Sonora Sojourn – Mexico road trip recap

Sonora Sojourn – Mexico road trip recap

The plan – Big Mexico road trip

In early 2017, I was planning to take Zennie south, starting with a big trip through Mexico that would consume most of the year. Of course, like most trips, it didn’t end up quite like I thought it would!

And what good trip WOULD go completely as planned? That would totally remove the sense of adventure!

The reality – Sonora Mexico road trip

The big problem was paperwork. I hadn’t received my official vehicle title from South Dakota yet (this took months and months!), and I was concerned about international travel without all the documents.

BUT… there’s a “hassle free” zone in the state of Sonora, where you don’t need a Mexican vehicle permit. So before I had all my ducks lined up for the big trip, I decided to make a quick road trip through Sonora, Mexico.

Sonora Sojourn

  • 10 days
  • 1 US states (Arizona)
    1 Mexican state (Sonora)
  • 813 miles
  • Average 81 miles/day

Sonora Sojourn – The road trip theme

Beaches and exploration!

Islandia campsite in Kino Bay, Sonora, Mexico
Ah… This is the life! Camped at Islandia in Bahia Kino 🙂

I was following the Sonoran coastline, which of course involves beaches on the Sea of Cortez. And I was also planning to drive the “new highway” along the coast — so new that it didn’t even show up on any of my maps.

How could a trip like that not be a ton of fun? 🙂

Sonora Sojourn – The road trip route

Route for Zennie trip 2017, Sonora Sojourn
The route – Zennie 2017 Sonora Sojourn

Sonora Mexico road trip : Top 3 Highlights

    1. Getting to the beach! As soon as I was camped on the beach at Puerto Peñasco, the world seemed like a better place. There is something about being by the sea that has that effect! 🙂
Camping on the beach at Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Sonora, Mexico
Settled into my beachfront campsite in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point)

    1. The beautiful coast road. There was some wonderful scenery along here, with views of desert and sea that reminded me of Baja. The new sections of the road were lovely and smooth, and it was empty, too. It added up to a beautiful and enjoyable drive.
Desert and sea vistas on the Sonora coast highway, Mexico
Scenery along the coast highway is reminiscent of Baja

  1. Friendly people. The people I met in Bahía Kino were so warm and welcoming that I ended up staying there longer than expected. I was having too much fun to leave!
Sailing in Bahia Kino, Sonora, Mexico
Sailing in Kino Bay. I had so much fun there!

Sonora Mexico road trip : Top Lowlight

  • Road conditions. After passing through Puerto Libertad, the new coast road joins an older section of road. That part of the road was awful!
    It was so narrow in parts that when I met a truck, both of us were scraping our side mirrors on the roadside plants to get by each other, and there were potholes so big they covered the entire lane. It made me wonder if my tires were going to make it, but all went well!
    But on the positive side, I might as well get used to driving on roads like this, since that could soon be my new normal! 😉

Sonora Mexico road trip : Key places

    • Puerto Peñasco has a huge beautiful beach, and I was happy to get a spot where my big dinette windows looked straight out onto the sea. So nice! 🙂 The campground was almost empty, but that was starting to change about the time I left. We were heading into Semana Santa, and the guy at the campground said it would be absolutely crazy on Easter weekend, with a thousand people camping there. I’m happy I missed that part!
Campground at Puerto Penasco
The campground at Puerto Penasco wasn’t exactly full… 😉

    • Coastal highway. I wanted to drive this way because the road here is so new that it doesn’t even show up on any of the maps I have. That seems like a good reason to visit, doesn’t it? 😉 I figured it would be less developed, and more like the authentic Mexican coast before tourism struck. That was certainly true!

    • Puerto Lobos is a sleepy little fishing village that happens to be in a great location, with a white sand beach on one side, and black sand beach on the other. There are some people with more money moving in, seemingly Mexicans from the city, according to the little that I know about it. Most of the town still looks pretty poor, but it’s starting to show signs of advancement — like a tiny store with a sign on the window saying they sell gasoline. There’s no real “gas station” in town, but it’s a step in that direction. I couldn’t help but think that someday this long empty beach will be covered in hotels.
Along the coast at Puerto Lobos, Sonora
A windy day in Puerto Lobos

    • Bahía de Kino was a big surprise. It’s another beach town, and I met a super friendly group of people at the Islandia RV park. This is in the old Mexican part of Kino Bay, and it’s not like the fancy new properties in New Kino Bay. To me, that makes it much more charming! There’s a group of international ex-pats here, who invited me to go sailing, attend an anniversary dinner, and much more. In fact, I hated to leave, and cut out some other trip plans in order to spend more time here. I’ll be back! 🙂
Islandia campground and RV resort in Bahia Kino
Islandia campground in Kino Bay (Bahia Kino)

  • Magdalena de Kino. Driving back, I stopped for a night in Magdalena de Kino. I’d always bypassed this town on the highway before, but when I discovered that it’s one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos (magic towns), I decided it would be worth a stop. It is an attractive little town, with a stately cathedral and a lovely town square, all green and shady. The town’s namesake is Padre Kino, a Spanish missionary explorer, who founded missions as far north as Tucson. His bones are on display here – it’s a bit ghoulish for my taste, but nevertheless I went and ogled them like everybody else. Overall, it’s a pleasant town, and makes a good stop on the trip.
Mission church in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico
The pretty mission church in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora

Questions? Comments?

