Caspian Sea Ferry (Baku to Turkmenbashi)

There are two main routes for the Caspian Sea Ferry. The first is Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan and the second is Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. Cargo vessels leave from the port of Baku, Azerbaijan and head northeast to Aktau or due east to Turkmenbashi.

There is a lot of contradictory information about this crossing, so here is my experience aimed at helping those looking to take a boat from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. I made the trip in April 2017 while travelling overland from England to China.


Taking the Caspian Sea Ferry

Friday

We arrived in Baku on a Friday morning on the overnight train from Tbilisi in Georgia. After checking in at the Old City Hostel we asked them to call the shipping company for us to find out when the next boat was likely to be leaving. We were advised that a ship was in the port now and would be leaving at 5pm. This was a bit too early as it would give us no time to check out Azerbaijan.

We decided to forego this one and cross our fingers that another boat would be leaving on Sunday. We were told that there would be no boat the next day, and to call back on Sunday morning. It was a gamble as the clock was ticking on our VISAs, but we had two-days grace to play with.


Saturday

We spent the day enjoying the sights around Baku, including the beach at Bilgeh and Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain). Baku is a wonderful city with an impressive old town filled with medieval architecture.

Check out my guide on things to do in Baku for information on the city’s sights!

Baku from the Caspian at night
Baku from the Caspian at night

Sunday

At 10am we called the shipping company (+994 55 555 1757, +994 50 420 09 05 or +994 55 26653 54). The hostel called for us, but Victoria (Vika) speaks English if you need to do this yourself. We were advised to call back at 1pm and I took this as a good sign as it was not an outright ‘no ship today’.

Our friend offered to drive us to the port to make things easier as having a local with us would be pretty handy. We were advised that there was a ship in port (The Bagtyyar) and that they didn’t know when it would set sail, possibly in four hours time.

With this good news we raced (literally along the Formula 1 route that was being built for the forthcoming Grand Prix) back to the hostel to pick up our bags. We stopped to buy some supplies for the crossing; water, bread, cheese, crisps and beer, as we were told there was no shop on board.  We got back to the port at 2pm and said our goodbyes to our friend.  We were directed to a waiting room where we sat for two hours as more people trickled in.


Saying Goodbye to Baku – Crossing the Caspian

By 4pm there were about 10 people (no other tourists, just Turkmen and Russians) and at this time a small shuttle-bus appeared to take us the five minute drive to the dockside. A makeshift customs and border post was made up of a van with an x-ray machine in the back and a couple of portacbabins. 

We put our bags through the machine and made our way to the second portacabin where the border security questioned us individually before stamping us out (you need your E-VISA for this also). The whole process took less than half an hour and we made our way to the boat as they were lowering the gangplank.

You buy your ticket for the journey on the boat and after ignoring us for some time in favour of sorting out the locals, we were asked whether we wanted a seat or a cabin. We opted for the seat ($50 – Cabin $90).

Although there was a fair bit of waiting around, and a lot of unknowns, the whole process was relatively painless.  It helped immeasurably having our local friend help us. However, if you don’t know anyone here, simply call the shipping company on the above numbers.

When you have confirmation that a boat is in port, just take a taxi to the port area on Nobel Avenue (turn right behind Port Baku Park and follow the road round to the barrier and tell the staff you want to go to Turkmenistan).

Some resources indicate you need to be put on some sort of passenger list, but we just turned up and paid on the boat and it was fine. It was actually harder buying a bus ticket in Istanbul than sorting out the boat in Baku.


The Bagtyyar – Caspian Sea Ferry

The Berkarar
The Berkarar – Sister ship of the Bagtyyar Caspian Sea Ferry

The Bagtyyar itself is a brand-new vessel (in shipping terms). So new in fact, that the shop and bar on the main concourse are devoid of goods, workers and patrons. With this in mind, you should stock up as the boat has been known to be waiting to dock for up to six days (highly unlikely, but delays of a day or two are not uncommon)!

