By Alex 08/March/17 Caspian Sea
For us Brits, overland travel from Europe to Central Asia and India is that little bit more difficult without an independent route available through Iran. We'd seen in the guides and online that it 'might' be possible to catch a cargo ferry from Baku in Azerbaijan to Aktau in Kazakhstan. Anything we'd read described it as an unpredictable logistical nightmare. In actuality, it was far easier than we had anticipated.
Guide books and the internet wax lyrical about the stresses and strains of crossing the Caspian from Europe to Central Asia. We had read horror stories of people sitting in Port Baku, Azerbaijan, for weeks waiting for their ride to Aktau, Kazakhstan. The ships themselves are not first and foremost for carrying 'regular' passengers. With the exception of one Kazakh man, we were the only people not travelling along with their 40 ton truck. A luxury experience it is not, but, if you have the time, it really is a unique opportunity worth considering when travelling through this part of the world. Things are much easier now due to the increase in frequency of the ferries. When we made our crossing in September 2016, the Caspian Sea Shipping Company had a ship every evening departing Baku for Aktau. This is great, however it is still only possible to purchase tickets for the ferry on the day of sailing. Our tickets cost $85 each, payable in menat or USD. For those travelling with their own vehicle, it is possible to board with your car and pay for it by the metre. Please see the website of the Caspian Sea Shipping Company for the exact location of the tiny office where the tickets can be purchased. The office is run by Vicky and is advertised to be open during regular 9-5 business hours. We cannot confirm this, but we dropped by the office twice and it was attended both times. The first time we stopped by to check availability/prices, Vicky gave us the office number and told us to call on our day of ideal departure at 9:00am. We called at 9:00 and 10:00 and were told to sit tight, until at 11:00 we got: 'Ferries leaving. Come now. Many Clients.' Once you have your tickets in hand it is a case of making the 70km journey south down the coast to Port Alat where the ferry actually departs. We have heard that this is possible on a combination of local buses, however, since you have to be there by 3pm, we were in quite a rush. The tickets are not issued in any haste and it was 2:00pm before we knew it. The lovely Vicky was unphased by this tight time-frame, however, and called a taxi driver/friend who took us all the way to Port Alat for 30 menat - an absolute steal! We would definitely recommend you ask her to do the same for you (ask her to confirm the price first).