Taking our RV on the ferry from Baja to Mainland Mexico is a topic we’ve talked about, researched and stressed over for the past few years while planning this crazy adventure, and the time has finally come! We’re taking La Tortuga, our 27’ land yacht, out to sea.
When you’re sitting at home in Dillon, Colorado on your computer, researching ferry options in Baja, Mexico, things are a bit confusing. First, nothing on the ferry websites really explains what you’re supposed to do or how much you’re going to pay. Will you take ferry #1 or ferry #2? Do you take the ferry to destination #1 or destination #2? Which is better? Less expensive? Easiest?
Needless to say, I was dreading the whole process!
Hopefully, the information below will help demystify the process of traveling between Baja and mainland Mexico and give you a good place to start your own process. If you follow these steps, you should have an easier ferry experience. Or, their system could totally change in a day and none of this will make any sense at all. Let’s hope you experience the first one.
Vehicle: 1992 Class C RV…aka, La Tortuga
Ferry Departure Port: Pichilingue
Ferry Destination Port: Topolobampo
Ferry Departure Date: January 10, 2020
Ferry Cost: $521.76
Make sure you’ve purchased the TIP for your vehicle (Temporary Import Permit). It is REQUIRED to travel to the mainland.
First off, if you are only going to travel in Baja, you DO NOT NEED a TIP. But if you know your plans are to cross to the mainland, I recommend getting your TIP when you first cross the border. Check out our following articles that talk about our experiences crossing the both the Tecate and Mexicali borders:
Tips for Driving From the US to Mexico: https://livingoutsidethezoo.com/tips-driving-us-mexico/e XXX Crossing the US-Mexico Border: https://livingoutsidethezoo.com/crossing-the-us-mexico-border/
You can always wait and buy your tip in La Paz before taking the ferry, but you’re already dealing with paperwork hassles at the border, so why go through the process again in La Paz? Just my two cents.
Contact the ferry company(s) a week or two before you wish to travel.
The ferries sometimes get back-logged and ferries break down, leaving you with less options for travel. A little preparation in advance will allow you to best prepare for your departure.
Calling the Ferry Company- If you are comfortable speaking the language, by all means, call. But if you can’t, odds are you’ll end up with more questions than when you started. First, you want to tell them when you’d like to travel, at which point they will tell you if that is possible or if you need to be placed on a waitlist. If they put you on the waitlist for a certain day, follow up with them that day around noon to ask if you can get on.
Visiting the Ferry Company- If you are anywhere near the ferry port, I highly recommend going to the terminal. First, communication is much easier, even if you don’t speak the language. They are happy to read your questions on Google Translate and respond in the same way. Also, by visiting the terminal, you get a first glance at where you’ll need to go on departure day. The gentleman working the front entrance gladly walked us through the entire process and we felt very comfortable when we arrived back a few days later.
Choosing Your Ferry Company
Choosing Your Ferry
The following are the two ferries to choose from and some pros and cons for each:
Option 1: Transportación Maritima de California (TMC)
This is the commercial ferry meant for commercial trucks and
cargo, BUT they DO (I repeat DO) take RV’s, trucks, campers, and personal
vehicles. We parked alongside a 2 door hatchback. Best of all, they will let
you sleep in your vehicle, which is great if you are traveling with a pet,
which we are, so this was the ferry we opted for.
Option 2: Baja Ferries
This is the passenger ferry, meant mostly for individuals
traveling to the mainland, with or without their vehicles. You CANNOT sleep in your rig on Baja Ferris. Your choices for
sleeping are 1.) Rent a cabin, if there is one available or 2.)
Bring a mat and lie on the floor, nestled between all the other passengers.
Mmm…sounds nice, right? Hope they all showered and brushed their teeth before boarding!
1.) You get to sleep inside your vehicle, move around as you wish, cook your own foods, even watch a movie to pass the time.
2.) You get to take (and stay with) your pets.
3.) You can hang out with all the truckers on the upper decks, who bring coolers of beer on board.
4.) The ferry cost seems quite a bit cheaper, from what we’ve been told.
5.) The ferry crossing is much shorter (if you’re taking it to the Topolobampo Port), which is great if you don’t enjoy rolling around in your bed all night. Well, we actually did do a lot of rolling, which tells me it has to be worse on the longer trip to Mazatlan. But this would be the same on either ferry, I suppose.
1.) They employ agents who can speak English, making your reservation process a little easier.
2.) You have the choice of renting a cabin if you book early enough.
3.) You have the choice of taking the ferry to either Topolobampo or Mazatlan.
1.) You can only take the ferry to Topolobambo, about 5 hours north of Mazatlán, at least at the time of our crossing due to a ferry being down for repair. It may very well be back up and running so the La Paz- Mazatlán option may be available again by now.
2.) The extra drive time south is long and filled with tolls.
*That’s about all I can think of for cons with taking TMC and it is only based on the fact we couldn’t take the ferry to Mazatlán. We had a truly a great experience with them.
