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Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Mon May 18, 2015 11:52 am
by steven
The comment section on the Caspian Sea ferry article was getting out of hand and has been closed. Please post all updates and questions regarding crossing the Caspian here.

Be sure to read the article first!

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Wed May 27, 2015 3:31 am
by Linda
Baku, May 27; about Baku-Aktau

The situation with the two ports (Baku, Alat) is following: Ferries from Baku only take trucks and cars, no individual passengers like hitchhikers or cyclists. Ferries from Alat only take trains and passengers, no cars. If you are a cyclist this is really horrible, because tickets just can be bought in Baku the day the ferry will depart.

We got Aminas number (+994 55 555 17 57), please call her only around 10-11 am. She doesn't speak English, just Azeri and Russian. Ticket office is located as described in the article.

We are two cyclists, waiting now for the ferry. So what I write now is not proved yet: Cause we would have to cycle to Alat, we try to hitchhike onto the Baku-Aktau ferry. This means, we found someone with a minivan who gives us a lift to enter the ferry in Baku. So we are not cyclists anylonger... If we can trust the girls from the ticket office, this is no problem! 110$/M per person we heard.

So if you are cyclists, just keep asking around, I think there are always some travellers by minibus/car who may help you!

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 1:38 pm
by Linda
It worked out! At the end we were three cyclists as passengers of a minivan, bicycles put on the top... Baku-Aktau 110$ p.P or the same amount converted in Manat.
The ferry looked better than expected, there were cabins and food for free (first they tried to make some dollars with us, but do not let them fool you!).

And btw: Our ferry came from Alat... This means we - as cyclists - would have had to cycle 70km to Alat for embarking, and then return by ferry to Baku to let lorries and cars embark. Well, imagine...!

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 2:19 pm
by Mike
This was my experience of crossing - of course, I can't guarantee that anyone else's will be exactly the same, but I hope it will be useful info.

The Caspian Hostel in Baku is very helpful in phoning the shipping company - as the main backpacker place in the city, they get a lot of people asking. I first asked them to phone on a Friday, these were the results of successive calls:

Friday: no
Saturday: no
Sunday morning: maybe one tonight, maybe tomorrow
Sunday afternoon: not tonight, probably tomorrow
Monday morning (after I'd just got back from the Turkmenistan embassy with the news that I wouldn't be going there): definitely going today. I presume someone must have phoned again while I was having a cup of tea at the hostel, because the timing changed from the initial "leaving in the early hours of the morning, ticket office will open in the evening" to "leaving at about 10pm, ticket office opens at 4pm" to "leaving at about 7pm, go and get the ticket NOW"

So three days from first enquiry to departure, which isn't too bad - certainly a lot less than some people have had to wait. The hostel arranged a taxi to the ticket office, which I had to take as I'd never have found it by myself (there's no sign). Ticket cost 110 USD. Departure was from Alat - the hostel tried to arrange a taxi there too, but it would have cost 50 manat and I wasn't going to pay that when I knew there was a bus! The 195 stops directly opposite the port (don't go all the way into Alat town) - there's a big sign by the road saying "Baku International Sea Port", it's impossible to miss. Unfortunately you then need to cross a major highway to get there (no bridge or subway), but that's only a minor inconvenience. The port is about ten minutes' walk from the turning off the main road.

The timetable of events was as follows:

Monday, 2pm: leave Baku
4pm: arrive at port
6pm: passport control and customs. There was a bit of a delay here because the Azeri officials didn't know about the Kazakhstan visa-free scheme, so one of them had to go off and check that two French and one UK citizen would be allowed off at Aktau with no visas.
7pm: boarded ship (Merkuri-1), shown to cabin - shared between two, no extra charge.
11pm: left port. The only one of us who spoke any Russian found out from a crew member that we would be calling at Baku, which none of us had realised when we got on, otherwise we could have saved ourselves the trip to Alat.

Tuesday, 10am: arrive at Baku port (I presume the ship must have been waiting offshore until the port opened - I can't imagine it took 11 hours to get from Alat to Baku). We couldn't go ashore because we'd been stamped out of the country, but we gave some of the crew a bit of cash and they bought food for us.
8pm: leave Baku port. Three more passengers (one on foot and two motorcyclists) had joined us at Baku, so presumably they'd found out somehow that the ship was calling there, when we hadn't - perhaps they'd only asked that morning.

Thursday, 10am: dock at Aktau.
12 noon: go ashore. Kazakh passport control and customs were no problem.

Total time on ship: 65 hours for those of us who boarded at Alat, about 48 for the three who joined at Baku.

The crew were friendly, we enjoyed a few drinks with them in the evening and they even cooked up some food for us when ours came close to running out (I don't think any of us had expected to be on board for three nights) - we paid 5 USD each for this, not unreasonable.

