Crossing the Mexico/US Border and Choosing a Vacation Rental
By: Theresa Vittal
Only one hour from the border town of Sonoyta and a mere 3 1/2 hours from Phoenix, Rocky Point is the closest seaside retreat for many Rocky Mountain state residents.
This once sleepy fishing village of Puerto Penasco, known to Americans as Rocky Point, has turned into something of a bustling city on the Sea of Cortez. With the rise of NAFTA and the designation of “Free Zone” in the state of Sonora, this tiny hamlet where the desert meets the sea is now a favored vacation and weekend destination of thousands of Americans.
Rocky Point is easy to navigate with good signage and only one main road through town that goes all the way to the Old Port, one to Sandy Beach and Choya Bay, and one to the playas. No need to exchange currency, the dollar is accepted everywhere, credit and debit cards are widely accepted, and there is a bank in town as well.
Crossing the Mexican Border at Sonoyta
Visitors to Rocky Point do not need a tourist card, but make sure vehicles have proper documentation and Mexican Insurance and a passport to return to the US. Do NOT take firearms across the border, any border, with Mexico.
The Sonoyta border crossing from Lukeville, Arizona, is a relatively easy one and does not have the line others are famous for and the road to Rocky Point is in good shape. Most of all, go and return during weekdays, this can be the difference between minutes and hours at the border, even Sonoyta can have long waits if one comes back on a Sunday or holiday. Make sure to follow the signs to Puerto Penasco out of town.
Choosing where to stay in Rocky Point
In the past, most people stayed in Choya Bay, which is on the rocky spit – the Rocky Point – to the northwest of Pto Penasco proper (6.4 miles from the highway exit). This has been an American enclave for decades and many of the cabins are, well, “rustic”. Because of recent changes in government policies allowing foreigners a form of ownership and relaxing of banking restrictions for mortgage loans, people are fixing up existing cabins and building elaborate villas (the addition of electrical lines helped also), but it is still an odd mix of near slum and elegance.
In the last decade or so, the playas to the south and southeast of Rocky Point have been built up considerably. One can rent a home, apartment, or casita (small house) for very reasonable prices, sometimes for less than $100/night. Condo rentals on Sandy Beach just east of Choya Bay run quite cheap, as low as $60/night. Craigslist Phoenix is a good way to get a great deal on Mexico rentals and owners will likely bargain since tourism is currently depressed and some even barter. Independent vendors roam the beaches selling trinkets, blankets, sunglasses, henna tattoos, food, and other items. Sandy Beach has the most, but the playas have them also and they aren’t as aggressive as other places in Mexico.
One thing to remember if staying at the southeast playas, there are no restaurants and very few convenience stores once out of town, so either bring food or be prepared to drive. The playas, except Playa Mirador, also tend to be much more laidback and less crowded than Sandy Beach or Choya Bay.
The best times to visit are from March to May or mid-October to December for the most pleasant temperatures and try to avoid Spring Break which attracts large, and often unruly, crowds. The locals are very used to Americans and are friendly and helpful – even a little stab at speaking Spanish goes a long way, no matter how bad it is.