The GPS coordinates: 31°19′00″N 113°32′13″W
Municipal President: Professor Mayor Gerardo Zazueta Figueroa (2012 to _____)
Alejandro Zepeda Munro (2009 – 2012)
Puerto Peñasco is a small fishing village situated on a rocky outcrop next to the Sea of Cortez (Mar de Cortez). This is in the Northwest region of the state of Sonora, Mexico. It is situated approximately 100km (62 miles) from the Border of Arizona. The city is approximately 341 km (212 miles) from Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona and this journey takes about four hours to complete.
The municipality of Puerto Peñasco covers an area of 9774.45 km2 (3,773.9 miles2) with an elevation above sea level of 13 m (43 Feet). In 2010 the last census was held and the population is estimated at 57,342. The time zone is Mountain central time or UTC -7. We are not subject to daylight savings. The postal code for Puerto Peñasco is 85330. The telephone area code is (638) + number.
The area forms part of the Altar Desert, which is one of the driest and hottest regions of the larger Sonora Desert. The Altar Desert is one of the driest regions in the world. Near the city you will find fields of sand dunes that form part of the Altar Desert. The dunes are devoid of vegetation. The area is generally flat with the Sonoyta mountain range to the north and east of the city. The mountain range has a volcanic zone called Sierra El Pinacate (More about El Pinacate after the tourism section) and boasts a lunar like crater (Elegante Crater). This area was used as training for the moon landing as it closely resembles the lunar landscape on the moon.
The climate is dry and hot. Temperatures as high as 50°C are reached in the summer months and an average year round high is set as 28,7°C. The rainy season is July and August, but it is not uncommon to get rain in October or November. The annual precipitation is estimated at 90.6 mm. The vegetation and animal life is typical of a dry sandy desert and generally consist of scrub brush and reptiles (snakes, lizards and the Gila monster). Small mammals such as the coyote are found.
The shortage of water in this area kept permanent settlements at bay until the 1920s and the settlement expanded with the construction of the Railroad that connected the Baja of California with the rest of Mexico. The Railroad construction led to a permanent town being developed. Prior to 1920 the bay was a safe harbor for wandering fisherman working the northern waters of the Sea of Cortez. In 1932 the first Police Delegation was added to the town and in 1941 the population grew to 187 residents.
The first residents are considered to be Victor Estrella, Benjamin Bustamante, Melquiades Palacio, Luis Mercado, Juan Mercado and Tecla Bustamante, the last considered to be the first permanent resident.
The main industry that developed was fishing and this later expanded to shrimping. The size and quality of the fish and shrimp led to a booming industry and until today this is still a major part of the commerce in Puerto Peñasco. The seafood processing plant allowed for the canning and freezing of seafood as well as exports. The commercial sector of the economy support 57% of the population selling food, clothes, pharmaceuticals and other items to both the local population and to tourists. Tourism is the main driver of the commercial sector and the municipality usually receives on average 1000 visitors per day. This can be as high as 82,129 visitors (Measured in 2011) during the Easter (Semana Santa) weekend. They brought an estimated $36,154 360.00 MX into the economy during this weekend.
Farming and livestock are not done on any large scale due to the dry conditions and the lack of fertile top soil.
Puerto Peñasco is categorized as a city and has obtained this status as a municipality in 1958. The municipal office or City Hall is located on Boulevard Bonito Juarez in the centre of Puerto Peñasco. As a municipal seat the city of Puerto Peñasco has jurisdiction over 27 other communities. Puerto Peñasco covers a territory of 9,774.45 km2 (3812.04 miles2) and has a total population of 57.342 inhabitants. The municipal area is bordered by the municipalities of San Luis Río Colorado, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Caborca. 110 km (68.75 miles) of beaches fall within the governance of the municipality.
The municipality now consists of nine native cultures that are intermingled, but each retains their own basic cultural differences. The Guarijíos is an artistic culture and make a variety of crafts (hats and figures) with natural materials such as palm fronds and clay.
The Mayos has a rich oral tradition and refer to themselves as Yoreme.
The Opatas, Papagos, Pimas, Seris, Yaquis, Cucapa and Kikapu make up the rest of the cultures. They all specialize in a variety of handmade baskets using the regional desert plants.
The name Puerto Peñasco has an interesting history. In 1826 Lieutenant Robert William Hale Hardy of the British Royal Fleet sailed the Sea of Cortez in a search for pearls. When he spotted the rocky outcrop he named it Rocky Point and it was thus added on the marine maps under that name.
In 1930, the president of Mexico (Lázaro Cárdenas) decided that the town should have a Spanish name and renamed it Puerto Punta Peñasco. This translates into Port Rocky Point and was replaced on the maps. The Americans dropped the word Port and the town became known as Rocky Point. The Mexicans had a similar problem with the pronunciation of the name and dropped the Punta or Point. The Town has since been known as Puerto Peñasco, which translates to Boulder Port or Rocky Port.
Most maps now indicate the name as Puerto Peñasco, but it is still widely referred to as Rocky Point.
