Tag Archives: Sonora

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Four: Guaymas & San Carlos

Photo credit: Google maps

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.

Actual travel date: December 28, 2009. Guaymas, Sonora

After three days traveling through Sonora, we reached the port city of Guaymas. Our plan was to cross the Gulf of California by boat and then continue our trip through the Baja peninsula. From what I had read, the ferry could be fickle due to weather, and reservations in advance – which we didn’t have –  were highly recommended. So I wasn’t quite sure how things would turn out.

We went to the Guaymas ferry office Monday morning and were told that they didn’t know when the boat would leave that day, and to check again later.

So we went to get some breakfast near the hotel at a simple food place called either Fernanda or Cocina Economica, or some combination of the two. I ordered my usual Mexican breakfast favorite: Eggs cooked Mexican Style or Juevos a la Mexicana. The food was a little slow in its arrival, but the portions were generous and exquisitely cooked (at $18 for four, including drinks, it lived up to its name of being economical). I personally  rank this the Best Breakfast during the entire road trip.

Around noon we called the ferry ofice. We were told that there would  be no departure this day – and to call at 9 a.m. the next day, Tuesday.

Now that we knew we had the day and evening free, we drove a few minutes away to  San Carlos in search of the tourist beach areas of Algodones (a portion of which was the backdrop for the Catch 22 movie filmed here in the ’70s).

We found that many of the most obvious beach spots were inaccessible because they involved entering the front driveways of beachside hotels or condos. The beach area turned out to be chilly on this particular day, so we drove around some more and a condominium security guard guided us to a beach access point where the wind wasn’t as strong.

For a good two hours we walked around this quiet bay and scrambled on  nearby rocks in search of crabs, mollusks and other small sealife in tidepools.

Afterwards, we explored more of San Carlos while looking for an affordable beachside hotel. We visited a few, but a lack of inviting pools and the ever-present wind chill sent us scurrying back to our original place in Guaymas, the Armida. Along the way, we swung by a seaside hotel called the Hotel Playa de Cortes that reminded me of the older, historic section of the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Baja California.

Nestled at the end of a Guaymas road, the place was full of hand-carved wooden furniture, Spanish colonial architecture and old black-and-white photos (a more recent one had been signed by then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano who is now head of the Department of Homeland Security). Politics, aside, the vibe made me immediately want to sip a margarita in a lounge chair.

Back in central Guaymas, we ended up  having a very un-Mexican dinner of Papa John’s Pizza. Unlike most of the Papa John’s I’ve been to north of the border, which seem to cater more to the pick-up-and-eat-elsewhere crowd – this one was set up as a restaurant. As a slight drizzle dotted the windows outside, we figured the next leg of our trip would depend a lot on whether or not the ferry left tomorrow to make the planned itinerary worthwhile. If there was no ferry, we might have to come up with a Plan B.


For a list of beaches in San Carlos, go here.

For a list of hotels in San Carlos, go here.

The seaside Hotel Playa de Cortes in Guaymas offers basic rooms ranging in price from about $65-$90, depending on the season. For more information, go here.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Three: Hermosillo to Guaymas

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 Three of the trip: December 27, 2009. Starting point is Hermosillo, the capitol of Sonora.

I had been to Hermosillo before, so I was looking forward to spending some time in this pretty, desert capital. With an estimated population of  over half a million, Hermosillo nonetheless maintains a certain patina of order and tranquility that stands in contrast to the chaotic energy of other urban centers. 

As I waited for my travel companions to wake up, I browsed through some pamphlets from the hotel lobby about the newly-opened Sonoran Art Museum . There was an exhibit of Oaxacan painter Rufino Tamayo that would have to wait for a future visit.

Instead, we went to the Sonora Museum which is a former state penitentiary that operated from 1907 to 1979. It was located near our hotel – the Hotel Colonial – on the other side of the Cerro de la Campana (Hill of the Bell). As we took in the bird’s eye view, a nearby church bell started to ring. It momentarily sent me back in time and place.

The museum is free on Sundays, and we spent about 40 minutes wandering through the old cell spaces that had been converted into educational exhibits on the region’s history, including one with a photo of Benjamin Hill. The rabbit and pig sock puppets engaged in ongoing silly commentary. We also took some pictures of ourselves behind prison bars.

Then we headed back to the downtown area for breakfast. Our destination: the local market where people come to buy their pig’s feet, vegetables and cheeses. After walking around the entire market, we sat down at a corner stall and I ate several spicy shredded beef tacos.

Even though Hermosillo’s weather was pleasant, the dominant collective opinion of my travel companions settled on  finding a warm beach. So we  decided to continue our trek to the beach communities of Guaymas (where we would take the ferry to Baja California) and San Carlos. Both were only about one hour way.

After a quick detour through San Carlos, we headed to Guaymas where we discovered the harbor area. This oceanfront section of town seemed to serve as the city’s central plaza where local folks strolled and merrily scooted around  on their skateboards, bikes and in-line skates.

We picked the Armida Hotel at random, unloaded the car, and then I started flipping through the Yellow Pages Book. A section on Guaymas provided me with some informational grounding: The city was founded in 1769 and has one of the largest fleets in the Mexican Pacific. The write-up mentioned that the nearby Miramar Beach is a good place for sunsets. I looked at the clock: 4:30. We got to the beach in about ten minutes and searched for shells along the shore as the sun sank low and pelicans dive-bombed for fish. 

For dinner, perhaps inspired by the pelicans, we went to a Sushi place near the hotel. The rolls were average, but the ambience was energetic with three television screens beaming sports and music videos. The next day was Monday and we would need to make reservations and confirm the Tuesday departure time for the ferry that would take us across the Gulf of California to the Baja peninsula. 


The road leading to the Sonora museum has lots of tricky one-way streets

The more upper scale Hotel  Colonial in Hermosillo had a “special” rate of $80

Hotel Armida in Guaymas cost us about $55

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Two: Puerto Penasco to Hermosillo

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 Two of the trip: December 26, 2009. Starting point is Puerto Penasco, a few hours south of Arizona. 

Always an early riser, I left our hotel at 8:30 a.m. to walk around the Puerto Penasco oceanfront. We had picked a hotel in the downtown area, but on the other side of the bay I could see the high-rise condos that have become second homes for some Arizona residents.

 I wanted to find out what to do in Puerto Penasco this time of year. One merchant, just opening his storefront, sighed and said: “It’s too cold to go to the beach.” Back at the hotel, the staff scrunched their foreheads and came up with a few ideas: A small aquarium (read some TripAdvisor reviews here) and a regional museum. But no one seemed to have  a recent or decent map to show me where they were. 

Meanwhile, the car’s alarm was going off for no reason and we couldn’t start the engine because of some electrical glitch inspired by the alarm. We got a hold of a mechanic who showed up in a car with a fake license plate. At the top of the plate (in small letters) were the words FORGET 911 (and in larger letters) IDIAL .357. An insignia of a gun made the point even clearer.

Despite the less-than-assuring credentials, the mechanic did his job just fine.

We had originally planned on staying in Puerto Penasco for a day, but decided to continue south in search of warmer climes. On our way out of town we passed a giant statue of what I think was a shrimp, representing the town’s fishing roots.

We ended up driving about five hours to Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora.  At first the landscape was flat and somewhat stark, masking the rich potential underneath the soil. Clouds of smoke emerged from the earth in four points – looking like distant tornadoes  –  where farmers were burning land for agricultural purposes.

From the small city of Caborca (an hour and a half from Puerto Penasco) the land starts to ease into the mountains and hills of the higher desert. It becomes increasingly jagged as you get closer to Hermosillo and the tips of mountains look as as if they have been nibbled on by dinosaurs.

Along the way, we got gasoline at a town called Benjamin Hill. I asked the gas  attendant: “Who is Benjamin Hill?”  I pronounced it in English, since it looked like an English word, but the attendant didn’t seem to understand what I was saying until I used a Spanish accent (Ben-ha-meen Heeeel). Then he told me Benjamin Hill was a general during “the war” (He is mentioned in this Sonora tourism site in as being involved in the Mexican Revolution).

At Hermosillo, we checked into the Hotel Colonial near the Cerro de la Cementera (photo above)  where we paid about $80 for a nice but small room. Sonora is known for its beef, and we missed an opportunity to eat a traditional steak dinner here. We also missed out on trying the famous Sonoran hot dogs (hot dog stands are lined up en masse in front of the local university). Instead,  we ended up eating some beef tacos after seeing a movie in town.


Total road trip travel time from Puerto Penasco to Hermosillo: About 5 hours

Total amount of money spent on two toll booths: $11

Cost to get car alarm fixed in Puerto Penasco: $65

Beef tacos in Hermosillo for four people: $15