To get from Baja Sur to mainland Mexico without driving nearly all the way to the states and then through the northern part of the country, one must take a ferry. Though we read that other freight companies will accept passengers, the main option, and the one that we chose, is operated by Baja Ferries. Our experience was pleasant and got the job done.
Routes and Schedules
Two separate routes are available through Baja Ferries, both traveling between Baja California Sur and the state of Sinaloa. One travels between La Paz and Topolobampo and the other between La Paz and Mazatlán. Topolobampo is about 425km further north than Mazatlán by land, making it a shorter voyage by ferry, with the La Paz-Topolobampo trip taking 6-7 hours (some daytime and some overnight) and the La Paz-Mazatlán trip 17-18 hours (only overnight). Ferries leave from each location every couple of days, and schedules are available on the website. We left La Paz on Sunday at 5:00PM and arrived in Mazatlán just before 11:00AM on Monday.
Booking and Tickets
We booked online via bajaferries.com. After selecting your route and date on the main page, the site walks you through a menu of any additional items you might need to declare or purchase, such as a cabin, a vehicle, or pets. It was simple and intuitive and automatically calculated appropriate discounts, which for us included a reduction in Ian’s ticket price as he was driving the vehicle. The normal cost per adult for a one way trip from La Paz to Mazatlán is 1078 pesos ($85.50 USD). On the day of our trip, we drove to the ticket office a couple of hours early and needed only to provide my confirmation number and passport to pick them up. They did a quick review of our vehicle, and we received separate tickets for each human, each dog, and the van (5 total). Customer service was fantastic.
(Note: See reader BRhoads’ comment at the bottom of this post. Seems there has recently been some difficulty getting the ferry operator to allow dogs to travel to Mazatlan. If anyone else has taken a pooch on the ferry since our crossing in February 2013 and could relay their experience as well that would be helpful.)
Pets can be transported by Baja Ferries and in our opinion, with little difficulty. They must be declared when the ticket is purchased, and as said above, there is a place to do this through the ticket purchasing process on the website. The first pet is free. The second costs 205 pesos ($16.25 USD). We were asked to bring a cage as it appears others who brought dogs were, but there were larger spaces off of the ground available once we arrived, so the kennel we carried on went unused. We imagine the request was to prepare in case they had more pets than spaces, but who really knows. The provided kennels were plastic except for the metal cage door. Other blogs and reviews that we read prior to departing gave us the impression that owners were not allowed to see their dogs for the entirety of the trip, but pet-owners on our voyage were allowed to take water to their dogs once during the crossing. One last notable item is that pets are brought onto and taken off of the ferry by the owner through the crowds and human spaces. I completed the airport-like boarding process just like all of the other passengers with Olmec at my side until I was nearly to my seat, at which point a staff member led me to the kennels.
Most of the autos on the ferry were 18-wheelers or box trucks, transporting cargo of some kind; however, plenty of passenger vehicles made their way on board as well. Prices to transport your vehicle by ferry depend on type and length, but for our CR-Van the cost was 2215 pesos ($175.80 USD). All fees are listed on the website, though it is not entirely clear what the price is for an adult driving a vehicle on. Per the quote we were sent from Baja Ferries ticket support before as well as our email confirmation after buying, we received a 990 peso ($78.60 USD) discount for the combined purchase of Ian’s adult ticket and an auto ticket. This means rather than 1078 for an adult ticket and 2215 for an auto ticket for a total of 3293, we instead paid 2303 for an auto ticket including driver. Again, this price was automatically calculated by the website.
