Azerbaijan’s green tourism initiatives
    From mountains to volcanoes

    ANALYTICS  17 June 2024 - 14:53

    Khazar Akhundov

    A number of projects aimed at the development of new tourist destinations are being implemented in Azerbaijan, in particular, work is underway to develop the ecological direction. The potential for this is very extensive, national parks have been created in Azerbaijan and new ones are planned to be formed, equestrian, hiking and mountaineering routes are in operation in the picturesque mountain forests of the Greater Caucasus, and the natural potential of the Lesser Caucasus will be developed as the Karabakh region is demined. Over three hundred active mud volcanoes are also located in Azerbaijan: in order to familiarize tourists with this rare natural phenomenon, a specialized tourist complex has been created in the Absheron region, the opening ceremony of which was recently attended by the head of state.

    In recent years, many alternative types of tourism, including sports, ethnographic-historical and ecological, have become widespread all over the world, especially in Europe, as well as in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, on the African continent. Common to these trends is the movement of tourists from the urbanized urban environment to the natural area, acquaintance with the unique phenomena of the biosphere. Ecological tourism is focused on the use of various resources of wild nature - mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, other picturesque landscapes and the creation of a complex tourist product on this basis. Tourists visit nature reserves and national parks, climb mountains or go boating on mountain rivers, descend into caves, dive into the depths of the sea with scuba diving or go hiking in the forests on horses, bicycles, while getting acquainted with local culture and customs, viewing unusual natural sights.

    Azerbaijan is still taking its first steps in the development of eco-tourism, but given the richness of natural landscapes, diversity of climatic zones, as well as fauna and flora, our country has a very large potential for the development of this destination. Such a rare natural phenomenon as mud volcanoes can be attributed to the unique opportunities of our country. Out of about 2000 mud volcanoes known on the planet, about 700 of them are located in the east of Azerbaijan, and 350 of them are active volcanoes. Areas with volcanic activity are located mainly on the Absheron Peninsula and a nearby group of islands in the Caspian Sea, as well as in Shamakhi, Gobustan and southeastern Shirvan.

    Despite the fact that tourist groups periodically visit the mud volcanoes, there was a need to organize recreational infrastructure and create special tour products here. In April 2021, with the participation of the head of state, the foundation of the Gulinj mud volcano tour complex was laid at an altitude of 235 meters above sea level, 59 kilometres southwest of Baku, about 17 kilometres northwest of Gobustan settlement in Absheron district. This place is recognized as optimal, from here there is a panorama of the largest nearby mud volcano "Toragay" and three groups of other volcanoes, at the same time nearby is Gobustan reserve. All these factors significantly increase the tourism potential and, accordingly, the future attendance of the complex.

    Over the past three years, a tourist complex of mud volcanoes was built on the territory of 12 hectares, the opening ceremony of which was attended by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on June 13.

    According to Fuad Naghiyev, chairman of the State Tourism Agency, an administrative building and a tourist information centre consisting of an exhibition hall and a workshop have been erected on the territory of the complex. The centre provides information about the characteristics of mud volcanoes, their natural and healing properties, as well as a model of a mud volcano. About 80 rare minerals collected from all over Azerbaijan are also presented here, and master classes on pottery and oil painting are planned to be organized in the workshop. The exhibition hall dedicated to the history of nature of Azerbaijan presents interesting exhibits - skeletons of wild and domestic animals - representatives of Azerbaijani and world fauna, as well as insects, amphibians and reptiles.

    There are conditions for observing mud volcanoes, including the Gilinj volcano in the immediate vicinity: these volcanoes consist of 8 hills arranged in a row, and the sopochnaya breccia (large ground rocks) covering a large area formed two strips extending to the northeast. There are pedestrian paths, a panoramic viewpoint and a platform where one can climb up to observe the surrounding mud volcanoes from a height. A convenient parking lot has been created in the complex, ATV rentals will be available to tourists, and a restaurant for 110 people has been built.

    On the territory of the tourist complex, conditions have been created for observing mud volcanoes, including the Gilinj volcano in the immediate vicinity: these volcanoes consist of 8 hills arranged in a row, and the hill breccia (large soil rocks), covering a large area, formed two stripes extending to the northeast. Walking paths have been laid here, a panoramic viewing point and a platform have been created, upon climbing to which you can observe the mud volcanoes located around from a height. The complex has convenient parking, ATV rentals will be available to tourists, and a restaurant for 110 people has been built.

    Let us recall that, on the initiative of the head of state, a tourist complex with a similar purpose - the State Historical, Cultural and Natural Reserve "Yanardag" - was opened in June 2019. Located 27 km north of Baku, near the village of Mehemmedi, on the slope of a limestone hill, Yanardag is famous for its undying flames of flammable natural gas. This ancient natural monument was described in the travels of Marco Polo and was in the past a place of worship for followers of the Zoroastrian religion. As part of the work carried out, a museum with three thematic zones, an amphitheater for 500 people intended for open-air concerts, craft workshops and shops, a souvenir sales point, parking, etc. were created on the territory of the reserve with an area of 64.55 hectares.

    "Ecological tourism occupies one of the first places among recreational destinations in the world. Important works on development of ecological tourism will be realized in Azerbaijan within the framework of preparations for the UN COP29 climate conference and in the following period", said Muzaffar Agakarimov, Advisor of the Azerbaijan Tourism Association, at the beginning of the year.

    One of the important directions of ecological tourism is the formation of recreational infrastructure in national parks and natural and historical reserves. Since 2003, ten national parks have been created on the territory of the republic, occupying about 4% of the total territory of Azerbaijan. According to the executive director of the Azerbaijan Ecotourism Association Samir Dubendi, the ecotourism infrastructure in the territory of domestic national parks is not yet sufficiently developed, and it is necessary, based on international experience, to create conditions for comfortable movement and recreation of tourists, create routes and develop electronic maps of such parks, etc..

    Currently, specialists from the State Tourism Agency and the Tourism Board in cooperation with experts from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources are working in this direction: in particular, since last year, work has been underway to create a biosphere reserve on the territory of Zagatala and Balakyan. This biosphere reserve will combine the features of a nature reserve and a national park, here, together with the protection of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, conditions for the development of ecological tourism will be created.

    The development of ecological tourism in the Karabakh region looks very promising. As Shusha, Lachin, Kalbajar, Gubadli, Zangilan, Fuzuli and Khojavand districts are revitalized, competitive tourist destinations will be formed here. In particular, the main emphasis will be placed on the use of the opportunities of picturesque mountain and forest landscapes, the presence here of rushing rivers and lakes, all this will allow to actively develop mountaineering and winter sports, use thermal and hunting potential, promote such areas as "green", ethnographic, agro-tourism. It is predicted that by 2030, more than 2,000 jobs in the tourism sector will be created in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur.

    In particular, work is already underway to create a recreational and balneological zone in Kyalbajar, which is rich in thermal and mineral healing springs, including the restoration of a medical and recreational center in Istisu settlement. In turn, a beach and recreation centre is being created in Lachin district on the bank of the Khakari River, ancient caves called Abdallar have been restored in the vicinity of the city, and this area will be involved in the development of ethnographic and ecological tourism. The State Tourism Agency specialists are working on the design of objects intended for the development of nature tourism in Hadrut settlement: works on the creation of Sugovushan recreational park are underway. The establishment of the Tugh State Historical-Architectural and Natural Reserve in the historical territory of Tugh village of Khojavand district is also among the priorities of ecological destination development. The relevant decree was signed by the head of state in June last year.





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