2019silkroad wrote:Hi, we’re looking to cross the Caspian shortly from Baku to Turkmenbashi. Does anyone have more detailed info on the process for taking the Berkarar or Bagtiyar? The Port of Baku website doesn’t seem to allow us to select a date to reserve tickets. Is it best if we go to the ticket office in Baku and buy there? Any updates on whether they are likely to be sold out in September and what the frequency of departures is? Assume they both go from Alat only? Sorry for all the questions and thanks in advance for any light anyone can shed.
In case of interest to others, we failed miserably with our plan to cross by boat, but our back-up plan (and very acccommodating Turkmenistan guide) came to our rescue. Hopefully the below might help decide whether the ferry is worth taking:
We arrived in Baku early on 9 September. We had not budgeted long in Baku and planned to use that day to see the city and then catch a boat any time from the next day onwards to Turkmenbashi. Our Turkmen tourist visa commenced on 11 September, so we did not want to arrive before then. Our Turkmen tourist visa was only for 8 days, so we did not have the luxury of time if the boat was delayed by more than a day or two. As we understood boats go every 1-2 days, our plan seemed doable, although with some risk that it would go wrong.
Before we got to Baku we tried to book tickets on the Port of Baku website for the Bagtiyar/Berkarar. Unfortunately this did not seem to be working, as it proved impossible to select a date.
As a result, on arrival in Baku we headed straight to the ticket office in the port. The map which can be accessed via the Caravanistan website was invaluable as the ticket office is otherwise impossible to identify. As you go down the small road with the building displayed in orange on the map on your left (which is a largish building in a gated compound), you will see a checkpoint ahead. The ticket office is in a white container on your right. There is nothing on the container to indicate it is a ticket office. The door will probably be shut and locked. In the right hand corner there is a small window, partially obscured by a tree. If you knock on the window it will hopefully be answered by a man who can sell you tickets. We were there on 3 occasions between about 11am and 3pm and he was there (although one time he was out getting a drink) - it’s not clear when the office otherwise opens/closes.
We were given three ticket options: the lowest we can’t recall but may have been US$125. The second was US$160. The third, “VIP”, was US$185. Not wanting to be without a cabin we went for VIP. We handed over our passports and US$400 for two tickets but were told to come back in an hour and a half - not ideal to be without our passports and the change we were owed, but we went with it. On return we were given two tickets and without explanation only US$15 change - not clear why, but with the language barrier an issue and relieved to have just got the tickets we gave up the argument. The tickets said quite clearly that our tickets were for the Bagtiyar leaving at midnight from Alat on 11 September, with boarding at 11pm. Great, we thought, that wasn’t so bad.
Later in the evening we noticed that one of our names on the tickets was misspelled. When we asked our hotel reception to call Port of Baku the next morning (10 September) and check if that was an issue, we were told the Bagtiyar had already been and gone! Our complacency having got the better of us, we hadn’t left a phone number with the ticket guy (but nor had he asked us to leave one), and we had assumed we just had to turn up at Alat during the afternoon of 10 September. It hadn’t occurred to us that the boat could go before the time on the ticket. As a side note, if we had caught that boat it may have posed an issue for us as the ferry arrived in Turkmenbashi (we think) around 2pm on 10 September - query what would have happened given our Turkmen visas didn’t start until 11 September - presumably one of a) not being allowed to board in Azerbaijan, b) being held in immigration or on the boat in Turkmenbashi for at least 10 hours until midnight on 11 September, c) being deported immediately from Turkmenistan, clearly none of which are appealing. Does anyone know?
So on the morning of 10 September we went back to the ticket guy. Fortunately, he refunded us US$370 (big relief) and agreed to get us a ticket on the next boat. However, he did not know the departure of the next boat yet so we would have to come back the next day. Most of our communication at this point was via an obliging hotel receptionist over the phone, as our Russian/Azeri was very limited/non-existent, and the ticket guy’s English also extremely limited.
On the next day we went back and the ticket guy explained that the next boat wouldn’t go until midnight after the following day, so wouldn’t arrive until sometime on 13 September. Apparently bus transport to Alat would be thrown in. However, we would now be running heavily into our Turkmen visa, and if there were any further delays, might ruin our Turkmenistan trip entirely. Fearing the worst, we canned the ferry and booked flights on the direct Lufthansa flight from Baku to Ashgabat for about £205 each. Fortunately our Turkmenistan guide was ok with this, including the fact that we would arrive in Ashgabat rather than Turkmenbashi - this may be a luxury possible for tourist visas, although presumably not transit visas.
In the end, we were lucky to lose no time on our itinerary and only US$15, but it was a frustrating waste of time while in Baku. If you are able to converse fluently in Russian (or Azeri), don’t have any time constraints and no knock-on issues for your Turkmenistan plans, then I guess it’s doable but for most people I suspect it’s not worth it, which is a shame, as it should be a simple journey to make. Also note the (very empty) Lufthansa flight we took is due to end around 25 October, so unfortunately that will no longer work as a back-up.
As a post-script, it seems from the Maritime traffic website that the Bagtiyar didn’t leave from Alat again until 15 September. It’s unclear whether the next tickets we would have been issued would have been for that journey, or another (earlier) boat. It looks like the Berkarar is currently going between Olya in Russia and Turkmenbashi only.