The fierce wind was kicking up big waves and making a loud racket. The tide rose nearly to the top of the seawall but by evening had moved out again very far, serving as a dramatic backdrop to the sunset which, as is often true here, was a glorious orange and red. March 19th, 2011, the day of the “super moon,” when the moon was closest to the earth, began a 3-day period with the most extreme high/low tide in March. The moon was still visible at 9 am on March 22, and looked more like the sun behind haze.
The sea, constantly changing with the tide rising and falling, offers plenty of entertainment in Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Among the opportunities is simply observing the wonderful natural environment. One day, hundreds of pelicans seemed to be holding a convention just out from my balcony, raising a racket that could be heard for miles. Some days, cranes stand as sentries near the water’s edge while other smaller, long-legged birds feast nearby. Dolphins can frequently be seen leaping joyously in the bay. Rocky Point Times, a free newspaper in English publishes the tidal calendar for each month. Many people come here for the recreation but for some of us, the natural environment is the main attraction: this desert by the sea features natural phenomena unique in the world. These are only some of the reasons why many US citizens, including people from Colorado, Arizona and further afield, are locating in Puerto Penasco, either part time or full time.
Puerto Penasco or Rocky Point, as it is called in English (but not a literal translation; Puerto means in this case, harbor, not point ), is a little-known piece of paradise located a short distance down from the top of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), just 4 hours south of Phoenix and Tucson and 66 miles from the border town of Lukeville, Arizona.
Formerly a small fishing village, it was transformed into a resort area starting in 1999 but retains the original funky charm of a village, with the friendliest people you can find anywhere. It offers a variety of activities for visitors and for the more than 40,000 permanent residents, many of them originally from the United States: swimming or wading in the warm water, beachcombing, building sand castles, fishing, riding in seaplanes, kayaking, windsailing, jet skiing and four-wheeling.
Zumba and yoga classes are readily available. For those with more sedentary tastes, soaking up the sun lying on the beach or by the pool are appealing, perhaps enhancing the time with a book or movie from The Rocky Point Times’ free book and movie exchange. Books or movies can be taken, at no charge, and returned later. All completely on the honor system. Or, as I do, others may enjoy simply soaking in the natural environment — watching the tide roll in and out, observing the wildlife or visiting the volcanoes area.
El Pinacate Reserve, the 4 million acre volcanoes area, provides another opportunity to witness the profound wonders of nature. With its El Tecolote and Cono Mayo volcanoes, nine huge craters (among the deepest in the world) 400 cinder cones, piles of lava rock, acres of ash and sand dunes, it seems almost like another planet. In fact, NASA trained the crew of Apollo 14 in the area to accustom them to a moonscape.
Approaching El Elegante and Cerro Colorado, the fierce wind was almost strong enough to blow me into the deep craters but wasn’t felt further away. Although the volcanoes are considered still active, they haven’t erupted for 10,000 years. Many species of flora and fauna can be seen at this Reserve, thriving on the mysterious desert landscape: antelope, javalina, gila monsters and other reptiles, even bobcats, many species of birds, the wonderful saguaro and many other species of cactus, cholla, the flowering ocotillo, the yellow-green palo verde trees and many more. Visitors can hire a guide with a vehicle or drive the 30 miles there and watch videos and presentation at the Visitor’s Center.
Other opportunities to explore the natural environment of Puerto Penasco include Bird Island where many species of birds and also dolphins are seen, and the research centers of Center for Technological Sea Studies and Intercultural Center for the study of Deserts and Oceans.
People living here full time or for long periods tend to be very involved in the community; they find a wealth of organizations, including churches, bridge and bunco clubs, sportsmen’s clubs, numerous charities, singles clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, women’s clubs including the Red Hat Club and another with the catchy title of Uncommon Women on Common Ground and many more organizations. Churches, including the Catholic Church and the non-denominational Family of God, sponsor various committees to address needs in the community, which are greater now than before.
Poverty has grown significantly because of the worldwide economy. More significantly, though, poverty has risen because of decreased number of visitors and thus, decreased numbers of jobs. Prospective visitors have been scared by unclear media coverage that makes all of Mexico sound like one big war zone. This makes as much sense as saying “don’t come to California or the United States because of crime in downtown Los Angeles” (or any other US city). True enough, some places in Mexico are best avoided but incidents of violence in Puerto Penasco are more rare than in most US cities including those in nearby Arizona.
If you simply want to relax and eat well, you won’t go hungry in Puerto Penasco, which offers some of the best shrimp anywhere, not to mention other seafood and types of cuisine, including good Japanese, Chinese and Italian. Marlin Azul (Blue), Flying Dolphin and Balboa’s feature delectable seafood and fish and Mexican food. La Casa del Capitan is also highly-regarded. At Mare Blu Bistro you can enjoy fine Italian cuisine at two locations. Several of these are on the Malecon, or nearby. Also centrally located, Max’s Café is a popular hang-out, especially for breakfast, with tasty food, wifi and during happy hours from 4 to 6 pm, $2 drinks. The Coffee Haus offers wonderful breakfasts, lunches and espresso drinks. Another charming place to go for espresso is Mario’s, offering organic coffee grown on their plantation in Chiapas. For people who prefer a more secluded location, the elegant Mayan Resort is growing in popularity.
Short-term rentals in condos, as well as hotels are abundant and, given the slow economy, quite reasonably-priced. Rocky Point Reservations and Seaside Reservations are two popular rental agencies. Many lovely condos are for sale also at prices about one third of what they were before 2008 and offer a great opportunity for buyers who want a second home or, as many here, want to relocate by the sea in a laid back and affordable environment. El Pinacate is especially popular, given its pleasant atmosphere, quality accommodations and central location. The Penasco del Sol hotel right next door has been elegantly updated and has spa facilities as well as a pool and other amenities.
Getting there and around
The easiest way to get to Puerto Penasco is to fly into Phoenix and then take a shuttle from there. You can rent a car and drive from there if you don’t mind the insurance cost. Advantage, Dollar and Enterprise all allow rental cars to go into Mexico. Many people who come from nearby states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah drive their own cars. No vehicle permit is needed this near the US border.
Shuttles include Head out to Rocky Point, which is clean, has good equipment and offers door to door service. When coming at a busy time, be prepared for a few extra hours on the shuttle while other passengers get picked up and delivered or shuttle delays in getting people or traffic. Several other shuttles take passengers from a central point in Puerto Penasco to one in Phoenix. These include Nena’s Transportation, Transportes Superior and Mercedes Shuttle. Rocky Point Rides transports people between Puerto Penasco and Tucson but runs irregularly and infrequently. Driving at night, either in a car or on a shuttle, is not recommended. The traffic can be very heavy on the two-lane highway as people try to get back home after waiting until the last minute to leave and some drivers take serious risks. The border crossing can be time-consuming also, especially on the last day of a weekend or holiday. Try to schedule your departure on a weekday or leave very early in the day. For those arriving by shuttle, for getting around once in Puerto Penasco, taxis are readily available at $2 or 20 pesos per person each way for in town, more for further out). Usually you can get a taxi within 5 minutes if you are in a central location. Golf carts and cars can also be rented for local travel.