Recent Mexican cartel activities may have you nervous about driving over the border to enjoy the Sea of Cortez, but the real message is that Sonora is Safe. While you will need to splurge on a special auto insurance to cover your vehicle while in Mexico ($25-$35 USD per day through your rental agency or check with your insurance company if driving your own vehicle), automobile permits are not necessary in the “hassle-free zone” of Sonora and tourist permits are only needed if visiting more than 7 days.
From Denver it is a cheap Frontier Airlines flight to Tucson and then a five hour drive over the border to San Carlos. The drive is a tour through the stately Sierra Mountains and acres of desert. Sounds desolate? It is for the first three hours, but then it becomes an adventure as you navigate the border, crossing the random military checks and toll roads. Be careful of the speed bumps in the towns of Magdalena and Santa Ana! They are intended to slow you down enough to appreciate the aromas of the tacarito carts or to purchase citrus from locals standing in the road.
It’s hard to believe at this point that there are white sand beaches and palm trees anywhere near this rugged Sonoran Desert. But soon the road turns and you see the Tetakawi Mountain in front of you with the Sea of Cortez appearing on your left. Hurricane Jimenez in October 2009 swept out the bridge on the main drag, but newly-paved roads wind you through the back roads lined with private residences and a good view of the Nacapule Canyon.
Timeshares and rentals are the mainstay in San Carlos, so it is best to have reservations before making the trip. Hotel Fiesta Real has a great beachfront with a surprisingly good Greek restaurant while the Sea of Cortez Premier Vacation Club is family friendly and clean. Hotel prices can range from $55/night to $300/night depending on the resort. Stay away from the Paradiso resort (the old Club Med). It is in major disrepair with a dirty beach, broken windows and twisted fences.
Eat the Seafood!
Fresh fish, shrimp, and clams are the on the menu at El Mirador in the La Manga Village. Bring your own favorite beverage because they don’t serve. This means a great meal at a great price! Rosa’s Cantina serves up an authentic Mexican breakfast and you can get hearty burgers at the Soggy Peso Bar on the Catch-22 beach.
Does it really have to end?
Give yourself plenty of travel time if you plan to travel back to the States on Saturday or Sunday. It is not unusual for passenger cars to sit for 5-8 hours just to cross the border. (Of course the cargo trucks are given 3 lanes and drive by at 40 mph!)
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