How to Cross the Caspian Sea by Ferry

Crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry can either be a smoother, easier and faster way of getting to Central Asia than riding through Russia or Iran… or it can be two weeks of waiting at the port, stress at customs and ridiculously long crossing times. Either way, you’re going to have a memorable experience. Here’s how to get from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan via the Caspian Sea…

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Professor Gul was our ship - we heard it’s one of better ones on the fleet

Contents

UPDATE: January 2024

Azerbaijan’s land borders are still closed

The land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan is still closed. You can travel from Azerbaijan to Georgia, but not from Georgia to Azerbaijan. This is because Azerbaijan shut its borders back in 2020 due to the pandemic. Since then it’s constantly been reported that the border will ‘open shortly’.

The Caspian Sea Ferry is still running

Even though Azerbaijan’s land borders are still shut, you can still fly into Azerbaijan, travel around and exit the country via the Caspian Sea Ferry. You can’t, however, take the Caspian Sea Ferry from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan – yet. 

We will update this article as and when we get more updates. 

Caspian Sea Ferry Guide

What is the Caspian Sea Ferry?

The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest lake. It is bordered by five countries: Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Russia. 

There’s a ferry that connects West to East across the Caspian. The Caspian Sea ferry goes between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.  

For motorcycle travellers and overlanders, using the Caspian Sea Ferry makes the journey between the Caucasus and Central Asia far easier than the run north to Russia and through Kazakhstan and is a very popular and well used option.  

Where is the Azerbaijan ferry port?

If you’re heading to Aqtau, Kazakhstan then the port is in Alat, some 70km south of Baku. You’ll see this anchor on the main road, turn off here and head towards the sea.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
As soon as you see the anchor, turn off and head towards the sea

You’ll then come to a barrier, they will want to see your passport and vehicle registration to log your port entrance. Once through, turn right and head to ‘Border and Customs Check Point 2’. You do not need to go to any offices in Baku for any reason. Everything is now done at the port in Alat.

Azerbaijan ferry timetable

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Be prepared to camp out. We were told three hours but ended up waiting 12 so better to stick your tent up as soon as you arrive!

There isn’t one. Many people advise calling the Caspian Sea Ferry contact numbers +99412 493 51 85 or +99455 999 90 77 every day to see if one is arriving. I’m not sure why, because it’s incredibly unreliable and that’s even if they pick up the phone. The ferry leaves when it’s full and if weather permits – that’s all there is to it. We waited 12 hours at the port before boarding. That’s lucky – people camp out for three to nine days (nine is an exception, but it can and does happen). A good rule of thumb is to head to the port and expect to camp for three days.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
You’ll end up waiting here, hopefully there’s plenty of interesting travellers to talk to! Although we’ve met plenty of people who were the only travellers on their boat

Ferry departure and sailing times

You can now view the ship status in real-time ships.asco.az. If a ship is at port and has an assigned destination, it will leave within a few hours. This massively takes the guesswork out. 

Previously, your best bet was to head straight down to the port, buy your ticket and just wait it out. Once you’re there, don’t leave the port (you can, but it’s not advisable). We were waiting at the port with three other motorcyclists who arrived a week prior and were told the next boat would be in three days. 

So, they left and when they returned, three days later, they learned that the boat had been and gone. If you’re at the port, the boat isn’t there, you’re super confident it’s not going to turn up and leave in the next three hours and you’ve got transport then consider taking a quick trip to the Mud Volcanoes at Gobustan – they are well worth a visit.

Buying your Azerbaijan ferry ticket

There is a website where you can purchase a ticket. It is pointless as you will still need to go to the port in order to obtain it. Just do it at the port. You’ll meet friendly Vladimir in one of the shipping containers (speaks good English). He’ll need your passport and vehicle registration if you have a car or bike and ask if you want a four or two-person cabin. He’ll then give you a ticket and ask you to go to the bank next door and pay. Once you’ve paid, take the receipt back to Vladimir and he’ll produce a ticket for you.