We set up camp in the empty passenger lounge of this new Caspian Sea ferry which had rows of large seats spaced out well. There were probably around 200 seats and only five or six of us occupied the space.

I left my bags near a window and a power supply (240v European two-pin type) and set off to explore. You could go up on deck and see the views across the bay to Baku. As the sun set over the city it looked sublime. The Flame Towers lit up in different colours and cast their reflection onto the still water.

Inside the Caspian Sea Ferry
Inside the Caspian Sea Ferry

We finally set sail at 22:20, eight hours after we arrived. The seats were large and relatively comfortable. My friend made a bed on the back row and slept almost continually for 15 hours so they can’t have been that bad, but I didn’t sleep particularly well and was up at sunrise at 5am.


Crossing the Caspian

Crossing the Caspian should take 12 hours on the new vessels Berkarar and Bagtyyar and by 11:300am we could just about make out land in the distance but the boat had stopped and dropped anchor. The sea was an azure blue and the skies cloudless.

It was like being on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, albeit without any restaurants, entertainment etc which was fine by us. Tankers and other vessels lined up in a row behind us ready to enter the Turkmenbashi port.


Stuck at Sea

The Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea

By early afternoon we were told that we would not be docking until the next day as they were still unloading another vessel. This wasn’t great news, but it wasn’t panic stations either.

Our food and water supply was not really adequate for lengthy delays and more importantly our Turkmenistan VISA had started and we had less than seven days to enter and leave the country (our booked tour of Turkmenistan was for four days).

We spent the afternoon idling on deck, taking photos and generally mooching about in a state of subdued bliss. I imagine it’s what retirement feels like. We decided to use the opportunity to do some washing using the sinks in the toilets and each washed a handful of clothes to keep us going, hanging them out on deck to dry in the strong early evening sun.

Our clothes were out less than half an hour before someone told us we would be docking in half an hour (Bonus!) and that we needed to pack our stuff. Slightly irksome, but rather a few wet clothes that we could dry off later than facing any more of a delay.


Arriving in Turkmenbashi

Another problem was that we had no way of contacting our tour company in Ashgabat or driver in Turkmenbashi. We just hoped that they would be contacting the port for updates, but this was no guarantee and we didn’t really want to be stranded in Turkmenistan after curfew (11pm) on our own if we couldn’t meet up with our driver.

My friend decided to phone the company quickly just to update them, but this wasn’t cheap! As it turned out we were hanging around for another 4 or 5 hours until we actually left the vessel, but we were back on schedule, just.

After going through passport control, paying the $14 entry fee and having to empty our bags for inspection, we were eventually allowed into Turkmenistan after midnight.


Taking the Caspian Ferry Timeline – Sunday 16th April 2017:

10:00 – Called Shipping Company. Told to call back at 13:00.
13:00 – Drove to port. Advised there is a boat departing today. Time unknown.
14:00 – Returned to port with our bags and supplies for the journey.
16:50 –Shuttle-bus arrives to take us dockside.
17:00 – Customs Check.
17:20 – Border Processing.
17:45 – On boat.
22:20 – Set Sail.

Crossing the Caspian Timeline – Monday 17th April 2017:

11:00 – Boat slowed down to a crawl. No land in sight.
11:50 – Advised that the boat will be waiting at sea for another day as port full.
12:00 – Boat at anchor in sight of land.
18:00 – Received word that the boat would be docking in half an hour.
20:00 – Engines started and move into port.
21:00 – Docked.
22:30 – Received passports back from crew and left vessel.
22:40 – Driven in minibus to customs area.
22:50 – Arrive Customs

Crossing the Caspian Timeline – Tuesday 18th April 2017:

00:30 – Depart Customs


Baggtyyar Ship Stats:

Name: Bagtyyar                 Length: 155.8m               Breadth: 17.5m               Draught: 3.8m

Gross Tonnage: 9791         Built: 2015                     Flag: Turkmenistan (TM)

Facilities on Board the Caspian Sea Ferry Baggtyyar:

There is a shop and a bar but these were closed at the time of writing and unless more passengers start to use this service in the future (highly unlikely) I would work on the assumption that they will not be staffed anytime soon. Ensure you bring enough food and water for the crossing and waiting at sea to dock.

