Spending time in Southern Arizona during the winter is quite common. Even during COVID. Snowbirds still want to stay warm. Although that didn’t quite happen as planned for those heading to Texas. But, what’s not so common during COVID is traveling to Rocky Point, Mexico.
We initially thought that was because you simply couldn’t cross the border unless your reasonings were essential. Turns out tourism is still quite essential for Mexico. And the U.S., for that matter. Did you happen to make it to Yellowstone National Park in 2020? Definitely not desolate. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And while official websites will state that the U.S./Mexico border is closed unless it is essential travel, and it very well may be closed at certain points, it’s quite open for business at the Lukeville/Sonoyta crossing, tourism included.
So how do you know if you can safely get to Rocky Point, Mexico? We did. We can’t guarantee your safety (here, there, or anywhere), but we can tell you what you need to know to enjoy a day… or two… or three, at the beach in Rocky Point, Mexico.
How do I get to Rocky Point, Mexico?
Rocky Point, Mexico, has been a huge tourist attraction for millions of visitors for over 50 years. Located in the town of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez, this touristy beach town caters to Mexicans, Americans and worldwide travelers, alike. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Mexico. And it’s best to know where you’re going, so you don’t end up on a road to somewhere you shouldn’t be without the proper paperwork.
Quite popular with Arizonans, Puerto Peñasco AKA Rocky Point is often referred to as Arizona’s beach. It’s closer and easier to get there, than say, San Diego.
From Tucson: Take Arizona Highway 86, aka Ajo Highway, for about 118 miles until you get to the tiny town of Why, Arizona. From there, head south on Arizona Highway 85. This turns into Mexico 8 once you cross the border. Take that south all the way to Puerto Peñasco, about 60 some odd miles.
From Phoenix: Get on I-10 west to head out of town and hop on Arizona Highway 85. Head south to the border about 120 miles. This turns into Mexico 8 once you cross the border. Take that south all the way to Rocky Point, about 60 some odd miles.
From Tucson or Phoenix, it’s just under four hours. I’d say a four hour drive with Saguaros and Organ Pipe Cactus to keep you company is worth a trip to the beach.
From Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: From here, you’re less than ten miles to the border. Head South on Arizona Highway 85. This turns into Mexico 8 once you cross the border. Take that south all the way to Rocky Point, about 60 some odd miles.
Can I cross the U.S./Mexico border during COVID?
Whether your’e heading to Rocky Point for a day or a week, you’ll have to cross the border. Most people traveling here do so via a vehicle. While there is an airport, currently it seems to be open to charter planes only.
Less than four hours from Phoenix, it’s a simple scenic drive, so hop in your car or RV or motorcycle and head south. As of this writing, the border crossing at Lukeville and Sonoyta is open seven days a week from 6am – 8pm Arizona time.
Plan accordingly. If you try to cross back into the U.S. after the border is closed, you’ll be spending a night in Sonoyta, whether you want to or not. Either that, or you’ll be driving in Mexico (famous for their potholes and speed bumps) at night trying to get to another border crossing. Which, during COVID, may have limited hours.
Speaking of planning accordingly, you need a few things to be able to cross the border safely to get to Rocky Point.
What do I need to get to Rocky Point?
There are three things you need to go to Rocky Point, Mexico: a passport, Mexican auto insurance and an FMM card (maybe).
COVID or not, you’re still going to Mexico, and you still need a passport. Crossing from the U.S. into Mexico at Lukeville, Arizona, you’ll only need a mask. They won’t ask for anything else. However, if you’d like to get back into the U.S., don’t forget your passport.
Mexican Auto Insurance
Prior to your trip to Rocky Point, you’ll also need Mexican Auto Insurance. No, your insurance doesn’t cut it in Mexico. And they won’t ask for proof of it, but if you get into an accident, you better have it.
There are several ways to purchase Mexican auto insurance, and they are all quite simple. First, you can buy it on your way to Rocky Point. Whether you find yourself driving through Ajo or Why, Arizona, you’ll find Mexican auto insurance offices in both. Believe it or not, many gas stations sell it on site, day of. Careful, though, they are not always open during conventional hours. And if you’re heading to the border early, the offices might not be open yet.