We received an update in October 2023 saying that buying a ticket online is much easier now and there’s no need for cash at all. The current ticket price is $70 USD and can be purchased here: public.acsc.az/online

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Meet Vladimir (the smartly dressed one), he’s friendly, speaks good English and will help you out

Booking your ferry ticket online

Another option for booking your ticket online is to check with directferries.co.uk as you can find up-to-date and current sailing times and availability without having to contact the ferry company directly. 

Prices

You will need to pay the foot traveller cost, plus whatever vehicle cost you have. The price includes three meals a day while on the boat, a four or two-person cabin, bed linens and ‘strapping’ your motorcycle down (a piece of string, but safe enough).

  • Foot traveller – 70USD
  • Bicycle – 10USD
  • Motorcycle – 110USD
  • Car – 300USD
Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
The prices are official, all stuck up on the board so there’s no bartering

Vehicle owners will also need to pay an additional 7USD for a ‘special bridge tax’. There are plenty of reports online of these bridge taxes being a scam, however, no proof to back it up as a scam, it could just be that the authors weren’t happy paying it. Either way, they ask that you visit a separate container and pay the amount. It looks official enough as they write down your vehicle information and passport details and provide you with a receipt. Nobody checked we had this paper though. There should be no other fees, just ticket and bridge tax.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Vlad’s cabin and the ticket office

Money

There is nothing to buy on the ferry so you don’t need to worry about having any Azeri, American or Kazakh money. Your three meals a day are included in your ticket price and you can find water. But, pack your own water and take plenty of snacks just in case. Get rid of your Azeri money at the Azerbaijan port as you won’t need it anymore. It’s always worth carrying USD through Central Asia, so you could always withdraw some from the port’s ATM if needed. Don’t fret about Kazakh money as there’s a working ATM and a mini bank at the Kazakh port.

What can I find at the port?

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
The bank and ATM sits next to Vladimir’s office

The Alat port is surprisingly well equipped, despite how bleak it looks on arrival. There’s a bunch of shipping containers, which all have a function. You’ll find:

  • Vladimir’s ticket office – Vladimir is a friendly chap who speaks good English and is your main contact.
  • The market shop – Very well stocked, sausages, eggs, vegetables, snacks, water, fruit. The market is open 247
  • Cafe – There is now a full cafe serving meals. 
  • The bank – There’s a manned bank which will exchange US dollars and Manat. You pay the guys in there for the boat. They do have a card machine but it rarely works.
  • The ATM – An ATM sits just outside the bank, dispensing both Manat and USD. You will need to withdraw USD and pay for the boat in that currency.
  • Toilets – Not the most pleasant
  • Showers – Closed when we were there
  • Female toilets – Females can ask for a key to the locked ladies only toilets
  • Wifi – It can be purchased for 1USD a day. The best reception is by the ‘restaurant’

Waiting at the port

Waiting at the port isn’t a problem, regardless of when your boat leaves.

Back in 2018 it was advisable to take a tent or at least a mosquito net and to pitch up behind the containers and in front of the ticket office. But as of October 2023, there is now a new waiting area. 

It has cots, bathrooms, power outlets, and is climate controlled. There’s no need to camp anymore.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
We bought salami, tomatoes, eggs, potatoes and cheese. Give them to the ‘restaurant’ and he’ll make a tasty omelette

Visas

This is where it gets tricky if you’re cutting it fine. You’ll most likely have a 30-day Azerbaijan visa. You will need to make sure you plan your exit so you don’t overstay your visa. Turning up at the port the day before your visa expires can land you in a lot of trouble if your boat doesn’t leave for another three days. If you’re planning on doing this then you’ll need to check with the authorities on the procedure.

Customs

Once the go-ahead has been given, you’ll be directed to Customs Point 1. There you’ll need to visit the customs office, provide your passport and the slip of paper you received when entering Azerbaijan. You’ll be given it all back and told to go to the passport booth to be stamped out. And then that’s it – head to the boat!