Toilets are clean, modern and western style, but no toilet paper or soap is provided. Bring these and wet wipes to wash. There is a smoking area outside on deck.

For the latest traveler information, check the forum at Caravanistan.

Looking for things to discover in Turkmenistan? Have a read of the following:

Ashgabat – the strange and spotless marble capital of Turkmenistan.

The Door to Hell – Darvaza gas crater in the middle of the desert.


Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲


27 thoughts on “Caspian Sea Ferry (Baku to Turkmenbashi)

    • steve says:

      Hi Sam, thanks for the kind words. I’ve just finished writing up instructions on how to travel from London to Beijing following parts of the Silk Road which might be of interest when planning your journey. It will published later tonight. Let me know if you have any questions when you look into it more! Best wishes from China! Steve

  1. Chris Olsen says:

    Hi thanks for the details. It sounds as if there are options to crossing the Caspian Sea and yet no one seems to know about them. We will be doing the Silk Road in early 2020 going from Beijing to Istanbul. Your posting was as breath of fresh air. It gave us hope that there are ways to cross. But we figure we will have to add more time to the agenda. Did I get it right? You had an eVisa from Turkmenistan?

    • steve says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for your kind words. There are definitely ways to cross the Caspian and it’s not as complicated as people make out (it’s not straightforward either). I’m actually currently waiting for a boat from Aktau in Kazakhstan right now to Baku, and could be here a few days. You have 2 options, the first is via Turkmenistan but the VISA is very difficult to get (there is no E-VISA for Turkmenistan), and the second is to go via Kazakhstan which eliminates the VISA headache. I’ll update more on the KZ crossing once I’ve completed it.

  2. Flo says:

    Hi there, thanks for this report and I expect to do the same crossing this week. Is there any risk in your experience in the boat selling out? Which port did it leave from?

    • Nico Holtmans says:

      Hi, I am going to Almaty from Urumqi China january 20th 2020. Plan to take the train to Mangystau Kazakhstan from Almaty. Is the ferry crossing Caspian to Baku in service in winter time?
      Understand the boat departs from Kuryk port Kazakhstan. Do you have a contact for this crossing?
      Regards,
      Nico

  3. Gorge says:

    Hi can I cross with my motorcycle from Turkmenistan to Baku if you have shipping companies name and phone please share it. I will come from Russia to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan Azerbaijan and back to Russia

    • steve says:

      Hi, yes you should be able to bring your motorbike. I only have numbers for the shipping company in Baku and nothing for Turkmenbashi, but they might be able to give you the contact in Turkmenistan. +994 55 555 1757, +994 50 420 09 05 or +994 55 26653 54). Ask for Victoria (Vika) who speaks English.

  4. Tim Emptage says:

    Hi Excellent review. We are thinking of doing the crossing. I didn’t understand the comment in the timeline about getting passports back from the crew. Did you have to leave them with the crew for the whole journey

    • steve says:

      Hi Tim, thanks for your kind words. Yes, the crew kept our passports for the whole journey and we got them back just before disembarking. It’s an excellent adventure and well worth doing!

  5. Amber says:

    Hello Steve,

    My husband and I will be heading to this area sometime in early October. We are very interested in taking the ferry from Baku into Turkmenistan. You have mentioned several times that the visa is very hard to acquire. We much prefer the ferry experience over flying. Would you mind sharing any tips or suggestions for us to obtain our visas and make this journey a possibility?

    Thank you!

    • steve says:

      Hi Amber,

      As far as I’m aware, Turkmenistan is closed to tourists still because of covid. I get the impression the authorities are not in any rush to open up again to tourism. If/when they do, the best advice is to just go through a tour agency and apply for a tourist visa rather than a transit one. There is also a boat from Baku to Aktau in Kazakhstan (which is completely open now) should you need to change your plans slightly. Aktau is pretty far from anywhere, but there are trains to Almaty which take about two to three days.

