BAHIA de KINO (Kino Bay)
The quiet village of Bahia de Kino nestles into the western coast of Sonora. Until the 1940s this area was almost completely unpopulated except for a few fishing camps, and small bands of Seri Indians who caught fish from wooden canoes and gathered shellfish along the shore. This is a rugged and sun-drenched land where ancient volcanic mountains meet the bountiful Sea of Cortez, where frigate birds migrate through by the thousands, where dolphins cruise the shore, and where the Seris carve ironwood and weave highly-prized baskets of the finest quality. ‘Kino’ is a friendly town in a beautiful natural setting, where the cost of living is low, if you shop where the locals do, and where a few adventurous retirees have chosen to live comfortably as part of the local community. Even today, Kino Bay remains an unspoiled and ‘undiscovered’ piece of the long Sonoran coastline – where the desert meets the Sea.
Kino Bay is very close to the US border, an easy days drive south of Tucson, yet it’s not overwhelmed with tourists. There are a few reasons to consider:
1) Kino is not on the way to anywhere else. It’s at the end of a 110 km (65 mile) highway that is now undergoing major reconstruction. The Estado de Sonora has invested heavily to build a good, wide, two-lane road with wide paved shoulders. At this writing (January 2006) the work is about 2/3 complete and is expected to be finished by Semana Santa (Easter Week) 2006, although the last fifteen miles may remain rough and narrow for a while. There are plans to construct a coastal road (La Costera) to connect with Puerto Peñasco to the north, but that will happen sometime in the future.
2) There are no modern chain hotels with tour packages and large ad budgets, yet decent, clean and affordable lodging is available to those willing to seek it out. First-timers usually check out good places for a return visit.
3) There are no US-style chain food outlets. There are many small local restaurants that serve up very good seafood fresh from the ocean. There is a very good ‘agua purificada’ system here and things are generally sanitary. Kino is popular both for long-term winter visitors from the US and Canada, and families from nearby Hermosillo spending a weekend at the beach. Businesses here cater to both the local and international trades.
4) During the summer months of July, August and early September the air temperature can be very hot (often over 100 deg. F), although the Sea is wonderfully warm for swimming. On August 7, 2005, we scientifically measured the water temperature (by holding a pool thermometer in the water in front of our house) as 95 degrees.
During the Christmas/New Years season the air temperature is generally pleasant, and nice for long morning walks on the beach or an evening stroll to a restaurant for dinner, while wearing only a light jacket. But the water temperature is often in the high 50s to low 60s during December through March and not many people go swimming then, although we saw people enjoying the water on both Christmas Day and New Years Day, this year. On New Years Day, we measured the water temp. (with our pool thermometer again) at 64 degrees.
While the sunsets and scenery are always beautiful here, the best times to be in Kino are usually May-June, and September-October when air and water temperatures are about as close to perfect as you’ll find anywhere.
The first decision is whether to drive or fly, or even take one of the modern express buses that leave Tucson several times each day. There are some things to consider before deciding.
If you fly, the procedures are fairly simple. Carry your driver's license and a birth certificate or voter's registration card , or a passport (we understand a passport will soon be required) as identification. A photo ID is required in addition to birth certificate, etc. You fill out the tourist permit application on the airplane, and then it's very simple going through the gate at the Hermosillo airport. We’ve never flown in, but others have said it was quick and simple. AeroMexico and AeroLitoral fly in from the Phoenix/Tucson area. Rental cars are available at the airport or catch the hourly ‘Costa’ bus on the main highway right in front of the airport. It costs about $5US and it will be necessary to change buses at Miguel Aleman (also called Calle Doce), which is about the mid-point of the trip.
If you travel by express bus, they depart five times per day from the Tucson Bus Terminal. It’s about a 5 hour trip and they show movies along the way. People of all walks of life travel by bus in Mexico, and this is a great way to get to know them. The cost is about $29 for a one-way ticket to Hermosillo. Carry your driver's license and a birth certificate or voter's registration card, or a passport (we understand a passport will soon be required) as identification. A photo ID is required in addition to birth certificate, etc. You fill out the tourist permit application on the bus, and they check your paperwork at the checkpoit at km 21. Hourly bus service to Kino (on the ‘Costa’) is available for about $5 US. It is necessary to change buses at Miguel Aleman (also called Calle Doce), which is about the mid-point of the trip.
If you drive, you’ll increase your understanding of the people, the landscape, the mystery that is Mexico. Many US people (including us) travel these roads on a regular basis without incident. It can still be adventuresome to drive into this country because some things are done differently here. The important thing is to relax and make the most of it.
