Caspian sea ferry

caspian sea ferry

The Nakchivan, on his way to Aktau

There are 2 routes over the Caspian Sea that take passengers on board; both are cargo ships that run without a set timetable. One connects Baku in Azerbaijan to Aktau in Kazakhstan, the other runs between Baku and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan. This means there is no passenger ferry service over the Caspian Sea to Iran or to Russia.

Some boats, but not all, have recently started arriving and departing in Alat, 70 km north of Baku, instead of in Baku.

Although some people say it is easy to take the ferry, the rules change all the time and it usually comes with a fair bit of uncertainty and confusion. Make sure you budget enough extra days and are flexible with your schedule, so taking the ferry can become a fun and rewarding experience instead of a nerve-wrecking one.

Timetable
Tickets and prices
Your vehicle on the ferry
Azerbaijan ports: Baku & Alat
Aktau port
Turkmenbashi port
The journey

Why (not) take the ferry?

To finish off this long article, a little overview:

Plus

  • no airplanes involved
  • a unique traveling experience
  • beautiful scenery and sunsets

Minus

  • could be expensive when traveling by car
  • possibly a lot of frustration and lost time, especially on the Baku-Aktau line
  • optional germs

Comments

  1. Junebug says

    Here is my question – it is about the Azeri visa application. In order to apply for it, you need to have a confirmed hotel booking. If the ferry schedule from Turkmenbashi to Baku is unsure, does anyone have a hack/accommodation recommendation for getting the Baku hotel booking, and then either canceling it or negotiating the dates so that you can check-in on whatever date you eventually arrive in Baku (I guess not, this would be a totally non-beneficial arrangement for the hotel)…? Or is it just a case of book the hotel at the earliest date possible for you to arrive based on 14 hrs for the ferry and forfeit the hotel nights, if your ferry ends up being stuck for a few days….

    Thanks a lot!

    • says

      Booking.com has many hotels where you can cancel after booking without paying a fee, many travel agents can do the same if the embassy does not accept booking.com (they also know that trick)

  2. Ian Rushby says

    Sold me the idea. As an alternative to Iran /Turkmenistan border and visa expense and hassle.
    I’m aiming for mid/late January, can’t wait :-)

  3. says

    We’ve just travelled on the ‘Professor Gul’ from Baku to Aktau. The ferry looks very like the Nakchivan pictured. We had a fairly clean cabin with attached toilet for which we paid 15 Azeri manat on top of the ticket price of about $110. It took 12 hours to leave Baku after we’d boarded and we were anchored off Aktau for two full days and nights nights during which time it got quite cold on board. Pack plenty of food, extra blankets and good books.

  4. mikael says

    The easy way of checking for a ferry is having the nice lady at the hostel call. Took her 5 mins to ascertain that theres a ferry for Aktau tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

    • says

      In Aktau. Ferry was fine. Trainferry for people on foot and bike from old port. Cars go from the new port afaik.

      Cabin slept five but was okay. Reasonable shower/toilet across the hall. We got fed four square meals a day. Cost us eight manats each. No ramp scam or other shenanigans but either we offended them or passengers are just lowest in the hierachy. Nothing major tho.

  5. says

    Hi,

    we are going to visit Central Asia with my wife on two motorbikes. As far as we know, it is better to get transit visa in Azerbaian, to avoid paying on Georgia/Azer border. How does it look with ferry than? Transit visa remain active for 3 days. What if we will wait on the border for info ‘tomorrow ferry will go out’, get on to the motorbikes and catch it in one day? Than during the cruise our visas will lost its validity. What if we will come into Aktau without visas? (because of it’s duration).

    By the way – awesome site!

    take care,
    Asia & Dex

    • says

      Hi guys,

      you don’t need to have a valid Azeri visa to come into Kazakhstan, just a valid Kazakh visa. It is still a Long drive to the port from Georgian border, I don’t know how you will make it in time to catch the Ferry.

      PS: You can show appreciation for the site with a link back from yours! Thank you!

  6. mikael says

    Is it just my phone that doesn’t really show the location of neither port nor ticket office? Would be more helpful if it did. Got plenty of maps of Baku. :-)

      • mikael says

        No, just the map being uncooperative. If I was to describe how to find it I’d say follow the big coastal road east past the port terminal, a construction site and a park. You will hit the railroad tracks… just go right at the tracks that link up with a small road to the port and hang left for about 50-100 meter to find the ticket office. Opens around 15.30. Or have the hostel/hotel call them to ask if the ferry is sailing that day.

        However I don’t get the 7 km ne for the port reference. Looks like both customs and ferries are just 50 meters down the street from the ticket office.

        Cheers Mikael

        • mikael says

          Hang _right_ for 50-100 meters for the ticket office.

          For the ferry the text says both 7 km n and ne of ticket office and neither makes much sense if you check a map.

          • mikael says

            I think the ticket office is back in its old place. The carferries may leave from the new port but its 6-7 km east of old port along the coastal road.

            I read that they prefer sending bicycles with the trainferry, which I guess still leaves from the old port.

