Tips for the Best Rocky Point Adventures
Have you heard of or are you considering heading down to "Arizona's Beach" (AKA Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco) for Spring Break or Easter? It's getting down to the wire for making plans, and I have a stack of helpful information and tips to help you plan your trip. Do not think I haven't done my homework either...I spent a week in Rocky Point this February, talking to locals and romping around town, having my own wonderful experiences.
Whale watching, ATV riding, beach combing, swimming, and hot tubbing every day, were a part of my trip. I also enjoyed great seafood and affordable everything. Really! Check out my Rocky Point travel tips if you're considering going there. These are your best bet for a good time this season.
How Long Does it Take to Get to Rocky Point?
From Flagstaff, where I live, it's 350 miles to Puerto Peñasco (about 6 hours—though most people say it's 5-1/2). The distance from Phoenix and Tucson are about the same, 215 miles or 3-4 hours.
I'll leave it to you and Google to figure out the best way there, but basically you get on AZ Route 86 until you get to Sonoyta, where it turns into Mexico Highway 8. The gas got more expensive the further south I went. And even in Mexico, I found the gas a bit more expensive than Phoenix. So you may want to gas up as far north as you can.
Conquering the Border
You need a passport to get through the border, but you are supposed to have an FMM tourist permit and get it stamped by Mexican immigration at the border. Most people do not get an FMM on their way to Rocky Point, but it should be noted that it is legally required regardless of how long you plan to be there.
Rocky Point is located in the 'Hassle Free Zone', which means you do not have to get a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit, go through Customs, or get paperwork checked. This is another great reason to go to Rocky Point.
They won't check you for it at the border, but remember that Mexico auto insurance and a valid driver's license are required to drive in Mexico.
Driving in Mexico
Once you get over the border obey the speed limit. Puerto Peñasco locals warned us about strictly enforced speed limits by the Sonoyta police. If you do get pulled over, avoid the mordida (bribe) and have the policia take you to the judge, where you will get a better settlement and it is safer.
The speed limit in Sonoyta is 25 km/h (15 mph). Complying with the speed limit in Mexico may seem a little ridiculous, since everyone will pass you. For me, it was better than dealing with the police.
Give yourself plenty of time to get there. The Rule of Thumb is you do NOT drive in Mexico at night for any reason.
Where to Stay
Depending on the kind of vacation you are looking for, there are plenty of options.
Looking for rest and time with the family? Maybe you'd like to spend a few nights out on the town, but mostly plan on playing on the beach and swimming in a heated pool or jacuzzi. If this describes you, you may want to look at Sandy Beach for accommodations. Peñasco del Sol, Best Western Laos Mar Hotel & Suites, Playa Bonita Resort, and Las Palomas Beach and Golf Resort are close to town, but far enough away for solitude. The Mayan Palace is located about 30 minutes east of town and is essentially an all-inclusive with a private beach.
Close to Bars, Restaurants, Entertainment
If you want to a place to stay on the beach, and wish to walk to affordable food, bars and discos, Mirador Beach is the place for you. Hotel Baja, Costa Elegante Hotel & Suites, El Mirador Village Hotel, Motel Granada del Mar are on the Beach or right off the beach. Hotel Plaza Penasco and Playa Inn are a little farther away, but look a little nicer on the outside.
There are also a few hotels at the Malecon. Popular for food and bars, the Malecon is hopping at night and it's difficult to find a parking spot, so staying there is a good option. The downside is you there's no beach, though the ocean views are impressive.
Las Conchas and Cholla Bay do not have hotels, nor easy public beach access, but they are great if you can find a condo to rent. Los Conchas makes for great beach fires and you can buy wood on the way out, on Fremont Street, from the men that sell honey ('miel') on the side of the road.
If you want to take long walks on the beach, play in the sand, and find sea shells, this is the beach for you. The beach is long, smooth, soft, and has great sunrises and sets.
Popular for its rocky tidal pools, and Manny's Beach Club, Mirador beach is a good taking off place if you want to paddle board or kayak. The beach is all sand and no rocks during high tide.
The Mayan Palace has a very long private beach that extends out to a peninsula at the mouth of the estuary. You could beach comb for miles here and likely be by yourself.
Food for Thought
You can't beat Lucky's Cantina on the Malecon for breakfast. They advertise free breakfast, but it's only free if you buy a drink, and I don't mean coffee. Your alcoholic beverage is $5 and then your breakfast is free. I couldn't stomach a drink the morning I was there, but they looked big and plentiful, and the breakfast is as well. You won't leave hungry—and possibly sober either.
For Lunch or a less expensive dinner try Tacos Combo (fish tacos), Blue Marlin (fish tacos), Taquería La Vaca Chenta (street tacos with Mexico City flare).
For dinner I found the following seafood restaurants to excel: Blue Marlin, Friendly Dolphin, Al Capone's, Pane e Vino Ristorante, and La Casa Del Capitan. Pane e Vino Ristorante and La Casa Del Capitan, located above the Malecon, have the best views in town. There some really good Italian restaurants, Mare Blu and Al Capone's.
I'm sure there are more great restaurants, these are the ones I went to and are a mix of local street food and high end fare.
Mirador Beach has a lot of bars and discos, Manny's Beach Club being one of the more popular ones. The Malecon has many restaurants and bars that overlook the sea—and is hopping, especially on the weekends and holidays. Between Sandy Beach and Cholla Bay are Changos Bar, Banditos, and Wrecked at the Reef, to name a few.
Don't forget to go on a Booze Cruise. Watch the sunset in a big boat on the Sea of Cortez, open bar and music included.
There's lots of shopping at the Malecon. I love to wonder the glass and tile shop at the top of the hill. Rodeo Drive, on the way to Cholla Bay, is the latest and best shopping in Puerto Peñasco. There are great deals on art, pottery, glass, jewelry, trinkets, and just about everything you can think of.
If you desire more than a bunch of cold ones and chillin' at the beach, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy.
Spring Break is prime whale watching season. Humpback and Grey whales come to the food rich waters of the Sea of Cortez to bear their young from January through March. This year they have moved into the area a little later, making this a great spring break adventure.
The Puerto Peñasco estuary houses three different Oyster Farms. Visit these and eat Oysters fresh out of the water for five to six dollars a dozen. The Sea of Cortez in Rocky Point is very salty, so taste your Oysters before you add salt.
Other options include ATV Rentals, hiking up the sand dune mountain outside of Cholla Bay (great views), the Bird Island boat excursion and the CEDO Intercultural Studies tour (don't miss the giant whale skeleton).
You could stay home for Spring Break. I'm sure the weather in Phoenix or Tucson will be fine. But Rocky Point is safe, close, and affordable, so why miss out on all the fun, sand, adventure, and incredible sunsets?