Gasoline costs about the same as in the US, and is available in Magna (regular) and Premium. There is no middle grade available. Diesel is commonly available. Pemex stations these days (unlike days of yore) are clean and well-maintained, with very clean restrooms. Sometimes credit cards are accepted at Pemex stations, but usually they require cash.
Here's how the border crossing and paperwork process works:
(This is fairly long; you may want to read through it now so you’ll know what to expect, and then print out a copy to take with you.)
Go south from Tucson on I-19 to Nogales, AZ. It's a nice drive with few billboards and lots of natural landscaping. There are many scenic attractions (San Javier del Bac Mission, Tubac Presidio, Tumacacori Nat’l Hist. Park) along the way that you may want to visit if you have extra time. All the mileage markers on I-19 are in kilometers.
As you near the border there is a very large sign advising tourists that firearms and ammunition are prohibited in Mexico without special permits (the lack of easy availablity to firearms is one reason we feel safe living in Mexico). Then around kilometer (km) 4 or 5 north of Nogales you come around a large hill on the right, and there’s the Truck Bypass exit. It's the first Nogales exit and it's clearly marked, but it can come as a surprise since it's right around a bend behind a hill. It is the easiest way to enter, with the least traffic. Otherwise, continue onward to where the freeway ends in downtown Nogales and go through the old crossing.
On the Bypass exit ramp you'll come to a stop light at a major street. Turn right if you want to go straight to the border. There are franchise restaurants (the usual suspects) and a Holiday Inn Express at that exit. This is a good place to spend the night before crossing the border. We recommend crossing in the morning (at least by 10am) so you’re refreshed and have plenty of time to deal with paperwork. You’ll also have time to enjoy the drive and get to Hermosillo and/or Kino well before it gets dark. (More on driving after dark later.)
The road from the Truck Bypass exit to the border goes up a long hill and through a few other hills. If you need gas/diesel, there’s a large Shell station right at the border on the left just before you pass through the US side. There’s also a large Pemex station about 10 to 15 miles south, where you do your paperwork to enter the country. It’s on the left side of the road.
At the BORDER
Crossing the border is easy. Drive through the US side and you’ll pass a commercial checkpoint to your right. It’s for truckers bringing goods into the country. Don’t stop there. Follow the road up a hill to a large cut through the earth. You’ll look out over Nogales, Mexico on your left and see a large housing project on the side of a steep hill. There’s a major push toward home ownership these days. On your right, small nogal (native walnut) trees cover the hills in this area and southward for a ways. Our experience with nogal trees in southern New Mexico is that the nuts are tasty, but they’re like little rocks and require heavy equipment to break open. Still, the trees are very pretty.
There's a "Caseta de Cobros" (Toll Booth) on this road that costs around 35 pesos (about $3.30). If you don't have pesos yet, don't worry because you can pay in U.S. money, and they give a fair exchange rate at the Casetas. If you want pesos, there is a small branch bank at this Checkpoint, where truckers pay duty on their freight. If you can wait until Hermosillo, you can get pesos at the official rate at any ATM (usually up to 3,000 pesos per day) by using your credit card or check card. It’s a good idea to get pesos somewhere along the way as there are no ATMs in Kino, although many restaurants accept US funds (at a 10 to 1 exchange rate). Don’t forget your PIN – called a NIP (“neep”) down here.
Drive onward a few miles to the first Mexican checkpoint. This is not where you do your paperwork. They may ask you to stop so they can check your vehicle for anything illegal. Or they can just wave you through. They usually don't pay much attention to us – with our old van and grey hair we don't fit a 'gangsta profile.' If they stop you, it's usually not a big deal. They look a few things over and send you on your way. One of the things that might get them interested is a large number of CDs or videos. They took a close look at ours once – until they realized they were all classical or jazz, and not a hot resale commodity. Tip: At any checkpoint (US, Mexican, etc.) be relaxed and friendly and don’t offer too much; answer questions in a simple, direct way. Be pleasant and patient because you don’t have anything to hide. A little friendliness and respect goes a long way down here, and can save you a lot of grief. We’ve even worn down the hardest-eyed officials with persistent friendliness.
The “SOLO SONORA” CHECKPOINT
Keep driving south and the Nogales bypass road merges into Mexican highway 15. After about 11 kilometers you’ll come to the tourist check-in station called "Solo Sonora" or "Only Sonora." They make it easy for people who are just traveling in the state of Sonora (if you’re traveling deeper into Mexico there’s a little more paperwork involved – ask your local Mexican Consulate). The process is not difficult but may seem a bit confusing and intimidating the first time.
NOTE: Sonora is now a ‘Free Zone’ regarding vehicles only. This means you no longer need a temporary vehicle permit for traveling in Sonora only.