Upon entering the Baja Ferries area, we were guided by two employees to have the extra passenger (me!) exit the van and proceed to the walk-on boarding area prior to sending Ian on his way. He went through customs where he was asked if he had anything to declare (no), and he was required to push a button to see if he would be searched (also no). The next stop was a gentleman representing the facilities, which apparently are not owned by Baja Ferries. In order to use them (ie – drive onto the ferry that you just paid $200 to take), you must pay a facilities fee of 146 pesos ($11.60 USD). After parking, hunting me down for cash, running back, paying, and being sent on, Ian drove around until he found the boat. While waiting on a semi to back onto the ferry, a man came by to scan Ian’s ticket, and shortly after he was waved onto the lower deck where passenger vehicles were parked. Not much direction was given after that, but Ian and Maya found their way to the upper decks where a crew member directed them to the kennel room.
Facilities and Meals
Included in the price of an adult ticket is an assigned seat, dinner, and breakfast, all of which we found to be completely sufficient. The seats are slightly larger and more comfortable than airline seats, but organized similarly in a room we came to refer to as “the Movie Room”, based solely on the fact that all seats faced forward towards flatscreens playing classic films in Spanish like Men In Black II, The Bourne Legacy, Taken, and Madagascar. Cabins were also available for rent for 770 pesos ($61.10 USD) with a private bathroom or 500 pesos ($39.70 USD) without. We had originally discussed paying extra for a cabin to ensure a better night’s sleep as we had more driving to do the next day, but by the time we bought our tickets, they were all booked. In retrospect, whether or not it would have been worthwhile is probably a push, and we were completely satisfied with our arrangement which you can read more about below.
Aside from these spaces, the deck was open to passengers as well as a cafeteria-type room, with unassigned tables and a small concession bar selling snacks, desserts, alcohol, and non-alcoholic beverages. Most of the tables were claimed by groups early, but a few opened up on a rotating basis, and passengers were friendly about allowing us to use two of their extra seats while we ate. Dinner was served between 5:30 and 7:30, but there were no assigned eating times and knowing when serving had begun required peeking in periodically. The meal included chicken, rice, beans, and tortillas; no beverages were provided, but drinks were available for purchase – for reference, water cost 10 pesos ($.80 USD) and beer cost 25 pesos ($2 USD). After being served through the cafeteria line, guests handed their tickets to the bartender who scanned them to confirm this was indeed their first dinner and also to sell them whatever they wanted to drink with the meal. Breakfast proceeded similarly, served mid-morning-ish and comprised of eggs with hotdogs, an unknown but tasty meat dish, rice, beans, and tortillas.
Aside from the above details, there were also a few items in our own experience that are worth telling. As mentioned, walk-on boarding was similar to a strange airport. It went something like this: wait, get in line, put your things on a conveyor belt to be x-rayed, push a button to see whether or not your stuff was going to be searched (green light, woot woot!), walk past a station where it appears IDs are being checked but no one asks for yours, approach a metal detector where others are removing belts and wallets to walk through and you are told to pass right on by, continue outside where bags are being tagged and checked for passage (backpacks could be carried on), get picked up by a van that drives you to the ferry, try to convince everyone in the van that your dog isn’t going to bite them, give a lady your ticket, follow the yellow paint on the ground to get onto the boat. From what I’ve read, this process in La Paz is far more strenuous than when boarding at Mazatlán or Topolobampo. After taking Olmec to the kennel room and finding Maya already there, I set off in search of Ian. We spent a lovely evening walking on deck, enjoying a couple of beers, practicing our Spanish with an off duty crew member, eating dinner, and watching movies, and we were even quite comfortable when it came time for sleep. After dozing off for a short bit though, I woke up in a sweat and short of breath. Dang had it gotten warm in that movie room! We grabbed our blankets and hit the deck, where we found a nice spot up top to set up camp. By the middle of the night when I went to the restroom, the deck was covered with people, most without blankets, and the movie room looked like a scene from a movie where a big house party had taken place the night before and bodies were passed out in various, uncomfortable positions on the chairs, the floor, and everywhere in between. Our recommendation is to bring a sleeping bag and enjoy dozing under the stars.
Overall, we had a very positive experience on our Baja Ferry. The crowd was pleasant, the facilities were satisfactory, and we’ve made it safely to mainland Mexico with another fun adventure under our belts.