We know that the Mexicans can create a world famous tourist resort from nothing. They did it recently in the Caribbean at Cancun in south east Mexico, which had a population of three and a few coconut trees until 1970. Now they are trying the same trick in the north west of the country at Puerto Penasco, or Rocky Point as it is known to English speakers. An arm of the Pacific Ocean forced its way into north west Mexico, creating a great inland sea, the Sea of Cortez. The northern extremity of this sea creeps to where Rocky Point is located, only 66 miles from the border with the United States. Pat and I visited Rocky Point in May 2012. Until the 1920s, there was nothing here. A few fishermen would sometimes drop anchor, but that was all. Then someone built the first hotel and it was near enough to the United States to attract Americans fleeing from the hardships of prohibition. Gangster Al Capone from Chicago even bought a house here. Opportunistic US realtors, including Long Realty, set up offices here as early as 1926. World War Two helped the recently founded community, when the US government built a road from its border to Rocky Point. Presumably it feared that the Japanese Navy might sail up the Sea of Cortez and attack the unguarded underbelly of America in an encore of Pearl Harbor. At the same time, a railway was built linking the Baja Peninsula to the rest of Mexico. It passed through Rocky Point.
The waters of the Sea of Cortez are superbly blue and the climate is a delight, reminiscent of southern California at its best. The beaches are abundant and sandy. There are now many hotels and restaurants in Rocky Point and plenty of condos for sale. Sams Club is building a store in Rocky Point. Do not worry if your Spanish is less fluent than you would like. English is widely spoken and there are many American visitors. US dollars are accepted everywhere. There is a spectacular golf course with its green fairways vividly contrasting with the grey of the surrounding desert. The area even has its own volcano, El Pinacate, which hasn’t even bothered to erupt for 11,000 years. This is so boring compared with Vesuvius (see this website’s item on Pompeii, Italy) which has erupted on dozens of occasions in the past two thousand years. Rocky Point has focused only for the past twenty years on the idea of becoming a grand tourist resort. Before that its fishing fleet was the major source of income, even though it tended to overfish the Sea of Cortez. The Mexican government has now decreed that fishing stops in March. At the time of our visit, we saw many shrimp boats, but they were all in shipyards having barnacles scraped off their bottoms.
So how is Rocky Point doing in its ambitions to become a second Cancun? Certainly there are positives. A small airport has been opened, even though it is used only by small private planes and no commercial airline has yet been persuaded to operate scheduled flights. Preparations are being made for the building of a passenger liner dock in Rocky Point and the Holland America and Carnival lines have shown interest in operating cruises from that dock into the Sea of Cortez. These would be seven day cruises calling at a small port every day and thereby avoiding long periods at sea. To set against these positives, there are negatives. Rocky Point reminds me of a convict, innocent of the crime for which it has been sentenced, but nevertheless guilty of other serious crimes with which it has not been charged.
It is claimed that, particularly in this border area, Mexico is not safe for US tourists because of violence generated by the drug cartels. Last summer, the US State Department even issued a travel advisory warning its citizens of the dangers of visiting Rocky Point and other border areas. There is no basis for this warning, which has unfairly damaged the tourist industry in Rocky Point. There has been no violence shown towards US citizens. The place is safe. Indeed it is a good deal safer than many US cities, such as Baltimore, where Pat and I have lived. That’s the charge of which Rocky Point is innocent. Now here’s where Rocky Point is guilty. All the well designed, expensive properties here are mixed up in every part of the town with what can only be described either as slum properties or as unsightly undeveloped land. Such land is usually enclosed by rusting fences topped with barbed wire. Many streets are unpaved and lined with litter. How can anyone, either Mexican or American, enjoy a beautiful property when it is surrounded by trash? Until Rocky Point copes with this problem, its hopes of emulating Cancun are zero.
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on May 5, 2012.