For the people who call Arizona home, the beach town of Puerto Peñasco (commonly known as Rocky Point in English) is a famous coastal escape. Lots of people go here to party, and there are plenty of all-inclusive enclaves in town. However, there is another side to Puerto Peñasco – a calm, natural paradise, and a small town with good food, kind people, and plenty of Mexican culture to immerse yourself in. If you are wondering what to do in Rocky Point, and looking for authentic or peaceful experiences, this is the post for you.
What to Do In Rocky Point: What to Expect in This Guide
I spent much of my high school weekends in Puerto Peñasco, where I discovered the world of outdoor Rocky Point and got glimpses of the true town under the growing tourist destination. The beaches here are magical and dynamic. The Sea of Cortez shows off much of its biodiversity on the coasts here. And Puerto Peñasco itself is a study in the ebb and flow of local culture and international tourism. If you know where to look, the story of these tides are written across the landscape.
This post will also be a bit of a (recent) historic peek at the town – the last time I visited was in 2014. But I photographed and explored Puerto Peñasco for more than a decade. And the time period in which I experienced Rocky Point was also a time of change. From the years of rapid growth from 2005-2007, to the Great Recession, and beyond.
All that being said, if you are looking for a guide to all-inclusive or party-town Rocky Point, this isn’t that. I’m not that kind of traveler, and I was far too young when I spent lots of time in this part of Sonora, Mexico. As a white, Arizonan visitor, I also can’t speak much to the internal culture and life of Puerto Peñasco. But I can speak to some of the ways that visitors can enjoy the vibrant Mexican spirit while visiting this popular tourist spot.
So, come along for some tips on what to do in Rocky Point and a glimpse into what the town looked like during the turbulent years of the Great Recession.
Outdoor Rocky Point
For the most part, when Americans think about Puerto Peñasco, they think about beach-side houses, sentinel all-inclusive hotels, and sometimes wild spring break parties. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, and it completely misses the quiet, but powerful magic of outdoor Rocky Point. For those of you considering a visit to Puerto Peñasco or thinking about revisiting with a different lens, nature should play a major role as you consider what to do in Rocky Point.
It should come as no surprise, but much of the biodiversity and easy-to-access nature in Puerto Peñasco is based along the shore. With some patience and gumption, you can experience a world that changes with the tides, and reveals itself only through observation over time. It would be easy to miss these things if you get wrapped up in the common tourist experience of Rocky Point. But missing out on the nature of this special place means missing out on part of its true heart, and skipping some of the things that make Sonora so unique in the world. So, come with a quiet and curious intention, and watch as the desert reveals itself in exceptional ways.
Tidepools on the Beach
The beach that I am most familiar with in Puerto Peñasco is that of Las Conchas. This neighborhood of expats and wealthy Mexicans stretches off along the sandy beach to the east of the main town. It is a picturesque place to nestle in the sand for a beach day. And I spent plenty afternoons building sand castles and swimming in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez here. Sometimes we even got to ride the banana boats through the waves, tugged along by power boats piloted by local entrepreneurs.
But there was another side of the beaches here – when the tide went out. When this would happen, large, flat, pitted and sometimes sharp stones would be revealed. There were whole worlds in these tidepools, which easily rival anything that I have seen in more famous tidepool areas. While slowly exploring and observing these dynamic places, we saw all kinds of animals – from octopi to crabs and fish of various species.
You would never know what you would find when the tides pulled away. And only with repeated visits could you hope to experience even a percentage of the living variety that the Sea of Cortez has to offer. As a young person, it was a place of wonder for me. And perhaps one of the places where I got to experience the most organic ecological exploration.
Some Safety Tips
For planning your own trip to Puerto Peñasco, and thinking about what to do in Rocky Point, please give yourself the time to visit the beach throughout different times of the day. And when the tidepools reveal themselves, take the time to carefully explore them. Wear shoes to protect against the sharp rocks. And step carefully. The rocks can be slippery and dangerous, but also, you will want to avoid crushing any of the little citizens of this world.
Furthermore, remember that the sea can be very dangerous. When the tides rise, waves can crash unexpectedly over the tidepools. And at times there are currents that might pull you out into the water.