Have you traveled this bit of Sonora state in northern Mexico? Any questions about doing it? Let me know what you think in the Reply section below. Thanks!:)

PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey

Deanna sunset

Hi! I’m Deanna, creator of Uphill Zen. I’m currently yondering around North America with my 1986 Toyota motorhome, Zennie. What makes my heart sing is travel, adventure, and the awe-inspiring wonders of nature. Finding ways to share that joyous spirit is what this is all about.

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9 Responses

  1. Jayna Walsh

    Hi deanna
    We are driving down mexico and wondering if we should go nogales to bahia kino (hwy 15) or go sonoyta > puerto penasco>and then take hwy 3 down the coast like you did? Was the road terrible?

    thanks for your help

    • Deanna

      Hi Jayna –

      Thanks for your comment! So Bahia Kino is your destination? Either way is possible. Here’s your trade off.

      – Highway 15 south from Nogales is now finished the upgrades almost all the way to Guaymas, so most of the way it is a fast 4-lane highway, with just a bit of construction left. The road west from there to Kino is also in good shape and easy. This route is not the most scenic way to go, but it’s the easiest and fastest.

      – The coastal highway from Puerto Penasco is in good shape, and is a much more scenic route. You get really nice views of the Sea of Cortez in places, and there was hardly any traffic when I drove it. All is good until you get to Puerto Libertad and turn inland. That’s where the road was really rough when I did it. I went through some old beat up road stretches and also some gnarly construction zones, so you might find that some of the road has been improved since I did it. This route will be slower but has better views.

      – Are you also looking to head back one of the same ways? If so, the border crossing going north through Sonoyta and Lukeville is one of my favorites. The lines at Nogales can take hours, while you’re sitting in the middle of a thousand cars waiting to cross. At Lukeville there are usually no more than a couple of cars waiting – SO much better!

      Have a great trip! I’d love to know what you decided and how it turned out. 😊
      – Deanna.

  2. Lee

    Love reading about your adventures. I haven\’t looked in a while, so now I\’m going back and reading them all again (the great photos help, too.)
    We are soon heading to Puerto Peñasco and would like to go down the coastal highway, at least a ways, in our smallish motorhome. Did you camp anywhere near Puerto Lobos? I can\’t find any info on camping between P.P. and Bahia de Kino (we also stayed at Islandia in Kino about 5 years ago…loved it, too!)

    • Deanna

      Hi Lee – Thanks for your note! In Puerto Lobos, there is a small camp on the white sand beach with a few palapas. However the road going in had sand too deep for me. I walked in & it looked like a nice beach with nobody there. Maybe you could make it where I didn’t?

      I ended up driving round & saw a man unloading groceries into one of the nicer homes in town. I asked him were I could park for the night, and he said for 1 night right across from his house. This is right by the lighthouse, on a little bluff overlooking the beach. Nice guy, nice spot, quiet and safe night. Good luck with your trip!! 😎

    • Deanna

      Lee – Another option is the beach just south of Puerto Libertad. I haven’t stayed there, but have read of other people who reported it was safe and free.

  3. Lee

    Hi Deanna,
    Thank you for the reply! Yeah, we’re a little leery of deep sand, too. It looks like we’ll cross the border and head for PP in two days, and play it by ear from there. I guess we must reluctantly admit we’re not as adventuresome as you, so if we head for Bahia de Kino, we may take the inland route. Maybe I’ll be more daring in my next life……

    • Deanna

      Hi Lee –
      I was sad to see the difficult access at Puerto Lobos, because it really is a pretty beach. Maybe someday there will be more people heading down that way (what they were hoping for when they built that road, I’m sure), and better camping options. In the meantime, whatever route you take, have a wonderful trip!
      – Deanna

  4. Cédric and Mélanie

    Hello , Deanna , thank you for your posts !!!
    My wife and I are full time Toyota motorhome rviers…been 3 years …what a good life especially on blm land in the age of covid …
    We are debating crossing in Tecate for Baja sur ,and we were wondering if you’d go south through Baja de Los Angeles or the Ensenada route ?…
    And may be you’d have a few tips for boondocking and camping in the northern part of Baja…
    In the pleasure of meeting you one day on the road.
    From black jack campground AZ

    • Deanna Keahey

      Hi Cedric –
      Thanks for your message! I absolutely adore Baja, and spent the past two winters traveling around there. But right now, the situation is complicated by Covid restrictions, which is an ever-changing situation in Mexico, as it is here. I left Baja in the spring when the border closure was announced, and ran into numerous campgrounds in northern Baja which were closed due to Covid. There are more beach boondocking options in southern Baja than northern, and I’m sure it’s impossible for them to close all of them, but it’s a whole level of complication that didn’t used to exist. 😰

      I prefer to avoid the Ensenada route, because there’s less city driving going the other way. Highway 5 between San Felipe and the link up further south with 1 has been recently redone. The part right around Felipe is still pretty rough, but once you reach the new road, it’s one of the nicest in Baja! 😎 There are nice beach campgrounds in San Felipe and Gonzaga Bay (my faves are Campo #1 in SF and Campo Beluga in Gonzaga). Bahia de Los Angeles is a little town with big views, and Campo Archelon is where I like to stay. And the most beautiful desert boondocking you’ll ever hope to see is around the Cataviña area.

      In Jan and Feb, the winter winds can make things cold in northern Baja, though that’s hit or miss. If you want more reliable winter weather, the further south you go, the warmer it gets.

      Hope that helps! ~ Deanna
      PS. I’ve stayed at Black Jack! In fact I’m not far from there now, in Silver City. 😊

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