Transition Of Puerto Penasco



GEOG 411

The Transition of Puerto Peñasco

Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, or to us gringos known as Rocky Point, began its life close to 90 years ago. In the 1920s Puerto Peñasco was known as Cerro de Peñasco and was merely a temporary camp for passing fishermen. Over the years that small fishing camp began to develop into a full fledged fishing community and Americans began to notice the potential of the area as a tourist destination. Presently Rocky Point is in a transitional phase, drifting away from its roots as a shrimping town and quickly becoming one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations.

Discovered in the early 1920s by two wandering fishermen named Victor and Benjamin Bustamante, Rocky point seemed destined to remain a small fishermen’s encampment. That was, until a well known Mafioso and close associate of Al Capone named John Stone took interest in Rocky Point. In 1929 Stone had built Rocky Point’s first hotel and drilled a well so the town could finally have fresh water. Stone and his guests enjoyed fishing, hunting, gambling, and drinking (this was during prohibition) until 1931 when the Mexican government took away Stone’s business license and forced him out. Once again Puerto Peñasco returned to being a quaint fishing village on the Sea of Cortez.

In 1936 Mexican president Lazero Cardenas visited Rocky Point and he too, saw its vast potential and ordered a pier constructed for the fishing boats. He also began building a railroad to connect Rocky Point with Mexicali and the border. During World War II the United States government, along with cooperation of the Mexican government, built a paved road connecting Rocky Point to the border. The U.S. government feared attacks on its west coast ports and this gave them access to a backup port on the Sea of Cortez.

In 1955 Rocky Point’s true calling was revealed when the shrimp industry really began to thrive. Soon enough Rocky Point’s sales were reaching out to Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. By the early 1980s the shrimping industry of Puerto Peñasco accounted for over 80% of the town’s economy. Even fleets from as far away as Japan and Korea were coming to Rocky Point to shrimp. And this ended up attributing to the downfall of Rocky Point’s shrimp industry.

The foreign trawlers were using long drag nets and GPS systems that allowed them to systematically wipe out shrimp populations in the areas they were fishing. This combined with the popularity of the area with the local fishermen, in five years the fishery in the area was almost completely obliterated. The government had had enough, in 1994 the northern part of the Sea of Cortez was declared to be an International Biosphere Reserve by the Mexican government. Commercial fishing was deemed illegal north of Rocky Point. This was disastrous for Rocky Point’s fishing industry, it limited the area that could be fished greatly, and more than half the fleet was sold to operations further south. In 1989 fishing accounted for 80% of Rocky Point’s economy and today, after the I.B.R. was created, less than 50% can be attributed to fishing. Tourism is now the bread winner for Rocky Point, bringing in the majority of local income.

Only 60 miles south of the border Rocky Point, for many Americans, is the closest and most easily accessible beachfront tropical paradise. Easily reached by automobile, Rocky Point has become known as Arizona’s secret beach. Whether the local “Rocoportenses” know it or not their tiny fishing town is becoming a special kind of getaway town that caters to a wide variety of vacationers.

Phoenix and Tucson retirees fill trailer parks with their luxury motor homes and occupy time shares year-round in Rocky Point. They come for the beautiful days and the quiet, rela nights. Puerto Peñasco has also become quite a nice place to take the family, with a year-round carnival and a large variety of family oriented activities it is now a more popular place to take the kids than ever. Rocky Point’s popularity with today’s youth is growing, almost doubling, every year. Quad rentals, taco stands, sandy beaches, and a drinking age of only 18 furnish the younger crowds with hours of entertainment on a year-round basis. “The sun goes down and it’s time to party…” this is a popular quote heard in a song about Rocky Point. They couldn’t be more correct, when the sun goes down people of all ages stop sun-tanning and head out to the clubs where a wide assortment of entertainment can be found. Music, dancing, karaoke, upscale, downscale, young, and old, it can all be found in Rocky Point night life.

Rocky Point’s ability to appeal to a wide range of people is the main reason for its transition to and recent boom in its tourism industry. In 1997 Rocky Point got its first world-class resort, named Plaza las Glorias. This was the first hotel in Rocky Point to exceed the standards of average motel quality. Soon to follow was the Playa Bonita resort and the Pinacate Condominiums, which are not as elegant as Plaza las Glorias but still exceeded the quality of existing accommodations. Presently Rocky Point is experiencing a huge boom in growth. Five new world-class resorts, two Jack Nickalus golf courses and a golf school, countless condominiums, an air port, and an improved boat port for more than just trawlers are in the process of becoming a reality in the near future.

Transforming from a major supplier of fish and shrimp to most of the southwest United States to a world-class tourist attraction in roughly three years may seem impossible. But it appears as though Rocky Point has accomplished this feat and has accomplished it rather smoothly. The future for tourism in Rocky Point looks good, the economy is booming again and it looks like a trend that will continue for years to come.


1. “Rocky Point” Julie Newberg, The Arizona Republic, April, 2001

2. April, 2001

3. April, 2001

4. “Activity in Mirador” Margaret Fleming, January, 2001

5. “Water, Weather, and Golf” Margaret Fleming, November, 1999

6. “Puerto Penasco’s Commercial Strip” John Fleming, March, 1999

7. “An Air Park in Puerto Penasco?” John Fleming, October, 1999

Word Count: 1049

Related Essays on Tourism