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The Ferry From Mazatlan to La Paz: My Overnight Experience

Do you want to travel from the Mexico mainland to the Baja Peninsula? The two largest cities that are connected by transportation are Mazatlan on the mainland and La Paz on the peninsula. If you are traveling in Mexico by foot, motorcycle, car, or RV, you can do what I did and and take the ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz overnight and wake up in your destination. 

ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz

I was in Mazatlan for the total eclipse in April with some friends, then we stayed on for a week in a home exchange apartment a block from the beach in the Golden Zone and alternated between working and sunset walks. My wife then headed home to Guanajuato and I needed to get to La Paz and Los Cabos for some travel writing work. She flew home, I crossed the Sea of Cortez. 

If I had planned really far in advance, I could have just taken the one available flight that runs three days a week. More on that later. But I wanted to take the slow boat to La Paz anyway, something I had been planning to do for a while, just to see how it works and sleep on a ship. 

It’s important to approach this as basic transportation, not some kind of luxurious experience like you could get on some ferries in Europe or British Columbia in Canada. As others have pointed out in articles, you are cargo, not someone that Baja Ferries is going to pamper like a VIP, even if you rent the best cabin. But they do give you something to eat, provide a lounge and a bar, and get you to where you’re headed. 

Here’s the lowdown on what you need to know to take the ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz. Or in the other direction. 

Times and Logistics for the Mazatlan to La Paz Ferry

I made a few goofs on my trip and since Google isn’t showing much information of use these days, I was unprepared about what to expect. Most of what shows up in search will be booking sites and there are a lot of articles and forum discussions that are five or ten years old. So here’s the current scoop from 2024, with observations and lessons learned. 

In terms of vitals, the ferry travels between Mazatlan and La Paz three times a week, on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. It it listed as 12 hours, but usually takes around 13 hours, leaving between 4 and 5:00 p.m. and getting you into La Paz just as the sun is coming up. It can take longer if the seas are rough or weather conditions are bad. The Sea of Cortez is relatively sheltered though, with the Baja Peninsula protecting it on one side and the mainland Mexico on the other once you pass the halfway point, so it’s wide but not too wild. Our ride was all gentle rocking, nobody running for a barf bag or throwing up over the side of a railing. 

Going the other direction, it leaves La Paz on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. So in that case you might actually find an open coffee shop on the other end when you disembark at 8 a.m. or so. 

Baja ferries exterior of ship

It officially departs Mazatlan at 4:00 (Port of port of Pichilingue) and here was my biggest mistake. I thought that was just the boarding time because I’d read information online (including on booking sites) about it leaving at 5:00 or 7:00. So I figured we would be waiting around forever and didn’t want to get there too early. So I arrived at 3:30 and almost missed the boat—literally.

Lesson learned #1: Get there at least an hour before the time on your ticket, probably an hour and a half or more to be safe. Naturally if you’re bringing a vehicle, pad the time even more because that involves a ballet of them putting all the puzzle pieces together on the ship from the vehicles in the parking lot, including big 18-wheeler trucks. The loading process is complicated and lengthy because of the variety of vehicles.

I was the last person to board the ship, to the point where they had already loaded all the passenger luggage. The person who checked me in after I crossed the walkway onto the ferry was puzzled that I had a bag and told me in Spanish that I couldn’t bring my suitcase onto the ship, even though I had a cabin. He motioned to a place to leave it by the cars. Fast-forward to the next day and it was sitting in that exact spot unattended, ready for anyone to grab it and carry it away. Thankfully the Mexicans are a trustworthy bunch in general and it hadn’t moved.

Lesson learned #2: You have to check in your luggage and you won’t see it until you pick it up from a delivery point in the La Paz terminal. You can’t bring anything larger than a daypack onto the ferry, so load something like that with your toiletries, charger, reading material, and anything else you’ll need.

For most transit we do these days, we’re used to using our phone confirmation as our ticket, pulling it up to take a flight, a train, a bus, or a ferry. Not this ferry though: they’re old-school. Even though your ticket purchased online has a QR code on it, my assumption that it would get me onto the ship was incorrect. I had to backtrack to the ticket office, which was in the process of locking its doors (see lesson learned #1). They let me in, issued a paper ticket in a little folder, and I went back to the checkpoint with that in hand.