Please be aware that these safety considerations are not comprehensive. Be sure to be safe and careful when exploring outdoor Rocky Point.
If you take a peek at a map of the area around Rocky Point, you will see an area to the east of Las Conchas where the sea seems to make an incursion into the tan swath of the desert. This is the Marua Estuary. Besides the bright pop of crystalline blue of the shallow waters here, there are also two adjoining shores that are strikingly verdant when compared to the Sonoran Desert that encompasses the town.
While not alone along the coasts that stretch away from Puerto Peñasco, Marua is still a magical place that reveals yet another angle of Sonora’s wild side. In particular, it is a wonderful spot to observe the avian wildlife of the area. As with the rest of the world, wetlands like this are extremely important habitats for many kinds of birds.
Kayaking in Marua, with quiet and calm, you might have the opportunity to observe many different species, from grasses to birds, and even fish.
Memories on the Estuary
For us, on days when the weather was kind, we could walk miles down the beach to Marua. It was always a magical thing to crest the large sand dunes on the mouth of the estuary, and then have the verdant world open up in front of you. So whether you have the resources for a guided tour of this area. Or you just have the time and conditions for a hike, consider getting a glimpse of this place when charting out what to do in Rocky Point.
Besides safety, it is very important to protect this special place. Take nothing from its shores, and keep your voice quiet. When you come as a respectful observer, the Sonoran Desert will reveal itself to you. There is so much life hidden in the sands and sea water. Outdoor Rocky Point is both resilient and fragile.
CEDO and More
If you are looking for other ways to explore the wildlife and the natural world of outdoor Rocky Point, you might consider exploring some of the local museums and research institutions. Right inside of Las Conchas is the Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Oceanos (or CEDO). Pre-COVID, they sometimes did nature tours in the surrounding areas. But you could also visit to learn more about their work in a small museum section of their buildings. You will notice CEDO while driving through Las Conchas because of the big whale skeleton that they have outside.
Puerto Peñasco also has a small aquarium. Back in the early 2000s, the conditions there weren’t exceptional for the larger animals. But it was a place where young kids could learn more about the creatures that they might glance from the beach. I have no idea of the conditions there now, but I see that that have good reviews on Google, where people have recently reported that the aquarium seems clean and well-maintained by caring people. They do visits by donation, if you add this to your list of what to do in Rocky Point, please be sure to budget to give them some support for the care of their animals and the livelihoods of their staff.
For a big adventure, you might also consider leaving town to visit Pinacate. I’ve got a whole post on this UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can explore the volcanos of the Sonoran Desert.
Food and Culture in Puerto Peñasco
While nature is usually my focus while traveling and writing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Puerto Peñasco also has some wonderful areas to dip your toes into Mexican art forms and food. When thinking about what to do in Rocky Point, don’t miss checking out the town itself. Parking might be a bit stressful downtown, but the people and delicious restaurants make it all worth it.
The Malecon in Puerto Peñasco, or the market area near the sea, is a great place to shop and eat. It is a bit busy, as it’s a favorite spot for tourists and locals alike, but it has got a lot of variety to offer. And the views of the sea are very picturesque with the buildings and sculptures perched on the edge of the town.
We bought many beautiful Mexican souvenirs in this area, although it took some searching to find smaller artisans making unique things. We also indulged in all kinds of flavors, from local seafood to strangely exceptional Italian food. Do a little research ahead of time to find your perfect spot and plan out where you will park ahead of time.
Of all the food in Puerto Peñasco, the place I dream about the most is a small, outdoor restaurant called Pollo Lucas. Here, we never missed the chance to experience their marinated and grilled chicken, paired with Mexican staples of tortillas, rice and beans, all cooked to dreamy perfection. Even writing about it now, I miss the flavors of this simple place. Don’t miss Pollo Lucas when you are visiting. It might even need to be near the top of your what to do in Rocky Point list.
More to Explore in Sonora!
The state of Sonora, Mexico is full of natural and cultural wonders. Just up the highway from Puerto Peñasco is the Pinacate Biosphere reserve. And I am working on a short visitor’s guide to Sonora as well; that will include guides to Hermosillo, San Carlos, and more.
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