Kazakhstan (Aktau) to Azerbaijan (Baku) by Ferry

By Jakarta100bars
Sailing across the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan (Aktau) to Azerbaijan (Baku) is one of the best options for those looking to reach Europe from Asia by land or by sea.

Going through Russia is usually the preferred way, but I discovered too late that Russian consulates only deliver 5 days transit visas when you apply outside of your home country. I briefly considered Turkmenistan, then gave up after realizing it was almost impossible to get the visa. Finally, crossing Afghanistan/Pakistan was out of the question for security reasons.

Boats traveling on the Caspian Sea are not designed to carry tourists and, as such, they offer limited amenities and service. On the positive side, they provide an authentic cargo experience as you will be surrounded by truckers during the whole trip.

Another problem is that those cargos do not follow a fixed schedule. They go back and forth between Baku and Aktau, only leaving when the captain decides so. 

In general, you need to wait 2-3 days maximum before getting one, but it could take even longer, maybe until a week if the weather is bad or if there aren't any enough trucks.

For this reason, you can't be in a rush. It must be OK for you to waste several days waiting in a relatively boring city, on stand-by, ready to leave within a few hours if required.

I don't often write about my travels, but for once I thought an updated report might be helpful to those planning this trip. If you have more specific questions, please ask them in the comment section below and I'll answer there directly.

Choosing a Hotel in Aktau (Azerbaijan)
If you are a backpacker on a tight budget, you should know there aren't many cheap hostels in Aktau. The only guest house with decent ratings is Keremet but it is far away. Considering you might need to go to the ticket office several times, I think it is better to just stay in a budget room not far from the city center.

I recommend Zheruik Hotel, just between the port and the ticket office, and near a supermarket. The price is affordable (24$ per night on HotelsCombined) and the value for money is excellent.

Buying your Boat Ticket
I went to the boat ticket office as soon as I arrived in Aktau, even before going to my hotel. I thought it would be a pity to miss a boat by a few hours and then have to wait several days for the next one, just because I wanted to drop my bags.

The ticket office is located on the ground floor of a modern building and it has a sign "Ferry.kz" in front of it. Its address is District (or Microrayon) 5, Building 29, Office 1 and it is located exactly here.

Before going, you can also contact them by phone or email:
Tel: +7 7292 500-346
тел. паромной кассы: +7 7292 500343
Mobile +7(777)490 46 63
e-mail: info@ferry.kz

It is better to email if you don't speak Russian so they can reply to you using Google Translate.

The lady processing the tickets is named Yuliya and she can speak a few words of English, enough to tell you what you should know: Prices, schedule, etc.

I was lucky that a ferry was leaving a few hours after my arrival in Aktau. I bought the ticket using a Visa card, paying 27,760 Tenge (80 USD). The price is for one passenger, with at least 1 night in a 4-bed cabin and 3 meals (I ended up sleeping 2 nights and eating 4 times).

Going to Aktau Port
My boat was supposed to leave at 2 AM, so Yuliya told me to be at the port one hour in advance.

I arrived 15 minutes before 1 AM, after a 10-minute taxi ride from my hotel (Zheruik - 800 Tenge). Its exact location is here: Aktau Port.

The first thing I did was visit the 24-hour security post and enquire about the status of my boat. They answered they didn't know and that that I should wait until someone calls me. It wasn't very helpful but at least I knew I was in the right place.

Waiting and Waiting
The waiting started.

2 AM. 3 AM. 4 AM. 5 AM. 6 AM. 7 AM. 8 AM. 9 AM. 10 AM. 11 AM. 12 AM.

Still nothing.

Most of the time, I was hanging out in the 24-hour Liman café. It serves typical fast food dishes and it has a fast WiFi. The seats are comfortable but if you fall asleep on them, the staff will come and wake you up.

The reason I waited for so long was that the weather was windy and the captain couldn't take the boat out. The staff had no idea if it would leave on that day, or the next, which was understandable yet particularly stressful.

At 1 PM, after not sleeping the whole night, I was starting to feel like a walking dead. I was too tired to read, I had refreshed my Facebook feed a million times, and I had no more TV series to watch.

Luckily, 3 Azeri guys who were also waiting told me they had rented a room nearby for 4,000 Tenge (1,000 each) where we could rest. The security guard would call them exactly before embarkment.

That was perfect: We went there at 2 PM, slept, had a shower, and came back around 7 PM.

The port was busier then, and especially the Liman café. The truckers were probably on standby somewhere, ready to show up only when departure would be imminent.

Embarking
From 7PM to 11PM, I sat again in the café until, miraculously, a guy came shouting in Kazakh: "Passport Control Now"!

I walked to the Customs building, 100 meters from there and waited 30 more minutes until I was finally able to proceed with the passport check. Everything went smoothly.

On The Boat
30 minutes later, I was in my 4-bed cabin with the 3 Azeri guys mentioned above. 

There are no assigned bed: You just sleep wherever there is an empty one. Clean linens are provided by the staff and you'll need to set them up by yourself.

The cabin is small and not particularly luxurious, but still, I slept well. The toilets and showers (with hot water) were a bit dirty, especially if you went right after a trucker. If it was a property on Booking.com or Agoda, I guess it would be rated around 6.5/10.
Meals are served at precise hours: 9 AM for breakfast, 1 PM for lunch and 8 PM for dinner. Simple food, way too salty, that I nevertheless enjoyed.
Breakfast
Lunch
Apart from eating, there isn't much to do. I read a lot, slept, walked on the deck, and that's it. The truckers spent most of their own time smoking and watching movies in the common area.

Arrival in Alat (Azerbaidjan)
I arrived in Alat exactly 34 hours after embarking in Aktau. Considering I waited 22 hours in the port, the whole trip lasted 56 hours (for a 380-kilometer journey).

As long as you have all your documents in order, passing through the Azeri immigration shouldn't take you more than an hour.

Alat is literally in the middle of nowhere, only surrounded by a desert. To reach Baku takes another hour (75 kilometers). If there aren't any taxis at the port, you will have to walk to the main road, 15 minutes away. The price is around 30 AZN for the ride (18 USD).

Alternatively, you can take the bus 195. The nearest stop is several kilometers from the port so you'll still need to get a taxi.

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