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Our Puerto Peñasco Adventure

    

  

 For years John and I have heard about the beach community on the Sea of Cortez in northwest Mexico called Puerto Peñasco (or Rocky Point by the Arizonians). To celebrate Christmas 2000 and New Year's 2001, the couple who stood up for us as best man and matron-of-honour, Deanna and Bruce Britt, decided to join us to investigate the place we had heard so much about. Deanna and Bruce are fulltimers from British Columbia and the four of us simply wanted to ‘beach-it” for a week or two.    

  During a one-day stop in Ajo, Arizona we toured the open mining pits and shopped around for insurance (more on this later). We planned an early departure for Puerto Peñasco (PP). Ajo is 100 miles to the border; the beach is 66 miles farther south. Our border crossing was smooth! Officials simply waved us through without so much as a 'hello'. Since PP is in a free zone, Mexico’s tourist cards or special papers are unnecessary.

     If you are travelling out the free zones (ask your insurance agent where these are located) you will need tourist cards, proof of vehicle ownership, passports and other legal letters. Please note that if your vehicle is mortgaged (in other words, if you have a loan), you need written permission from the lien holder allowing you to drive it across the Mexican border. Although Puerto Peñasco is a free zone, if we had travelled just another 20 miles out of the area, we would have needed all of the papers. No matter where you are staying or travelling, a passport is the best form of identification that you can have. Pets are welcome but you do need proof of rabies shots and a current statement of health dated within six months of crossing the border into Mexico.

   The beach areas near the city are south and southwest. We discovered that most RV resorts were situated adjacent to the water, some more and some less elaborate than ours. However, watch out for wording on brochures - if park sites are advertised as 'ocean view' it is probably across the street from the beach, not ON the beach. Many restaurants, the Cookie Cutter hairdresser, a cyber cafe, several small tiendas (stores), liquor stores and more highlight the beach road. One resort, the Playa Elegante RV Park, hosts non-denominational church services open to everyone, plus weekly activities and a modem hook-up complete with a local Mexican dial-up for 75 cents per 1/2 hour for guests. 

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   We chose to stay at the Playa Miramar full service RV resort with showers, a laundry and a comfortable clubhouse offering limited activities but no pool. The two-lane road to our beach getaway is a good paved surface. Surprisingly traffic at Christmas was light, most of the RV parks were only 50 to 60 percent occupied. (This changed considerably during the New Year weekend.) The park's satellite TV consisted of two channels, one featured movies and the office periodically changed programming on the other throughout the day. However, our own ExpressVu satellite dish brought in programming at 85 - 90 percent. Some sites at Miramar border a sandy beach that shares its shoreline with numerous (I found interesting; John didn't) large dark ‘lava style’ rocks: after all we are in Rocky Point. The sand on this large beach is very coarse and mixed with crushed shells, its loose consistency makes walking the shore an energetic challenge. On the plus side, it is peaceful sitting on the beach listening to the gentle surf splash against the shore. Watching the dolphins at play and pelicans flying in groups searching for a food adds to the entertainment, especially while waiting for the incredible sunsets when the sun falls off the horizon. Many evenings the afterglow paints the sky in vibrant colours.

 

     There is one more full service beachfront RV resort: Playa Bonita RV Park is situated on an isolated beach next to the Playa Bonita Hotel a few miles from town. This beach features the much sought after fine sugar-sand surface that is ideal for walking at low tide. Since Puerto Peñasco is located on a point, beach areas are populated to different degrees on three sides — many of the high-end beach resort hotels are located on sugar-sand beaches in isolated communities about five plus miles from city limits. As in much of Mexico, there is considerable construction throughout the area (homes and resorts) in various states of completion.