            Take with lots of salt. I can try to update with my experiences, but fornow I’m waiting for my Kasakh visa. 3 days for a double entry 90 day. 50 dollar for a Danish citizen. I came early which meant I was there when the consular clerk showed up and he had no problems with letting me in early. So no waiting.

            Cheers
            Mikael

  7. Cem says

    Thanks for the detailed explanation and your helpful log.
    Next week on May,16th, I am going to depart with my motorcycle from Istanbul and planing to be in Baku on May 22nd. From there I will try to take the ferry to Turkmenbashi. As soon as I land on Turkmenbashi I will ride to Ashgabat. After one day stop there I will take the route to Dashoguz (really long way). Does anybody have any suggestions for this route from Ashgabat to Dashoguz ?

  8. xavier says

    Hi
    thanks for your detailled and useful website, it is the best site for planning a trip in central asia!
    looks like there has been an update on aktau ferry prices though since 1st of april 2014!
    we are currently trying to get on board but price is 100dollars per m of car and 110 per person…
    it was confirmed by viktoria (english speaking girl there) who explained the new chairman of ferry service decided to raise the fees and it is apparently not bargainable…
    hope it helps!
    thanks again!
    xav

  9. says

    What a great detailed posting. This route fascinates me and I am considering it this fall/winter. I travel with out a vehicle, so would you just go ahead and fly this part?
    Also, all of the Stans seem daunting with all the Visas ( I am American) how bad are they?
    Glad I discovered you today, I look forward to reading more!

  10. says

    I enjoyed the read so thanks to all for the information and story’s/comments etc., for me, it is nice to see there is still somewhere in the World unorganised by overpaid bureaucrats, and that you risk everything if you want to cross a small sea (full of oil wells). On the crossing, I think I would sleep in a life boat – if they have any?

  11. says

    I took the ferry from Baku to Aktau on 26/11. I boarded the boat the same night I went to the port to make enquiries. The boat left from Baku old port and I bought my ticket there. Ticket was $110 + $10 for ‘baggage’ which I think was probably a bribe for the police.
    The ship I sailed on was the Qarabag (Karalbakh) a 2005 Ro-Ro boat 154m in length.
    The boat left port the afternoon after I boarded, arrived in Aktau waters 30 hours later. It docked the following morning due to weather.
    Meals were available for 2 manat and access to the bridge encouraged. I shared a four bunk cabin with one other Azeri, this was $5, they hadn’t cleaned it in a while.
    Passport control came on board at Aktau and there were no issues, was driven to customs and this was fine too.
    Having a bicycle was no issue.

  12. arthur says

    Hello everyone.

    I would like to know if the ferry between Türkmenba&y and Bakou is running in winter. I’m thinking of using it on late december 2013.

    Thanks a lot for your help.

  13. Peter says

    Just to give you an idea what we did in the past 4 weeks:
    Germany – started from Nuremberg
    Poland – Krakow
    Ukraine – Lvow, Kiev, Donetsk
    Russia – Volgograd, Astrakhan
    Kazakhstan – Atyrau, Aktobe, Aralsk, Kyzylorda, Shymkent
    Kirgisia – Bishkek, Osh
    Usbekistan – Tashkent, Samarkand, Buchara
    Turkmenistan – Mary, Ashgabat, Turkmenbashy
    Azerbaidschan – Baku, Gence
    Georgia – Tbilisi
    Turkey – Trabzon, Bolu, Istanbul
    Greece – Igoumenitsa
    Ferry to Trieste /Italy
    Germany – Nuremberg
    Total: 14.000km in 32 days
    Cars: 4x “reinforced” Volkswagen Amarok Pickup & 1x Toyota Landcruiser

    “once-in-a-lifetime-experience”

    Bye, Peter

  14. Peter says

    Took the Ferry from Turkmenbashy to Baku on 01 September 2013. We were 9 People with 5 cars on the way back to Europe from a Silk Road Expedition
    Our experience in short:
    – Took us 45 hours to get on the ship – no real timetable available
    – Name of the vessel: BF Emirov – built 1983 in East Germany
    – Ship in bad condition, hygenic conditions extremely bad
    – Bring sleeping bags and Moskito Repellent
    – Crew (Aserbaidshan) was very nice, you can always visit the Bridge, are invited for tea and vodka
    – ship has 2 “better” cabins – in Addition to USD 30 for the Standard cabin you pay another USD 25 to get those
    – ship kitchen serves you meals and breakfast – nothing Special but acceptable under the circumstances
    – had to wait 10 hours outside port of Baku before entering the port. Officially “due to bad weather and the wind” but obviously Crew wanted to save Money by not being in the port for too Long
    – ship was empty except for about 5 trucks and our 5 cars
    – ship came into turkmenbashy absolutely packed with trucks – it took about 6 hours until it was unloaded
    – we had an agency helping us with procedures for getting on the ship
    – getting through passport and customs control with our vehicles leaving Turkmenistan took about 4 hours. Started at midnight, finished about 4 a.m., then slept in the cars until the late morning. ship then left at 3 p.m.
    – Absolutely “not nice to have experience” but no alternative possible if you want to get home. Iran is no alternative.

