Making a Rocky Point About Mexico

Everyone in the United States has heard the horror stories about Mexico, especially the border region, but the idea that our southern
border is an open, unchecked thoroughfare for illegal activities is patently absurd.

Driving along the US-Mexico border from California to Texas, we never went more than a few minutes without seeing the United States Border Patrol doing what they do best, patrolling.

There are checkpoints, lookouts, fences, trucks, Jeeps, electronic surveillance setups, airplanes, helicopters, boats and no doubt many other invisible resources — all working vigilantly to secure the frontier.

It’s a dusty, dangerous, dirty job with few accolades. Each time we were pulled over our brave men in uniform were always thorough, efficient and polite.

This being said, I wasn’t keen on the idea of actually driving down into our neighbor to the south. Veronica was a little more willing to take the plunge. Perhaps it fell under her fear conquering “people do it everyday…” mantra — or her Southern California upbringing — but I needed more information before running for the border.

We chose Gringo Pass, Arizona to take a peek across the border — mainly because Gringo Pass is a really funny name. After parking at a gas station, I took a little stroll to check out the tiny outpost.

I found myself wishing I had spurs on ’cause the chinking sound would have accompanied the dust I was kicking up perfectly. In lieu of said spurs, I shook my keys as each footfall landed and imagined myself in the wild west.

Less than a block down the only side street, I attracted an SUV driving border guard. After the usual “where were you born” and “what are you doing here” questions, I chatted him up a bit. He understood my border crossing apprehension.

He explained how most of our fears were unfounded — at least at this crossing –because the media tends to play up the bad stuff.

I suppose Border Patrol Does Fine Job Protecting America doesn’t make for an attention grabbing headline.

Our new border patrol buddy explained that there are certainly parts of the border that better judgment would call for avoiding, especially the big cities like Tijuana and Juarez, but Gringo Pass wasn’t one of them.

He went on to fill us in about a beautiful seaside oasis just an hour south of the border, Rocky Point — Puerto Peñasco in the native tongue. He literally said, “Go — it’s great down there.” We had no reason to think he was trying to send us off to meet our maker so we decided to head on down.

Our preparations for the excursion were minimal since, in a concerted effort to attract tourists, the Mexican government has declared about half of the state of Sonora, including Puerto Peñasco, a “Hassle Free Zone.”

It’s a bit of a strange name, perhaps a translation twist, but it means that vehicle permits are not required within the zone and, for visits up to three days, a tourist card need not be acquired. Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

We did purchase Mexican insurance for our vehicle since American policies are not recognized south of the border. Coverage only cost a few dollars a day so there was no reason to take chances.

In chatting with the incredibly helpful agent, Sandy Rogers, at the Why Not Travel Store in Why, Arizona we learned that all traffic incidents are treated as a crime in Mexico and, as such, our vehicle could be impounded and we could find our butts in a Mexican pokey.

Sandy further recommended the Legal Aid addition to our policy. It was a peace-of-mind expense to assure that a lawyer would spring us from jail should something go terribly awry.

Policy in hand and passports (not necessary for entering Mexico but extremely important for getting BACK in to the good old U.S.A.) in our pockets, we headed into Sonoyta, Sonora. The typical bordertown begins the barren sixty mile run across The Sonoran Desert down to Rocky Point.

This piece of highway –which, by the way, is in much better shape on the Mexican side of the border — is straight out of an old western movie. The harsh landscape is strewn with classic Saguaro cacti standing arms-up as if some bandito got the jump on them. It made us feel like we might be seeing The Duke or Clint riding by any time.

The hype on Puerto Peñasco was not overblown. This little fishing village on The Gulf of California is one rockin’ Rocky Point.

In an odd quirk, the English version of the name, Rocky Point, was actually the original form, given by the British Lieutenant Robert William Hale Hardy while sailing the area back in 1826.

Over a century later Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas renamed it Puerto Punta Peñasco, or Port Rocky Point. Through the years the Punta got dropped, hopefully not on anybody’s toes.

Once entering the city, we followed the main road until we hit water — always our general approach when entering an unfamiliar waterside town.

At the waterfront we found a public parking lot and proceeded on as pedestrians.

The original section of the town is bunched up on a few square blocks of crowded narrow streets by the harbor — better explored on foot.

Along the packed little main drag is an array of touristy shops mingled with bars, restaurants and fresh seafood shops. The fishmongers brandished gigantic raw shrimp — fresh from the gulf — in our faces about every twenty paces.

