If you're looking for oil, good caviar or a jumping-off point for a trek into the Caucasus Mountains, this small country sandwiched between Russia and Iran on the Caspian Sea may be just the place. Baku is one of the region's more lively cities, a boomtown again after years of Soviet stagnation. The rest of Azerbaijan, however, remains largely underdeveloped, with a barren mountainous landscape, poor infrastructure and cumbersome post-Soviet bureaucracy. Azerbaijan isn't an easy place to navigate for the average traveler, but it's worth a few days on an itinerary of the region, if only to get a flavor of the entrepreneurial spirit thriving in the country as it seems on the verge of unlocking the economic potential of its offshore oil reserves.

With completion in 2006 of the BTC pipeline (from Baku on the Caspian Sea through Tbilisi, Georgia, to Ceyhan, a Turkish port on the Mediterranean), Azerbaijan has an important tool to help it develop its offshore oil reserves. The country’s strategtic location just north of Iran makes it a player in the international oil game.

Note that the border with Armenia remains closed as a result of ongoing separatist activity and some violence in the province of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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