Puerto Peñasco History & Notes of Interest

Tucked between the Desert of Altar and Sea of Cortez, Puerto Peñasco (aka Rocky Point) continues to grow as the most important tourist destination in Sonora and is often referred to as “Arizona’s beach.” [*Abbreviated history – feel free to share additional facts with us]

Indigenous history in region:

  • Malpaís people (up until nearly 9000 years ago)
  • San Dieguito (until about 7000 years ago)
  • Pinacateños (descendents of Malpaís, San Dieguito, and Amargoza culture)
  • Hia-Ced, Tohono O’odham

kino1698 – 1706:  Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (Padre Kino) traversed area of Pinacate. It is said that from atop the Pinacate Padre Kino first saw that Baja California was a peninsula rather than an island.

1826 – Dubbed “Rocky Point” by Lieutenant William Hale Hardy, a retired official from the Royal Naval English Army, traveling along the coasts of Sonora and Baja California in search of pearls and precious metal

1850 – 1920:  Area important for gold mining at Sierra Pinta

1922: Sport fishermen from AZ first visited area of Cholla Bay

Mid to late 1920s: Mexican fishermen from areas further South made their way to Puerto Peñasco in search of the valuable totoaba.

John Stone and Sofus Janssen built the early club marina, known today as “La Roca” hotel. Stories tell during U.S. prohibition Stone used the club to store and sell liquor to Arizona, and some say the hotel even served as a hideout for Al Capone.  Stone also set up a flight service from Phoenix and Tucson to bring in tourists to drink, gamble and fish.

1930s: Area named Puerto Punta Peñasco by General Lázaro Cárdenas during presidential campaign – which eventually became solely “Puerto Peñasco”; arrival of railroad

1939: Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas and U.S. President FDR agree to build Peñasco-US highway for quick transport of US troops if necessary following sightings of Japanese submarines and ships in the Sea of Cortez; highway from Arizona to Puerto Peñasco inaugurated in 1942

Photo: Used with permission from collection of Guillermo Munro Palacio

Photo: Used with permission from collection of Guillermo Munro Palacio

1940s: Early recreational fishing in area for sailfish and marlín; first airfield founded for stopover in Puerto Peñasco along Mexico City-Mexicali route

1949: Shrimping in Rocky Point leads to “shrimp boom” through 1984

July 9, 1952: Puerto Peñasco officially becomes municipality

1965 – 1969:  Region of Pinacate served as training area for NASA astronauts headed to the moon

1980:  CEDO opens its doors (Intercultural Center for Desert & Ocean Studies)

1993: Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar decreed as Biosphere Reserve

1994: Work on Las Glorias begins (currently Peñasco del Sol Hotel) – leading to ongoing development through about 2007 of condo developments and beach homes

2008:  Inauguration of Golfo de Santa Clara – Puerto Peñasco Coastal Highway, shortening the driving distance from California by about 100 miles

2009: Mar de Cortés International airport inaugurated by President Felipe Calderón

2013El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar named World Heritage Site by UNESCO; construction begins on Puerto Peñasco cruise ship Home Port

Present Day:  With a population of above 50,000, Puerto Peñasco receives nearly 2 million visitors yearly, and offers a number of outdoor activities throughout the year. Fishing and tourism remain principal economic activities.

July 21, 2016TAR flights to begin at Mar de Cortés International Airport – connecting Puerto Peñasco with Thursday & Sunday flights to Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and Hermosillo




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