Since we were camped at Darby Well Road Dispersed just outside of Ajo, Arizona, and needed somebody else to print a copy of the insurance for us, it was easy enough to head into Ajo and purchase on-site a few days before we left for Puerto Peñasco.
Second, there are several companies that sell Mexican auto insurance online. Baja Bound is one of them, which we used when we traveled to Baja in 2019. Another is Cross Border Coverage. We haven’t used them but it seems to be an easy site to use. Whichever insurance company you choose, it’s quite simple to get a quote, make the payment and – voila – insurance!
Since we were only in Puerto Peñasco for a day, we bought a 24 hour plan which cost us $26. It seems to be mostly based off of the value of your vehicle. If you’re going to be in Mexico longer, it pays to research more as monthly plans are often cheaper than paying for days at a time. And a six month plan could be cheaper than paying for a month to month plan.
If your driver’s license happens to be in a language that’s not English or Spanish, then you may need more than Mexican auto insurance; you may also need an international driving license. Check out International Drivers Association for more information.
FMM Card (Maybe?)
You’ll also need an FMM card (maybe). An FMM, or Forma Migratoria Múltiple is an “admission document” issued to vacationing visitors of certain nationalities, U.S. and Canada being two of them.
Many resources state that you need one regardless of how long your stay is in Mexico. There are also resources or rumors floating around that if your stay is 72 hours or less, you don’t need one. We were prepared to get one, but even the insurance agent said we didn’t need one to go to Rocky Point.
I do know for certain that it is free if your stay is seven days or less and traveling by land. So, if you’re not sure and want to be on the safe side, get one. If you’re staying longer than a week, you’ll need one, and the cost is around $30 for up to 180 days.
Here’s the other catch. They won’t ask for it at the border, but to make it legit, it needs to be stamped at the border. And if you’re caught without one, you may have to head back to the border to get one. Again, as for Rocky Point, it seems unclear. We followed the agent’s advice and didn’t get one and ran into no problems at all.
For more exact information on the FMM and to apply for one click here, where we’ll tell you all about it.
Can I stay overnight at Rocky Point, Mexico?
I wish we would have planned better, so that we could have stayed overnight at Rocky Point. It would have been quite simple to drive RAIF, our RV, down to the beach. Mexico Highway 8 was great and the main roads in Puerto Peñasco were very well-maintained.
And, on the beach (high enough away from tides, of course, and not in the loose sand) were two RV parks: The Reef RV Park and Playa Bonita RV Resort. This is a popular tourist destination, so there are also many beachfront hotels and private condos for rent, along with other RV parks not on the beach.
So, yes, you can stay overnight. Just plan accordingly, meaning make sure you have auto insurance for the time you’ll be there, and an FMM card.
What to do in Rocky Point, Mexico
We packed a lot into one day at Rocky Point. While there are many private access points to the beaches when staying at hotels, there are also a few public beaches, along with restaurants, nightlife (although COVID has limited this) and many shops to explore.
The Beach at Rocky Point
We spent time at Playa Bonita where parking was quite easy just off of Calle 18. You can pay around three U.S. dollars for parking or park for free on the street. Just be prepared (if you so choose) to tip the people who will wash your car while parked there.
During the weekend there are quite a few vendors lined up eager to sell you almost anything. If you want a more mellow, calming experince, head down on a weekday. Although, due to COVID and we were there prior to their high Spring Break Season, there are not many crowds right now.
After spending a few hours wandering the beach and seeking out seashells, we drove to the Malecon, where there are many restaurants, fresh fish vendors and stores for you to spend your money. Remember, this is a town based off of your tourist dollars, and the vendors love to remind you of that. “Come in and waste your money here! Buy all the things you don’t need. Cheap margaritas, cheaper beer. Tacos! All the food you can eat for cheap!”
And they don’t let up. So, smile, laugh, don’t be afraid to say no and just pick a place. You can’t go too wrong. After all, you’re on the beach. In Mexico.
Dinner and Mezcal from a Trunk
We ended up at The Point at Rocky Point, where we sat on the deck directly over the Sea of Cortez with a view of crystal blue water, terrific margaritas and great food. Although a bit fancy for our normal tastes, it turned out to be the perfect place for our one Mexican meal.
