Postcards & Passports

24 Hours in Puerto Peñasco

Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, is located at the north end of the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. It is popular because it is the closest beach for residents of Arizona, and is often referred to as Arizona’s Beach. Sunny every day with almost no rain at all, Puerto Peñasco offers “summer” and beaches year-round. A lot of retired US citizens also make their homes here, so most residents speak at least some English. Whether you live in Arizona or southern California, there are plenty of reasons to consider spending at least 24 hours in Puerto Peñasco.

We’ve only been to Puerto Peñasco once, so we’re not experts, but we’d like to share with you what we experienced so you can do the same. With only 24 hours in Puerto Peñasco, we had time to enjoy some great Mexican meals, relax on the beach, take in a gorgeous sunset, and explore the Malecon and “Rodeo Drive”. We also found an interesting shell museum and listened to a live performance by Zara. Here are our details:

Getting to Puerto Peñasco

We live in San Diego but were visiting family in Yuma, AZ. We remembered our son had recommended Puerto Peñasco to us when he was working in Phoenix a few years prior. It seemed far away from San Diego, but not so bad a drive from Yuma. We decided to make a quick trip for a day.

From Yuma, Puerto Peñasco is a 3.5-hour drive, via the San Luis border crossing. There are two routes: Highway 2 along the border, and Highway 3 that heads south towards the Sea of Cortez and then east to Puerto Peñasco. The receptionist at our Yuma motel told us that Highway 3 was a much safer route to take.

The road was a bit rough with many potholes for the first 20 miles or so after crossing the border into Mexico, but after that, the roads were much improved, and we could maintain speeds of about 60 mph. Do NOT speed in Mexico!

Where to Stay in Puerto Peñasco

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on where to stay, but I felt we were very fortunate with our choice of the Laos Mar Best Western. We were looking for a comfortable room, close to the beach, for a reasonable price. We definitely got that and a bit more! This Best Western is only one block from Sandy Beach, directly across the street from a brick path across the sand. It is a beautiful hotel with a pool, jacuzzi, and wading area for young children. They offer complimentary breakfast, too. All for a nightly rate (in January 2024) of about $80 incl. taxes. Our room had a pool view and a sliding door that opened out into the pool area.

The Laos Mar Best Western was also very close to the old part of town and the Malecón — only about a 5-minute drive. It was very quiet here, and the staff were very accommodating. There is a restaurant and bar onsite with musicians performing in the evenings, sometimes after midnight. If you want a quiet room, request one on the other side of the hotel from the restaurant.

What to Do with 24 Hours in Puerto Peñasco

For a small town like Puerto Peñasco (population about 60,000), you might think there’s not much to do. But maybe that’s part of its allure. Here, you can slow down and relax, with nowhere you have to be at any certain time. But when you do finish a stroll on the beach or wake up from your afternoon nap, there are definitely some fun things to do or see in Puerto Peñasco.

  • Visit the Old Town and Malecón. The Malecón is a walking promenade along the Sea of Cortez in the Old Town area. A beautiful plaza with benches, murals, sculptures, and viewpoints is the center point. Walk along the sidewalk to explore souvenir shops, pharmacies, and seafood restaurants. Most restaurants here have fantastic views of the water with rooftop seating or open-air windows. From here, you can also bird-watch as the rocks below are a favorite spot for local pelicans and other seabirds.
  • Play in the water. When we visited in January, the water wasn’t as warm as we would have liked (66 degrees F. ) But in May, it reaches 73 degrees and in August, it can be as warm as 86 degrees. I read that Sandy Beach was a decent place to do some snorkeling, so the next time I go, I’m taking snorkeling gear! The tides create huge differences in the water level. At low tide, you may need to walk quite a ways to get to the water’s edge! When you come out of the water, you can collect beautiful seashells. 
  • Visit the Seashell Museum. This cute little private collection of seashells makes for a fun and educational visit. Video displays teach a lot about how seashells come to be. Admission is free although donations are appreciated. There is also a small boutique clothing and souvenir shop run by the owner.
  • Be sure to eat fresh seafood. Nearly all of the restaurants in Puerto Peñasco offer seafood entrees. Many of them offer fresh fish, just caught in the Sea of Cortez. If you like seafood, you’ll be in heaven here.
  • Shop souvenirs. Puerto Peñasco has its own “Rodeo Drive”. Also locally named Calle 32 Mercado de Artesanias, “Rodeo Drive” is a shopping district about 4-5 blocks long. There are lots of vendors eager to sell you the perfect souvenir to take home with you. You’ll see everything from pottery to sunglasses to blankets, magnets, and much more! We bought a large bottle of vanilla to take home with us because it is always cheaper in Mexico.
  • Listen to live bands. Apparently, Puerto Peñasco is well-known for its music scene and there are local Mexican performers, as well as country, American, bluegrass, rock, and other music styles and performers hosting for a lively night scene. We enjoyed an evening listening to Zara in the El Tapas Wine Bar at Laos Mar Best Western. Here’s a website that will keep you updated on performances and festivals.
  • Go golfing. My husband and I don’t golf, but my son does, and this was what attracted him to Puerto Peñasco. Championship golf courses can be found at three resorts.

