Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Overview of Puerto Penasco/Rocky Point, Mexico

Puerto Penasco, also known as Rocky Point, is a small city near the top of the Sea of Cortez in the state of Sonora Mexico. Relaxed, friendly, unhurried and tolerant it's a live and let live kind of place, with a "no worries" kind of atmosphere. A mere 65 miles or so south of the Arizona/Mexico border at Lukeville, and only a 4-hour drive from Phoenix and Tucson, Arizonans in particular have thought of it as their own slice of heaven for decades.

Puerto Penasco is located within the Sonoran Desert, a North American desert which straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America, with an area of 311,000 square kilometres (120,000 sq mi). The desert contains a variety of unique plants and animals.

This bustling community has a well established infrastructure; a growing year-round gringo population (many of them retirees); miles of swimmable beaches; reliable Internet service; cell phone service; satellite TV; excellent fishing, diving and boating opportunities; golf courses; great restaurants; affordable real estate (getting more affordable all the time due to the impact of the global economic crisis), and the added bonus of being within easy driving distance from many of the Western states in the USA.

The greater Puerto Penasco municipality kind of grew "organically", without much of a plan during most of its relatively short existence (the city is less than 100 years old). For much of its life it existed primarily as a fishing/shrimping village, with several periods of boom and bust throughout the years.

As Arizonans began to discover its charms as a beach and fishing destination, casual "Gringo" enclaves began to develop, first at Cholla Bay to the northwest of town where aficionados were building very basic "vacation homes" and then at other spots as well. (The picture here was scanned from a 1964 Arizona Highways magazine, showing Cholla Bay) Most gringos who came to fish, party and relax simply camped on the beaches. By the time the late 1980s rolled around, when the shrimping industry collapsed, the town was seeing more than 200,000 tourists per year, and the development of beach homes, R.V. parks and tourist zones quickly followed. The attraction was, as it still is, all about the miles of beaches and and the deep blue natural aquarium called the Sea of Cortez.

But the real impetus for development started after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., when people were afraid to fly and drive-to destinations like Puerto Penasco began to capture their attention. Nearly simultaneously came the beginning of the real estate bubble in the USA, with real estate prices in Arizona and California soaring out of control. For a few years the price of oceanfront real estate in Rocky Point looked very good in comparison, and a glut of upscale condo developments began to be marketed primarily to residents of Phoenix and Tucson, but also further afield (all the way into Canada!). Prices during those years rose unrealistically in tandem with the US market, forming a complementary bubble in Rocky Point.

Once the collapse of the market in the USA reached Rocky Point, many of the planned real estate projects were subsequently either put on hold or collapsed entirely, in many cases leaving investors high and dry. It remains to be seen what will happen once the world's economies begin to stabilize.

Development of the area lies in a general northwest to southeast direction, following the curve of the land, but note that the land in the immediate area actually curves in a more west to east direction (slightly north/south) so beaches are often described as being either west or east of town. In fact, from some locations you can watch the sun both rise and set over the Sea of Cortez.

To the actual north of town are the planned communities of Laguna Shores and Laguna del Mar (both developments currently on hold), with La Cholla (aka La Choya) just to their south. (La Cholla is where the land begins to curve to the east.) At the extreme south/east is La Jolla de Cortez (more commonly known as the Mayan Palace development), where the new international airport is located. Just past this area, around San Jorge, the land curves back in a more southerly direction again.

...it's all about beaches
in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.
rocky beaches,
beaches for swimming
or shelling

or just
bumming around...

The oldest parts of town are the Old Port area, also called The Malecon, and Playa Mirador (known locally just as "the Mirador"), which is where much of the restaurants and bars are found. Old Port, which sits beneath Whale Hill, has a fine new Plaza where town events are scheduled; it also has an excellent fish market and many restaurants and shops. The Mirador, kind of around the corner on the other side of Whale Hill, is considered the central part of town as far as entertainment goes. It is definitely the main focus area during Spring Break. But you will also find a well-developed residential area in the Mirador along with several planned condo/hotel/retail projects.

So far, the two major master planned communities in Puerto Penasco are Sandy Beach Resorts (just north/west of town and south/east of La Cholla), owned by Grupo SBR, and the aforementioned massive La Jolla de Cortez project, owned by Grupo Mayan/Grupo Vidanta, about 30 miles south/east on the La Pinta Estuary. Between La Jolla de Cortez and the city are several smaller communities, many of which have been quietly growing for at least two decades. The better known of those enclaves include Las Conchas and Playa Encanto, with plenty of small, independent infill in between and within the town itself, especially in the Playa Mirador area.

Puerto Penasco today is still a growing city. It is safe, friendly, quirky, funky AND fancy, laid back, fun, and though development has slowed dramatically for the time being it has the potential to become an outstanding destination for vacationers and retirees in its own right.

Come on down and look around. It may not be for everyone, but it might be for you...


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