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Puerto Peñasco: State Department travel warning remains the same

On the edge of Sandy Beach, at the base of the rocky formation that gave this city its name, a breakwater dock juts into the Gulf of California.

Soon, Sonora state and local officials hope to make the dock a home port for cruise ships.
Wochit

The U.S. State Department has a new warning about travel to Mexico, but little has changed for vacationers headed to Puerto Peñasco (also known as Rocky Point) and other resort towns south of the border.

That’s because the general warnings about travel to Mexico are the same as they have been for several years: Avoid travel to areas overrun by drug cartels and violent crime, and exercise caution in popular vacation spots.

The only thing that has changed is how the government labels the level of risk. Areas are now assigned numbers from 1 to 4. Level 4 is a “Do not travel” zone, Level 3 is a “Reconsider travel” zone, Level 2 advises “Exercise increased caution” and Level 1 is “Exercise normal precautions.”

Five Mexican states are rated Level 4: Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, which shares a border with Texas. Cabo San Lucas and Cancun are in states rated Level 2. Mexico overall is rated Level 2 in the latest advisory.

Puerto Peñasco, in northern Sonora, is Level 3 in the new system because of drug and crime problems in other parts of the state, including a triangular region west of Nogales, east of Sonoyta and north of Altar that is well known for drug trafficking.

But the advisory notes that northern Sonora “experiences much lower levels of crime than cities close to Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico.” It says U.S. government employees visiting Puerto Peñasco must use the Lukeville/Sonoyta border crossing and travel during daylight hours on main roads.

That has been the advice to U.S. travelers to Puerto Peñasco since at least 2014. The most recent advisory, issued in 2017, said, “Puerto Peñasco should be visited using the Lukeville, Arizona/Sonoyta border crossing, and limit driving to daylight hours.”

Rocky Point tourism increasing

Tourism leaders in Puerto Peñasco seemed unfazed by the State Department’s latest warning, saying it will have little impact on the number of visitors, which has grown steadily over the past few years.

“Since it’s been the same text for Peñasco for the past four years, we’ve seen that tourism has increased between five, ten, even 15 percent on a yearly basis,” Hector Vasquez del Mercado said. He presides over the Puerto Peñasco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The number of visitors in 2017 topped 2.3 million, a 5 percent increase over the year before. Nearly 80 percent of visitors come from the U.S., mostly from Arizona.

Sonora invested in security

Rocky Point has seen its fortunes rise and fall with U.S. travel advisories. It was first included in the government’s Mexico travel warning in April 2011. It advised caution when visiting because of “multiple incidents” of drug-related violence during that year, including the high-profile shooting of its police chief.

Travelers spooked by that warning skipped Rocky Point in favor of other nearby beach destinations, including San Diego.

Rocky Point businesses and boosters were angry about the warning because the shooting had happened a year earlier.

Since then, state and local governments in Sonora have invested heavily in security, in attempts to lure back visitors. To this day, it’s common to see armored police vehicles patrolling the city at all hours.

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