We arrived in the port city of La Paz a few days early so we could sort out getting ourselves and the van to the mainland. We’d read the wayward stories of other overlanders and knew the process can take a few days; ferries may be booked up and it may take days to get clear directions to the Banjercito. So, we found wifi, slurped back some iced coffees and prepared ourselves. Despite our good intentions and help from Google, we still spent a couple hours pounding the pavement in search of a Banjercito that could process our Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. It is at the port – a little too convenient to expect and unfortunately not listed on dear old Google.
As the agent completed our paperwork he directed us to get our tickets at the booth across the lot. There would be room on the next ferry to Mazatlan and it was leaving in two hours. With no previous intentions of leaving the Baja this same day, we shared a quick glance and proceeded to the ticket booth with a new bounce in our step.
Once the tickets were purchased, we were informed only the driver of the vehicle could board the ferry and all passengers must proceed to the walk-on area. Reluctantly, and without active cell phones, we separated for the hour leading up to departure. As Penny waited in the lobby, Dane was directed to move from lot to lot, then to another lot, before finally boarding the boat. Both of us were anxious to find each other on the same vessel and not stranded behind. Honestly, as frequent-ferry-takers this is hard to admit, but the entire experience made BC Ferries look like a Nascar pit crew. Next time we take the ferries we will have no complaints.
In the middle of all of this chaos, Dane ended up meeting a couple guys on separate journeys down the Pan American. And, both starting their trips in British Columbia! The first was Brendan, a Canadian arborist from Vancouver Island riding a sport bike to Panama and then, shortly after, Ben, an Aussie rolling in a classic Land Cruiser down to Chile! Ben had booked in advance and, much to everyone’s delight, he had a room that sleeps four, all in bunks. Over the course of the 22 hour voyage (we were 4 hours delayed) we drank many beer shared with new Mexican friends, played hour upon hour of card games and ate what little food was included with our tickets.
At times it felt like we were on a never-ending journey crossing the Sea of Cortez, with a GPS location indicator barely moving as the hours slipped. Since the boat was four hours late and we had all spent our money on beer the night before, we were anxious to be allowed back to our vehicles where our kitchens were laiden with snacks and the rest of our cash hidden. Passengers gathered on the rooftop deck as dance music from the night before continued to blast through the speakers. People began pointing towards where the mainland ought to be, sure they could see a mountain top in the distance. Still hours passed until we docked. The four of us were full of excitement and anticipation of what mainland Mexico had in store. We imagined lush jungles, sandy beaches, fruit stands. Brendan jetted off in a race against sundown while the three of us convoyed to a beachside campsite next to a restaurant with some really damn good pizza.
So, we learned a few things crossing the Sea of Cortez with the Baja Ferries. Here are our tips to you:
- Be a hero and book a room. You won’t regret it.
- Bring enough money for snacks (and beer) and so that you can tip the kitchen staff to receive larger portions!
- The red sauce is habanero. Don’t pour a huge spoonful over your tiny meal. You will regret it.
- If you desperately need something from your vehicle (like we did), tell them you forgot your medication.
- Outlets are difficult (if not impossible) to find. Bring a lamp/socket converter or leave your electronics in your lock box.
Alternatively, we’ve heard you can take the cargo ship and pay a little extra to sleep in the comfort of your own rig.
Have you crossed the Sea of Cortez? Share your experience and tips below!