We’ve been to Mexico many times, walking across the border south of San Diego and El Paso. We’ve visited cruise port towns of Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, La Paz, and Progreso. But we’d never made the trek by car.
Not willing to take everything we own into a third-world country and wanting to try out our new Fofana truck tent* and AirBedz inflatable mattress,* we packed Gulliver for a sans-Tagalong week of camping in Rocky Point, Mexico — or Puerto Penasco, as it’s known to locals.
It’s been a long time since we tented. It involves a bit of work but offers close proximity to beautiful scenery, such as the Sea of Cortez from a sandy beach.
Embracing the Adventure
Gulliver led us on a four-hour journey across terrain we hadn’t seen before. Because Rocky Point is part of Sonora, Mexico, and considered part of the Border Zone, no permit is required to travel there. You do, however, need Mexican auto insurance, which you can purchase right before crossing the border. We opted to buy it ahead of time online.
The route from Phoenix to Rocky Point meanders through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, offering beautiful views of cactus set against mountains. Spanning more than 330,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, the national park is the only place in America where organ pipe cactus and senita (another type of cactus) grow wild.
The drive took us through Ajo, population 2,600, a once thriving copper mining town. We also drove through the tiny community of Why, population 65. Originally named Y after its forked intersection that gives travelers the option of going south to Mexico or east to Tucson, the town became Why when state law required all city names to have a minimum of three letters. Today it features a convenience store titled Why Not?
As we approached the border town of Lukeville, we started seeing signs about crossing into Mexico. “Weapons and Ammunition into Mexico is illegal” read a prominent one. We waited in a short line of vehicles to drive through a tentlike tunnel before reaching another country. The Mexico border patrol agent waved us through without a word, and we were on our way.
Driving in Mexico
Getting to the beach involved navigating the Mexican town of Sonoyta for about 10 minutes before reaching the main drag connecting America to Rocky Point. The 65-mile-long road is labeled a hassle-free zone. We didn’t know what that meant.
It being our first time driving in Mexico, we did our best to obey the traffic signs, watching our speed in kilometers. Other Americans whizzed past us, and we quickly learned hassle-free means the Mexican police don’t patrol that road. We did, however, see a service truck cruising it to help any drivers who broke down.
Entering Rocky Point, we exited the main road and followed Google’s guidance to our selected beach campground, Concha Del Mar, offering dry camping (no hookups) for $15 US per night. Most places of business in Rocky Point accept U.S. dollars and list prices in both U.S. and Mexican currency. Not wanting to have change in pesos, we took plenty of U.S. cash with us.
Fishy sea air greeted us as we rolled down our windows. The campground attendant took our cash for four nights and told us to park in the second row from the water. We found a decent spot among the 50 or so RVs and set up our tent and mattress in 10 to 15 minutes.
Camping on the Beach
The mattress proved comfortable. We slept well, thanks to the lulling of the crashing waves. The only negative was our bladders waking us. That meant putting on our shoes and leaving the warmth of the tent to walk 75 yards to the bath house. But it also provided stargazing opportunities we would have otherwise missed.
Having purchased a Firemaple camping stove* for the trip, we took some dehydrated meals such as pho and oatmeal cups with us. We just had to heat water. The stove boiled water within 2 minutes and made for quick, easy breakfasts. We also used it to make our morning coffee.
When the wind prevented us from sitting outside, we hung out in the cab of the truck, listening to music, reading, and playing games. We set up our solar suitcase to restore power to the truck after using it to charge our phones. Although we both took laptops with us, we didn’t open them, except one night to watch a movie.
Experiencing Mexican Cuisine
Leaving our truck and tent setup among our camping neighbors, we walked the beach every day and traveled by foot anywhere we wanted to explore. The closest restaurant, connected to a hotel on the beach, featured amazing views of the water and sunsets. We dined there a few times, as well as at a few other restaurants, reveling in the authentic Mexican food.
We happened upon what quickly became our favorite dish of the trip when visiting the New Mexican Restaurant. Some fellow Americans in the establishment recommended we order the New Mexican Molcajete. We obliged.
A short time later, we received a stone bowl filled with a green chili cream sauce and overflowing with chicken, beef, shrimp, and chorizo. Accompanied by fresh corn tortillas, the dish hit the spot, and we made sure we had it again before leaving the area.
One day, we ventured into town in search of fresh seafood. After lingering over an amazing lunch of fish tacos and ceviche (including octopus), we picked up some Rocky Point shrimp and scallops. The shrimp made its way into our lunch the next day.
Returning to America
We left Rocky Point on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning to return to America, passing many vehicles going the opposite direction. We had to wait in line for 20 to 30 minutes to cross the border. Other than locals approaching us to buy their wares or clean our windshield for a donation, it was uneventful.
A border patrol agent glanced at our passports and gave us entrance to the U.S. We stopped in Ajo for a taco lunch to round out our Mexican experience and took a different route home, surprised to be greeted by cold and clouds threatening rain.
We hadn’t realized how busy we’d been until we stopped moving. The downtime away offered much rest and relaxation. We met wonderful people, enjoyed fresh seafood and authentic Mexican cuisine, and basked in the beauty of our surroundings, thankful for a time of refreshing and reconnecting.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.