Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads

Traveling from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan across the Caspian Sea by cargo ship

 

This is a comprehensive guide about how to take the Caspian Sea ferry from Baku in Azerbaijan to Aktau in Kazakhstan.

 

During our overland trip from Europe to Asia, Niko and I already had some experience with taking a boat to reach our next destination. We took a ferry from Ireland to France, from Athens in Greece to the isle of Crete, we entered Turkey by crossing the Aegean Sea and we sailed on the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey.

 

 

So far it had been very easy to travel by sea as all these ferries had a fixed schedule and clear information about where to buy the tickets and where to catch the boat. Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat was a different story.

This boat is a cargo ship that nowadays also functions as a ferry. However, this cargo ship/ferry doesn’t have a fixed schedule and there’s often a lot of confusion about where to get the tickets and where to catch this boat from.

 

For one week Niko and I were a bit left in the dark about where and especially when we could take this boat and buy the tickets. Despite the nuisance and long waiting times, traveling from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan by sea turned out to be a memorable adventure and totally worth the trouble!

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads

 

 

In this post you’ll find information on :

  • How and where to buy the tickets for the Baku – Aktau ferry
  • Where to catch the boat from and how to get to the port
  • Camping at the port
  • Customs
  • What to expect on the boat: cabins, facilities, food, …
  • Duration of the journey
  • Arriving in Kazakhstan
  • How to get from the port to Aktau and where to stay

 

Don’t forget to watch the video of how we crossed the Caspian Sea here!

 

 

How and where to get tickets for the Caspian Sea Ferry

 

This is where our challenge began. We were told that we could only buy tickets on the day the boat leaves. But how we do know when exactly to purchase the tickets when there’s no fixed schedule? There was also a lot of contradicting information on where to buy these tickets.

Friends of ours told us we had to get in the ticket office of the old seaport in Baku, while according to some blogs we could only buy them directly in the port of Alat. This port is about 75km away from Baku and possibly the place where we had to catch the ferry from.

 

We also found a website on Caravanistan where we could buy tickets online but we soon found out that there’s not much point in doing this since we had to go to the ticket office anyways (in Baku? in Alat?) to exchange the e-ticket for a paper ticket.

 

After a lot of uncertainty and confusion, we finally were able to figure it all out. So here’s what you need to know:

 

1. Timetable of the ferry

There’s no timetable for the ferry since its departure depends on the weather and on the amount of cargo that is loaded. The boat leaves when it’s full, which means, in theory, every 3 to 5 days, but in reality, there might be 5 boats going to Kazakhstan within one week or only 1 boat in two weeks. It’s really hard to tell so make sure that you’re flexible and have enough time left on your visa when you want to take this ferry!

 

The best way of finding out when the boat is scheduled to leave is by ringing the Baku ticket office once or even twice a day. You can try following numbers as mentioned on Caravanistan but I can’t say if the person on the other line will be able to speak English or not: +994 50 420 09 05, +99 455 266 5354 or +994 55 555 17 57.

 

You could also go to the ticket office, which is located at the end of Baku’s Sea Front Boulevard, hidden away between container units (see map below ‘Where to buy the tickets’).

 

We chose the easiest option, which was staying at the hostel Mr. Hostel in Baku and asking the girls of the reception to call the ticket office for us. The receptionists of Mr. Hostel helped travelers like us in the past so they knew exactly who to call to get the right information and it saved us from getting lost in translation.

 

You can also check the website of the Caspian Sea Ferries to find out when the boats are scheduled to arrive in the port. Still, this doesn’t mean that they will leave that very same day or the day after so keep bothering calling the ticket office!

 

Read our guide “What to do in and around Baku” to make the best of your time while waiting for the boat.

 

 

2. Where to buy the tickets for the Baku – Aktau ferry and how much does it cost

This depends on the way you travel:

  • If you travel by motorbike or by car, you have to buy your ticket in the port of Alat, which is about 75 km from Baku. You can buy your ticket in advance and the price depends on the size of your vehicle. It’s $100 per meter, so for a motorbike, you’ll pay around $150 and for an average-sized car $400. You also have to pay $70 per passenger.  You can only pay in cash – there’s an ATM near the ticket office.

 

  • If you’re a foot passenger or a cyclist, you have to buy your ticket in the ticket office of Baku, which you can find near the Marine Passenger Terminal at the end of Baku’s Sea Front Boulevard (Milli Park, see map below). You can only buy your ticket there on the day the boat leaves ! Go early so you still have enough time to get to the port. The ticket sales usually start around 10 am. A ticket costs $80 and you have to pay $10 extra for a bicycle.

