Nestled in the Lower Caucasus Mountains a short distance from Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second city sits on the almost elusive Lake Goygol. The picturesque lake surrounded by dense forest was only recently opened to the public. Here’s how to take a day trip to one of Azerbaijan’s most beautiful spots.
Why visit Lake Goygol
Lake Goygol rates as Azerbaijan’s most beautiful lake. A 12th-century earthquake created the mountain lake, which sits 1500 metres (4921 feet) above sea level and attracts thousands of local tourists each year. The deep blue lake surrounded by lush forests in the Lower Caucasus Mountains stretches for almost 3 kilometres (1.9 miles). A variety of wildlife, including several species of birds and fish, call the area home too.
But that’s not the only appeal. Several German settlers once formed villages in the nearby mountains before the Soviets moved them away. A hint of German culture hangs in the air with a Lutheran Church and a few remaining monuments. Given that until recently Lake Goygol was off-limits to tourists, those who get the chance to visit this photogenic spot near Ganja should feel privileged.
When is the best time to visit
Because of Lake Goygol’s altitude, the air temperatures will be a welcome change from Azerbaijan’s summer. The vast majority of tourists visit in either spring or summer. But, each season brings a different feel and ambience. The biggest tip, however, will be to avoid weekends when possible to steer clear of the crowds.
How to get to Lake Goygol
Lake Goygol is just 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Ganja. Tourists can drive, take the marshrutka or hire a taxi. Each has its own advantages and pitfalls.
Budget travellers and those looking for a local experience might want to ride the minibus, which costs a few dollars. But finding out the bus route and schedule will be almost impossible before arriving in Ganja. Expect vagaries and a lot of waiting when relying on the marshrutka.
The mountain road leading towards the lake boasts incredible scenery and views of the Lower Caucasus Mountains. Having a set of wheels or a driver provides the flexibility to stop for photographs and to savour the sights. However, the road quality and conditions are poor. Taxis also know they have a monopoly and charge high fares.
Before visiting Goygol, tourists should be aware that while the lake itself is attractive, strict limitations prevent visitors from having uninterrupted access. The road goes to a viewing platform and tourists are unable to leave this zone. Both hiking and exploring the lake, as of 2018, are prohibited. The reason is the current disputed border with Armenia. Depending on when you travel, the viewing areas around the lake might be crowded with locals jostling for space. A lakeside café overlooking the lake provides a stunning place to enjoy the views.
Getting the most out of a day trip
Combine a day trip to Lake Goygol with experiencing the natural beauty and villages along the mountainous route. Visitors with the flexibility can stop by and see rural Azerbaijan up close and personal. Expect the trip to Lake Goygol to take at least half a day to snap a few photographs, up to a full day to experience everything the lake and nearby villages have to offer.