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 idea that the area got the way that it is now. It also can make your travel experience that much more exciting and enjoyable. Rocky Point Mexico (Puerto Penasco), one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Mexico, has a fascinating history. If you’re planning on traveling there, then it is crucial that you know a thing or two about its past.
Puerto Penasco is a reasonably 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 significant 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.
Rocky Point History
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 port 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 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 favorite spot for drinking, gambling, and fishing. Stone even drilled the first well and put a short end to the water problem.
Legends of Rocky Point
One of the most enduring myths about Puerto Penasco stems from the time that Stone’s hotel was around. Al Capone, the notorious Chicago gangster, visited the hotel regularly. Whether this is true or not remains a mystery. Shortly after the United States lifted the alcohol ban, 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 peace. Then, a railroad built through town in the 1930s changed everything. The rail line served to connect the nearby Baja Peninsula to the rest of Mexico, and 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 was the only way that people could make a living.
The Growth Era in Rocky Point
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 primarily motivated by the cities proximity to the United States, especially to Arizona and California, and its vast stretch of beautiful coastline. To further promote tourism, they declared Puerto Penasco a “free-zone,” meaning that foreigners could visit without obtaining visas. Mainly because of this, the area fast became a favorite 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. Condominium erected throughout the village. 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 evident 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 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 might not exist for very much longer.
When you visit Puerto Penasco on vacation, be sure to appreciate its history truly. Though it is a relatively new settlement, its brief history has been fascinating. Understanding the local people and what the city has gone through will significantly improve your stay.
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