Puerto Peñasco, Mexico is a small fishing town on the Sea of Cortez in the state of Sonora. Known to many Americans by the name “Rocky Point”, this traditional Mexican fishing village has seen an influx of tourism-related investment over the past ten years. The following map (courtesy of Google Earth) shows its location in relation to major southwestern U.S. cities:
For many years, tourism in Puerto Peñasco consisted of two groups, Americans buying a small piece of land on or near the beach and building their own beachside dream home, and Americans looking for a place to camp on the beach with friends and let loose a bit. As Arizona began its boom as the fastest growing state in the nation, local developers began to realize the potential for this Mexican beachside community to attract a more diverse group of tourists and residents. Located less than four hours by car from both Phoenix and Tucson, Puerto Peñasco was destined to become Arizona’s beach. As the town continues to develop, it is also destined to attract broader regional and national interest.
Puerto Peñasco Today
Today, Puerto Peñasco still retains some of its traditional Mexican fishing town vibe, with local fishermen providing fresh seafood to the many restaurants in the town. But the predominant industry is now tourism. Less than ten years after the beginning of large-scale development, Puerto Peñasco has seen more than 2,500 new beachside condominium units built and sold and now hosts over a million visitors per year. Despite the thousands of new condominiums on the outskirts of the town, the development of Puerto Peñasco into a world-class vacation destination is still just beginning. Much of the “tourism infrastructure” of other Mexican vacation destinations have not yet been realized, as the development has been driven primarily by smaller-scale independent developers, interested in building their little slice of paradise, but not in implementing the wider-scale features that will drive growth in Puerto Peñasco over the next 20 years. For instance, the first golf courses opened over the last year and are still maturing. The restaurants and nightlife options are still few. Most of the town’s streets remain unpaved. And the town lacks even a movie theater, bowling alley or putt-putt golf course for after-dark family vacation activities.
Tourism Infrastructure Development
Over the past year, plans have been put in place to implement and manage what one could call the second phase of the development of Puerto Peñasco. The city, state and local governments have all taken great interest in Puerto Peñasco as the gateway to Mexico for many Americans and their tourism and investment dollars. A city-wide master plan was implemented in 2007 by the city and state governments to better guide development in the different zones in and around the town. FONATUR, Mexico’s national trust fund that was responsible for developing Cancun and Los Cabos, opened its office in Puerto Peñasco in 2007 and is now working on involving the Mexican federal government directly in the development of the tourism infrastructure of the town. The state of Sonora has teamed with the Mayan Resorts to construction of a new international airport to the east of Puerto Peñasco, which will bring large scale commercial airline service to the town in 2009. The state of Sonora is also working on completing a new, modern highway along the Sea of Cortez coast that will better connect Puerto Peñasco to southern California and millions of new tourists.
The private sector is also beginning to invest heavily in the broader tourism infrastructure of Puerto Peñasco. ADITURPP, the local developers association, recently teamed with AeroMexico to begin commercial airline service from Puerto Peñasco’s existing airport to both Hermosillo (the state capital of Sonora) and to Los Angeles International (LAX). This service now allows vacationers from anywhere in Mexico and anywhere in the U.S. (and the world) access to Puerto Peñasco. Local developers are now beginning to implement their own private infrastructure systems, such as private water desalination facilities, sewage systems and roadway paving. This type of investment will take some of the burden off the city’s legacy infrastructure systems. Local developers also have recognized the need for better shopping, dining and entertainment options and have begun to plan and build upscale shopping centers, spas, movie theaters, beach clubs and restaurants.
As the government and private groups have embarked on tourism infrastructure improvements, Puerto Peñasco has started to attract attention from many groups that did not initially believe Puerto Peñasco would be able to realize its potential as a world-class vacation destination. The last year has seen many major developers previously operating in the Mayan Riviera/Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Acapulco, buying land in Puerto Peñasco and beginning to plan even more upscale living options for the town. As commercial airline service becomes widely available, many of these groups are expected to introduce hotels and resorts more typically seen in these other more established Mexican resort towns.
As the additional tourism infrastructure is implemented, accessibility to the town is improved through commercial airline service and better highways and the larger hotel and resort companies begin to promote the town as an alternative to other better known vacation destinations, Puerto Peñasco is expected to continue its rapid development into a world-class vacation destination.