lada in Xinaliq

We ended up sharing a tiny, old, bumpy Lada with 9 people for 3 hours through the rocky mountains. During the journey, one kid was sick and every second I thought the car was gonna konk out! It was totally crazy. After 3 hours we were back in Quba!

Immense mountains views from a stop on the way back out of Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Immense mountains views from a stop on the way back out of Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

Out bumpy ride out of Xinaliq

Our bumpy ride out of Xinaliq

Here are my videos from the entire experience all the way from Baku to Quba, then from Quba to Xinaliq and exploring Xinaliq. I made a lot of videos. I was just in awe of this region. Really, really amazing place to travel to – I completely recommend Xinaliq!! Backpacking in Azerbaijan is a magnificent adventure:

Baku to Quba:

Quba:

Quba to Xinaliq:

Homestay in Xinaliq:

Lamb Killing in Xinaliq:

Backpacking in Azerbaijan – the best of Xinaliq:

Tour of the School in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan:

Playing Football with Kids in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan:

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