One of the best parts about visiting any new place on vacation is learning about its history and its past. It is a way of better understanding the locals and the way that the place got the way that it is now. It also can make your travel experience that much more interesting and enjoyable. Rocky Point Mexico (Puerto Penasco), one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Mexico, has a very interesting history. If you’re planning on traveling there, then it is important that you know a thing or two about its past.
Puerto Penasco is a fairly new settlement as far as most Mexican cities go. It is located right on the edge of the Altar Desert – a large portion of the Sonora Desert – and has historically had a major lack of water. Even ancient peoples rarely visited the land that is now Puerto Penasco. Scientists have found a few human remains – especially in the El Pinacate volcanic region – but even these belonged to humans only briefly passing through the area. They were not permanent settlers by any means.
The first permanent settlers in Rocky Point Mexico arrived in the early 1920s. Until this time, only the occasional fisherman stayed in the harbor during fishing trips through the Gulf of California. One of the primary reasons that they choose to spend time in the harbor at Puerto Penasco was that a relatively rare fish – the totoaba lived in the surrounding waters and was very valuable as a source of medicine.
It wasn’t until John Stone, an Arizona native, moved to the area that Puerto Penasco really began kicking as a year-round settlement. Though numerous fishermen and a few other recluses already lived in the area, Stone moved down with plans to open the first hotel nearby – and open a hotel is what he did. The hotel, also functioning as a casino, was built at precisely the right time. Americans from Arizona and California started swarming over the border to visit Puerto Penasco to escape prohibition. It became a popular spot for drinking, gambling, and fishing. Stone even drilled the first well and put a brief end to the water problem.
One of the most enduring legends about Puerto Penasco stems from the time that Stone’s hotel was around. It is often said that Al Capone, the notorious Chicago gangster, visited the hotel on a regular basis. Whether this is true or not still remains a mystery. What is certain is that shortly after the United States ban on alcohol was lifted, Stone and the locals began to argue. He left town in a fit of rage, burning down the hotel and blowing up his well in the process.
It took a long time for Puerto Penasco to recover from Stone’s departure. Very few travelers or tourists passed through and the locals lived in relative piece. It wasn’t until the 1930s and the 1940s when a railroad was built through town that the population began to experience growth once more. The rail line served to connect the nearby Baja Peninsula to the rest of Mexico and it goes without saying that the stop at Puerto Penasco put the small fisherman’s village on the map once more.
Speaking of fisherman, Puerto Penasco has always survived primarily on the fishing industry. Up until the 1990s it was the only “true” industry in town. The area around Puerto Penasco is not rich in mineral wealth and is mostly unsuitable for farming and raising livestock. Fishing really was the only way that people could make a living.
It was in the early 1990s that things began to change for Puerto Penasco. The government joined forces with private investors in 1993 to promote tourism in the area. They were largely motivated by the cities proximity to the United States, especially to Arizona and California, and its huge stretch of beautiful coastline. To further promote tourism they declared Puerto Penasco a “free-zone,” meaning that foreigners could visit without obtaining visas. Largely because of this, the area fast became a popular weekend retreat for people living in Arizona, California, and also Nevada.
Resorts and hotels started springing up everywhere as the government and private investors began to develop Puerto Penasco. Condominiums were also built in mass quantities. The sudden influx of tourists paved the way for the plethora of restaurants, bars, shops, and tour services now offered in the area. The progress to major tourist destination was a fast one for Puerto Penasco. By 2000, it was one of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico.
Today, Puerto Penasco is as booming as ever – which is obvious by the still-strong tourist push for the area. Resorts keep going up, restaurants are popping up all over the place, and more people travel to Puerto Penasco each year than the last. In some ways, it is sad that a town that was once so small is now dominated by tourism, but most of the locals don’t seem to mind too much. It has brought a whole new feel to the area and supplied numerous jobs. In fact, with the decline of the fishing industry (due in large part to overfishing and pollution), tourism has become an essential part of Puerto Penasco’s economy. Without it the town just might not exist for very much longer.
When you visit Puerto Penasco on vacation, be sure to truly appreciate its history. Though it is a relatively new settlement, its brief history has been very exciting. Understanding the local people and what the city has gone through will greatly improve your stay.