The small Sonoran town of Puerto Peñasco, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez, offers wonderful beaches, charming islets, excellent fishing grounds, and breathtaking natural landscapes, which will make your vacation on the Sonora coast an unforgettable one.
Puerto Peñasco is one of the youngest towns in the state of Sonora. It began its formation around 1927 as a simple fishing camp.
Ever since, fishermen from different parts of the state, such as Guaymas, Bahia de Kino, Puerto Libertad, and Puerto Lobos, among others, began to arrive during the fishing seasons, settling and living in improvised tents and caves that they found among the cliffy hills over sandy dunes.
By 1929 the place was known as Punta de Piedra or Punta Peñasco. Due to the great massif of volcanic origin that enters the waters of the Sea of Cortés, the main attraction of this fishing camp was the extraordinary abundance of totoaba, a fish of enormous dimensions, highly appreciated in the United States of America, not so much for its meat, but its medicinal value.
12 Best things to do in Puerto Peñasco
1. Walk the Malecón Fundadores
This boardwalk facing the Gulf of California is the main tourist and commercial corridor of Puerto Peñasco.
You will find shops, restaurants, establishments for relaxation and distraction, and art pieces.
One of the emblematic images of Puerto Peñasco is located on the boardwalk, the Monumento al Camaronero, a sculpture in which a shrimp fisherman, his head protected by a wide-brimmed hat, “rides” on a huge crustacean.
The 500-meter long tajamar (the front part of a boat) is frequented by walkers and joggers early in the morning and late in the afternoon and parishioners who gather for coffee, drinks, and lunch.
2. Enjoy its beaches
In the coastal corridor of the Municipality of Puerto Peñasco, beaches are linked by an extension of 110 km, with different characteristics, to please the most varied tastes.
The Arizonan-Americans don’t have beaches; that is why the nearby town of Puerto Peñasco is called “Arizona Beach.” (about a 4 hour drive from Phoenix)
Among the beaches of Peñasco is Las Conchas, a place of transparent waters and soft textured sand, located in front of a distinguished residential area.
Playa Arenos (Sandy Beach) is a beach with calm waves; Playa Mirador is located near the port, offering beautiful views.
3. Climb Cerro La Ballena
Cerro La Ballena (whale mountain) is a natural guardian of Puerto Peñasco and offers you the opportunity to exercise with a hike, with the reward of spectacular ocean views and the city.
La Ballena is located between the Peñasco neighborhoods of Puerto Viejo and El Mirador, accessed from the former by Mariano Matamoros Street and from the latter by the extension of Benito Juárez Boulevard.
In the Cerro La Ballena, there is a lighthouse about 110 meters tall that is the main orientation for the maritime navigators of that coastal zone.
4. Visit San Jorge Island in Puerto Peñasco
Beyond the coastal stretch of the Bermejo Sea between the Sonora towns of Puerto Peñasco and Caborca is the San Jorge archipelago.
This small rocky territorial group is an extraordinary reserve of the typical fauna and flora of the Gulf of California, being a paradise for biodiversity observation tourism.
San Jorge is home to the largest colony of sea lions in this area of the Sea of Cortés and is also the habitat of the fishing bat, a rare piscivorous chiropteran that comes out to fish at night.
San Jorge Island is also a magnificent setting for various marine sports, such as fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
5. Visit the CET-MAR Aquarium and the Intercultural Center
At Las Conchas Beach, 3 km from Peñasco, you will find the CET-MAR Aquarium, where you can observe manta rays, seahorses, squid, and other species.
In the interactive section of the aquarium, you can make contact with sea lions and turtles.
The Intercultural Center for Desert and Ocean Studies (CEDO), also located in Las Conchas, is an institution that studies the marine ecosystems of the Gulf of California and the terrestrial ecosystems of the Baja California Peninsula.
In its spaces, it exhibits a gigantic whale skeleton and an important sample of bone parts of marine mammals and birds, obtained in its field research work. They also organize ecological excursions.
6. Tour the Great Altar Desert
This enormous biosphere reserve, also called El Pinacate, is located 52 km from Puerto Peñasco. With more than 7,100 square kilometers.
The immense desert is one of the few geographical particularities of the north of the planet distinguishable from outer space and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2013.