If you stay in Azerbaijan for 10 days or longer you need to register yourself. Plenty of people worry about registration and if they’ll be asked for it at customs. We registered online, did not print any confirmation slips and were not asked. For a full guide to the Azerbaijan visa and registration procedures click here.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Another waiting game at passport control, although bicycles can make a head start

What to expect on the ferry

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Perfect for recreating that Titanic moment you’ve always dreamed off

If you have your own vehicle it will be tied down. Grab whatever bags you need and head upstairs. You can return to your vehicle later, but only at specific times in the morning and evening as the doors will be locked.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Just like a five-star luxury cruise ship… the staff are about to get the golf clubs out

You’re free to roam around the rest of the boat, sunbathe on deck or just hang out with fellow travellers on some of the benches. It’s definitely worth exploring – as you won’t have much else to do.

Cabins

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
A typical four-person cabin comes with key lock lockers, a wall socket and a sink

Once upstairs make your way to the common room area where you’ll find a “friendly” lady with the cabin keys and linens. She’ll direct you to your room. Rooms are very basic and usually with no window so they heat up rapidly. Most people sleep with their doors open.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
The double is a little cosier

Females and those travelling with females are in luck. You’ll be treated to a private room with an en-suite toilet and shower, and they usually come with a window too. If you’re not a woman or travelling with one then you’ll need to use the communal toilets and showers. Cabins come with a key to lock the door.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Your en-suite toilet and shower facilities

Food

The food isn’t that bad at all. There are three meals a day and the times they’re served are printed on the kitchen’s door. Regardless, the ‘friendly’ lady who runs the cabins will almost smash your door down every time food is served – and if you don’t answer she’ll just walk in to tell you to get out of bed (lock your doors). You can expect boiled eggs, bread and tea for breakfast. Lunch is chicken and rice with Coke or Fanta and dinner is either the same as lunch or a soup with bread.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Fanta, soup, chicken, potatoes, salad and bread. What more could you ask for

Sea sickness

Both myself and my partner suffer with terrible sea sickness. Neither of us took any medication for the crossing and we didn’t need it either. It’s very smooth so don’t worry.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Smooth waters and plain sailing all the way to Kazakhstan

Sights

Believe it or not there is one sight on the cruise – the Oil City of Neft Daslari – the only one of its kind in the world.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
It’d probably be a little more impressive with a better camera

It’s 100km away from Baku and is a full-on floating city on the sea. It was the first oil platform in Azerbaijan and the first offshore operating oil platform in the world (in the Guinness Book of Records). It’s built on the backs of sunken ships and is now a functional city, with 2000 people, children, schools and over 300km of streets built on piles of dirt.

While the ferry doesn’t exactly stop off for the day you can spot it in the distance as your boat cruises past all the oil rigs.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
It’s surrounded by dozens of oil rigs. Easy to see where Azerbaijan gets its wealth from

To know when to be on deck to see it just head to the bridge and ask what time they’ll be passing it. You can find it on Maps.Me and follow the ferry’s progress if not.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
You can even help point the crew in the right direction… they may not listen to you though

The Bridge

Head straight to the front of the boat and to the bridge. Politely knock on the door with a huge smile and say hello. They were very welcoming, letting us come in, take photos and examine the ship’s controls.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
The captain will let you into the control room if you ask nicely and show you round the bridge

Ferry arrival in Kazakhstan

As the boat comes into the harbour you’ll be asked to vacate your room, take your linens back and wait in the common room with your luggage.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
All the lorry drivers know the drill. They sit waiting patiently for the Kazak border guards

Once the boat docks it will quickly be boarded by Kazakh border police complete with a drug sniffer dog. You’ll have to line up behind your bags as the dog sniffs you and your gear. Then you will be marched off the boat, bundled into a mini bus and taken to passport control.