Lesson learned #3: You have to show your electronic ticket to get your real ticket in paper form. You do this at the ferry office in the terminal. 

Baja Ferries Ticket Costs From Mazatlan

Seats on the ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz

The Baja ferry prices are the same in either direction, so if you’re taking the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan instead, you can use still use these below as your guide. I’m listing what they were when I traveled, but of course that can change, so consult the Baja Ferries site, turning the translate function on if you don’t speak Spanish. 

If you don’t have a vehicle, then the pricing is relatively simple. Option one is to buy a seat in one of two big rooms that hold all the passengers. These hold rows of reclining leather seats that are like airplane seats of old (not the ones you find now that are super thin). The further ahead you purchase, the better chance you have of getting a seat for the lowest price of $95. The website says up to 2,500 pesos, which would be $147, but I never saw it cost that much when I put in a variety of dates. 

Option two is to buy a cabin bunk. “I’ll take the bunk!” you might say, without even hearing the price.

sleeping on the Mazatlan ferry in a cabin

Unfortunately, if you’re a solo traveler that’s going to be difficult. They sell the cabin as a cabin, not as a collection of beds like in a hostel. So if you want to sleep in a cabin, you need to rent the whole thing. Find a buddy or a group to share with or you’re sleeping with the masses. 

The cabins are $141 on top of the passenger ticket price. They have ones for 2 people that sell out fast and ones that fit 4 people in bunk beds. Oddly, those cabins are the same price. So if you have a group of four, a good value.

They say the rooms have a bathroom and TV, but mine only had the bathroom. I’m guessing they’ve pulled out the TVs because there wouldn’t be a signal at sea anyway, but who knows. The bathroom had a shower, but I didn’t try it out. There were no outlets in the room except one European one (?!) and I’m not sure it worked. 

Check out this video to see the full experience: 

The vehicle prices are more complicated, naturally, so it’s best to check the website to figure out how much that will cost you. Without extra charges (including passenger tickets), the prices are the following, using an exchange rate of 17 to the dollar: 

Motorcycle – $215

Car – $374

Car with trailer/camper – $999

RV/Campervan – $999

Ouch on those last two, but keep in mind that drivers are doing this to cut a few thousand miles off their travel time, not to mention all the fuel that would be expended on the way and whatever campground/RV park fees you would pay.

Look at a Baja California map and you’ll see that it’s a looonnngg way to drive from Mazatlan to La Paz or vice-versa. If you look that route up on Google maps, it won’t even show you the road option! It basically says, “What are you, nuts? Take the ferry. It’s the shortest route.”

Here’s why: that route starts with a 22-hour drive from Mazatlan to Puerto Penasco, up near the Arizona border. It’s 1,300 kilometers. Then from there to La Paz would take you another 18 hours if you stuck to the major highway, longer if you wanted to get off an actually see anything on the coasts. That’s another 1,561 kilometers—the distance between San Diego and Eugene, Oregon. Just for the Baja Peninsula part. That’s quite an epic road trip.

Food and Drink on the Baja Ferry

You won’t starve on this trip: your ticket includes a lunch/dinner as soon as you board, which seems like strange timing, but hey, it’s included. It’s cafeteria-style food where you pick what you want on your plate and they serve it up, along with something to drink. I got some fried fish, rice, and tortillas, but they also had two meat dishes. I didn’t see much for vegetarians besides the rice with some carrots in it, so plan accordingly if you have dietary restrictions. 

Then in the morning there’s free coffee and some pastries to choose from. You’ll be fine on that part if you’re vegetarian, but not vegan. 

You eat in the main lounge you can see in that video, with too-bright florescent lighting. This also houses the reception area for checking into cabins or renting a blanket. They show movies dubbed in Spanish and people are hanging out talking, playing cards, or whatever. There’s a charging station in the corner where you can get some juice back into your phone. 

