The last, and only time I have ever been to Mexico was in 2004 when I spent spring break with a few friends in Puerta Vallerta. It was a booze-filled, raucous good time filled with yard long drinks and quarter-yard length skirts. Why then, did I not visit Mexico again until September 2017 ? To be honest, it was fear and that old, unwanted friend called anxiety. Fear about not speaking the language, about crowds and about violence in the region. Anxiety about if I would have enough clean water to drink and what produce I would need to avoid. Honestly, worry about these types of things continue to be a deterrent for excursion. Luckily for me, my fears were tranquilized by the serenity of the city of Puerto Peñasco in the state of Sonora, Mexico. You see, Puerto Peñasco is a safe beach resort in Mexico.
For those of you located in the great state of Arizona, you’ve got yourself an advantage in getting to Puerto Peñasco. The best way to get to this safe beach resort in Mexico is by crossing the border by car via Route 85. It is roughly four hours or 220 miles away from both Tucson and Scottsdale. I flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor for a steal at $79 each way. Check Out Roundtrip Fares UNDER $199 at CheapOair.
Chicagoans often spend winters in Arizona because the Midwest can be soul crushingly cold. Growing up, my family and I would head to Scottsdale usually once a year. With over 20 trips to Arizona under my belt, I was surprised that I had never heard of the place known as “Arizona’s Beach.”
Activities by Land
Puerto Peñasco is a desert on the sea. For miles and miles in any direction, all you see is sun-bleached, dried-out earth. You may see the ocean, but it depends where you are looking. I had never been to such a vast desert before, so to me, it felt like I was in my own version of Mad Max: Fury Road. This feeling was exacerbated when we spent 90 minutes cruising through sand dunes on ATVs.
Here I am on an ATV. This was my first time riding an ATV and truthfully, it is not my cup of tea. It was a little loud and hot and I didn’t feel secure wearing a bicycle helmet on a motorized vehicle. No one else was worried about these things, but such is the life of the anxious traveler.
Susan, the Gen-X Traveler, did not worry about being in the desert on an ATV. She enjoyed herself so much that her vehicle overheated and she needed to give it a break before she could continue.
Luckily for my group, no one was acting like much of a daredevil. Others weren’t so lucky.
Some of the group went out in “quad” vehicles. Here, Romeo and Katherine Belarmino strike a pose.
We also had the opportunity to golf on our visit. Full disclosure: my fiancé tells me I am a terrific golfer. That’s why I’m marrying him. (Just kidding.) My final scores are never great and my putting is in a constant state of “needs improvement,” but I am generally confident about my game. Correction: I was confident until I was bested by the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course known as Laguna Del Mar. The first nine holes were under construction so we played the back nine. This activity was an alternate plan because it was so windy that our water based activities were cancelled. While we were supposed to snorkel, conditions were too windy for us to be on the water, so clearly it was a great day for golf!
Romeo of Golf the World as well as a representative of Puerto Peñasco tourism played with me. Rome finished with par and I elected to not finish the last three holes. It turns out that this course, while beautiful, was best suited for a more skilled player. I really enjoyed the landscape and the view of the little town on Cholla Bay. Unfortunately, the selection of rental clubs was not very plentiful but I anticipate as the course finishes construction, that will be remedied.
There are two other golf courses in Puerto Peñasco. One is Las Palomas, part of the property where I stayed, and the other is at The Grand Mayan, a Vidanta luxury resort about 45 minutes from the city center.
The jewel of Puerto Peñasco is perhaps the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Biosphere. Located about one hour from resort row, it is worth the drive. The biosphere is a collection of calderas from collapsed volcanoes that were active thousands of years ago. With a fifty-peso entry fee, this site is a “can’t miss.” Be forewarned, however: there are no bathrooms on the property other than at the entrance. With a circumference of about 75 kilometers, a day at the biosphere is a time commitment. To be appropriately prepared, bring plenty of water, a hat, sun protection, and sneakers.