In the 1920s, John Stone an American living in Ajo, Southern Arizona moved to Puerto Peñasco and built a Hotel/Casino. He wanted to take advantage of the people crossing the border to escape prohibition (Prohibition was a national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol in the United States from 1920 to 1933). He drilled a water well and set up a flight service from Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona to bring in tourists. They were entertained with alcohol, gambling and fishing. Rumors have it that Al Capone used this hotel as a hideaway from time to time. Stone did very well until he had a quarrel with the locals and decided to leave. He burned down his hotel and blew up the well before his departure.
The area has been heavily visited by people from Arizona and California. They took advantage of the legal drinking age of 18 in Mexico. The municipality’s pristine beaches with its clear warm waters stretch for a 110 km (68.75 miles) north or south with very little development. This area is termed “Arizona’s Beach”. Families brought their children and camped on the beaches from Cholla Bay to Playa Encanto. In the early years it was all about roughing it (primitive camping) and later led to the construction of basic beach huts. These days some of those areas have developed into exclusive communities with luxury beach houses and condominium.
The area has unspoiled beaches and these include Sandy Beach, El Mirador, La Cholla (There is an estuary that forms part of the beach area), Estero Morúa (An estuary located between Las Conchas and Playa Encanto), Las Conchas, Playa de Oro, Playa Encanto, Playa La Jolla and Playa Bonita. These beaches have reefs in the shallow water that make great snorkeling sites. The tidal pools are a wonderful place to explore the wonders of the Sea of Cortez (Mar de Cortez). We boast one of the highest tide changes in the world and there is a variant of up to 23 meters (75.46 feet) between low and high tide at certain times of the year. At beaches like La Cholla the outgoing tide can expose the seabed for hundreds of meters and reveals a large number of tidal pools in the craters of the rocky coast. These pools are full of crabs, starfish, octopus, fish and other marine life. The estuaries of Morúa and Cholla bay are home to thousands of birds, including migratory species and are great for clamming. Estero Morúa has become the home of the local oyster farms. They offer tasting and will guide the visitor through the process of oyster farming.
The oldest part of the town was constructed on the rocky outcrop between the Ballena Hill or Whale Hill as it is commonly known today, and the Sea of Cortez. (Ballena translates to Whale in English). The base of the area is volcanic rock. During ancient eruptions the lava flow solidified as it met the waters of the Sea of Cortez. The location was next to a natural cove where the Sea of Cortez was calmer and it offered protection against the occasional wind and storms.
In 1963 the Laboratory of Atmospheric Sciences of the Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Sonora (Universidad de Sonora) started a joint project to develop methods to desalinate sea water. The University of Sonora (Universidad de Sonora) has built a Scientific and Technological Research Center (Centro de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnologicas) in Puerto Peñasco. They further established a Center for Desert Studies (Centro de Estudios del Desierto) where they study various aspects of the Sonoran Desert. Both these centers are open to visitors.
In 1973 and 1974, a study was started to research the raising of blue shrimp or Penaeus stylirostris in the Sea of Cortez by the Unidad Experimental group of Puerto Peñasco. This project has been the leader in the development of shrimp farming techniques in Mexico. Marine research has become important and CEDO became involved on Las Conchas beach and an Aquarium was opened. The CET-MAR Aquarium is a marine research center open to the public with displays of marine life such as turtles, octopus and numerous fish species. CEDO does tours and educates the public about the Sea of Cortez and the marine environment in general. They offer guided tours and beach walks.
In 1993 the Mexican government started to see the opportunity for developing this area as a tourist destination. They combined with the private sector and started the push to develop this area as a tourist destination. Many people where renting beach houses and condo’s in the recently built resorts.
Originally tourists came to visit with their RV’s and over time a demand for alternate accommodation arose. This led to resorts being built on Sandy Beach and several RV parks were established. Soon investors from Arizona realized the opportunity and this led to the Real Estate boom between 1999 and 2007. The city developed into one of the fastest growing and most popular vacation hotspots in Mexico. The building of condos, hotels and vacation homes on the beachfront became big business. Even though the financial crises caused a slowdown the city is still being developed. A new mall with six movie theaters is in progress next to the port area and three golf courses have been completed. Plans have been approved for the building of a Convention Centre and the Coastal highway from Baja California is being connected to the Sandy Beach resort area. Surveys are underway for the construction of a disembarkation port. This would allow cruise liners to dock and have passengers to disembark, thus increasing tourism in the area. The influx of additional contractors and suppliers to provide for the Cruise Liners will assist this city to become a major hub for tourism in Mexico.
Activities for tourists have become a small industry in itself and include ATV rentals for riding on the dunes, fishing, jet skiing, water biking, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, sunset cruises, micro lights, dining and much more.
The active tourist trade led to local entrepreneurs developing arts and crafts in true Mexican style. They added a lot of colors and the media ranged from precious metal to glass. The traditional rugs, blankets, poncho’s, pottery, painting, hardwood carving, basket weaving and shells, was expanded on by local artists creating metal art and sculptures, glass blowing ornaments and a large variety of glassware with local brands and designs. Mexico is renowned for their silver and this again led to silver jewelry being designed and marketed. The casting of metal has been done for ages and the local art is no exception. They design and cast a large variety of pewter products and these vary from kitchen utensils to bowls, trays and wall mounted art. The active art community created a large retail and commercial opportunity and shops, malls and stalls were opened to sell the merchandise to the tourists. Traditional Mexican arts and crafts sold so well that artists from further south started to bring their wares to Puerto Peñasco to sell to the tourists.