There’s a little trick here that we missed. Three motorcyclists on our boat managed to get one of the ferry’s staff to open the hold’s doors early morning and strapped all their luggage to the bikes. That way they didn’t have to lug heavy bags off the boat, into the bus and to the passport control. They missed the sniffer dog, but there’s plenty more sniffing to be done.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
The long, hot walk back to the boat carrying all your luggage

You’ll go through passport control and then have to walk back to the boat where you’ll stay until given a slip of paper. We ended up waiting a further 5 hours on the boat for our papers as apparently Azerbaijan’s internet was down and they hadn’t sent the paperwork through. Foot passengers don’t need to wait, but cyclists did for some reason.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
There’s not much to do but sleep while waiting to get off the boat
Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
So close, yet so far … Kazakhstan awaits!

After, you will need to disembark, ride around a bit, have your papers checked again, take the gear off your bike, or out of your car and have it sniffed again. Then it’s to the maze. Cyclists can leave at this point. Vehicle owners will need to leave their bikes and cars before the barrier, go through on foot and start a very long paperwork trail process. First up is Kazakh insurance (minimum of 15 days, about 10USD), then customs stamps, visa checks, paying 18USD into the bank for customs and more paperwork. There was a problem with their computer system when we arrived and we had to wait two hours for it to be rebooted. In total our border crossing was six hours (not including the five hours waiting on the boat).

There is a bank and an ATM next to the insurance office, you can withdraw in Kazakh Tenge here. There is a nice restaurant with decent Wifi, you can wait in there if you’re delayed. Once you’ve got more paperwork and stamps than you thought possible, the barrier will be lifted and you’re free!

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
Welcome to Kazakhstan - and have a safe journey!

Our experience

Whether you cross the Caspian Sea by ferry or go south through Iran or north through Russia is down to you and your visas. For us, Iran was out of the question as Brits need an expensive guide and north wasn’t possible as we didn’t have a Russian visa. We took the crossing in June 2018 and while it was a little confusing trying to figure out how much time we needed, it all worked out fine.

We planned to camp at the port for three days. We turned up at 1pm, waited 12 hours and got on the boat. The crossing took 24 hours, we waited five hours to get off the boat and six hours to get through Kazakh customs.

Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry
It’s tempting to nick a life boat and make your own way. Might be quicker

The whole procedure is very time consuming and there’ll probably be a lot of waiting around, but it is by no means difficult. You just need to be patient and prepared to jump through their hoops.

Best of luck and bon voyage!

How to cross the caspian sea by ferry
Don’t forget to watch the sun dipping back into the sea from the boat’s deck

Read more on motorcycle shipping 

Thanks for checking out our Crossing the Caspian Sea Ferry Guide. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycling shipping that we recommend you read next. 

Liked that? Try these next…

Are you planning on crossing the Caspain Sea by ferry from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. 

12 thoughts on “How to Cross the Caspian Sea by Ferry”

  1. Hi.
    I am planning a round trip from Italy to uzbekistan next spring. We will cross turkey Iran Turkmenistan and then,coming back, Kazakistan Caspian sera, Azerbaigian and Georgia.
    I Have sa è questions for you
    . The re is the ferry from Kazakistan to azerbaigian in that period?
    . How are the road in Kazakistan from uzbekistan?
    . Finally I will ho with my bike a BMW 1200 RT. Do you think will be many problem to go with this bike?
    Thanks a lot
    Ernesto
    PS your site is amazing for planning a tour

    Reply
    • Hi Ernesto,
      Sounds like you have an awesome trip planned!
      In answer to your questions:
      1. It’s very hard to say for sure when and if these ferries will be running because of constantly changing schedules and delays. And now with Covid everything is unsure. Your best bet is to contact the ferry company. You can find the phone number and the website on one of the pictures in this article. The website is acsz.az
      2 and 3. From Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan the road is a mixture of tarmac and gravel with the odd patches of small sand. But doable. The tough road is from between north and south Uzbekistan. The road is asphalt all the way, but it is terrible and filled with potholes and craters. You can not go fast at all and with a heavy bike like the R1200 you don’t want to fall into these potholes, so it will be slow going for you. It will be doable for you so long as you take it very slow and easy.
      Click on Destination on our website and then go to Uzbekistan, you will find guides explaining the road conditions on there in more detail and there are some important points about petrol too and places to see along this route as well as paperwork information.

