Almost 20 years ago we headed from our new home in Tucson, Arizona to explore a Mexican beach town called Puerto Peñasco, more commonly known as Rocky Point.
We were going to camp on the beach. We had never seen photos of the place and had very little information. A friend had told us we could pretty much camp anywhere, but we might want to avoid Sandy Beach since we had our young daughter with us and it could get a bit rowdy.
It was Memorial Day weekend and the place was packed. One local hotel owner told us we could only camp on Sandy Beach or in one of the RV parks because the Federales were kicking campers off of undeveloped beaches. We lucked out by nabbing what was probably the last spot in an RV park in town, over on Playa Mirador.
Over in Old Port, we sat in a restaurant and looked across the water at a long stretch of cream-colored sand that was covered in tents and vehicles: Sandy Beach. A dusty haze hovered over the tent city.
We drove over to check out Sandy Beach and entered the realm of the Road Warrior. Giant four-wheel drive trucks, of the kind that make Arizonans proud, barreled past our tiny Nissan Sentra spewing sand and creating the illusion of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Fearing that we would get stuck, and I’d have to barter with my wife and child to get a tow, I turned around and headed back to Mirador Beach.
A lot has changed in 20 years. Most significantly, luxury high-rise condos now line Sandy Beach, and the anarchy is long gone. The beach is patrolled and you can no longer drive on it.
However you still could camp at the western end of the beach by paying $5 to the folks at The Reef RV Park. That gave you the privilege to drive out on the beach on the east side of the park, set up your tent and use their showers. Now, that too is gone.
Puerto Peñasco is creating a home port for cruise ships right next to The Reef. When we were in Rocky Point last week, fencing blocked off all access to the beach camping area. The RV park itself was still open, but who knows for how much longer since it looks like they plan to dredge out that area for the port.
Now we’re not into cruise ship travel, so this news does not excite us at all. But the port could do well for the local economy. Whatever happens, it’s certainly the death blow to an era of easy Mexican beach camping for Americans. There are still plenty of other great beaches in Mexico to camp on, especially on the Baja Peninsula, but they are definitely not the easiest to access.
¡Ha sido una aventura Playa de Arena!
Do you have any memories of camping on Sandy Beach? Share the comments…we’d love to hear your stories!
How to get there:
From the U.S. border crossing at Lukeville/Sonoyta, follow the signs to Puerto Peñasco and Carretera Federal 8 (Mexico Highway 8).
As you enter Puerto Peñasco, look for signs promoting Sandy Beach resorts on the right. Calle 13, at the pedestrian bridge, is the last road with access to Sandy Beach before you enter downtown.[geo_mashup_map]
Not all is lost…you can still camp at the Playa Mirador and also Playa Bonita, both are beautiful spots in Penasco. Also, nothing at all bad about staying in the luxury of a condo on the beach….A little more expensive, but when I need pampering…it’s my choice!
Good point Marie, there are still places left to camp. They are just not the less expensive, open camping areas of the past … at least there aren’t any that we are aware of. We “camped” a couple of weeks ago in Playa Bonita RV Park … in our motorhome. Talk about luxury compared to tent camping!
I have been on this beach since I was in the womb. Long story short, this is nothing short of devastating to me.
When the condos first went up, we were devastated even though we did most of our camping over on Mirador. It just seemed to change the character of the town.
I can remember being a junior in high school in 1987 and we camped on Sandy Beach. It was Memorial Day weekend and 3 rows of tents, etc. lined the beach for as far as the eye could see. This was one of my fondest memories in high school. We went from tent to tent, meeting people and partying for 3 days. Yes we slept, but not always where we camped! That is what was so great. … Met. SO many new people and hung out with ones we knew from school, as well. Best memories ever! !!
That’s exactly what it was like over Memorial Day weekend in 1994. I’m kind of bummed that we missed that action as we love socializing as much as we love getting away from it all.