      Let me know if I can help with anything else.

      Best wishes,

      Steve

  6. Lars says:

    Hello Steve.
    Happy to see your news about travelling by ferry from Baku to Turkmenistan.
    I knew it was feasible reading Fatlands book.
    I am a Dane and will fly from Copenhagen to Baku. Then by ferry to Turkmenistan and eventually visit the capitol. Then same way back.
    I plan to travel later this year (2022) provided it is easy to obtain tourist visum for the duration (maybe 14 days).
    Hope to get into contact with you later.
    My final aim is to visit all OSCE menber countries, and just miss three ones. (Azerbajan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan).
    Regards Lars in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    • steve says:

      Hey Lars,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I believe Turkmenistan is still closed to tourism because of covid and is showing no signs of opening up yet. I hope this changes before your trip.
      Best,
      Steve

  7. Daud Tahir says:

    Hi
    I am 72 year old traveler, been to 46 countries so far. Prefer going to odd places and using different modes for transport. Baku is on my list and crossing Capsian Sea by this ferry would be a life time experience. Would take note of delays and utilities that need to carry along. As retired person, delays add to my pleasure.

    • steve says:

      Hi Daud, thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear you are still travelling “off the beaten path” after retirement. Baku is wonderful (the food is amazing). I hope you get to make the trip soon! Best wishes, Steve

  8. Med Belar says:

    Hi Steve, I would like to take the ferry from Baku to Aktau, some people mentioned three different ports inculding ALAT 70 KM south of Baku. Could you please tell me about the right ferry port. (its name and the area name or address if possible). We are two people and a car.
    Regards.

    • steve says:

      Hi Med,

      The best thing I can suggest is to contact Victoria at the port: (+994 55 555 1757, +994 50 420 09 05 or +994 55 26653 54) and she will be able to tell you which place it leaves from. For the Baku to Turkmenbashi ship it’s the port in the middle of the city, but I’m not sure about the Aktau boat.

      Best wishes,

      Steve

  9. Bettina says:

    Hi 🙂
    When would be the best time to take the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashy, weatherwise, as I am not so fan of high waves and such :D. I plan to go around September/October 2023.

    Thanks for a great site with lots of useful informations.

    Best wishes,
    Bettina

  10. Giuseppe De Santis says:

    hallo Steve, thanks for sharing information.
    I wonder if travelling to Turkmenistan (from Azerbajan) is allowed.
    Some official site says the country is closed due to covid restricion (entry is permitted only to turkmen people or permanent resient), other site don’t give any information about this restiction.
    We are 4 italian guys planning to drive silk road from Roma to Pamir by motorcycle crossing the Caspian see.
    Any information about this?
    Thanks a lot for your job!
    Pippo – Roma Italy

    • steve says:

      Ciao Pippo,

      Yes, unfortunately, Turkmenistan is still closed for tourism. Also, the land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan is also still closed and will be reviewed again on 1st March 2023. Sorry it’s not better news, hope you can make the jounrey later in the year. Best wishes, Steve

  11. Fiona Brodie says:

    Really interesting and informative article. I’m retiring in June 2024. I’m trying to work out how to travel to Australia from UK without flying and on a budget! Thinking Turkey Armenia Turkmenistan.The world is a tricky place to negotiate at the moment……. Any blogs or websites you would recommend?

  12. Harry Hutchison says:

    Hi,
    Looking to travel from Baku to Turkmenistan in October 2024, our official tour starts in Ashgabat, will we need to prearrnage travel, and will they allow us to travel across the country on a tourist visa for those few days?
    Thanks,
    harry

  13. B to P says:

    Was looking at purchasing some fuel from the refinery in Azerbaijan am I able to get my vessel into the port of Baku to pick up my order thanks

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