Information about the night train from Tbilisi to Baku

Getting a visa in Washington, DC takes about 3 weeks. You should have a scanned copy of the national ID card and a signed letter of invitation from the party you are visiting.

Purchasing the Ticket: At the Tbilisi central train station (easily accessible by subway) you need to ask which counter to buy the night train ticket to Baku. It has previously been reported that you purchase it at counter 14, but that is not always the case. It seems they just arbitrarily point you to a clerk that speaks English, and there is no set window. The ticket is 54.09 GEL (about $33) and the train leaves Tbilisi daily at 16:30.

The Train Ticket

Departing: There are no English instructions on which platform the train will leave from, however it appears  that there were only a handful of main tracks, and you just need to look for the blue and white train cars that say "Tbilisi-Baki" (they look like something out of a movie from 75 years ago). The cabin attendants are very nice, but do not speak English. It is easy enough to find your assigned berth, as the carriage number and seat number are printed on your ticket in English. The attendants will take your passport and half of your ticket when you board the train... do not be alarmed. They will return it shortly.

The Trip: Some have reported that you had to pay 7 GEL for bedding and a towel, this is not the case. They will deliver the bedding in a plastic bag about an hour before the sunset. The bathrooms are actually not as bad as you may here, functioning sink and actual toilet, but no toilet seat, so bring seat covers. There is no food or water available on the train, so be sure and bring enough for the evening and morning. I have heard that the train is often crowded in the summer, but when in early September there are only two people assigned per berth, which means that no one has to take the upper bunks. Do not be alarmed if the train stops frequently and moves really slowly.

The Border: About an hour or two after you leave Tbilisi you will reach the Georgian border. Someone will come through and collect your passports and deliver them back to you about 45 minutes later with a Georgian exit stamp and an Azerbaijan customs form. The customs form for Azerbaijan is pretty straight forward, although some of the translations on the English version were not that clear. The important thing is to indicate how many bags you are traveling with. Then the train will continue for about an hour before you reach the Azerbaijan border. When you reach the Azerbaijan border some officials in uniform will come through the train and collect the passports again. They will then begin to search the entire train, including your bags. They give special attention to any books that you have on the region (A Cultural Guide to Azerbaijan, The Lonely Planet Guide, etc.)... they are looking for any mention of Armenia or religion. If you are American, they will tell you that you need to follow a guard to the back of the train. At the end of the train car is interview room where a customs officer scans your passport, takes a photograph, and asks me a series of questions, like what sites in Baku I wanted to see... it is pretty detailed. IMPORTANT: ensure that your visa for Azerbaijan begins on the DEPARTURE date, and not the arrival date in Baku. You will hit the Azerbaijan border about 8 PM, and they may not let you in the country because your visa does not start until the next day. Even if they do let you in, it could delay your customs departure from Azerbaijan because of the error. The customs officials speak very limited English, and once the interviews are complete, they stamp your passport and return it to you.

After the search of the train is complete and the passports are examined, the train continues moving. At this point you can sleep for most of the night. The air conditioner works well, but may only function when the train is at a high speed (which is rarely) so it can be a bit warm in the cabin.

Arrival: It's amazing that they have all the delays and searches timed so perfectly. You may read online that the train is often late, but based on what you hear from passengers, it seems to always arrive on time.

Overall it is a fun experience (if a bit stressful at the border) and you will be glad you did it if you like adventure. But, you may also want to consider flying between Tbilisi and Baku.