 

  • As I mentioned before, you can purchase your tickets on this website but there’s not much point in doing this since you still have to go to the ticket office to change the e-ticket for a paper ticket.

 

 

 

How to pay and what is included in the price:

You can only pay in US dollars. There’s an ATM in Alat where you can take the money out and there’s also an exchange office. There are plenty of ATM’s and exchange offices in Baku.

 

The cheapest ticket is $70 and it includes all your meals on board and a bed in a 4 person cabin. You’ll see that there’s an option to buy a ticket for $80 if you want to have a private 2 person cabin but don’t bother with that. If there are a lot of passengers, you’ll have to share your cabin with 4 people anyway.

 

→ It’s cheaper as a foot passenger and as a cyclist to buy your ticket in the port of Alat ($70). In Baku, you’ll most likely pay $80, even for a 4 person cabin.

 

Even though we were foot passengers, we didn’t bother going to the ticket office in Baku. We got tired of waiting and calling and as soon as we heard that the boat had arrived, we left Baku and traveled to the port of Alat to buy our tickets there.

 

When we arrived in Alat, the people of the ticket office told us they couldn’t sell us the tickets and that we had to go back to Baku to buy them there. Since Alat is 75km from Baku, we really didn’t want to go back and forth. So we stood our ground and told them that the office in Baku had sent us to Alat and that there was no way we could return to Baku since we were on foot. Eventually, they gave in and sold us the tickets. So you can buy tickets in Alat as a foot passenger and cyclist but you have to be persistent…

 

 

Where to take the Baku – Aktau ferry

 

All foot passengers, cyclists, bikers, and cars have to take the ferry in the Baku Sea Port in Alat. This port is about 75km from the city center of Baku.

 

Note: there is a chance that they might change this (again) and that you have to board the ship in the port of Baku itself. Double-check with the ticket office to be sure!

 

 

 

How to get from Baku to the port in Alat by public transport

  • The fastest but most expensive option is to take a taxi. This will cost you 50 AZN (about $30) but the driver will drop you off right at the entrance of the port. This is a good solution if you travel on foot or by bicycle and you don’t have much time to get to the port.

 

  • If you travel on foot, you can also catch the bus to Alat (bicycles are not allowed on the bus). Take bus 125 or any other bus that goes from Baku city to the Bina Mall. There you have to take bus 195 towards Qobustan and Alat. This bus ride takes about one hour. Once you pass Qobustan (you’ll see a big rock with this name), it’s another 10 to 15 minutes until you see a big monument of an anker with “Baku Sea Port” in the middle of the road. Ask the bus driver to drop you off there. Cross the highway (be careful!!) and take the first road to the right. From there on it’s another 1.5 km before you arrive at the entrance of the port.

 

  • You can always hitchhike. Hitchhiking in Azerbaijan is fairly easy, just make it clear from the start that you’re doing ‘avtostop‘ (the Russian word for hitchhiking) or the driver might charge you money for the gas.

 

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads - port of Alat

As soon as you see this monument, you have to get off the bus

 

 

Camping at the port

 

Even when you get told to hurry to the port because the boat is going to leave in a few hours, it’s still possible that it takes another day (or two) before the actual departure of the boat (a friend of ours had to wait for a week). This means that you might have to set up camp at the port.

 

The security guards will show you where you to pitch your tent in the parking lot. There are facilities like showers and toilets (girls can ask for a key to a separate shower in the shop), an exchange office with an ATM, a little shop where you can buy water, soft drinks, fresh fruits, canned food, crackers, etc.

 

Every container has a function, whether it’s a shop, a dining room, a toilet or a bank!

 

There’s also a small dining area where you can buy a cup of coffee or tea, charge your electronics and buy wi-fi. It costs 3 AZN per day or 5 AZN for 2 days. The connection isn’t super but it’s enough to check your social media and tell your mum you’re still alive and waiting for the boat to Kazakhstan.

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads

 

We waited for three days at the port. The first night we were by ourselves and got stuck in a sandstorm. The second day other travelers started arriving and finally, on the evening of the third day, we could board the ship!

 

 

These photos show exactly what we did during those 3 days in the port…

 

 

→ Tip: if you know with certainty that you’ll have to wait for at least another 6 hours, find yourself a travel buddy with a vehicle and visit the mud volcanoes of Qobustan. They’re about 30 minutes driving from the port and definitely worth visiting! You can find more info about the mud volcanoes here.