1.) They seem to have higher prices and we’ve heard the costs “fluctuate” drastically based on the agent you get.
2.) You cannot sleep in the comfort of your own bed in your vehicle, and if I’m going to roll around and feel nauseous, I don’t want it to be two inches from a stranger.
3.) You cannot take your dog/pet with you into a cabin or on to the accommodations on the floor.
For either ferry, if you’re trying to decide whether to take it to Topolobampo or Mazatlan, I’d suggest comparing the extra costs involved, such as gas and tolls. We spent approximately $50.00 in tolls with our 27’ Class C RV with dual rear tires. Toll prices are based solely on your vehicle type, size and number of tires. Gas prices will vary greatly, of course, depending on the size and age of your vehicle.
Remember, if you’re traveling with a dog, TMC will be your only option, unless you want to lock them in your rig for 12 hours, alone. Please don’t!
I’m not sure it’s worth talking about ferry costs as things seem to change all the time on this subject. Visit the websites for each ferry to get a good baseline. They have prices listed, which will give you some kind of clue, at least.
I’ve heard stories of people showing up and being told they fall into a different category for a larger vehicle than they actually are and being told they need to pay more. We’ve also had two separate friends tell us they were pre-quoted an exact price before they even arrived with their vehicle (that was definitely on TMC), solely based on a rough vehicle size and the number of passengers on board. Our process was a little different still and documented below.
First off, we took the TMC ferry to Topolobampo as we were traveling with our dog and wanted to sleep in the RV. At the time, TMC only had a ferry going to Topo so we didn’t have the choice of going to Mazatlan. After going through the process of pre-calling the ferry a few weeks in advance and then stopping by in person several days ahead, below is the process we went through upon arrival:
- We pulled into the ferry terminal and made our way between the gates. Hint: It looks like you are just entering a parking lot but the entrance to the ferry is directly to your right. We knew right where we needed to go as we had already been there once before.
- We pulled up to the agent at the stop sign and told her we had a reservation on TMC.
- We were asked for our TIP paperwork. Note: You should have this ready before you get to the terminal. We thought the sticker in our windshield was sufficient, but they wanted to see the actual receipt and details. Gregg was also asked for his identification.
- They inspected the inside of the RV- They asked if we had anything we needed to declare. I asked if my 5 newly purchased bottles of wine counted! I’m not sure if she asked or I just told her, but I told her we had no firearms or drugs. That was the end of the inspection. Easy!
- We drove forward to the scale, just up ahead to the left.
- We drove up onto the scale and after a few minutes, they handed us a slip of paper to take to the TMC office, which included the weight of our vehicle and the number of passengers.
- We parked the RV off to the right and walked into the nearby office where we paid for the ferry.
- We were charged based on the weight and number of passengers. We should have hidden Noah in the shower stall! There was a charge for the RV with 1 passenger, and then a charge for each additional person. For our 27’ Minnie Winnie RV with 3 passengers, we paid $521.76 USD, much cheaper than we had anticipated. We were handed a receipt and three dinner tickets (bonus!) and told to drive to the ferry loading area.
- We drove around and looked for the TMC ferry and parked next to other trucks (and a few cars) waiting to load.
- The loading agent walked over with his manifest and we showed him our receipt and asked if we could park on the upper deck, to which he said no problem! We were given this piece of advice from other travelers as the upper deck allows more airflow and easier access to the kitchen, etc. For the next hour or so, we watched and walked around taking pictures as they loaded the ferry with giant trucks and cargo, backing up at speeds I’m afraid to go in a forward direction.
- When it was our time to load, we slowly drove onto the ferry and took a ramp on the left to the upper deck. We basically went where they directed us to go. And from here we did an Austin Powers turn and parked right along the wall behind other cars and trucks.
- We hung out in the RV long enough to watch them load a few more trucks, one of which was parked so close to our RV I wasn’t sure we’d be able to enter and exit the rig. But they kindly backed it up enough to allow us space.
- We took our dinner tickets and walked up the steep ladder to the kitchen (open until 9pm) and had dinner while watching a movie in Spanish. Afterward, we walked around the upper decks and enjoyed the breeze while they pulled anchor and we made our way out to sea.
- We returned to our vehicle and watched a movie and then fell asleep to the soft rocking of the boat, and then awoke several times throughout the night to the severe rolling of the boat! Be sure and bring your Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness!
- The boat departed around 10 pm and we arrived in the bay of Topolobampo around 7:30 am. It took a few hours to anchor and back up to the dock in order to unload, so we made coffee onboard and spent some time on the upper decks taking in our new surroundings. We rolled down the ramp and off the boat around 10:00 am.
That was our ferry experience from La Paz to Topolobampo on TMC Ferries. If we had taken Baja Ferries, we’d be able to offer more exact information on their company as well, so take our reviews about them with a grain of salt…accompanied by a margarita, of course!
I hope you found this information helpful and it helps put your mind at ease, knowing a little more how to navigate the process. And, of course, if you do take the ferry, we’d love to hear how your experience goes as well!