Not to mention that the facts keep changing, the prices aren't standardised, the Turkmen embassy keeps moving and the corruption makes it all just one huge adventure.
So here is the most up-to-date information available from those who have just completed the journey.
First off some good news for overland drivers. Forget the horror stories you've read about the ferry being old and unbearable, long and dangerous. Since January 2015 Baku has a brand new freight ferry called Berkarar that is just begging to be taken across the Caspian Sea. It's big, clean, has good cabins with showers and toilets, air conditioning and plenty of seating and deck space. It doesn't have anything in the way of shops or food however so you still have to bring your own on board, but for a few dollars you can get a pot of tea and a bottle of cold water.
There is still no schedule however, and loading times are no better than they were, but at least the ferry is now comfortable! The new ferry travels from Baku main pert, so nice and convenient, while the old ferry which takes foot passengers, now leaves from the Alat port 70km south of Baku. In the summer months you'll see 2-3 ferry departures per eek from Baku.
Visa - Azerbaijan
Because the ferry has no schedule, visas for both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan need to be planned carefully. Unless you're willing to pay large bribes or the official $4,000 deposit, Azerbaijan will only your vehicle into Azerbaijan on transit papers for 72 hours. The transit paper costs $100, and insurance costs $50, though you will likely be asked to pay somewhere between $200 ans $300 and there's not a lot you can do about it unfortunately.
Any over-stay on your transit time will cost you between $150-$200 in fines upon leaving the country.
This means that before you hit 72 hours in the country you'll need to take your vehicle to the port and arrange for the vehicle to be stamped out of Azerbaijan, and leave it there until you board the ferry.
Unfortunately, with no schedule, the timing on this is hard to predict.
Visa - Turkmenistan
There are two types of visa for overland tourists in Turkmenistan.
Tourist visa: this allows you 13 days in the country, does not require an LOI, but it does require a guide accompanying you in your vehicle. This is expensive, and 13 days is about 10 days too many to spend in Turkmenistan anyway.
Transit visa: This is what most people opt for.
You'll need an LOI before you arrive in Baku (it is possible to get one at the consulate but this takes time that you don't have). It used to be that you have to get your visa for Turkmenistan in Baku at the consulate which is impossible to find and only open 09.00-12.00 Monday and Friday. Nightmare!
Now it is possible to get on the ferry with your LOI and get your visa in Turkmenbashi when you arrive in the port.
BEAR IN MIND THAT: It takes slightly longer to get through customs if you get your visa upon arrival, and you have to pay for the visa in cash in USD ($55 for most nationalities and $12 tax for everyone).
HOWEVER: You save valuable time in Baku.
If you do prefer to get your visa in Baku, the consulate is located behind the Europe Hotel on
Jalil Mammadguluzadeh 85/226a. GPS coordinates: 40.395437, 49.826532. Remeber, street names are spelt differently on different maps when translated to the Roman alphabet, so use the GPS coordinates.
The embassy is just off this street, down an alley. You'll need to be there early because once processed, you'll have to pay for your visa in a bank that is 20 minutes away by taxi and you need to get back to the embassy with the payment receipt before they close at 12.00.
Once you have your visa, or are happy with just your LOI, you'll need to go to the ferry port in Baku and ask if there's a ferry. You can do this by calling Victoria before 12.00 any day? She speaks english and can be reached on these numbers: +994 50 420 09 05, +99 455 266 5354 or +994 55 555 17 57.
Your best bet however, to deal with all the above, is Ishmael. He's known locallt (and to many ralliers) as the 'fixer'. For a fee ($30 per person plus $30 for your vehicle), he'll sort out:
- the export of your vehicle from Azerbaijan
- your passenger tickets for the ferry $90 per person including a cabin
- your vehicle tickets (about $95 per metre)
- For an extra $20 per person he'll help you with your visa in Baku too but this is not necessary
Be careful though. Make sure you get a receipt before you leave the port so you don't get stung for additional ticket fees when you arrive in Turkmenbashi, and be at the port when Ishmael tells you to be so you don't miss your spot.
You need to count 2 days for the ferry, though the crossing itself only takes about 10 hours with the new ferry. You'll need to be at the port at 11.00 on the morning of departure to pay fees and check vehicle papers and then you'll be free to go for food/stock up on essentials before vehicles get taken down to the dock at about 15.00. Then you're in for a long wait. It takes hours for the ferry to load the trucks and cars can only go on at the end. Only after that will they let you go through passport control and then load the passengers. The ferry rarely leaves the dock before about midnight.
On arrival be prepared for more waiting as the ferry unloads. Only drivers are allowed to stay with vehicles while everyone else is carted off to immigration. The border control process can be slow and painful, and takes most of the day, so if you dock at about 11.00 and get off the ferry at about 13.00, don't expect to be driving out of the harbour before 22.00.
Arriving in Turkmenistan
Make sure you have plenty of USD with you when you arrive in Turkmenbashi because you'll need them and there is no way to get money until Ashgabat. At the border control you'll need to pay for your visa if you don't already have it: $55, and a tax per person of $12.
You'll then need to pay for the customs on your vehicle. These costs are all fixed, so no nasty surprises should await you - you can find them here: