Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day One: Tijuana to Puerto Penasco

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Day One of the trip: December 25, 2009

The nice thing about traveling on Christmas Day is that most people are at home and not on the road. Me and my travel companions (another adult, two kids and two sock puppets)  left Tijuana at 4 p.m. after I picked up a tourist card . This was necessary since I was traveling beyond the border area’s tourist zone. It cost about $20 and I got it at the same Mexicans Customs office where we had to  register our car (A Mexican car restricted to circulating in the border zone).

Heading east towards Mexicali takes you through a rock-studded chain of mountains called La Rumorosa that inspires frequent stops for photo shoots. By the time we hit the Mexicali desert, it was nightfall. Crossing into Sonora at San Luis Colorado, we picked up some sandwiches for dinner at an Oxxo (sort of like a 7-11) where the cashier told us there was a new, faster toll road that would take us just two hours to get to our destination, Puerto Penasco. 

The new toll road costs about $8.00. Since we were traveling at night, there wasn’t much to see – except for the stars above us and a large number of roadside signs that we seemed to pass every 30 seconds:  FOGGY ZONE, WATCH OUT FOR FAUNA, DON’T PASS CARS, KEEP THE ROAD CLEAN, RESPECT NATURE, DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE, NO HUNTING.

My favorite of the bunch…DON’T DESTROY THE SIGNS.

We arrived in Puerto Penasco at 8:45 p.m (Sonora is one hour ahead of California) and as we headed to the downtown area we passed this city traffic sign (above) that made me laugh. The sign includes a banner that basically says “here we take care of tourists.” Yet the multiple arrows heading every which way prompted me to feel tourist trauma: Which road to take?

We managed to find our way to the Hotel Vina del Mar, where our $63 got us a room with an angular view of the ocean. 


Total road travel time from Tijuana to Puerto Penasco: 4-5  hours.

Total amount of money spent on five toll roads between Tijuana and Puerto Penasco: $19.20

2 responses to “Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day One: Tijuana to Puerto Penasco

  1. This subject is beyond the scope of The Real Tijuana, but two of us are from Sonora and many of us have visited there, so we are moved to comment that the the tourist program “Sólo Sonora” allows foreign cars to enter the state without having to buy a temporary importation permit. This used to be a program exclusively available to those who entered through Nogales (that is, via Tucson, Arizona), but was later extended, by means of Internet registration, to those who come in from San Luis Río Colorado (that is, from Baja California).

    El Pinacate, which lies between San Luis Río Colorado and Nogales, is one of the most interesting deserts on the face of the earth and the only way you’re going to experience it is if you get out of your car and walk around. If you’re lucky you’ll meet a burrowing owl or maybe a roadrunner. A truly unusual place, clean, clear, quiet, and eerie.

    To get to Sonora from San Diego you have three options: US Interstate 8, Mexican toll highway 2, and Mexican free highway 2. I-8 is the fastest and cheapest of the three; Carretera 2 Libre is the slowest and most scenic. The tolls you pay on Carretera 2 Cuota do go not to the government but, rather, to Carlos Slim (the fellow who is now as rich as Bill Gates).

    Those of us in The Real Tijuana almost always use the free highways. (Possibly because we’re cheap, possibly because we don’t want to make the rich richer, but mostly because we’re used to a slower pace of life and we like to smell the white sage.) Our friends from north of the border, however, are almost all addicted to our toll roads.

    If you’re going to drive from Tijuana to Mexicali, the toll road is your worst choice. I-8 is ever so much more efficient, if you like that sort of thing, and the free road is the only way you’ll get to know Tecate, La Rumorosa, and the farmland west of Mexicali.

    The process is more important than the goal down here. If you’ll respect that, the locals will respect you.

  2. Thanks for the info and the insight – great stuff! Does that mean that U.S. cars can drive into Sonora without registering with Mexican Customs into Sonora up to a certain point – or all the way to the southern tip of the state?

    We actually took a Mexican “border” car, so we had to get the car registered since it would be beyond the zone…

    I actually personally like the toll road between Tijuana and Mexicali with its amazing views. I’ve done plenty of the the free roads myself and they are fine, but better if you have more time to get from point A to B.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s