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     Our beach adventure was a mix of good and bad. Our arrival coincided with the park's annual Christmas Party complete with complimentary tamales and an unending supply of domestic drinks; each attendee added a potluck dish to enhance the meal. What a fun way to meet our neighbours and discover what the area offered. Music by Carlos, a wonderful keyboard player/singer better known as  ‘El Gringo’, kept everyone entertained and on their feet dancing. Carlos' young daughter accompanied her father for powerful duets. At this time of year, most days were warm and sunny from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. but, when the sun drops off the horizon, temperatures drop rapidly. The many pluses of PP include a steady stream of beach vendors with their continual supply of interesting goods. Silver jewellery is still a good buy as are other Mexican crafts. Margaritas taste good anytime of the day! PP is a super place to enjoy deep-sea fishing trips, glass bottom boat tours, watching the shrimp boats sail into the sunrise or even go clam digging. Fresh seafood is also available for sale at many kiosks in the harbour near Old Port. Christmas Eve we enjoyed a feast of HUGE tasty shrimp bought from a campground vendor. Spending Christmas Day with our long-time friends, Deanna and Bruce, added a high point to this holiday. Between the four of us we shared Christmas treasures and cooked a great Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.  We repeated this eating experience for New Years Eve and occasional meals during our two weeks.  

    This area of Mexico is mainly a very basic blue-collar community surrounded by non-manicured sandy desert terrain, some of it needs a garbage pick-up day. However, talented Mexican artist have added a picturesque touch with fantastic murals in many areas around town: By the way, these artists will also paint RV murals and TV dishes. Expensive houses and resorts owned by non-residents pop-up in what appears mainly unplanned places. On the not so good side many visitors believe PP is simply an extension of the U.S., not a separate northern state of Mexico. During New Year's week Mexico becomes party time in a big way, especially at a beach resort area such as this. ATV’s are extremely popular in PP. Although rental fees range from $150.00+ per day there were hundreds of them in use over the holidays. 

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For some reason numerous visitors feel they can leave all rules and common sense north of the border. The careless operation of many ATV’s by inexperienced riders added to the traffic woes. Yes ATV’s can be driven on all roadways and without a helmet.  Locals and visitors alike took part in extensive partying; driving vehicles between New Year venues; riding on lawn chairs in the back of pick-ups; using fireworks without care and so many more bad habits suggest most sane thoughts stay at the border. Future visitors take note: The same busy (and insane?) activities are repeated at a larger party during spring break, not the best time for a quiet relaxing visit to PP.  

     Additional important planning info: Although there are plenty of small mercado’s (grocery stores), there is no major grocery store. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available but not always on a regular basis. For short visits we suggest you bring favourite food with you. It will take time to find many of the small tiendas (stores) that may feature your favourite activity. Dee and I discovered several craft markets highlighting the finest of Mexico Creations, one on the Malecon near Old Port, another on the dirt road to La Cholla and yet another on the road to Playa Bonita Hotel, numerous small kiosks punctuate many street corners. While we girls shopped, John and Bruce walked the beach on a bikini??? watch.  

    We each really missed being in touch; communication is costly. Long distance phone cards are available for $1.00 per minute.  All 800 numbers are long distance and even to check our message service when we received no messages we used $1.50 on a phone card.  Fortunately Kobi, at the local Cookie Cutter hairdresser shop allowed us to pick-up our Pocketmail.  At the time of this writing we were unsure if the 408 Mexican phone number to retrieve Pocketmail messages was a free call or long distance but we paid her a $1.00 for the use of her phone. If we owe more she will send us an e-mail. Our cell phone would have worked if we contacted the TelMex office but at a cost of $11.00 to connect plus $1.50 per minute usage we chose not to. For $5.00 per every half hour, visitors can use the computers at the Cyber Café. I also found out on our second last day that short-term use is available from ‘InfoTech’ (across from Corona) for $3.00 per hour to use their computers and $4.00 per hour to use your laptop.  Also Playa Elegante www.elegantervpark.com is a modem friendly park.  Usage is .75 cents for 25 minutes and includes a local dial-up from the park. This is a very valuable service for those of us who love to stay in touch in this technological world. By the way each dollar is worth 9.45 pesos; either is readily accepted at $1.00=10 pesos.  