      I hope this helps, please feel free to message us anytime as we’re always more than happy to help fellow travellers!

      And thank you very much for your kind words, greatly appreciated 🙂
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply
  2. Awesome and informative, thank you so much. We’re not on a bike but have a Yamaha Tenere 660 on the back of our truck which we’re planning to take to the Stans from UK…with our dog late 23 to early 24. Wish us luck. Best wishes to all travellers.

    Reply
    • Hi Aidan,
      Thank you very much for your comment! Much appreciated. That’s awesome you have a Z on the back of your truck! Great bike for it.
      Just a heads up in case you didn’t know – the land border into Azerbaijan is still closed. You’ll find more info in our Caucasus guide on the Azerbaijan page of our website.
      And also, the land border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is currently closed as well (you can find more info on the Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan pages of our website).
      Sounds like a brilliant trip though, please do report back here and let us know how you get on! Especially with crossing the borders and if there’s any updates we can add to this article too.
      Thanks again and all the best,
      Andy

      Reply
      • Will keep updating for sure. We’re still holed up in the uk getting sons graduated and others married, trucks fixed and watching the developing situation in Azerbaijani and Armenia…seems every time we come up with a solution to head east we get scuppered. Again, thanks for the informative updates…invaluable. Cheers Aidan

        Reply
        • Hi Aidan, sounds like you’ve got a lot on! I’m sure you know, but an alternative would be to go around these countries from Georgia to Russia and enter Kazakhstan. As you’re already in the UK it would make getting a Russian visa much easier. Unless, of course, the purpose of your trip is to visit Azerbaijan. You could always go Georgia, Armenia, Georgia, Russia.
          Anyway, we look forward to your updates! All the best,
          Andy

          Reply
  3. Hi! I’m planning to do this ferry ride next year. The website of travel warning in my country says, that every international train, bus and ferry connection in Azerbaijan is suspended and the only way to travel is by plane, at the moment. I wonder if that’s correct, since I can’t find other information. Do you know anything about this? Thank you for the very helpful blog entry!!
    Greetings, Maja

    Reply
    • Hi Maja,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, that is correct, Azerbaijan has been closed since the pandemic. There have been constant reports of it reopening since November 2022, but nothing. You can exit Azerbaijan to Georgia, but you can not enter Azerbaijan other than by using plane.

      In the Destinations section of our website we have guides on the Caucasus including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. There’s also a Caucasus Guide where we explain about Azerbaijan’s closed border situation – but I didn’t put the same info on this guide. Your comment has reminded me to do that, so i’ve now updated this guide. Anyway, you might find those pages helpful if you’re planning a trip in that area.

      Best of luck with your travels, please do let us know how you get on and send any updates and reports on here so we can keep everything up-to-date.
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply
  4. Hello Mad & Nomad and fellow travelers,
    Nice read your posting. Can I,Foot traveller ferry from Aqtau, Kazakhstan to Alat, Baku in Sept. 2023. I am on a Overland travel from Uzbekistan to Black Sea. Any information is very welcome. Thank you. Happy Traveling.

    Reply
    • Hi KK Yap, thanks for your comment.
      As far as we’re aware, there is still no entry to Azerbaijan other than by airplane. So we don’t think you’ll be able to take this ferry, even if it is by foot.
      Things can change any moment, but as of August 2023, that is the information we have.
      Please do let us know if you find out otherwise!
      Cheers and all the best with your travels,
      Andy

      Reply

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