Activities By Sea
Puerto Peñasco is on the Gulf of California. To be more specific, it sits on the northeastern curve of the Sea of Cortez. It is a relatively safe beach resort in Mexico that is known as a fisherman town with many aquatic activities. Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the aquarium of the world,” because of its abundance of sea creatures and picturesque beauty. Scuba divers and snorkelers will delight in the biodiversity of the water. Visitors can arrange excursions with tour operators through their hotels or on the malécon.
The most surprising aspect of visiting this relatively safe beach resort in Mexico was how accommodating the restaurants were. The food in Puerto Peñasco was on another level. I anticipated that I would have to adjust my eating habits and be diligent about the items I avoided. Produce washed in tap water, iced drinks,and tap water were all things that I planned to avoid. I assumed I would be eating a lot of chips and salsa, enchiladas, and bottled water. Boy, was I wrong. The ice at every restaurant was made using filtered water, the restaurants had filters, and the resort operated on filtered water. While I was still diligent about only drinking bottled water, the other 12 individuals on my trip drank iced drinks and tap water with impunity. Guess what? None of them got sick! How great is that!?
A delicious and well presented passionfruit lemonade from the Otomulata restaurant at the Mayan Palace.
On this trip, I also discovered the incredible breadth of Mexican wine making. Valle de Guadalupe and Baja wineries dominated the wine lists of every restaurant. Lucky for me, one of my fellow travelers was a wine blogger who specialized in wines from Mexico and Southern California. More on that after we talk about…
Holy Guacamole; the quality and diversity of restaurants in Puerto Peñasco was enough to wow this Chicagoan. No matter where we went, be it a resort property or a stand-alone restaurant in town, I was impressed. I traveled to Mexico and I dare say that I ate only a few dishes that I associate as Mexican.
The most memorable restaurant we visited was called La Casa de Capitain. Located high above the Sea of Cortez, this brightly colored restaurant had the most beautiful lookout point of any place we visited.
With these views, it’d be hard not to at least stop in at this restaurant. It also had the best, okay, only, guacamole and chips that I had on the entire trip. When paired with the amazing octopus ceviche on this sample platter, this place hit the spot.
My favorite restaurant that we visited was called El Tapeo. Located on the grounds of the Best Western in Puerto Peñasco, a safe resort town in Mexico, this restaurant had the most gourmet food and most fun atmosphere of any we visited. In the interest of full disclosure, most of the other restaurants we visited served steak as main dishes, a food that I don’t eat. I currently don’t have food allergies, but there is something about both tequila and steak that does not sit well with me.
El Tapeo is billed as a wine bar, and as such, they have an extensive list of mostly Mexican wines. I know next to nothing about wineries in the Baja region, but luckily for our group, sommelier in training and wine blogger Erika Beach was with us. Now she is a woman who knows a thing or two about wine, especially wine from this region. She selected a fabulous bottle of wine from the menu that paired excellently with the charcuterie board and paella courses.
Check out this paella! Clams, lobster, shrimp, sausage…it had it all and was incredible. I’m still thinking about this dish.
Did you Know….?
November is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. As I mentioned, this was my first time to a Spanish speaking country since 2004. It appears that I am on trend as trips to Hispanic nations have been increasing, and times spent in those destinations are also on the rise. Just as finding a safe beach resort in Mexico has led me to consider visiting the country again, peace time has increased safety in places like Guatemala and Honduras. Consider the following infographic:
Puerto Peñasco: a Safe Beach Resort in Mexico
My trip to Puerto Peñasco opened my eyes to an enjoyable vacation in Mexico as an adult. With calmer pools and properties than the more well known Mexican resort towns, it’s a quaint fishermans’ village with many of the amenities I’d expect in America. I’ll detail more in a later post about the lengths Las Palomas goes to to ensure your stay is both enjoyable and safe.
Many thanks to Rocky Point/Puerto Peñasco Tourism Board for hosting my stay. While I was not financially responsible for the details of my stay, all opinions are my own.