I can remember being a junior in high school in 1987 and we camped on Sandy Beach. It was Memorial Day weekend and 3 rows of tents, etc. lined the beach for as far as the eye could see. This was one of my fondest memories in high school. We went from tent to tent, meeting people and partying for 3 days. Yes we slept, but not always where we camped! That is what was so great. … Met. SO many new people and hung out with ones we knew from school, as well. Best memories ever! !! Sad what is become. :’-(
The cruise ship business will destroy the final parts of Penasco that us old timers loved. The ships destroy the bay and the tourists are the worst, rude, detached humans I’ve ever met. Witness what has happened to Isla Cozumel. It has turned into a tourist dump.
Sad to here the “Worldwide Navy” is headed to your beach.
I sympathize Rick. We’ve taken one cruise and quickly realized it’s not how we like to travel. It completely distances you from the local culture and rushes you to see a port, which I think partly explains the rude and detached behavior of many cruise ship tourists. A lot of people love cruises and that’s fine with me; we just avoid those places where cruise ships congregate. We’ll have to see how this new port affects our experience in our beloved Puerto Penasco.
I used to live in Tuscon in the mid 80’s and would go to Rocky Point during spring breaks and other holidays. Does anyone remember the old ship that was beached closer to the marina? I was trying to find my old pictures with no luck!
Our first trip to Rocky Point was in 1994. Don’t remember a beached ship but it could have been there. Would love to see old photos!
omg. the good old days. no photos but plenty of memories and stories. i was a party animal student at u of a in tucson. spring break 83, 84 and 85. thousands of tents and people. talk about a party! the locals loved us. $$$. the bars were mexican men. (period). we went anyway and shot pool and drank. no tourism i was aware of. peddlers walking up and down beach – jewelry, tamales, you name it. one year we overstayed spring break – about 5 tents left of 1000. we left bar and driving on beach police pulled us over in sand because “we were speeding” barely going 5 mph. 2 cops cuffed 3 of us and put in cruiser w cop i while second cop followed driving our car. they took us out to middle of desert and robbed us at gun point, stun gun to one of my friends for complaining. ripped car apart looking for drugs. actually took out the front passenger seat and put it on sand (i had a baggie stuffed up there – thank God they didn’t find). part of the $$$ robbery included a personal check i accepted from a friend for a product i sold him ($300). cops left. pitch black and no roads. didnt know which way to go, no funds, low on gas. made it to tent. panhandled few folks left who helped us w gas to go to Ajo, AZ where friend’s parents lived for money. had friend call bank at 9 am sharp to stop pay on check. Already cashed. left with the crowd following year.
Construction on the cruise port has stopped due to money/permit/legal issues. I don’t think it will be completed like many other things that start in Rocky Point. We were just at the Reef yesterday and it’s been stopped for at least 6 months now. Mirador Beach is filthy, we stayed in a great house over there but the beach was littered with beer cans and bottles and dirty diapers from the locals that hang out there. Not to mention the abandoned buildings, I didn’t feel safe going down to the beach without my husband and thats a first for me.
Thanks for the update Nicki. I’ve wondered if the port construction might falter, like many projects in Mexico. I’m sorry to hear about Mirador. The first time we went to Penasco in 1994 we tent camped in an RV park on Mirador Beach, and always went back there. It was our favorite place, but it definitely was a partying atmosphere with the occasional shady characters. The last time we were there we stayed in a hotel. Most of the RV parks were shut down and it seemed like the area was losing its luster. We now stay on Sandy Beach with our RV, and haven’t been to Mirador for awhile.
We are headed to Rocky Point in our RV 06/06/17. I was thinking of staying at the Reef on the beach. Can you pls tell me if you think this is a good decision or not. Thank you!
Hi Sharon. We haven’t been back there since I wrote this post but as far as I know, The Reef RV Park is still open. I don’t know if you can camp directly on the beach anymore. You may want to contact them. Playa Bonita RV Park is another option on Sandy Beach, but it’s not camping directly on the beach. Good luck!
last time I camped on the beach was 1972….great memories. so it’s changed since then??