Azerbaijan, located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, is home to 13 nature reserves and nine national parks, covering a total of 1.2 million acres that are teaming with diverse flora and fauna.
Caspian News has prepared a list of the five best spots in the country where Mother Nature will not disappoint and visitors can take in the breathtaking landscapes of Azerbaijan.
GOYGOL NATIONAL PARK
This 12,755 hectares (31,518 acres) of breathtaking mountainous landscape is also home to a nearly perfect crystal-clear lake as well as dense forests. Just four hours away from Baku, visitors can also hike up the Lesser Caucasus mountains, which rise 1,000 – 3,060 meters above sea level.
Goygol lake are rich in plant and animal species, where 80 different species of trees can be found, including Caucasian hornbeam, oriental oak and beech, ash and birch. More than 50 species of birds have their home near the lake, as well as the Caucasian red deer, roe deer, brown bear, billy goat, badger, forest cat, sable, lynx, hare and Caucasian mole.
The park was established in 1925, then called the Goygol State Reserve, where endangered species were protected. In 2017, with the promotion of ecotourism, the number of visitors to the park was around 350,000 – nearly twice as many as in 2016.
SHAHDAG NATIONAL PARK
Stretching over 322,492 acres, Shahdag National Park is considered the largest national park in the Caucasus region. Close to the border with Russia, the park covers six districts within Azerbaijan, namely Gabala, Gusar, Guba, Ismayilli, Oguz and Shamakhi, as well as the lands of the Ismayilli and Pirguli reserves.
This year the Park will celebrate its 10th birthday. The purpose of Shahdag National Park was initially to preserve rare trees, animals and birds species, restore the local ecosystem, protect natural complexes and develop ecotourism. Considered one of the most beautiful places in Azerbaijan, located on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Range, Shahdag Park's altitude of 1,300-1,600 meters abounds with broad-leaved forests, as well as foothill and alpine meadows.
Tree species include Caucasian oak, chestnut-leaved oak and Senna Macranthera, which flourishes with yellow flowers from December to April, and European wild pear as well as other rare plants.
Shahdag allows for ice climbing and alpine skiing in the winter, making it one of the Top 5 most popular places for winter vacations within the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, according to TurStat.
GYZYL-AGACH STATE RESERVE
Some people say that the name of the Gyzyl-Agach Reserve means "pink trees" thanks to pink flamingoes that live there. Launched in 1929, Gyzyl-Agach State Reserve, located on the southwestern coast of the Caspian, is the first state reserve in Azerbaijan and is a terminal point for birds throughout the Caspian region during their migration season.
Occupying 218,441 acres, reserve houses about 248 species of birds, including the grey lag goose and white-fronted goose, black francolin, glossy ibis, Eurasian spoonbill and many other rare birds.
Wild boar, jungle cat, badger, wolf, otter, jackal and fox are also known to live amongst an area whose waters are home to 54 different species of fish, which include pike perch, Caspian kutum, sazan, mullet and salmon.
ZANGEZUR NATIONAL PARK
Zangezur National Park stretches over 105,753 acres of Ordubad district of Azerbaijan. The park was created to preserve the pristine wilderness of the area which has a distinctive climate, terrain and other geographical features, as well as to preserve and restore the populations of rare animals, like the Transcaucasian mouflon, leopard, bezoar goat, Caucasian black grouse, brown bear and striped hyena.
As many as 58 rare animal species inhabit the park, including leopard, white-tail sea eagle, bezoar goat, golden eagle, the mountain sheep-mouflon and little bustard. Zangezur became a home for multifarious mammal species as well, including the Caucasian mouflon, bezoar goat, southern horseshoe bat, porcupine, manul and blazilius horseshoe bat.
HIRKAN NATIONAL PARK
Opened in 2004, Hirkan National Park is covered by picturesque forests and bright greenery of thanks to numerous plants, which stretch over 99,726 acres.
Hirkan is home to one third of all trees and bush species found in Azerbaijan, which include about 1,900 species like Hirkan boxwood, the iron tree, the chestnut tree oak, figs, the Hirkan pear, the Lankaran acacia and the Caucasian persimmon.