Your visit to the Gran Desierto de Altar is not complete until you reach El Elegante Crater, the opening of the Santa Clara Volcano or Cerro del Pinacate, 250 meters deep and a kilometer and a half in diameter, which is the highest altitude part of the reserve.
During the 1960s, in the middle of the space race against the USSR, NASA trained its astronauts in the Gran Desierto de Altar so that they could get used to the breathtaking lunar landscapes on Earth.
7. Take a tour of the Schuk Toak Visitor Center
This center is the best indoor place to appreciate the arid and desolate beauty of the Cerro del Pinacate, the rocky escarpments of the Sierra Blanca, and the barren and dazzling volcanic lava surfaces of the surrounding area.
The term “Schuk Toak” means “Sacred Mountain” in the language of the indigenous Pápago people, and the visitor center is reached after a 25-minute drive from Puerto Peñasco.
From the Schuk Toak Visitor Center, tours depart to El Elegante Crater and other sites in the Gran Desierto de Altar, including a nighttime “astronomical” tour. The guide explains the constellations visible in the clear and clean starry sky.
8. Treat yourself to a fishing day in Puerto Peñasco
Your trip to Puerto Peñasco may be the occasion you’ve been waiting for to get started in the entertaining hobby of sport fishing.
And even if you’re already an old sea dog with experience in the seven seas, the Gulf of California may hold for you the surprise of a species you have never seen before or an unusual fight.
Either way, chances are you’ll run into a dorado, cabrilla, swordfish, marlin, sole, or corvina. Unless you are lucky enough to come across a big fish that the local fishermen call “pescada.”
9. Get your adrenaline pumping on land and in the air
The sight of all-terrain vehicles is very common in Puerto Peñasco, driven by tanned young men who go out to have fun in the desert with their motorcycles, ATVs, and high-suspension cars.
In Peñasco, there are two places frequented by ATVs. On the way to La Cholla is La Loma and on the road to Sonoyta is Pista Patos, which has a 5 km circuit.
The fun by air in Puerto Peñasco is provided by the ultralights of the operator Ultraligeros del Desierto in a 15-minute ride that costs around USD 40.
From the small plane, you will have exclusive views of the boardwalk, beaches, Cerro La Ballena, the city of Puerto Peñasco, and other places.
10. Savor the local food
The Peñasquenses have a typical dish called “caguamanta,” a manta ray fillet prepared with pasilla chile and other ingredients, which is a delight.
Other frequent dishes are the typical zarandeado fish of the Mexican Pacific coast and shrimp in various recipes, including one in which they are wrapped in bacon and cheese.
These and other delicacies, such as salmon with walnuts and shrimp with dates, can be enjoyed at Chef Mickey’s Place. Another good seafood place is Blue Marlin.
If you’re in the mood for roast beef or chicken, you can go to Pollos Lucas or La Curva, which is also a great place to watch sports.
For breakfast, try machaca or machacado, very popular in Sonora state.
11. Stay in a comfortable place
In Puerto Peñasco, you will find lodging within your budget. If you’re an avid golfer, Las Palomas Beach & Golf Resort is in line with the higher-priced and more comfortable establishments where you can improve your golf score.
Mayan Palace is a more economical lodging, equipped with kitchens to prepare some meals with the fish you catch or buy in Puerto Peñasco.
Other good lodging alternatives in Peñasco are Hotel Peñasco del Sol, Hotel Playa Bonita, Sonora Sun Resort, Hotel Paraíso del Desierto and Villas Casa Blanca.
12. Have fun with local festivities
Puerto Peñasco’s carnival is very colorful and fun, with locals showing off their creativity in the elaboration of costumes and floats under the slogan “Viva Peñasco.”
Between the end of March and the beginning of April is the International Jazz Festival, with national and international famous instrumentalists and groups.
Around the first of June Navy Day, the Navy Fair is celebrated, including the election of the queen and social, cultural, and sporting events.
In October, the Cervantino International Festival takes place, an event of great artistic and cultural prestige in Mexico.
Finally, I will tell you about the SeaShell museum, which started around thirty-five years ago.
When you enter, you will be told about all the diversities you can see, such as shells, carved wood, and bracelets.