Re: Caspian sea ferry from Baku

Posted: Sat Jul 11, 2015 5:26 pm
by Fluzz
Despite all the information on Caravanistan and the web about the Caspian Sea crossings from Baku, it was still a bit of a hassle and adventure for me due to my late Azeri and therefore late Turkmen visa. I did however learn a fair bit. It seems to me that it can be troublesome because in Baku there is no central coordinator, everyone involved only knows a bit about their little world, the ferry schedules etc. This is what I can put together, hopefully I am not making it too easy and less interesting for everyone:

There are 4 places to buy tickets, they seem to change only because of the erratic work hours.

1. Ticket "office" SW of New City Park, maybe what has been referred to as ticket office of the Old Ferry port. More or less the one shown on page 209 of the Georgia... Azer Lonely Planet 2012 (the train rails are gone and ferry dock is further west). There is a steel gate and a trailer office, with guards and some ladies hanging around who know something about tickets. If there is a ferry at this port, they may sell you a ticket otherwise they will ask you to call the now well known phone numbers or go to the port near Nagila Cafe.

2. Official ticket office of old ferry port (Gps 40.372931, 49.861316). This is where you are directed if you ask at the big "Passenger Terminal" building at the east end of the Bulvar. From the sea side of the terminal building, go east along the new concreted drive/walkway a few hundred metres, look for a gate on the right through the white construction site boarding. It is actually a continuation of the road from kassa 1, so there should be another gate on your left. This looks like a proper office with a board listing prices ($90 Turkmenbashi, $110 Aktau... says including cabin and meals if available), ask guards for opening times. They sell tickets for Azeri ferries only and maybe only ones for this port.

3. Kassa in Ro Ro ferry port, 7km east of old ferry port (Gps 40.362907, 49.934454). Near Nagila cafe. Bus 46 goes from 28 May metro along Nobel Prospekti, then abruptly turns left at Nagila cafe (looks closed but still a landmark), the way to the kassa is a few hundred metres back, and is well described on Caravanistan's ferry page. Sounds like this is the "main" kassa where you can buy the Alat ferry tickets (to Turkmenbashi or Aktau), it was however closed the 2 times I went so better phone first.

4. Onboard the Turkmenistan flagged ferry (currently only the Berkarar) from the passenger manager. About $50 seat, $105 single, $160 twin.


First and hardest part is the ferry schedule and which kassa to go to. The ticket offices and ports are fairly well identified now.
1. Phone the numbers listed in Caravanistan's Caspian Sea article, they will tell you what to do.
2. If you see a ferry docked at the old port or know one is arriving, check at the 2 old ferry port kassas. This seems to be only for Turkmenbashi bound Azeri ferries.
3. For the Turkmen ferry, check then ask around the old ferry port for a more "precise" time once you know it is approaching. The Turkmen passengers phone someone to ask but I don't know the number, some of their timing was as bad as mine (12 to 30 hours too early). Note the Azeri immigration don't like people boarding in the middle of the night, so come during normal hours if possible.

Second part is boarding, from my week and half observations in June only 2 ports are useful for travellers (Ro Ro port perhaps also for Alat ferries but kassas tell everyone to go to Alat?!):
1. Old ferry port, has only one dock, visible from the Baku waterfront. Get here via ticket office 2, cars maybe through another gate. Azeri ferry Bestekar Gara Garayev was going back and forth continuously, Turkmen Berkarar about once a week. Both to Turkmenbashi. No other ferries so every other day sounds about right.
2. Alat port. Turkmenbashi and Aktau bound ferries. Bus 20 starting from 28 May metro, then where it ends on roundabout near aquatic center end of city, change to 195 (Qobustan, Alat).
From marinetraffic and chatter around the kassas, seems like more ferries here but I think longer, roundabout sea route and less convenient for backpackers. Alat is at the end of a major cross country highway and rail line, so makes sense for cargo.

In the end skipped the Alat option and went the Berkarar route as it seemed faster (visa running out), easier and new so more interesting. Gara Garayev had very fast turn around the day before so I missed it as I didn't have Turkmen visa yet.

Azeri immigration insist on seeing the actual Turkmen visa to board, if only official LOI is enough it would so much easier.

Third part, just lots of waiting (0.5 to 1.5 days) for boat to go then to dock.

Fourth part: Departing at Turkmenbashi. Ferry docks very near train station but immigration office is nearly 2km east. If you can clear customs fast (seems tourists go after locals but before those with vehicles), there may be a bus, otherwise you need to either walk to town or get a taxi (phone or from highway). No facilities other than waiting room here but taxis accept usd. For those with vehicles or visa issues more waiting.