The city and surrounding area was declared part of the border “free zone”. This zone was later expanded to Hermosillo. This allowed visitors from the USA to drive around freely without any Visa’s or vehicle permits and the area is subjected to a no hassle zone. This allows for more tolerant Law enforcement and less hassles when travelling. This led to easier access and makes the area more attractive for visitors from Arizona, Tucson, Nevada, New Mexico and other colder states. The financial decline in the USA led to expanded marketing and now the city is frequented by foreigners as far as the northern states of USA, Canada and even Europe.
The Sea of Cortez international airport has been completed in 2009. The Vedanta Capital Group, a Mexican-based private firm investing in Latin American luxury resorts that includes brands such as Grupo Mayan, built the Sea of Cortes International Airport. They invested $53 million (USD) to build and operate the airport. The airport has started to receive flights from Los Angeles international airport as well as other national airports in Mexico. The airport, located 30 minutes from Puerto Peñasco, has a capacity for 250,000 travelers annually. The runway is 2,500 meters in length and capable of accommodating commercial planes up to 737s. Negotiations are under way to receive daily flights from the USA and Mexico. The first flights linking Hermosillo, Puerto Penasco and Las Vegas is scheduled to start early February 2013.
A new Coastal Highway has been completed in January 2012 and shortened the road to California by 100 Km (63 miles). The Coastal Highway allows easy access into the Sandy Beach area of Puerto Peñasco.
In February 2012 the development of Puerto Penasco as a home port has been anounced officially and the federal government has funded the initial phase of this development with $160,000,000 MXN pesos. This project will commence early in 2013 and is planned to be in operation in 2014.
The ground breaking for the 3000 seat convention center occurred early in 2012 on the land next to the old Cholla Bay road next to the Links Golf course. According to the City the convention center will start with convensions in October 2013.
Conference facilities, Shopping malls, Casino’s, Restaurants, Movie theaters, Cruise liners, Hotels and many more are currently being planned and built in this once small fishing town. The economic collapse has delayed completion of many projects, but signs of recovery are upon us and the growth is slowly starting to come back.
When visiting Mexico it is required to get Mexican auto insurance prior to driving into Mexico. Auto insurance is required by Mexican law and U.S. policies are not, as a rule, valid in Mexico. You can purchase temporary day-by-day policies as you approach the border or, you can get the insurance from approved dealers in the USA.
A valid passport or the new passport card is required to enter Mexico. Some countries will require an additional Visa. Please check with the local Mexican consulate.
C.B.T. (Customs and Border Protection) requires a valid passport or the new passport card to return to the U.S. Children 15 and under do not require a passport (although it's recommended that they have one) but must be in the company of their parents and have a valid birth certificate.
The volcanic zone of El Pinacate forms part of the Sonoyta Mountain range. In 1993 it was declared a biosphere reserve by the Mexican government. This biosphere reserve covers 714,556.6 hectares and is situated on the road between Puerto Peñasco and the Border town of Sonoyta (Lukeville on the USA side). It is approximately 50 Km from Puerto Peñasco. The reserve forms part of the municipalities of Puerto Peñasco, Sal Luis Rio Colorado, and Plutarco Elías Calles. The nucleus of the biosphere consists of the Sierra el Pinacate, Adair Bay and Sierra del Rosario. The declaration of the reserve has had the effect that the area cannot be developed under any circumstances.
Evidence of ancient human habitation has been found and this has attracted the attention of both researchers and tourists.
One of the main attractions for tourists is the volcanic craters in El Pinacate. The major ones are named Badillo, Molina (or Trébol), Mc Dougal (the largest) and Caravajales. In addition, there is the Grande Volcano which stands at 3,200 feet tall and has a depth of 950 ft.
The area is considered to be one of the most arid and inhospitable areas in the Sonoran Desert. In spite of the rugged terrain the area contains a wide variety of Fauna and Flora.
Flora: The reserve boasts 553 species of plants (Flora). Cactuses such as saguaros, chollas and ocotillos dominate the area. With the rainy season the flora explodes with wildflowers and the Cactuses get fat with all the water they store. The wildflowers are short lived and they wilt quickly in the heat.
Fauna: The area contains 41 species of mammals, 237 species of birds, 45 reptile species and 4 types of amphibians.
San Jorge Island
San Jorge or more commonly known as Bird Island is a small group of rocky outcroppings about 40 km southeast of Puerto Peñasco. The rocky outcrops are covered in guano and appear to be capped with snow. The guano is the droppings of seabirds such as seagulls and pelicans that stay on the island. The waters around the island are filled with approximately 3,000 Sea lions. The Sea Lions live close to shore and lie on the warm rocks next to the water. This is the largest concentration of Sea lions in Mexico. Tourists can dive with the Sea lions and snorkel on the reefs around the island. Kayaking at the island is also very popular with tourists.