Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day five: Taking the ferry across the Gulf of California

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Dec. 29, 2009-Dec. 30, 2009

I have never been on a Carnival cruise, but I have traveled by reed boat along Peru’s Lake Titicaca, jetted in a motor panga through rivers in Nicaragua and once took a very long trip to the Corn Islands sitting on the the boat’s deck, squished between other people, animals and sacks of grains.

Boat trips, to me, are about exploring new places and setting off on adventures – not so much about lounge chairs and martinis. The idea of crossing the Gulf of California by boat was alluring to me, in part because I didn’t know anyone else who had taken the 8-10 hour ferry trip between Guaymas, Sonora and the Baja peninsula.

Taking the ferry, it turned out,  also requires a zen state of mind. Technically, it leaves at 8 p.m. on four designated days a week from Guaymas. But  nature is what actually  dictates  the boat’s schedule. We had arrived here Sunday and by Tuesday morning we still weren’t exactly sure when it would leave – or if it would leave before the end of 2009.  

As we were lounging at the Guaymas hotel pool in travel limbo, we got a call from the ferry office asking us to hurry over and pay for our tickets because the ferry would be leaving…at 4 p.m.

There were still a few things I wanted to check out in Guaymas.  I had learned there was a some sort of a dolphin facility in Guaymas/San Carlos, and I had also seen signs for a pearl farm. Instead, we ended up stocking up a cooler with food and drinks for the trip and making a few other travel-related purchases before rushing to line up our car for  pre-boarding inspection by soldiers and a drug-sniffing dog. 

We joined about 80 other people waiting to board the ferry, including a platoon of gun-toting soldiers heading for an assignment in Baja. Other ferry travelers included some French guys, members of  a band traveling to Baja to perform over New Year’s and a chatty Chinese student called “Arnold” who had a visa problem and was waiting out his U.S. appointment in Mexico.

We left as the sun was setting over the horizon, so I was able to enjoy the view as we pulled away from Guaymas. The sunset stroked violet and orange colors on the horizon as we headed west out of the bay.

Soon the sorbet canvas above us was replaced by the sparkle of stars and the inky smudge of sky and sea.

Most of the people on board – except for the soldiers in first-class – had bought the ferry’s basic ticket. This got you a seat in a room that was set up like a very wide plane. Two large television sets provided nominal entertainment and a snack bar immediately in front of the passengers sold overpriced popcorn and other foods. It was hot here, and didn’t look very comfortable. As the evening wore on, the people in the front seats ended up curled on the ground.

I was glad we had gotten a cabin. This had cost an extra $75 for the four of us, but it gave us our own space with four bunk beds, a small sink and shelf –  and our own porthole. We kept the porthole slightly open to provide air circulation. We had  left most of our luggage in the car, but brought with us the cooler with drinks and snacks from Guaymas. 

There were a lot of doors inside the ferry and lots of curious – or lost  – people. At one point duirng the trip, all four of us  were sitting in the cabin when the door swung open and a disoriented soldier stared at us. “Ay, perdon…me equivoque.” (Oh, Sorry! I made a mistake).  This scenario kept on repeating itself in bad comedic style. We finally just  locked the cabin door.

I spent much of my time clambering up and down the ferry’s three levels or standing outside, chatting with the other ferry travelers and watching the waves churn below us. At one point, the ferry captain and his assistant let us visit the navigation room.

The sea was calm and the ride was smooth. I asked about the “worst ever” ferry trip and was told that there had been one particularly-rough trip that took 24 hours and that practically inspired mutiny except that the sick passengers were too busy heaving into bags. 

Around midnight I went into the cabin to doze a bit. At 3:30 a.m. I went outside where about a dozen passengers were hanging out in the darkness.  We could see the lights of Santa Rosalia sparkling off the Baja peninsula. It was almost 10 hours since we had left. The lights grew brighter and soon I could make out the forms of buildings and the dock.

We arrived around 4 a.m. and had to check in with Mexican authorities to give our names, show our identifications, and to have our photos taken. The car got another sniff-over by the crime-fighting dog and soldiers, and then we were back on the road.

4 a.m. was too early for breakfast, and too late to go to sleep. We ended up driving about an hour south to Mulege, but it was still too early to do anything and so we checked into a hotel just outside of Mulege to rest for a few hours before continuing our journey.


As of this blog post, the ferry leaves from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Its scheduled departure time is 8 p.m., but that may  not always be the case. Reservations are recommended, or check in person a day or two ahead of when you want to actually leave. One-way tickets for an adult cost between $55 and $65. Most cars cost about $250 for a one-way trip. A ship cabin cost us an additional $75, with sleeping space for four. For more information, visit here or here (for more detailed prices)

6 responses to “Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day five: Taking the ferry across the Gulf of California

  1. Great stuff, Anna. I think Mexico could and should make greater use of ferries to serve the length of Baja California — both coasts.

  2. I think I’d like to include a story about your blog on my Latin media gurus site! Eres Guru de la frontera!

  3. Pingback: The working man’s cruise « I'm Black and I Travel!

  4. Hello Anna,
    Could you help me out answering a question, I’m driving from Arizona down to Guaymas to catch the ferry to baja. Do I need to get a permit or is it still free zone? Please reply to my email. Thank you

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