Perfect? If you let your gut tell you where to dine, there might be a reason for that. Our reason? We wanted Mezcal before we left, so we asked for some guidance on purchasing it. The waiter happened to have some Mezcal made by his dad with the recipes being passed down to him.
Taking us for a walk down the street, we were quite curious. And as he opened his trunk, we realized those recipes were bottled and in the trunk. Buying Mezcal (complete with a scorpion in the bottle) from the trunk of a car in Rocky Point might be unique to us, but we’re sure you’ll create your own great story when you pay a visit here.
Before we left the Malecón, we had to buy some seafood to take home with us. Choosing a friendly face, we wandered into one of the many fresh fish vendors and bought dinner for the next night. A piece of advice, know what you are willing to pay ahead of time, so when you ask for the price, you already know if you’ll say sí or no. And that shrimp we bought…muy bueno!
On the way out of town, we passed a beer bar. Our craft beer brains were thinking, beer bar. That is was…a bar with two taps for beer, alcohol, some Mexican beers, loud music, and two great bartenders that put up with our broken Spanish trying to find out about craft beers, which they had one…maybe. But the joy of this beer bar as with any beer bar was the people. We may not have gotten the craft beer experience we were expecting, but we got the people experience. And that is why we love beer!
Whatever you decide to do here, you’ll create your own stories and memories. And to that, we give you a shout out. Get out into the world. Rock it up a bit. Say hi to a stranger. Cheers someone you don’t know. Try new things. Life a life you love!
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Rocky Point, Mexico
Visiting Rocky Point, Mexico, safely isn’t hard to do. In fact, while it is in a different country and people speak a different language and use a different currency, it’s quite similar to what we are already used to as travelers.
We seek out new experiences, foods, drinks and places. We do so with some anxiety and more excitement. It’s the same here. Yeah, you may come across armed guards. You may be asked to step out of your vehicle at a check point. You may be asked to wear a mask while in your car. But you may also be asked what you would like to drink. Where you would like to sit. What would you like to eat? And how can I help you?
For the most part, taking a trip to Puerto Peñasco is like taking a trip to San Diego. Watch out for the traffic signals as you make your way to the beach. But for those tiny differences, we’ve got some tips for you.
- Gas is expensive is Mexico. Fill up before crossing the border. There’s a gas station in Why, Arizona. Use it.
- Know where you’re going ahead of time. If your cell phone plan doesn’t work the same in other countries, bring an actual map. Or take pictures of the map on your phone and use your images instead of your cell plan that may cost an arm and a leg.
- Tell your bank your travel plans. This way your credit or debit card is not declined because your bank thinks your cards were stolen.
- U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Puerto Peñasco, so there’s no need to exchange your dollars into pesos. If you pay in cash, though, you will probably receive your change in pesos.
- Bring water, so then you don’t have to buy bottled water. If you’re only going for a day, it’s makes sense to bring your own water.
- Know what you can bring back across the border and what you cannot. We had three adults. We brought back three bottles of Mezcal and two pounds of fresh shrimp without any problems.
- Go the posted speed limit regardless of what you see others doing. It may seem slow, but dealing with officials in Mexico could prove to be a lot slower.
- Watch out for hidden stops signs. They can be small and easy to miss.
- Watch out for topes. In English they are speed bumps. But in Mexico, they are BIG speed bumps. Most times there are signs or warnings about them, but not always. Keep your eyes on the road. This, and potholes are two of the main reasons you shouldn’t drive at night in Mexico. Although the road to Rocky Point is quite tame, you will come across a few topes.
- Be prepared to wear a mask in your car. My advice on this? When coming up to checkpoints or border patrol points, make sure your mask is on. It just makes life easier.
Adios, Rocky Point, Mexico!
When it’s time to say adios, say it! Give yourself plenty of time to drive back to the border. It took us about just over 90 minutes to get back to Sonoyta/Lukeville crossing. And that’s after we left the Malecón and stopped at a grocery store. When the borders close for the night, they are closed.
Adventures are what you make them. We hope we made this adventure a bit easier for you to embark upon. Especially during COVID, when nobody really knows what’s going on.
Now, get out there! The beach is calling you!
Check out our Baja Beer and Travel Journals for more fun in Mexico. We’ll tell you how to get there, what you need, where to go and more!