After thoroughly enjoying the Baja Mexico peninsula (mostly Baja California Sur) for three months, we made our way to the Mexico mainland via the TMC ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. There’s good advice and tips in the iOverlander app. Here’s our experience to add to the discourse.
We learned there’s two reasons to take the ferries between La Paz and the Mexico mainland. The first is to simply continue your north or southward journey. The other is to return to the U.S. using the bigger and better mainland freeways. This is a shortcut to central or eastern U.S./Canada. Our goal was to continue traveling through (some of) Mexico.
TMC vs Baja Ferries
The ferry companies operating from La Paz are TMC and Baja Ferries. TMC predominantly carries commercial trucks (semis, cargo trucks) and Baja Ferries is geared toward passengers and passenger vehicles. That said, I’m pretty sure Baja Ferries carries commercial trucks as well and I know that TMC carries non-commercial vehicles as that’s the one we chose.
Why TMC? Both Ferries travel overnight. TMC allows you to stay in your vehicle, in our case, our RV. Baja Ferries requires you to leave your vehicle and stay in either a cabin or a general public area. We decided we wanted to sleep in our RV so we chose TMC. We’ve talked to other travelers who have taken the Baja Ferry, booked a cabin and loved it.
Before You Go
Use the tips below to pick a date and reserve a space on a ferry. Note that this is accurate as of April 2019 and, this is Mexico, so do yourself a favor and confirm this information before committing to a travel day.
- The La Paz to Mazatlan Ferry runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, departing La Paz after 6pm and arriving around 10am the next day in Mazatlan.
- The website reservation system wasn’t working in April 2019. We called to reserve a space on the ferry. You’ll need the vehicle length and height in meters. If you don’t speak fluent Español, find someone who does to help with this call. There’s no money exchanged at this point.
The Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TIP)
A Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit or TIP allows non-citizens to take a vehicle across the border in to Mexico. Google it for more information as my understanding is not complete or 100% accurate. Here’s what I know:
- A TIP is not required for the Baja peninsula.
- Mexico can/will issue a 10 year TIP for RVs and trailers.
- A TIP, expiring along with the tourist visa (FMM), is required for cars and motorcycles.
- A credit card deposit is required. It’s held in escrow until you exit the country.
The TIP expiration (third point) was not clear to me when I crossed the border in Tecate, Baja California, a few months earlier. I was under the (wrong) impression that the TIP clock starts ticking once you obtain it. So when we crossed the border in Tecate, I obtained a 10 year TIP for the RV and nothing for the motorcycle, deciding to wait until we departed for the mainland.
The Banjercito agent shattered that illusion. We’d already been in Mexico for three of our six month tourist visa and I learned that we only had three months left to visit the mainland and reach a border to renew the motorcycle TIP.
For most travelers, three months is a lifetime. For us, who happily stay for weeks in one place, that’s a rush…especially since we needed to be back in the SF Bay Area mid-June.
Departure Day Timeline
And now to the meat of the matter – departure day with timeline. I’ll admit, I was overly anxious about the process but in the end it went fairly smoothly.
- 11:45AM – Arrival – The consensus advice is to arrive by 1pm. My anxiety-fueled brain got us to the ferry terminal early.
- 11:45 – 12:30 – Banjercito to get the TIP – Per above discussion, I had to get a TIP for the Yamaha.
- Park in the free area BEFORE the inspection point. This is just to the left after entering the terminal. I parked “illegally”…but this is Mexico…no one cared.
- The Banjercito is on the corner of the building to the left of the big blue passenger terminal.
- As everywhere in Mexico, allow some time…for most of the 45 minutes, I was standing in line. Once at the window it went pretty fast. My agent spoke perfect English.
- 12:35 – 12:45 – Inspection – An agent checked the TIPs against the vehicle VINS and briefly looked inside our RV (opened a couple of cabinets). Our agent spoke some English.
- 12:45 – 12:55 – Weight and length – After Inspection our vehicle length was measured and we crossed a truck scale (12 metric tons, if you must know). This cost us $240 pesos. The agent provides paperwork for the TMC ticket office. No English spoken.
- 13:00 – 13:30 – TMC Ferry Ticket – Handed our weight/length ticket to the agent in the window, sat down and waited to be called. Once called up, I paid our fare and got issued a ticket. We paid $657 USD for a heavy, 9 meter long RV with three passengers. No English spoken.
- 13:35 – 13:45 – Drive to Ferry – This part confused me, partly because my Español is so bad and I didn’t understand what the ticket agent was saying and partly because there were two TMC ferries at the dock. In our case, we needed to drive to the left of the big blue passenger terminal, past the Banjercito and to the southern dock where our ferry was moored. I drove directly to the ferry and was directed to park with a couple of other truck-campers waiting to board.
- 14:00 – 16:30 – Wait – This is a good time to let the TMC official that you want to be on the upper deck, near the middle. My guy didn’t speak English but thankfully one of the other travelers spoke pretty good Español. The upper deck is less noisy and there’s less exhaust fumes from the running “reefer” (refrigerated truck/trailer) generators. According to a seasoned ferry traveler in our group, the middle part of the boat experiences less side-to-side roll and is better for sleeping.
- 16:30 – Boarding – We were asked to back on to the ferry (to the top deck). The ramp has a slight curve on it and is steep. Be prepared. The trucks are spaced very close together. We could not extend our stairs from the Bliss Mobil habitat and had to use the pass-through to the cab of the truck to exit the habitat.
- 18:30 – Departure – We were treated to some great views of the Baja Sur coastline and a wonderful sunset! The ticket includes food in the communal cafeteria but we had prepared some food beforehand so didn’t partake.
- 10:00 (next day) – Arrival in Mazatlan – We woke much earlier, had some coffee from the communal cafeteria and enjoyed the views, especially as we rolled in to Mazatlan.
If you’ve taken either of the ferries and have thoughts or comments, please leave a comment here! And enjoy the photos below.