    Any questions? Shoot me a mail!
    Bye from Germany, Peter

    • Sumit says

      Hi Peter,
      It was great to go through your write up. We are planning to cross Caspian during June 2014.
      We will cross Caspian from Turkmenbasi to Baku with our own vehicles-4 nos SUVs.
      Can you suggest any agency whose help can be sought while crossing the sea?
      Wait for your reply.

    • Charles says

      Peter,

      Can you tell me what Turkmen visa you had? I’ve read that Transit visas will not be issued by Turkmenistan if you plan to exit via the ferry port across the Caspian Sea which is currently our intention.

      • says

        Where have you read that, Charles? Many people have passed through the port on their way out of Turkmenistan on a transit visa. I have never heard of such a thing.

        • Charles says

          Thank you Steven. The book was The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook by Chris Scott, the latest edition I think. Maybe that part was a little out of date.

          (Brilliant website here, I’ll report back anything useful when we’ve done the trip. Almaty (KZ) to London (UK) through ~30 countries and 3 disputed territories.)

  15. T says

    Hej, since finding out when a boat acutally leaves seems to be at least an annoying issue, did anyone try the AIS monitor?:
    http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/

    I can see the NAKHICHEVAN is just on the way to Turkmenbashi, and I’m pretty sure also the other vessels will have AIS even in this part of the world.

    So knowing the name of the boat(s) that take passengers and an internet connection should suffice – just check in the morning if a relevant boat is at least on the way to the departure port …

      • T says

        Just take note: I have never been in the area (but planning to go), so not sure how reliable this works.

        However, Wikipedia says about AIS:
        “The International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires AIS to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships with gross tonnage (GT) of 300 or more tons, and all passenger ships regardless of size”

  16. Jay says

    Hi Steven

    I am hitching through Central Asia and have arrived at Aktau hoping to catch the ferry to Baku. It appears the ticket office for the ferry has moved. It is now at 2-33 under the name Sea Ferry Management. No English was spoken but she used google translate and we were able to communicate. They are open 9:00 – 6:00 on weekdays. I tried purchasing a ticket directly at the port office and it seemed not possible. Bus 4 will take you out to the port much cheaper than a cab.

    • Michael says

      Hi Jay,
      how did it go with the ferry? How long have you had to wait all together? Am planning to take the same ferry next month. Anyone else any up-to-date information?

      • says

        Took the boat last month, waited for 2 days but used a tour operator to arrange the sailing. Everything is still as written on this page, good luck!

    • says

      hey guys, I just left the ferry ticket office a few hours ago and now I am using the awesome wifi in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. The office is on the side of the building of 2-33 like Jay said. The lady at the ticket window didn’t speak English, but some girls in the office did and they helped to translate for me. There was a boat leaving today which is Thursday, but I wasn’t ready to leave yet because im waiting for my Azerbaijan visa. She took my passport and made a copy and filed it away. She also took down my contact info and my hotel name. The other girl said that the next boat would be leaving either Friday or Saturday of next week.

  17. walter says

    Hi Steven,
    My wife and I will be taking the Baku-Turkmanbashi ferry somewhere in August. We will be travelling overland from Brussels to Bangkok.
    We are now preparing our visa application for Turkmenistan at the Turkmen embassy in Brussels and we are forced to indicate a fixed entry date on the visa application.
    How does one give a fixed entry date if the ferry schedule is not fixed??? How did you handle this or would you handle this? Would it be OK to try to buy a ticket for the ferry one day before the fixed entry date (and thus arrive at the rightdate I suppose?)? If there is no ferry that day, I’ll just wait for the next one. I cannot imagine Turkmen officials sending us back if we arrive 2 or 3 days after the fixed date…
    Can you give us your thoughts on this Gordian knot?

    • says

      Hi Walter,

      its the same for everyone, as I have said many times before, there is no solution, you will have to be lucky. What you can do is arrive before your visa starts and wait in the ferry terminal of Turkmenbashi until you are allowed in. If you arrive late, you will be sent back, have to rush across the country or bribe someone. Only other solution is to get a tourist visa.

  18. Jesse says

    Hi,
    I’m on a Around the World in 80 Days trip (taking no flights). My route requires I go thru Baku to Aktau as I can’t bother with the Turk/Uzbek visa processes. I’m taking that ferry to Aktau around May 16-20. Have you heard of any good stories making that sea crossing?

  19. Lawrence says

    Hi, i tried asking this question on the forum, but my (old) computer keeps saying it is not going through..so sorry for that.

    Is this ferry still running ( I am hoping to take it June/July 2013) and if so where would you recommend getting an Azeri visa..it sounds like turkmen is best done in Dushanbe. Thanks for your help.

    • says

      Hi Lawrence, I need to spend some time to make the forum spam-proof, so for now I have to approve every post before it becomes visible. Takes a few days since I’m on the road, but I will get back to all questions. So, I answered you on the forum!

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