 

 

 

Customs

 

The port guards will tell you when it’s time to board the ship. Sometimes they’ll let the trucks go first, other times they will give priority to the travelers. They let us enter first, which was great since it took another 7 hours before all the cargo was loaded and the ship was ready to go.

 

Before you board, you’ll have to go through customs. They will check your bags (and car if you’re driving), ask for your registration papers if you stayed longer than 10 days in Azerbaijan, inquire about your visa for Kazakhstan and once you’re stamped out of the country, you can proceed towards the entrance of the boat.

 

* If you stayed 10 days or more in Azerbaijan, make sure you that you got registered. If you didn’t do this, the migration officers might stop you from boarding the boat until you got that sorted and/or you will have to pay a huge fine (+ $300) and face deportation. Check this article for more information about how and where to get registered for Azerbaijan.

 

 

What to expect on the boat

 

The cargo ships that take passengers are named “Professor Gul”, “Merkuri-1”, “Barda” and “Shahdag”. We traveled to Kazakhstan on the “Professor Gul”.

 

Once you arrive at the ship, a member of the crew will show you where you can park your car/ motorbike/ bicycle in the base of the ship and guide you towards the common room. Take all your essentials with you since you won’t be allowed to go back to your vehicle once the ship departs.

 

One of the crew members will also come around to collect your passport. Don’t worry, it’s safe to give it to them and once the boat arrives at the port in Aktau, someone will hand it back to you in the common room.

 

This ‘common room’ is the unofficial meeting room on the boat. It’s a big area with seats where most of the passengers (mainly truck drivers) hang out to watch TV, play games like backgammon and drink tea (which is non-stop available). You’ll have to wait here until the person in charge comes to give you sheets, a pillow and the keys to your cabin.

 

Cabins

If there are a lot of passengers, you’ll have to share a cabin with 3 other people. Try to buddy up with some of the other travelers you met at the port. The cabins are very small with 2 bunk beds, a small sink and 4 lockers, which is great to safely store your valuables away while exploring the boat.

 

Ask for a cabin with a window if possible! If you travel during the summer, it gets stinking hot inside and you’ll have a hard time sleeping (and imagine the lovely smells when you can’t air out the room…). Some of our fellow travelers couldn’t handle it and went to sleep outside on the deck instead.

 

Niko and I shared a cabin with another backpacking couple. The girl and I were the only female travelers on board, which turned out to play to our advantage. We first were appointed to a cabin without a window.

Once all the passengers were on the boat and assigned to a cabin, the woman in charge told me there was one cabin left that I could share with my female friend. We went to check it out and as soon as we saw that this cabin had a window, we moved our stuff (and our men) to this cabin, opened the window and were finally able to breathe again!

 

 

Toilets & showers

Most of the cargo ships that travel across the Caspian Sea have now proper facilities for the passengers. It’s almost like you’re staying in a big old floating hostel that has a post-Soviet feel to it. There’s a bathroom area with toilets and warm showers which are relatively clean.

 

Tip: take a shower at the start of the journey, when everything is still clean. The longer you’re at sea, the more smelly and dirty it becomes… Don’t forget to bring an extra roll of toilet paper with you.

 

 

Food

There’s a small dining area on the boat where meals are served 3 times per day: at 8 am, at noon and at 7 pm. Don’t be late as the cooks are very punctual and will close the dining area one hour after the service and you won’t be able to get food until the next meal.

 

The food is basic but good. It’s mainly going to be boiled eggs with bread for breakfast, pasta with chicken and mashed potatoes with fish for lunch and/or dinner. We also got some soup, and of course, there’s always plenty of tea.

 

There is no shop on the boat so it’s not a bad idea to stock up on some snacks and bottles of water before the journey. You’re also allowed to bring some beers on board. However, keep in mind that you’re not allowed to drink alcohol in the port.

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads

 

 

Entertainment on the boat

There’s no wi-fi on board but you can charge your electronics in the cabin. There’s a big TV in the common area but why would you want to watch TV while you’re sailing across the Caspian Sea?

 

Watching the sunrise and sunset on the deck is much better entertainment and at night you can do some proper star gazing! You’re allowed to explore the ship and, if you ask nicely, the crew will let you have a peek in the engine room.

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan)

 

 

It’s very likely you’ll meet other travelers, especially during the summer. We met a great bunch of (mainly) cyclists, backpackers, bikers and road trippers with whom we spent a lot of time chatting, singing and playing games. If you hitchhike, the chances are big that one of your fellow travelers or one of the truck drivers (if you socialize with them) will offer you a ride into Kazakhstan.

