Friday, March 6, 2009

The Fabulous Beaches of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico


It's all about beaches and ocean in Puerto Peñasco. Sandy beaches, rocky beaches, beaches for swimming, shelling or just bumming around. There is wind surfing, fishing, sailing, or jet skiing, and tide pools to explore when the tide is out. With miles of beaches available stretching from northwest to southeast of the town, whatever you want from a beach you can find here.

Note that in Mexico all beaches are, by law, open to the public. The best swimming in Rocky Point is from May through October, as it is generally too cold for swimming during the winter months. And remember: all vehicles are prohibited on the beaches of Puerto Penasco.

You will find many references to beaches in the region as being "west" or "east" due to the way the land curves away as you head south. For instance, Playa Encanto and Playa La Jolla might be described as "Eastern beaches" while Sandy Beach is a "Western beach". I find that somewhat confusing, though, so in case it confuses you, too, I will be describing the beaches as going from north to south, as indeed they ultimately do. To the right is a Google-earth satellite view showing the general lay of the land.

I'll start this description of Rocky Point's beaches at the northern end with Pelican Beach and head south as far as Playa San Jorge.

Pelican Beach: Beginning north of town are the beaches fronting the Laguna Shores and Laguna del Mar developments, which are located along the curve of Cholla Bay. These 2 masterplanned developments share a pristine estuary teeming with wildlife-- bring your binoculars and camera! (Future plans for this area also include the Laguna del Sol and Marina Real communities.) Part of the larger Estero La Cholla (pictured at the top of this post), you are encouraged to help keep this estuary as clean and pristine as it is today. You know: "Take only pictures and leave only footprints". Pelican Beach
(so called because of the number of brown pelicans that hang out in the area) is located near the bottom edge of Laguna del Mar. It is a good place to go clamming or crabbing. This lovely stretch of beach curves to the southwest until it reaches the little jut of land where the La Cholla community is found. From the main highway north out of town, take the clearly marked turn off going to Laguna Shores/Laguna del Mar.

La Cholla (sometimes spelled La Choya): La Cholla is the oldest established foreigner-dominated enclave in the area. Set at the end of a little peninsula that juts like a finger into the Sea of Cortez at the southern end of Cholla Bay and Laguna del Mar, there is not much in the way of sandy beaches here. Probably the best one is called Tucson Beach. Though small, Tucson Beach offers calm water for wading and swimming when the tide is in. It also affords easy launching and retrieval of watercraft if you happen to be living or renting in the area and have a boat.

This peninsula is often called Pelican Point. Its rocky shores are part of a submerged 15-mile reef, and when the tide goes out it goes waaaay out! This is an advantage, however, for anyone who loves to explore tide pools, and due to the prevailing on-shore winds and shallow water it is excellent for kite sailing. This is also a great fishing spot for red snapper, whitefish, halibut, gold spotted bass and black sea bass! Don't count it out.

Sandy Beach (Playa Arenosa): At the southern edge of the La Cholla peninsula begins the miles-long sweep of Sandy Beach. The construction along its edges (Sandy Beach Resorts) is the first thing you see when approaching town; you can see the highrise condos from 10 to 15 miles out. There are a lot of activities available at this beautiful beach area, including swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, water skiing, parasailing, jet skiing, surfing, fishing, clamming, or just basking in the sunshine. The crescent-shaped beach has miles of largely undisturbed sand dunes flowing inland. At its southern end it merges into Playa Bonita, and the two areas share many attributes.

Playa Bonita/Playa Hermosa: Playa Bonita/Playa Hermosa sweeps from the bottom of Sandy Beach in a great arc southward to the Peñasco del Sol resort area of downtown and is the main beachfront for that area. Technically an extension of Sandy Beach, this beautiful stretch of beach is loved by both locals and visitors, with easy access throughout most of its length. When the tide is very low the seaweed, rocks and tide pools are exposed. This provides a perfect time to explore the pools for the strange and wonderful variety of marine creatures that live there. Kids of all ages love this, but do be careful what you touch.