If you plan to travel deeper into Mexico, you’ll still need to get your car permit here as they are not set up to do that yet at the new checkpoint further south in Empalme.
If you’re traveling only in Sonora, you’ll need to get the following:
1) Your Tourist Permits
2) Mexican car insurance for the time you will be in Mexico.
Both of these things are required.
In the Solo Sonora area there is usually a very nice young person who speaks good English waiting to explain how to do everything so you don't waste time standing in the wrong line. They don’t expect a tip from you for this service, although you may wish to tip someone in the parking lot a dollar (or 10 pesos) to watch your car. There’s usually also someone who wants wash your windows for a dollar. Go ahead and give him a dollar; he needs it more than you do. In fact, you should keep a ready supply of dollar bills ($10 should be plenty), or ten-peso coins, available in the dashboard or console for tips along the way.
Here’s an overview of the Solo Sonora process:
1) Take your driver's license and birth certificate or voter's registration (they require two forms of identification – at least one picture ID) to the Tourist Permit office. There you will fill out the tourist permit. You don't have to pay anything at this time. You will pay later at a bank in Hermosillo. It only costs around $20.00. You will need to show that you have paid this when you LEAVE the country.
(Note: The Permit says if you’re staying less than 7 days, you don’t need to pay this fee.)
2) Next you will go to a little place that makes copies (it’s right there) and get copies of:
A) your tourist permit
B) your driver's license
C) your birth certificate or voter's registration
3) Buy your auto insurance. There is a place right next to the copy shop, and the people there have always been very nice and helpful. It has always cost around $150 for a month for our old van. You can buy it for just the number of days you will be in Mexico, but we would always tack on a few days just in case. It’s not much more to buy an entire year’s worth of insurance if you think you’ll be back soon.
4) Go to the south end to a long line of windows under a porch (don't fall off the steps; they're kind of tricky – like in most of Mexico). This is where you get your temporary vehicle permit. They’ll want the copies (and probably want to see the originals, to be sure the copies are legit). They’ll fill out a form and give you a sticker for your windshield. When you LEAVE the country, you will stop at a booth on the other side of the highway, and someone will come out to remove the sticker and process you out of Mexico. They’re usually very friendly because they want you to come back.
With that done, you’re ready to go south.
The ROAD to HERMOSILLO
SOME HELPFUL NOTES:
• There are speed bumps on roads and major highways in Mexico when passing through an "area de poblacion." These can be SERIOUS, axle-busting speed bumps, and the warning paint is sometimes worn off of them, so pay attention! They almost always warn you ahead of time. You’ll see a yellow sign with a line of black bumps and the word "TOPES," (pronounced “toe – pays”) and how many meters ahead. When you see one of those signs be ready to really slow down! Often there are people selling interesting items at the topes, or collecting for a school or the ‘Cruz Roja’ (Red Cross). We always donate ten pesos, because we may need their services some day!
• Speed limits are posted in kilometers, of course. To convert to miles, multiply by .62. Example: “VELOCIDAD MAXIMA 100 Kilómetros” means 62 mph; 90kph is about 55mph. (A simple method: divide km. by 5 and multiply by 3 to get miles. Example: 100 km/5 = 20 x 3 = 60 miles.) We honor the speed limits, even if the Mexicans don't. You might see police pulling people over for violations; it's just easier to avoid the hassle.
• A number of years ago, the State of Sonora instituted a program to help tourists whose cars break down along this highway. A couple of guys cruise this road, and the one to Kino, in green trucks – called the ‘Green Angels’ – loaded with car parts (fan belts, spark plugs, etc.) that are most likely to break. They do their best to get you going again for free, because a disgruntled gringo isn’t likely to drive down again soon and spend money to help the economy. The State of Sonora also put in a line of now-defunct solar call stations along the road about every 11 km, but now that everybody has cell phones (including many of the roadside vendors) it’s no longer needed and has fallen into disrepair.
The road south (Mexican highway 15) goes directly to Hermosillo. It’s a divided four lane toll road all the way that begins as a pleasant drive along a series of river valleys in the desert, through occasional stands of cottonwoods and past a couple of large greenhouse operations that probably produce some of your winter vegetables. The road winds on through Imuris. A narrow sinuous road leads eastward from here through the mountains toward the mining town of Cananea, famous for several important labor strikes, and onward to the border at Agua Prieta, if you’re ready for more adventure on your way home.
Further south, the road passes through a cactus ‘forest’ in a broad arc around the old town of Magdalena de Kino. The “huesos” (bones) of Father Kino lie here in a small pavilion in the central plaza – near one of several mission churches he built in the desert. You peer through plexiglass windows to see them. There’s a bust of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the assasinated leader, with quotes around the base. Stop and enjoy a delicious ‘raspado’ (an icy drink) at one of the restaurants around the plaza.