 

 

 

Duration of the journey

 

We boarded the ship around 11 pm at night but the next morning at 6 am we were still in the port of Alat. The boat eventually left around 6.30am.

 

If you’re lucky like us, the ship will dock 27 hours later in the port of Aktau. If you’re unlucky, well, it might take hours to days before the ship is allowed to dock. It all depends on the weather and the docking space in the port. As long as you’re on board, you will get fed 3 times per day so you won’t starve while you’re waiting. You might just get very bored and impatient.

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads - port in Aktau

Arriving in Aktau

 

Crossing the Caspian Sea by boat – How to travel by cargo ship from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Journal of Nomads - port of Aktau

 

 

 

Arriving in Aktau, Kazakhstan

 

As soon as the ship is about to dock, you’ll hear an announcement that you’ve got to pack your bags and bring them to the common room. One of the crew members will be there to return your passport and then you’ll have to wait until the Kazakh immigration officers, accompanied by sniffer dogs and intimidating guns, come on board to check your papers and bags. Once this first control is done, you’re allowed to leave the boat.

 

A couple of vans will be waiting at the exit of the boat to bring the passengers to the passport control offices. There you’ll have to fill in an immigration card. The migration officers will check your visa (check here if you need one), stamp your passport and immigration card.

 

You’ll receive two stamps on this card, which indicates that you’re registered. This is the registration card that you have to keep with you throughout your stay in Kazakhstan. If you don’t have this card with you upon exiting the country, you’ll have to pay a fine or even face deportation. If you needed a Letter of Invitation (LOI) to enter Kazakhstan, you’ll have to get registered at the Migration Police in Aktau.

 

Once you got your passport stamped and you don’t have a vehicle, you’re free to go! Welcome to Kazakhstan! There’s a small coffee shop near the exit of the port where you can buy something to drink and eat and you’ll also find a small exchange office to buy some Kazakh tenge.

 

If you travel by bicycle, motorbike or car, you’ll have to go back to the boat to get your vehicle and get customs clearance. The process is quite fast for cyclists and they’ll be out within two hours but if you came by motorbike or car, get ready for a never-ending cycle of paperwork and stamps! We arrived at 10 am in the port of Aktau and all of our friends who traveled with a motorized vehicle were finally allowed to leave the port at 5 pm!

 

 

How to get from the port to Aktau and where to stay in Aktau

 

You can get from the port of Aktau to the city center by hitching a ride or taking a taxi. The taxi shouldn’t cost more than 500 KZT. In case you’re going to travel by train, you can always head straight towards the train station of Aktau. There is after all not much to see or do in Aktau. It’s a strange city if you ask me!

 

Some people prefer to spend a day in the city, mostly to recover from the boat journey and to get ready for the upcoming (road)trip. We stayed a couple of nights at a budget hostel called “Kemerek”, a little bit outside of the city center. We paid 3000 KZT ($10) for a room but for some reason, I can’t find this hostel back on booking.com.

 

There are a lot of fancy hotels in the city, starting from $25 per person but there aren’t that many budget hostels. You can find one on booking.com for $5 per person. Check it out here. (if you use this link to book your room, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you).

 

The local kids in Aktau weren’t used to seeing foreigners and absolutely loved the motorbikes of our friends!

 

 

Traveling from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan by boat was definitely a memorable adventure! You’ll have to be patient and flexible and enjoy the moment. Don’t have too many expectations and just see how everything goes. My advice is to sit back, relax, socialize and enjoy the journey since you have no idea when you’ll reach your destination!

 

 

 

Watch the video we made about our adventure across the Caspian Sea!

 

 

I hope this guide was helpful to you! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below or send me an email. Did you also take a ferry across the Caspian Sea and/or you want to share your tips and stories? I’d love to hear it!

 

 

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Writer, photographer and co-founder at Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 7 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

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Arne Rosquist
Arne Rosquist

Hi, I picked up a link to your blog from “Lost with Purpose”. The Caspian Sea crossing was the first item I read. It reminded me of one of the adventures of Fitzroy Maclean related in his book “Eastern Approaches”. In the late 1930’s, Maclean was a young British diplomat stationed in Moscow. He was determined to explore Central Asia. As the area was closed to foreigners it took some ingenuity. One of his attempts was to cross the Caspian from Baku. He didn’t make but did get to experience ferry travel on the Caspian. His adventures lured me to… Read more »