At the northern end of this beach you will find the well-established Playa Bonita and Laos Mar hotels. Anchoring its southern end, as already mentioned, is the Peñasco del Sol (formerly Plaza Las Glorias). Within walking distance of the Peñasco del Sol are many shops and restaurants, which makes this a very popular location. On a busy day, parking anywhere near it can be challenging. This is also where the rocky area of the beach that circles most of the town begins.

Mirador Beach: Located right around the corner from Old Port's Malecon, this is the closest beach to the oldest parts of downtown Rocky Point. Comprised of both sandy and rocky shores, it is only about three blocks south of the Peñasco del Sol. Besides having the advantage of an excellent beach and superior tide pooling when the tide is out, this area is home to many of the town's favorite night spots such as Manny's, Pink Cadillac, the Pithaya, and Baja Cantina. Mirador is Spring Break country, the center of action for partying for the young crowd every spring. The process of sprucing up the Mirador area is well underway, with upscale mixed use development planned for the area.

Las Conchas: Las Conchas is a 6-mile-long straight stretch of beautiful, pristine beaches with low bluffs and big sand dunes punctuating its length. Located along the northwestern shores of the Morua Estuary, this beach is mostly sandy and shallow; you can walk way out in many places even when the tide is not out. Excellent for shore fishing and shelling (and star gazing at night), there is one word of warning here: Stingrays.

Stingrays will often be found half buried in the sand along shallow beaches. Difficult to see, they are not mean-- they won't swim up and sting you on purpose-- but if you accidentally step on one you will be very sorry. They seem to spawn in Rocky Point mostly during March, April and May, and Las Conchas is particularly full of them. (They are also at other beaches in Rocky Point, but not in such numbers.) So here's the rule: Whenever you are wading in shallow, sandy water anywhere be sure to vigorously shuffle your feet to let any stingray know you are coming. They'll get out of your way.

EAST BEACH: About 15 minutes south of town by car, this beach/development area is separated from Las Conchas' beach by the mouth to the Morua Estuary. It fronts a couple of gated resort communities and includes Playa La Jolla and Playa Encanto (see below), which actually share the same beach. The stingray caveat also applies here.

Playa La Jolla: Located on East Beach, about 12 miles from Puerto Peñasco, Playa La Jolla offers a perfect place to take in the sun, go for a walk, collect shells and enjoy the scenery and serenity. While close to town, it is not uncommon to find yourself almost alone on this beautiful beach. The beach here is wide, sandy, and rock free.

Playa Encanto: Ditto Playa La Jolla, and you already know what this beach area is all about. Both are excellent for shelling, so bring along a baggie to save your treasure in.

NORTH BEACH: North Beach is a development area that has been very controversial for a decade, and the controversy continues to this day. You can find out more about the real estate debacles there via Google, but for our purposes I will say only that the beaches are outstanding. Playa Dorada is one of the beaches/developments in this area.

Playa Dorada: Playa Dorada is almost a 30 minute drive from town. Like most of the beaches in the area it is wide, sandy, and covered in shells-- some of them HUGE. If you like deserted beaches and quiet, you can't go wrong with Playa Dorada.

Playa Miramar: Playa Miramar, just below Playa Dorada, shares all of the latter's attributes. Playa Miramar is NOT part of North Beach, as I previously (erroneously) posted.

Mayan Palace: Located in the La Pinta Estuary, at kilometer 24 along the Peñasco – Caborca highway (a 30 to 40 minute drive), this massive resort development has about 2 miles of unspoiled beachfront. Located along the La Pinta Estuary, this place is an ecological haven for marine creatures and birds and has excellent shelling. On the southeastern part of the beach, about a mile from the resort, many sea creatures can be found during low tide, along with huge, hand-sized shells. The sand is also great for building sand castles.

Playa San Jorge: Just across the bay from the new Mayan Palace Resort, where the land curves more toward the south, is the San Jorge Estuary, with beaches that rival those of its neighbor. Though there is some development in the area, if you make it all the way down to Playa San Jorge you can be assured of isolation, if that is what you desire. Bring your own shade, water and plenty of sunscreen. And don't forget your binoculars (for bird and critter watching) and camera. This is what beaches are all about.

And there you have it. Enjoy the fabulous beaches of Rocky Point, Mexico!

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