The Guaymas to Santa Rosalia Ferry

The Sea of Cortez…a maritime adventure for the entire family

The Bell’s, Bill, Dorothy and their two younger children, Adam (16) and Dylan (13) are driving throughout Mexico in their 28 foot Class C motor home.  They usually live in North Vancouver, Canada.

By Bill BellCaptain, Jose Alfredo Esclante on the Bridge of the Santa Rosalia

In Canada the day after Christmas is called “Boxing Day”, but from this year forward our family will remember it as the day we took a 10 hour ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez from Santa Rosalia Baja to the City of Guaymas on the Mexican mainland.A pangas heads out to fish as viewed from the Santa Rosalia

The day will be remembered for the friendly passengers and staff, the pilot whales off the bow in the early morning, but most of all it will be committed to family lore for the thrill of being on the wild open sea.  Passengers on a small ship as it rode the enormous wind driven swells… the experience of a sea adventure. 


                                                                                                                          Captain, Jose Alfredo Esclante on the Bridge of the Santa Rosalia

Driving up to the ferry dock in Santa Rosalia, a small mining town half way up the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula, Dorothy asked “where’s the ferry?”  The ferry, “Santa Rosalia,” was right in front of us, though the size was such that she could be forgiven for thinking it something else.  At less than 120 feet long, and just over two car lanes wide, it did not match the size of any Washington State or British Columbia ferries.  

“I’m not traveling on that ferry,” Dorothy said.  “It’s too small!”  The Santa Rosalia Ferry on the dock at Santa Rosalia

I looked out over the Sea of Cortez’s calm waters and thought about the three day drive up the Baja, across the southern tip of the Mojave desert and then back down to Guaymas and said  “There’s nothing to worry about,”  though I wasn’t quite sure myself.   We had traveled on the much larger La Paz to Mazatlan ferry and knew that the seas could get very rough. 

Driving a 28 foot Class C motor home meant that the cost of the diesel alone would match the $500 dollar price of the ferry ticket for the RV, not to mention that the Baja highway north would mean backtracking on territory that had already been extensively explored on the trip south.

The Santa Rosalia is big enough to carry 14 cars (clearance is available for RV and Trucks) and about 140 foot passengers.  It is privately owned and is meant to be small, as the bigger government run Sematur Ferry system, now closed, was heavily subsidized by the Mexican government.Comfortable salons and seats greet the passengers of the Santa Rosalia

Unlike the Sematur line, the ship is clean, the crew is friendly and the Captain, Jose Alfredo Esclante, takes an active interest in loading the ferry and ensuring that the vehicles are heavily strapped down to the deck.

“HEAVILY STRAPPED TO DECK!!!!”     “Dad, do they have enough life boats on this ferry?” Adam asks.   I am about to tell him he should put that question to the captain when he adds, “do you think this ferry is going to be captured by drug pirates?”  I think better.Heavily strapped down on the Santa Rosalia Ferry

(The ferry has life boats for almost 200 people and about 500 life jackets plus epirbs, fire alarms, smoke alarms, fire fighting systems, etc.)

There is a sense of excitement with the passengers as one of the crew announces that there will be fairly high winds and rough seas.  Sickness bags are handed out to those unsure of their stomach and motion sickness pills are available along with other snack foods at the small concession. An irony, which goes unnoticed by many of the parents, who buy their children chips, pop and other assorted candies.

The ferry left at 10 p.m. that night and by 11, the ship was rocking and rolling.  The principle salon, located in the bowels of the ship under the car deck had comfortable seats and played the movie Harry Potter, The Chamber of Secrets (Spanish with no subtitles).

The back end of the car deck is open and the spray from a wave crashes over the RV, it is necessary to hold the rail tight with both hands as the ship tips hard and bounces over the giant swells. It is a rough ride, a roller coaster ride that excites the kids and turns some passengers green.  You can feel the ship ride the swells down into the valley between the waves and crash up against the next one.  It’s exhilarating!

By 2 a.m. the winds die down and the seas return to normal, allowing passengers to dose off and sleep to the now steady to and fro of the ship.Shrimp boats head home to Guaymas along the rugged cacti studded coast

The sun rises over the coast of Mexico exposing rugged orange and brown cliffs dotted with cacti, shrimp boats returning to port and the deep blue of the Sea of Cortez.  An hour from our destination and a crew member points out a pod of pilot whales that have come up along side the ferry delighting even those who are still groggy from a night of fitful sleep.

The ferry plies the coast line past lighthouses, small pangas (small fish boats), and sleepy little fishing villages tinted by the exceptional early morning light. Then it sails into the well protected harbor of Guaymas.   Driving off the ferry the family agrees that the voyage has been an adventure…one that we will recommend to any traveler.  Though the captain says they cannot guarantee the rough seas. Off loading from th Santa Rosalia in Guaymas on the mainland of MexicoMexico rugged coastline highlighted by the morning sun near San Carlos

The Santa Rosalia departs the town of Santa Rosalia two times a week, Tuesday and Friday. It leaves Guaymas on Monday and Thursday. All vehicles must have their car import papers which are obtainable in La Paz or at a USA Mexican boarder crossing. Reservations can be made by calling 01 (615) 152-1246.  You can visit their website at