What happens if your Turkmen transit visa is about to run out?
1. They don't notice or are in a good mood, you are allowed in then go as fast as you can. They told me one day late is OK (At first I had less than 12 hours to go from Turkmenbashi to Dashogus without own vehicle, Hojeli border was closed. Even with own vehicle probably still no chance after waiting to clear vehicle). I presume at other side of country, you'll get ejected there so all good, just lay low on the way.
2. It is early on a weekday, Ashgabat central immigration ministry is working and they are in a good mood. They offer you a visa extension (3 to 5 days) where you write a letter to the head of the relevant ministry requesting an "exit visa" of a few more days. If it is accepted you pay for visa again ($55) and are cleared to carry on. From a blog it seems this may also happen if your visa has run out before entry.

BTW Ashgabat Northern "bus station" mentioned in LP is now open. It is a few km north of city, and known as awtomenzil. So don't be surprised if your shared taxi drops you here. May also be 2, quiet one for big bus and one for taxis/minibus.

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:12 am
by squawkerys
Hi all,

I recently took the brand spanking new Berkarar ship from Turkmenbashi to Baku. After reading some of the nightmarish reviews of the Akademik, I was prepared for the worst. However, the new boat is lovely, looking almost untouched. I've attached some pics of the cabin and deck etc, along with some dubiously-translated safety instructions!

As per the info already posted, the crossing was USD 105 for the cabin. The bar and shops were not yet open, but the restaurant does big plates of food...dinner was USD7. They've also got large (free) water dispensers outside the cabins. Comfy beds and hot showers.

In case you think this detracts from the 'experience' of crossing the Caspian, there's still the usual mayhem of actually getting on the vessel:

For me, I had got myself on the list at the ferry terminal as soon as I arrived (flagging a car/cab from town is meant to be 1 Manat for locals but I never did better than 3M). That was Sunday 9th August, with my transit visa expiring on the boat, but maybe one on Monday.

Monday 10th, headed back to the terminal to find the older Akademik cargo ferry had pulled into port, delivering around a dozen Mongol Rally cars and crew! Told that this would be leaving the following day, Tuesday 11th, so asked to come to the terminal at 2pm.

On Tuesday, there were better signs, other passengers had arrived and were waiting! But, of course, we waited and waited and waited. A nice family with enormous bags and 2 small children left, saying they'd heard from "friends of the captain" that it wasn't leaving until Wednesday....argh, my visa would expire!!

I popped behind the waiting room to see the border control, and, since they had no idea when the boat was leaving, took my passport and made some enquiries. At around 11pm (so 9 hours of waiting), the border official confirmed that the boat would be leaving tomorrow and that my visa would expire at midnight.

Despite previous traveller reports, they wouldn't stamp me out of the country early. The options were accept a USD 400 fine or deportation. I took the latter. It was all rather good fun, and I expect it provided the border guys with some amusement.

The following morning, they needed to get a 3-day exit visa confirmed with Ashgabat [you need to write your reasons for overstaying and request the English, and they have examples from previous travellers to follow]. I didn't have to pay anything for this extension, although it does take another page of the passport. I can't re-enter Turkmenistan for 3 years :)

They were happy to deport me via the ferry for which I was waiting, although they decided to put us all (approx. 15 passengers) on the new Berkarar which was sailing, rather than the Akademik. We finally got on board the ship at 2pm, but didn't sail until 8.30pm.

The crossing to Baku took approximately 11 hours and we stopped just off the port around 8am. We didn't finally dock until about 12am. After vacating the rooms, there was another delay getting off the boat, while bags were searched in the communal area. Feet finally on Azerbaijan soil at 2.30pm on Thursday 13th August.

The passport control is a small blue portacabin and the process was very quick. Duly stamped, you can walk out and there's taxis waiting in the parking area a couple of hundred metres away.

So, Turkmenbashi to Azerbaijan took 4.5 days and one deportation! A great trip!

PS. All the hotels in Turkmenbashi were nearly full when I was there (August) since it was the local tourist season, with lots of folk enjoying the "beach meets oil & gas refinery" vibe. I can recommend the Carlak hotel, USD50 for non-Turkmen [I would also book ahead in high tourist season as I was lucky to get a room].

Happy travels!

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:56 pm
by Susy&Georges
Ferry from Baku to Aktau the 25th of may 2015 with a van.

