When you think of Arizona, you typically think of the desert. In fact, before I moved to Arizona I imagined dry wastelands of dirt and dust, spotted with cactus, overrun with tumbleweed. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was nothing like that. Sure, there are cactus, and the occasional tumbleweed, but dry and dusty is relative to the time of year. And the beauty that surrounds the city of Tucson on all sides is mountainous, with landscapes ranging from Saguaro to high desert grasses to pine trees and aspens as you get higher into the mountains. And it rains. A lot in the summer, and sometimes a lot in the winter, which creates opportunities for wildflowers and other blooming things, as well as snow. It’s quite the ecosystem! And within an hour of the city in any direction you get something vastly different and equally as beautiful. But if you commit to no more than 4ish hours in the car from Tucson, from Phoenix only 3ish, you will be at the beach. The beach? Like the real ocean? Not a lake? Yup. You read it right. The bona fide beach.
Welcome to Rocky Point, Mexico
For many years I’d heard tell of Rocky Point, or Puerto Penasco, as a destination for Arizona when they wanted to hit the sand and crystal clear water. I didn’t really believe it could be that good. I mean, my experience with Mexico was the Caribbean, which, let’s face it, is hard to beat. So I asked myself – what was the big deal? Friends of mine had invited me several times to go with them to Rocky Point, and our schedules never lined up, but the more I heard about it, the more I thought maybe I should try to make the next trip. So when they asked me to come with them this month, I literally planned around it. And my take home response it, yes, it was beautiful, and yes I would totally do it again, and I cannot believe how close it is by car to get there. My go-to beach from Tucson had previously been San Diego. And while nothing beats San Diego for things to do and great food and being, well, California, if you want a true beach staycation, with sand and wildlife and awesome shell collecting and all the same things you would expect from a beach experience, and you’re in Arizona, set that GPS to Rocky Point or Puerto Penasco, Sonora. Just be sure to know the tricks of the trade ahead.
Here are some recommendations when visiting Rocky Point:
- Bring your passport (I know this seems obvious, but how often do you drive somewhere where you need your passport? I’m just sayin.) And bring sunscreen.
- Know what you can and cannot bring across the border into Mexico and what you can and cannot bring back with you. There are rules, restrictions, limits, and declarations. And they likely are always changing. So check out what you need to know here https://mx.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/bringing-items-into-mexico-u-s/ and here https://www.discoverbaja.com/go/crossing-border-mexico/ for a more tourist-centric updated list of dos and donts. I had some inside info from my friends who are frequent travelers to Mexico by car, so I pretty much just got the down low from them, but if you don’t have friends in the know, check the web.
- You MUST get Mexican Car Insurance. I say MUST because if you knew what could happen to you (jail, fines, cars being impounded, legal fees) just for getting into a car accident (regardless of fault) you’d never think to chance it. And guess what – it’s not expensive!! It’s totally worth the little bit extra, and if you want to know why or want a quote, call my insurance guy Scott Genteman of AZ Insurance Centers and he can get you low cost insurance for a good price. https://www.azinsurancecenter.com And after driving in Mexico and seeing how the lights and stop signs and even the direction the road goes in are optional (think cars driving the wrong way down the street, creating their own lanes, etc.) I know now it’s even more important.
- Definitely go with a large group and stay in a Vacation Rental Home. I stayed with my peeps in Los Conchas, a more or less gated community of beach home rentals on miles of beach. The house was gorgeous. And huge. And really not that expensive. I had my own Casita with a kitchen, all the necessary kitchen items were provided (thoughtfully so) and everything was super clean. The bed was comfortable, the sheets and towels soft, and super bonus the home had clean water service, so they provided multiple 5 gallon containers of purified water for drinking, cooking etc.
- There is a Walmart in Rocky Point so you can pretty much get everything you need food-wise between that store, the local produce market and the local fish market, which is in the downtown and has the freshest fish, shrimp, octopus, and clams. I had no idea there was such variety in the fresh fish availability but it sure was amazing. The produce is no different than what we get in the states (at least in AZ where most of it is imported from Mexico anyway) and if you’re really concerned about contaminants, just stay away from fruits and veggies that draw a lot of water as they grow (like watermelon). But honestly, everything we had was great, especially the avocados…and everything was really reasonably priced. We did all of meals in the rental home, so I can’t speak to the “going out to a restaurant” experience, but for a staycation, we had everything we needed between the pre-packaged items we brought and the fresh items we bought. The only things I didn’t love were the dairy products. A lot of the milk products (like the butter) were not pure but instead had additives and/or were made from goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk so I found them to be a bit off. I might suggest bringing some non-dairy creamer with you as you cannot find that there. Also, wine. You’re allowed to bring a certain amount per person, and if you are a wine drinker, definitely do that as you can’t find familiar wines locally.
- Take some time to visit downtown if you’re not staying there. There are lots of colorful market shops and yes, they are all selling pretty much the same thing, but it’s fun to explore the various offerings as well as the waterfront. It’s touristy and definitely aimed towards spring breakers, but still part of the experience.
- Don’t exchange money –just bring your dollars. The US dollar is widely accepted and you’ll have no problem paying in cash. Credit cards were accepted at the Walmart.
- Be prepared for solicitors along the beaches – once the sun comes out, the locals start making their way up and down the beach selling sombreros, hair braiding, massages, frozen cocktails in fresh fruit containers, fresh fruit in general, jewelry, cigars and probably a few other things I didn’t see. Cash is accepted. Don’t be afraid to bargain.
- You can get your water sports on –from banana boats to booze cruises, jet skis to fishing adventures. Also kayaking, Stand Up Paddle-boarding, and boogie boarding are all possible. One day we had some great boogie board waves. One day it was flat and calm. So many possibilities. So, take to the water.
- Drink Tequila! My friends also introduced me to the Tequila Factory which isn’t a factory, but is a tasting room and store for Tequila. Fernando greeted us as we walked in the door and proceeded to share with us the story of Tequila (made from the Blue Agave plant and only grow and harvested in 5 of the Mexican States) as well as put on a pretty good show. I sampled 4 tequilas, varying in age and how they were aged, and even had a dessert shot at the end of the tasting. I highly recommend this as a stop! https://www.facebook.com/tequilafactory/
All told, this adventure was relaxing and definitely repeatable. Rocky Point, I’ll be back!