The beach season in Azerbaijan's capital city officially starts on 15 June and can last until mid-October, when the temperature there is slightly below 30 degrees. There is a lot of yellow sand on all beaches in Baku, and the water is shallow in most places, which makes them attractive for almost everyone – adults and children, regardless of swimming ability.
However, not everything is so sunny on the Baku coast of the Caspian. For example, the fact that local or foreign tourists cannot sunbathe on the coast for free may put them off. The problem of, in effect, private beaches has been a problem for several years now. You have to pay for everything there – for parking, beach tables and umbrellas that you use. Bringing your own food, such as watermelon, is also prohibited, according to signs that mark the entrance of the beaches.
But that doesn’t mean there are no free beaches in Baku. The problem? People who come to those beaches complain that they are dirty. There is a lot of rubbish on the coast and in the sea, and there are no bins, changing rooms or shower booths.
“Unfortunately, beaches in Azerbaijan are dirty. The water, the sand and the people are wonderful. It is a good thing that they are free, but there is a lot of glass and plastic bottles and other garbage on the beach”, an American tourist told Meydan TV.
Local tourists complain that there are no garbage receptacles. They believe that this leads to people simply throwing their trash everywhere.
“Somebody has to take care of that, there is only one barrel for rubbish, but that is not enough”, a local person told us.
You have to pay for water in the sea
Not everyone can afford to pay to use clean beaches. However, this year, the Baku mayor's office decided to tackle this issue seriously, and almost right at the start of the beach season it said that it was illegal to charge an entry fee at the beaches.
Officials from the Baku executive authorities’ trade and services department have raided many beaches. During those raids, they removed barriers and price signs. They warned entrepreneurs that access to the beaches must be free.
“We found out that on some of the beaches visitors were charged simply for entry. The purpose of the raids is to prevent something like that happening […] we will continue to carry out periodic monitoring missions”, Bayram Hasanov, senior consultant at the trade and services department of the Baku executive authorities, promised reporters.
In reality, it turned out that the raids did not improve the situation much. The barriers were removed indeed, but you will still have to pay for using the tables and umbrellas, and they will not let you in with your own food either. Drinks and food on the beach are much more expensive than at a marketplace.
Also in early August, many pro-government media outlets reported the opening of public beaches in Baku “as an alternative to private beaches” at the initiative of Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the Azerbaijani president. They promised to open a total of seven such beaches with umbrellas, changing rooms, shower booths, bathrooms, and gazebos. They also promised that "services will be available for free” on those beaches.
However, a local lady who has already been to one of the new public beaches told us that visitors are asked to pay for using tables and umbrellas there. People who refuse to pay are asked to leave the beach.
Pay beaches impede development of tourism
In the past few years, after the fall in oil prices, the Azerbaijani government has described development of tourism as one of its priorities in the non-oil sector. Last year, Bloomberg put the country in the top 10 fastest-growing travel destinations of 2018.
According to official statistics, the number of foreign tourists who visited Azerbaijan in the first five months of 2019 was 1.4m, which is 6.5 per cent more on last year. It is not surprising that many of them are attracted by the warm sea, the yellow sand and the moderate climate. However, it turned out that the problem of pay beaches, which many people are concerned about, could not be solved this year either.