We shipped ourselves as cargo to Mazatlan. From the time we drove onto the ferry to the time we drove off was about 21 hours. Total cost to ship the three of us and the bus from La Paz to Mazatlan was $290 USD. Three people and 5 meters / 1800 kg of vehicle. We chose Transportation Maritima de California (TMC) over Baja Ferries simply because of the large difference in the cost. TMC is the freight carrier and it seems some folks don’t know they exist and insist Baja Ferries is the only option. Maybe because it’s hard to find. If you want to make the trip, here’s a quick summary.
Drive out to Pechilingue to the shipyard and pull in through the main gate. On your left is a set of lanes you can’t enter and on your right is drive-through customs.
If you don’t have your vehicle import permit for the mainland, just park anywhere and walk through the gate on the left to the big yellow building to find the permit office. Ask for “vehicular permissio” if you can’t find it – it’s about $30 and is good for 6 months. You can’t go through customs without it. You’ll need photocopies of everything – passports, license, registration,etc.
Now, get back in the bus and drive through customs and you may or may not get inspected. Next, drive onto the scale right in front of you- “Bascula” – and get weighed. You’ll be asked for your carrier and destination (you won’t have a ticket yet.) They’ll give you a paper with your vehicle weight and length and now you can go buy your ticket.
On your right is a permanently closed TMC office and an open Baja Ferries office. If you want a cabin and a nicer boat, Baja Ferries is for you. Everyone there speaks English and they have another office outside the port as well (go past the entire terminal on the main road and turn left after the fence.) If your family is cargo (like us,) loop around the scale and park next to the other big yellow building and go find the TMC office. No one in here will speak English, so be prepared. All prices are clearly posted. We came here a week prior to make a reservation, but no one seemed to be interested in looking it up – we just bought our tickets on the spot.
Figure out when to load (usually two hours prior to departure) and drive over to the ship and wait for someone who looks official to recognize that you want to get on the boat. He’ll go through all your papers and tickets. Before driving on, ask if you can be loaded on top. If you’re on the bottom, your car will be sealed up and you won’t be spending any time at your vehicle. On top, you have fresh air… and you get to ride a big elevator.
Officially, on both carriers, you are not allowed in your vehicle at any time during the trip. The closer you get to the boat, the more lax personnel get about this regulation (at least on TMC – Baja Ferries may be more strict.) Just keep asking. We stayed in our bus for most of the trip (16 hours on the water) and slept in it – way better than the seats in the tiny passenger cabin. Apparently, dinner is included with your ticket in the little galley, but we skipped it and had sammys in the bus.
The other passengers are almost exclusively truck drivers and most of them sneak away to sleep in their vehicles too. Everyone we encountered was very nice. Walking around the boat is not really something you want to do unless you need to. The ride was pretty wild, and the boat not exactly the safest place for a child. Angela, who has never been seasick, had to take Dramamine. There are bathrooms and showers, but you will probably want to avoid these too if you can. This is not the Love Boat and there is no one named Issac mixing drinks(“Outta sight!“)
We arrived in Mazatlan exhausted at about 11 am (now, two consecutive nights of very little sleep) so we grabbed another cheapy hotel (about $20) right near the Old Town and took naps before wandering around. Oh yeah, driving in this town is crazy. Maybe it was because there were two cruise ships in the port and taxis everywhere, but it was total mayhem. Stop signs and individual lanes aren’t really recognized here. Multiple close calls with tour buses and plenty of loco taxi drivers later, I tried to park the bus… and backed into a tree… twice. They let the trees grow out of the street here. Pick your parallel parking spot wisely. Fortunately, our rain gutter took all the impact.
Shopping seems the be the primary activity here, so we got bored pretty quickly after one day. A trip to the aquarium was the highlight. For $6, it’s also the best bargain in town.
Mazatlan is a nice enough place, but we decided we were done and continued south.