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   The last big expense was insurance. Our motorhome is our fulltime home and travel for two weeks with less coverage than we carry throughout the year made no sense. FYI, no part of our Canadian policy covered us in Mexico. This may not always be the case for American RVers who are subject to different insurance laws (check with your agent or broker). We checked with several companies in the U.S. to find economical full coverage on the motorhome for one day in and one day out.  We also fully covered our car for two weeks while in PP. For us, the most economical insurance we could buy covered us while parked in the campground. When parked, our motorhome was insured for fire and theft of the total vehicle without contents. During that two week period, our motorhome had to stay parked (we couldn't even move it to another campground) under the insurance policy terms. If we had moved it, the insurance policy would have been null and void. The in-and-out insurance covered us while travelling to the Mexican campground and returning from Mexico to the U.S. If you travel in Mexico for longer than 30 days, it is cheaper to take out an extended travel policy (three months or more). The daily rate is absolutely exorbitant.

      Although we accepted the rates offered (motorhome and car plus fire and theft on the motorhome insured as a vehicle) for two weeks, it cost us $363.73 U.S. This converted to $563.00 in Canadian dollars.  We would have saved $157.31 U.S. by buying from Portugal Insurance in Puerto Peñasco. Portugal Insurance treats your RV as a home while it is parked and insures it for fire, theft, contents, liability, robbery, glass breakage and much more for an economical minimum three month policy but even if your visit is as short as two weeks. Portugal’s minimum three month homeowner's policy beats insuring as a vehicle for daily coverage. We bought four policies from the U.S. - in - out - parked - and the car. Portugal’s policy fee is only $6.50 each not $20.00 per policy we paid in the U.S.  Portugal will even insure your driver’s licence to cover any vehicle you are driving for $65.00 per person for PL and PD coverage on the other guy plus $10,000 medical costs for the driver.  However, there is NO coverage on your vehicle for collision, etc. For a quote, e-mail Portugal at segurosp@prodigy.net.mx. I talked to Veronica.  Portugal Insurance will send your policy to the U.S. or Canada.  Be sure to shop around but make a point to include Portugal in your research. Make sure that whatever policy you have that it covers a legal fee (not a reimbursement fee) as well as a repair clause that ensures repairs will be completed to U.S. standards - done in the U.S., if possible. Some insurance companies may charge more but may offer services that make travel into the interior more enjoyable and safer for you. Services could include travel maps and guides.

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    Basically we had a good time but wouldn't count this visit as one of our great ones. It was sad when it came to the end mostly because we were with good friends and the end of our holiday meant saying goodbye to them for a while. We're never sure when we will have the opportunity to spend time with them again. Puerto Peñasco was interesting but not a place that we would return to on our own. We expected it would be a different place, maybe a bit more posh and definitely a less costly adventure. However, not all visitors feel the same and many RVers from Canada and the U.S. return year after year to the sun and surf of this popular PP beach getaway just south of the American border. Detailed information about each campground in Puerto Peñasco is listed in international directories such as Trailer Life and Woodalls. Wherever you go, take care and enjoy your journey.

Note: All prices and costs quoted are in U.S. dollars - do the math to figure out the cost in Canadian dollars.

Plan your trip by first visiting these websites:

www.puerto-penasco.com - Lots of tourist information including links to RV parks.

www.penasco.com/mexico.html - An interesting site with a link to the previously mentioned website.

www.phrannie.org/mexico.html - Great personal site with loads of Mexican travel info from a visitor's point of view.

http://biz.rtd.com/plaza/elfuturo/puerto.html - More information for travelling into Mexico.

Don't forget to check our Question and Answer page for information on free government tourist booklets and other Mexico travel information.

 

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