Do I consider myself an expert on the drive to and from Puerto Peñasco? Why yes, I do. Before I lived here fulltime, I made this drive almost every weekend for thirteen years. Feel free to do your own thing, but these are my tried-and-true tips.
Drive with your headlights on as soon as you turn south on the 85 in Gila Bend (or whenever you get on a two-lane highway). The most dangerous part of the drive is between Why and the Lukeville border. It’s very hard and very dangerous to pass because of the hills and turns and no passing zones and there are always some maniac passers. During the busy season there are always a few head on collisions, so keep alert and don’t drive like a jerk. Also, don’t speed thru Ajo, there are always speed traps.
Expect long waits at the border entering Mexico on Fridays and any holiday weekends. Remember the border closes at 8pm. This year on some holiday weekends it closes at 10pm. Prepare on the way down. Stop in Ajo, or Why for bathroom and snack breaks. Seriously, take a bathroom break! Sometimes there is a wait a few miles back from the border getting into Sonoyta. If you have kids, or even if you don’t, I recommend bringing a great music playlist and a variety of movies to help keep everyone in the car entertained.
Yay, you made it to the border! Proceed to the “Green Light” “Red Light” system for customs inspections. As you might have guessed green light means “Go” and red light means “Stop”. If you get stopped, they may ask for your license and registration and check your VIN. If you’re bringing any pets, make sure you have verification of their shot records. Customs will search your vehicle if you get the red light. This is relatively quick and easy as long as you are following all the rules of what you can and cannot bring into Mexico. Once you cross the border, set your speedometer to Kilometers and drive 40kph or less through Sonoyta (24mph). I put my cruise control on. On highway 8, drive carefully and with your lights on at all times. If you are driving slow, it is customary to move as far to the right on the shoulder, to allow other vehicles to pass when it is safe. People are driving anywhere between 40mph to 100+ mph. If you want to drive 80 to 90 Kph all the way to Rocky Point, there are going to be lots of cars passing you at high speeds, just move over let them go.
Going home, prepare for long waits on Sundays and Mondays returning to the US. Make sure all of your electronics are charged for entertainment. Go to the bathroom before you leave Rocky Point. Unless you want to stop on the side of the road, there are no bathrooms until Sonoyta. Drive with your lights on from the time you leave Rocky Point until you get back to the 4-lane divided highway in Gila Bend.
Packing: Since you’re driving you can really pack as little, or much as you like. I’ve done both and here are my suggestions: 2 swimsuits minimum, 1 tank top/t-shirt per day, 1 pair of shorts for every 2-3 days, 1-2 pairs of undies per day, and some flip-flops. You may want a sweatshirt or light sweater as it cools down some at night. A sundress or Hawaiian style shirt is all you need to be “dressed up” at most restaurants. Definitely bring a hat, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen (and aloe if you’re prone to burning). Don’t forget your cell phone charger and your international calling plan! Also print directions to where you are staying as sometimes GPS is spotty.
If you are bringing young kids, I highly recommend a sunscreen shirt and bucket hat for them. For babies and toddlers bring a sturdy stroller or wagon. The stroller doubles as an excellent all-purpose carrier for carting beach towels, toys, sunscreen, etc. For babies I recommend bringing a portable crib. This is useful for sleeping, or containment if you need them out from underfoot for a few minutes. You probably don’t need to pack toys except to keep busy in the car, because you’ll spend most of your time outside at the pool or beach. Shells and rocks found on the beach make excellent toys. Definitely bring some sand toys, and some baggies to collect shells. A cooler is also a must for the beach for beverages and snacks.
Wishing everyone a safe and Happy Spring Break!