Mixed in with the barkers from every crap shop and cafe, the street is a gigantic jumble of Spanglish with a mariachi soundtrack. It’s beautiful, quintessential Mexico.
Chili relleno and Mexican shrimp cocktail at the Point restaurant in Rocky Point Mexico

Shrimp is what Puerto Peñasco is all about. They are everywhere, on every menu and in every shop, either fresh or as souvenirs.

Hats, shirts, stickers, mugs and glasses all sporting clever crustacean catch-phrases designed to remove the pesos from the pockets of passersby.

Vendors along the streets and beaches have coolers filled to the brim with the fresh caught buggers and offer up bags to every possible
prospective buyer.

At the end of Malecón Avenue is a plaza with a tribute to the local seafarers. A statue of a fisherman riding a giant shrimp (an oxymoron if there ever was one) dominates the square.

A tribute to all of the adjoining states and their governors, both Mexican and American, proudly lines the yellow seawall.

The plaza is a popular meeting place for locals and a great place to watch the shrimping fleet as they line up waiting their turn to drop off the day’s catch or head back out for another boatload.

The Point restaurant in Rocky Point, MexicoAlong the waterfront stretch there are a bunch of great spots for a relaxing sunset libation overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Over the span of our stay we tried several of them but our favorite had to be The Point. It juts clear out over the water — at least
when the tide is in — for an up close look at the dolphins that came by every afternoon.

Another highlight of our visit was The Tequila Factory in the newer part of town. Not actually a factory, it serves as a storefront for La Cava de los Compadres tequila brewers.

After a brief but highly informative program about the history and process of making tequila we sat at a little bar and tried about a dozen varieties of the agave juice in a procedure very much like a wine tasting. Luckily the samples were just a small taste so we didn’t do any “drunk bicycling” on our way back that afternoon.

A fifth of the golden liquid aging in the lobby was purchased as a gift for my dad, a tequila connoisseur. An empty bottle was filled from the barrel, corked, scotch taped shut and wrapped up in newspaper for safe keeping. Good thing we didn’t get stopped by customs because it easily could have passed for moonshine. I can’t imagine that being good scenario.

Sunset in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico

Speaking of moonshine, a full moon graced our stay — adding magic to the Mexican nights and creating some amazing tide fluctuations. Huge stretches of beach, a hundred yards or more, would appear and disappear during the course of the day.

It made for some great seashell and tide pool exploration as outcrops of volcanic rocks, usually part of the seafloor, became exposed. We had quite the time examining the critters left behind by the receding water.

Whether we were poking around on the beach, wandering the dusty streets or sipping a mariachi-serenaded ice-cold Pacifico at sundown, it’s hard to imagine how a getaway so close could have felt any farther away.


See all of our adventures in Mexico!

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26 thoughts on “Making a Rocky Point About Mexico”

  1. just came across your article, today is July 23, 2015, not sure when it was written, but I appreciated it. I moved to Rocky Point in 2006 to sell real estate. I came here from Tucson, much more dangerous in Az. I do get the news channels and I am appalled when someone says it’s dangerous here in Mexico. They obviously prefer to the media because “bad news sells”. I live alone a few blocks from the beach in a true Mexican neighborhood, full of friendly people. I also lived in Puerto Vallarta in the “hood”, wonderful experience, but Rocky Point is still my preference. I am happy you liked our town, lots going on here. Did you hear about the cruise ship home port and terminal yet? I gave you my website in my form, take a look. FYI, we are getting busier with business, many people tired of the US and the politics and purchasing their retirement homes here, they DO get title and are happy and relaxed. They have the best of both worlds, U.S. citizenship and Mexican residency. No GMO in our meats, our veggie markets have clean food, my eggs have remnants of feathers and excrement and are fresh from clean chickens. Did we say fresh shrimp yet?

  2. Why do the whiners come to these websites ? For every tourist horror story you can tell from Mexico I can tell you 20 from the US. I knew of a couple from England who wanted to take their kids to Disneyland in Fla. The husband read on the internet about some gang murders in Detroit and told his wife “we can’t go to the US, gang members are killing everybody”! Just like the US , Mexico is a big country. You have to research and use common sense anywhere you travel or you can stay in the safe and cozy comforts in your home and go out in style with a heart attack in front of the flat screen TV.

