OUR TWO CENTS: Crossing the Caspian, from Europe to Central Asia by ferry.

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).

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On arrival at the port, you go through all of the usual passport control and customs. Be prepared for the officers to be very confused as to what to do with you, they do not see many foreign passports here! It is then simply a walk to the ship, boarding through the same door as the cargo. Every member of the ship's staff were friendly and professional and we were promptly shown to our two person cabin (bunk beds) with private bathroom. You are then free to do as you please until a lovely member of the crew visits your room at 8pm sharp to tell you it is dinner time. The only problem being that by this time, it is likely that the ship will not have yet departed. Our ferry finally left the dock at 10pm. All meals while on the ship are included in the price of the ticket. Hot meals are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner up until the moment you depart the ship. After a great sleep we spent the next day just exploring the boat and watching the waves from the deck, arriving on the Kazakh coast around 8pm, 22hours after setting sail. We dropped anchor for the night, most likely due to closed customs and immigration in Aktau. Our cabin attendant came to wake us around 5.30am to announce that it was time to go a shore. There were absolutely no problems at Kazakh immigration and were promptly issued visas on arrival. The reception we received was apt for one of the most welcoming nations on the planet! It is just a short taxi ride from Port Aktau to the city centre, but chances are there will be a friendly local who will offer to drive you to your hotel, or at least haggle the taxi down for you. If you are interested in reading more about Aktau, click here. Additionally, our Caspian Sea experience was made a whole lot easier by a blog post by on 'Nomad Express', so that may also be worth a google! The ferry across the Caspian may not be for those on a short trip or looking for any easy life, but for us it was the perfect solution to carrying on our overland journey from Europe into the Stans, especially while Iran, for the mean time, remains closed to independent Brits. We really enjoyed the experience, even Bri, a sea-sickness sufferer, and would entirely recommend it for anybody up for a little adventure!

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