Up a few levels is a small bar and lounge. I didn’t get a photo of that because it’s quite small and was always full. I wasn’t drinking on this trip but plenty of other people were, both in here and on the deck. Prices were reasonable, just a tad more than you’d pay on land. A beer was the same price as the Diet Coke I bought in the lounge, actually. They make cocktails too, but more people were drinking micheladas

They sell bottled water and lots of sugary drinks in the dining area, along with some snacks for purchase. I also saw a chef’s salad for sale. There’s a vending machine too. I’d advise bringing your own water though and understand that there are no places to refill a bottle on board. 

The On-board Experience on the Ferry From Mazatlan

leaving Mazatlan on the ferry

I only saw two other foreigners on the ship. There may have been more, but I didn’t hear any English apart from what was coming out of that couple’s mouths. Most of the passengers seemed to be truck drivers, families visiting relatives, and people who were carrying bikes or paddleboards on top a vehicle.

This was late April though. Maybe when it’s high season and there are more RV drivers on the road from the USA, during snowbird season in the winter, there would be more foreigners. 

Everything is in Spanish, including the announcements on the loudspeakers. There was one guy who spoke English that worked in the lounge and at reception, so he gave me the spiel at the beginning. Including the fact that I had to leave a passport or driver’s license that I’d get back when I returned my cabin key. I can get by in Spanish fine, but if you can’t, find that guy or someone like him! 

You can go out on the deck for some fresh air here, though the only places you can go are in the back of the ship, not the front. So you can see where you’ve been, but not where you are going. That was fine pulling out of Mazatlan when we could see the hills and the skyline, but kind of a bummer when we couldn’t see the sunset: we were heading straight for it. This is not a trip you take because of the beautiful scenery.

We did get to see the sky light up for sunrise when we were headed to the port in La Paz. You’ll see that photo toward the bottom. 

There’s a tiny designated smoking area on the deck and as mentioned earlier, they don’t care if you eat or drink out there. There are some chairs outside along the walls if you want to kick back for a while outside. I read that other passengers saw people sleeping on the deck, so maybe that’s allowed, but I didn’t witness anyone doing it and there’s not much space for it really. The only options would be where people are walking. 

This is not a good trip for those with mobility issues. You are going up and down stairs constantly, including to get to the cabins on the upper deck, and the halls to approach the cabins are narrow, the doors to the cabins even more so. The doors to the bathrooms are also narrow and there’s a threshold to step over. If you’re in a wheelchair or can’t navigate stairs, it would be better to fly. 

lots of stairs on the Baja ferry

The bathrooms are located in multiple areas and are kept clean by an ample staff. Staffers were friendly and helpful.

My only beef was that there was so much garbage generated, everything individual wrapped in plastic and served in Styrofoam like’s it’s the 1980s, but maybe someday they’ll get into the modern age and use items that are recyclable, washable, or biodegradable as they putter across the fragile ocean with rising temperatures. 

There’s no Wi-Fi on this ship! You’ll get a cell signal when you’re near a port, but otherwise assume you’re going offline for most of the night during this ferry ride. Which is not a bad thing now and then. 

Be advised that even though you’re traveling from Sinaloa state in Mexico to Baja Sur state in Mexico, you will go through a security check in La Paz. They’re looking for drugs and weapons, so don’t bring either! 

Flight vs. Ferry Between Mazatlan and La Paz

“Why didn’t you just fly?” someone asked me in Los Cabos, and fair question. There is a direct flight, just one, between these two cities. It’s on TAR Aerolineas, an airline based in Queretaro. They saw a market opportunity and grabbed it because otherwise you would need to fly way out of the way to a hub in Mexico City or Tijuana to cross the sea. 

This TAR direct flight is only on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The flight can be as low as $127 and and as high as $208 for the lowest fare that’s non-refundable, a tad more for one that you can cancel/switch. You can’t wait until the last minute for these though: when I was traveling it was after Easter and the total eclipse in Mazatlan, so the flights were all sold out. As I’m writing this post, the next two are sold out but the further out you get, the more likely they are to be at the bottom of that range. 

TAR is one of the good guy airlines when it comes to baggage: a carry-on (up to 10kg with your personal items) and checked bag are included. I believe this is the only airline in the country that has a customer-first policy like this: 

The passenger will have the right to carry 1 piece of luggage weighing up to 25 kg and this must not exceed 158 linear cm in dimensions free of charge.