Where We Ate in Puerto Peñasco

Since we only spent 24 hours in Puerto Peñasco, we didn’t have too many opportunities to try out different restaurants, but we were very pleased with the dining experiences we had. Here’s where we can recommend:

Duke’s for lunch — American and Mexican food, a friendly bunch of American expats playing Mahjong, and a very helpful waitress. We felt very comfortable here, and the food was delicious. Not very expensive, either! Credit cards accepted.

Mary’s Seafood for dinner — can’t beat the views from the ground floor or the upper open terrace. It’s literally right on the Sea of Cortez, along the Malecón. Well-prepared and plated seafood dishes, along with a stunning view of the sunset! Plus, we nearly had the upper terrace to ourselves, so it felt intimate. Credit cards accepted.

Laos Mar Best Western hotel’s complimentary breakfast — standard fare of eggs, rolls, pinto beans, yogurt, granola, cereal, and juices. And a host with a beautiful smile!

Rosy’s for lunch — We ordered their chilaquiles (breakfast nachos) and they were amazing! Highly recommend! But you need to bring cash (US or Mexican); no credit cards accepted.

Tips for Traveling to Puerto Peñasco

  • Before traveling to Mexico by road, do some research on the border crossings so you know about closures or cautions.
  • Buy Mexican auto insurance. My husband buys it online at Bajabound.
  • You absolutely must have a valid US Passport or Passport Card to return to the United States.
  • You probably already know you can’t take firearms, ammo, or drugs (without prescriptions) into Mexico. But you also cannot bring any soil, seeds, vegetables, fruits, flowers, or fresh meats or cheese. Best to read all the details on the Customs and Border Protection website.
  • Fill up your gas tank before entering Mexico. There are plenty of gas stations in Puerto Peñasco, but hardly any along the highway from the border. (At least that was the case on Highway 3)

  • There’s nearly a 100% chance you will go through at least one military checkpoint while traveling to and from Puerto Peñasco. You will probably even be asked to exit your vehicle to allow for a search. They are looking for drugs. They are pretty thorough. They found a plastic bag with a few ibuprofen in my glove compartment and wanted to know what it was. I’m not trying to scare you. It was fine. But you should be aware and plan accordingly.
  • THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT  When returning to the US, do NOT rely on your GPS to put you in the right lane for crossing the border. It is programmed to take you to the lane that is moving the fastest, but that will be the Sentri lane. Unless you have a Sentri pass, you do not want to be in that lane. Once you’re in that lane, you cannot get out of it. You can be heavily penalized for using it without a Sentri pass. It’s a “three strikes, you’re out” kind of thing. 

Enjoy Your Stay in Puerto Peñasco

I’m hoping I haven’t scared you off from a visit to Puerto Peñasco! The beaches are wide and beautiful. The food is amazing, and the hotels are very affordable. The people are warm and welcoming. I’m pretty sure we’ll be returning when we need one of those laid-back getaways full of relaxation. And next time we’ll be spending more than 24 hours in Puerto Peñasco!

24 hours in Puerto Penasco

24 hours in Puerto Penascco

 

 

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5 thoughts on “24 Hours in Puerto Peñasco

  1. Raquel Esqueda

    Great review for a newbie to penasco! Also..everyone is friendly and helpful and yes there are money exchange houses or casa de cambio. Shop around they have signs letting you know what the dollar is trading for to pesos but locals do accept dollars.

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