The most practical way to get between Baja and the mainland is definitely by ferry. We were going from La Paz to Topolobampo and waivered between going on the more expensive Baja Ferries or the slightly less expensive Ferry TMC. We weren’t able to complete the purchase of tickets on either website, and ultimately we chose Baja Ferries because they have an office where you can buy tickets in downtown La Paz, as opposed to having to drive out to the ferry terminal then trying to find the Ferry TMC office. (The terminal is vast and we don’t speak or read much Spanish.) At the Baja Ferries office we figured out that non-citizens can’t buy their tickets online because they need to present their passports and Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) in order to complete the purchase. Baja Ferries usually take credit cards, but their machine was broken so we had to pay with cash.
Just a heads up: while you’re in line to get in line for the ferry, one of the dock workers might come to your vehicle window and tell you that you have to pay him pay the “port fee“. It seemed at the time like an attempt to shake us down for easy cash, but it turns out the demand was legit and the worker returned shortly with the official receipt that we requested. (A few minutes later we were asked to show the receipt at a check-in booth as proof of payment.)
When driving past the ferry terminal each vehicle was stopped. To limit the number of people in the very cramped vehicle area, all passengers are supposed to get out and enter the ferry through the pedestrian ramp. We’d recommend meeting up in the cafeteria because it’s easy to find, and because the free meal included with your ticket ends when the ferry sets sail. (Which we discovered to our dismay as we went to the cafeteria shortly after the ferry took off.)
Upon arrival in Topolobampo, overhead announcements were in rapid Spanish. From the lines it looked like vehicle passengers were once again instructed to depart with the pedestrian passengers, and Bruce followed the line of drivers headed down to the vehicles. (Laurie was limping on a swollen and bandaged foot, so the officials monitoring who was going below took pity and let her go to the truck with Bruce.) We observed, though, that it’s dark when the ferry lands and we couldn’t see where the passengers came out, so we recommend having a pre-arranged meeting point for passengers to meet back up with the driver (such as the first stop sign by the terminal).
The ferry was very clean with various lounges–including one with a live band and one showing American movies dubbed into Spanish. We got a state room with four bunks and it’s own bathroom so Laurie could elevate her for for the 6 hour trip. It was small, but clean and quiet. Since we don’t speak much Spanish (and understand even less) our biggest lesson was just relax and watch the locals. They’re very kind and willing to help point you in the right direction.