They play the silly Mexican game of not showing taxes on the fare chart though, even though paying the taxes is mandatory. So you see a fare of $60, but then when you get to the next screen it’s really $127. The $70 fare is really $137.

You do have to get out to and from the airport in both cases, so you could be paying more for ground transportation in order to fly, giving the ferry a slight edge if you’re not renting a cabin. You take the plane because it’s faster. 

There are other advantages to the ferry though. It will save you a night of lodging if you’re on a long-term traveler budget. You pick it up at the ferry terminal near the historic district of Mazatlan—I walked there with my rolling suitcase. Then on the other end there’s a 50-peso combi (large van) into the center of La Paz by the water. That’s about three bucks. 

Is the Baja Ferry Trip Worth Taking?

Baja ferry arriving in La Paz at sunrise

In conclusion, I was happy with my Baja Ferries journey from Mazatlan to La Paz across the water. I slept well stretched out on my twin bed in a cabin, getting gently rocked to sleep, and appreciated the fact that I had my own bathroom when I had to get up in the middle of the night. 

If I were doing this again, I might take the direct flight to get there faster since I’ve already had this experience, but for anyone with their own vehicle, this is a no-brainer. 

Note that this is one of two ferries that the company runs. There’s another one from Los Mochis, where the Copper Canyons El Chepe train arrives and leaves, so you could take the Copper Canyons train south and then take the ferry to La Paz. That ship is supposedly newer and nicer too. 

For more information on the ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz, or any of the other options for ferry services, see the Baja Ferries website. Check the current ferry schedule to make sure what I’ve put in here is still correct. For what to do after you get there, with a lot of choices, see the La Paz Tourism official site. You can also check out this article I wrote years ago on adventures in Baja Sur, including swimming with the whale sharks and snorkeling with sea lions in La Paz. 

If that’s not enough for you, check out this blog post of mine on 18 things to do in La Paz after you land. 

Sticking around after arrival? See this post on the best hotels in Mazatlan in the different areas and search rates for hotels in La Paz here

Article, all photos, and video by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations.

Greg Vaughn

Thursday 9th of May 2024

Excellent and very thorough article about Baja Ferries. An alternative is TMC Ferries, which operates a similar schedule between Mazatlan and La Paz (and between Topolobampo and La Paz). TMC can be a better choice for travelers with RVs, campers, or camper vans. The difference is that TMC allows you to access your vehicle during the voyage and to sleep in it if you wish, whereas Baja Ferries does not allow access to your vehicle during the trip. On the other hand, TMC Ferries doesn’t offer the same amenities for passengers. Dinner and breakfast are included, but there are no or very limited choices. There are no deck chairs. The clientele is largely truck drivers, and some of them sleep on the open deck. Los Ba?os are serviceable, if not the nicest. If you sleep in your RV/camper, you could be sandwiched between refrigerator truck trailers that make noise all night long. Most importantly, you need to be at the terminal several hours prior to sailing and to make reservations as far in advance as possible. I’ve taken TMC Ferries three times with my VW Westfalia camper. Each time, friendly truck drivers have wanted to chat and made sure I knew about the meal service, etc. Last January, the fare was about $375 US.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 9th of May 2024

Greg, are you sure they're still taking passengers without a vehicle? People in both Mazatlan and La Paz told me Baja Ferries was the only one running. I never saw a TMC boat in the port in Mazatlan.

jennifer rose

Thursday 9th of May 2024

I took that ferrry's predecessor, which eventually burned down, around 1981. Having one of the four staterooms got us into a VIP dining room, which wasn't much better than the one shown in your video and where the meals were TV dinners. We were too dumb to know that Mexicans will occupy a table for hours on end, which made sense since there wasn't much else to do on the cruise. Back in the stateroom, I had to quench my thirst by opening a bottle of wine with a nail file. There was a middle ground between the vast rooms filled with airline seating and the four elite staterooms that resembled yours: berths that looked like they belonged on some ancient budget train. And the lines just to get on the ferry seemed interminable, never mind I was not even 30 back then. Thanks for reviving the memory.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 9th of May 2024

Quite an experience that must have been Jennifer!