Vika was still the person to contact. She speaks good english and was very friendly with us. We called her every day at 11am while we were expecting the ferry. Each contact was clear and lasted 30 seconds. We had an azeri sim card and called her on 055 266 5354.
We had a 3 days transit visa for our van entering Azerbaïdjan from Georgia. So we managed to leave the van at the port for the time waiting the ferry, that was free.
To find the harbour it is from Baku : airport direction on Nobel Prospekti after few kilometres there is a Supermarket n°1 on the left (a building with red balconies), then after alfa marine on the right, turn right. At the end of that road there is a gate and a small building on the right. The metal door next to the ATM was the place to knock to get information and allow our van inside. That's where we bought our tickets on departure day.
Once Vika told us to come and that a ferry was ready to leave for Kazakhstan we came back to this place and bought our tickets. Two adults, a two year old baby and a 5.8 meter van cost us 760us $. Then we have to get our Azeri visas stamped and stamps on an other document for the van. The office for these stamps is in the same building on the car park side and opens a few hours before departure. Midnight for us. There were a lot of truck drivers doing the same and they tried to help us despite we didn't speak their language and they didn't speak russian. This part was quite easy in the end, as azeri customs were friendly too.
At 4am we were at the back of the trucks row. The private cars get on the boat last. After that we enjoyed 2 days on an old but decent ferry. We had a cabin that was ok.
We had a lot of food and water with us. We could have bought some on the boat but most of the time the "restaurant" was closed. We can recommend you to take more than enough if you want to do this crossing.
When we reach Aktau the ship stayed 3 hours in the bay before entering the harbour.
Once the ship is landed we got out without the vehicle and were brought to the customs office by minibus. There we made registration and got back to our van to unload it. Next step was getting all the documents for the van. We payed a 3570 tenge tax and filled papers at the main office. There we got 2 stamps on it and were directed to another office to get another one. We also had to drive the car to reach another building. There the customs check inside the van, that was fast and the people were friendly. We got another stamp to say it's ok and a last one to allow us to exit the harbour.
We were really in Kazakhstan 44 hours after getting on the ferry in Baku.
This crossing was a bit long but less stressing than we thought. All along the trucks drivers, more used to this, were ready to help us. The customs on each side were comprehensive.

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:42 pm
by Crazydre
Hello, I'm considering taking the Ferry from Aktau to Baku, and understand it is a bureaucratically "difficult" route.

I've read that, going from Azerbaijan, you can only board in Alat, but what about the other direction? Would they let me get off at Baku or would I be forced to stay onboard until Alat?

Also, in Addition to the 110 Dollars, what costs should I expect to pay? (if it helps, I've learnt some Kazakh and a few phrases in Azeri)

Finally, to plan my onward trip in advance (including deciding Dates for the Azeri e-visa), how many days should I Count, to be fairly safe, from the moment I arrive in Aktau by bus (at which Point I'll go for the Ferry as soon as possible) to the Moment I arrive in Baku?

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:50 am
by steven
Hi Andre,

I understand the following to be true:

Crazydre wrote:I've read that, going from Azerbaijan, you can only board in Alat, but what about the other direction? Would they let me get off at Baku or would I be forced to stay onboard until Alat?

Some boats, but not all, have recently started arriving and departing in Alat, 70 km south of Baku, instead of in Baku. So the ones headed for Baku will still let you off in Baku. The ones headed for Alat will only let you off in Alat.

Crazydre wrote:Also, in Addition to the 110 Dollars, what costs should I expect to pay?

Unless you are driving a car, nothing.

Crazydre wrote:Finally, to plan my onward trip in advance (including deciding Dates for the Azeri e-visa), how many days should I Count, to be fairly safe, from the moment I arrive in Aktau by bus (at which Point I'll go for the Ferry as soon as possible) to the Moment I arrive in Baku?

Oo, now that's a difficult one. I suggest 1 week. We had a tv crew here once on a very tight schedule and they managed to time it so they arrived in Aktau a few hours before the boat left due to their producer at home calling the port incessantly to find out the status of the boat. So that's an option to time your trip. Then they got stuck for 100 hours in the port due to bad weather at sea, so their efforts were more or less in vain. Moral of the story: planning will only get you so far.

Re: Caspian sea ferry updates & questions

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:50 pm
by Crazydre
steven wrote:Oo, now that's a difficult one. I suggest 1 week. We had a tv crew here once on a very tight schedule and they managed to time it so they arrived in Aktau a few hours before the boat left due to their producer at home calling the port incessantly to find out the status of the boat. So that's an option to time your trip. Then they got stuck for 100 hours in the port due to bad weather at sea, so their efforts were more or less in vain. Moral of the story: planning will only get you so far.

Is there any Internet at all on ferries in General? Because reading that, I'm not tempted to book anything beyond Baku until I'm at least on my way from Aktau. (thinking of the Tbilisi-Istanbul bus as well as the last leg from Eastern Europe back home)

To clarify, this is my planned route (ClockWise, starting in Zurich at the southwest "Corner")