  3. A masterful trip of the senses as you shared Rocky Point with us. CEDO is a ‘must place’ to visit as one enters the ‘earth building’ housing an instructive museum and gift store. One is invited to check out their educational opportunities offered year round for children, adults; college and high school students wanting to study issues around ‘where the desert meets the sea’. Beaches are wonderful and yet the Pinacate Bio-Reserve calls to be one the visiting list! The wind-solar generated energy visitors center invites an afternoon (or more)of specialized short walks to explore fauna, geology, plus understanding the history of the Pinacate. These are sites often missed as the Sea of Cortez and the beaches call. Thanks for sharing, and take care to note for ‘being in Rocky Point’ when away.

  4. Nice article. We always hear these terrible things in the media about Mexico. I went 3 months ago and was amazed by some of the things I saw and the friendliness of the people:
    I would go back anytime.

    Thanks for the insurance tips.

    Sure, there’s dangerous areas, there’s dangerous areas everywhere. But it’s nowhere near as bad as we hear in the media.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  5. I have to admit, Mexico is not a favorite travel destination. I’ve been to
    Cancun and Cabo San Lucas at all inclusive resorts, and I wasn’t impressed by either. I had always heard that Mexico was a cheap travel destination, and I found that not to be the case. After reading your article, I’m willing to give Mexico another try.

  6. Great article! I live 10 miles from Mexico in McAllen. Texas. Unfortunately for us our border crossings are too dangerous right now. We can only go to a small border town called Progreso do our shopping and eat some great food. Mexico has some of the most beautiful places to see. Always trust the Border Patrol agents they will never let you down! They are a great bunch of people.

  7. Great article! We are going to be staying in Rocky Point for a month in mid-April at the very same RV park you stayed at. We stayed there in 2008 but did not do a lot of exploring. Looking forward to returning in the sunshine and checking a lot more things out.

  8. What a beautiful place to visit. I must admit I would have missed it because of my concerns about traveling south of the border, but now I might reconsider. BTW, I loved your "home made" spurs! Thanks for such a great report.

  9. We own a home in Rocky Point and love going there as often as possible. We have never felt threaten. It's a great place to visit! Go to Latitude 31 and tell Mike the Shinn's sent you.

  10. Gypsy, Very nice and true to the heart of this town. This is what Rocky Point is all about. Thanks you for sharing your adventure. Welcome back any time.


  11. Love "Rocky Point" Been as far as Acapulco, by car and have encountered " sincere, hard working , friendly people" If you base your impressions on only a few then you are not being fair to the masses, Mexico has everyday hardworking people as a majority just as we do. If you need to post as "anonymous" to me you don't know what you are actually talking about. No one is suggesting that illegal immigration is a joke, but you are talking about real people here, not a few bad apples which we seem to have in ample supply which have nothing to do with "illegal immigration."

  12. I agree!!! Love Rocky Point, It's the best kept secret!
    Going with the family for 6 years now!!
    Great write up!!

  13. As an aside I would delete anonymous post for stupidity reasons alone but also being off subject in this case

  14. This was a well written article about a nice trip you had south of the border. You will notice nothing but good things for Puerto Penasco in the future as it is easy to get to and a lot of fun once you get here. Come and have a look for yourselves, you will be back, by the way I am using my screen name not like mr anonymous earlier

  15. Good for you, Cinda! I feel the same way and I can't wait to take a trip to Rocky Point! Fear is so alive and well in this country, and you are so right! I remember being mugged twice in NYC. It doesn't keep me from going there. One can run into trouble having NY plates in some counties of the Deep South! If G.W.Bush after 9/11 wanted to control the border, it would have been done. But there's $ in crime and that's what keeps state workers employed- prisons.
    Unless one gets to know others and experience their cultures firsthand, there can be no understanding among peoples. Friends in a band just did a concert in Rocky Point a couple of weeks ago, and raved how wonderful they were treated by the people of Rocky Point. Peace people.

  16. Thank you for another adventure! I love your open and honest style of writing, and your willingness to see things FIRST hand! I hope "ANONYMOUS" knows how dangerous our USA cities are at night! BEWARE! Also, I do want "ANONYMOUS" to know, in doing my geneology, I found that my realtives that first came to the USA (from Germany, Switzerland, France, and Holland) had no "papers" and came and took over someone elses' land. How far back should we go to decide who stays? No joke!

  17. Talk to the murdered rancher in Arizona if you want a different opinion. Articles like yours are dangerous and patronizing. Why not travel the whole border with Arizona and New Mexico, places where the surveillance on the U.S. side is sparse and night time travel is very dangerous indeed. Bad enough that our President is kissing Calderon's butt; perhaps he should have just bowed. illegal immigration is a serious problem, not a joke.

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