Not quite halfway between the border and Hermosillo, lies the town of Santa Ana. It's a good place to stop for a break and for something to eat or drink. At the big intersection, a road goes to the right across the valley and on to Mexicali. You’ll go left instead, and up the hill. At the top of the hill, on your right, is the Restaurant Elba, a nice place that caters to Mexican families and businesspeople, and to U.S. visitors. The food is good, inexpensive, and safe to eat. The waiters speak sufficient English, and the menu includes English translations. There is a special parking area with an attendant. We give him 10 pesos (or a US dollar) as we leave – a tip for watching the car, though it's not likely anything would happen to it in that lot. You can also get your car washed and your oil changed here while you eat. We have stayed at the recently-opened Elba Hotel and found it very clean, comfortable, and inexpensive (single: 370; double $45) with parking inside a well-lit and fenced area. It’s right there on the main highway near the restaurant.
In Mexico, sencillo (single) refers to the room having one bed. They have ample double beds, cable TV, and a small swimming pool (alberca) at the Elba. A sencillo costs 370 pesos (about $35) per night. A doble (two beds) is 420 pesos.
After you pass through Santa Ana, the next significant stop will be Hermosillo, and it’s about 90 miles away. There are only a few small towns and Pemex stations (with very clean restrooms) along the way. You’ll share this very straight portion of the road with large trucks, express buses, and cars, although traffic volume is generally moderate. As is common throughout Mexico, there are no shoulders along this road. Be careful, and don’t be afraid to slow down if things look tricky. Remember, a low-speed crash is easier on the body than a high-speed crash. This is a flat stretch of divided highway across the desert with little to break the monotony, except for an army checkpoint for drugs at the small town of Benjamin Hill (named for a Sonoran General in the 1910 Revolution).
As you travel south past small ranges of granitic mountains, you’ll see a large range of mountains to the east. That’s the Sierra Madre Occidental, the almost impenetrable mountains where Pancho Villa and his men hid out from the Federales. It separates Sonora from Chihuahua.
There are two Casetas de Cobros (Toll Booths) between Magdalena and Hermosillo. The toll at Magdalena is 17 pesos (~ $1.50). The toll road ends just a few miles before you get to Hermosillo and at the last Caseta the fare is 53 pesos (~$5). At the outskirts of Hermosillo, you’ll pass a road to the left that goes northeasterly toward the old state capital of Ures and back to the border via either the scenic Ruta Rio Sonora, or the Ruta Sierra Alta, but that’s an adventure for another day!
WELCOME to HERMOSILLO
As you enter the city, the highway becomes a wide tree-lined boulevard called BLVD. EUSEBIO KINO. After passing several miles of industrial areas, it goes straight through the Zona Hotelera (the Hotel Zone) and then makes a long arc to the left toward the center of town. There are Bancomer, Banamex, and Banco Santander branches where you can pay your tourist fee (during the week) or get some pesos at an ATM.
When BLVD. EUSEBIO KINO makes its major curve to the left (and changes names), move to the right-hand lane and watch for an overhead sign reading BAHIA DE KINO. You’ll turn right onto NAYARIT, the first street past the Carl’s Jr. (Yes, they’re even here in Hermosillo!). Take Nayarit straight (it ends after about a mile) and work your way into the middle lane before it comes together with BLVD. LUIS ENCINAS at an angle. Three lanes of traffic approach BLVD. LUIS ENCINAS, but only one lane goes onto ENCINAS (at least theoretically). The right lane turns right, and drivers in the middle lane are expected to merge with the left lane. Stay in the middle lane and just flow (like water) with the traffic. In Mexico, don't expect others to stop and let you in. It could happen, but it usually doesn't. Driving here is something of a competitive sport. If you yield, you lose macho points.
Once you're on BLVD. LUIS ENCINAS, keep driving straight west, even though the name of the street changes at the intersection with BLVD. SOLIDARIDAD (there are shopping centers on the left and right at this intersection, if you need to buy anything). Follow the signs toward the AEROPUERTO and then onward to BAHIA DE KINO. If you pass the airport you're on the right road!
The ROAD to BAHIA de KINO
It's best to leave Hermosillo no later than about 3:00 pm (4:00 pm in the summer) as the road travels due west; late in the afternoon the sun will be in your eyes just as you get to the worst and narrowest parts of the road. It will be very difficult to see people on the road then, the middle line is sometimes non-existent and there’s no white line along the edge for about the last 15 miles as you approach Kino (two common conditions in Mexico). When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to slow down and be sure you know where the edge of the road is, or even pull off someplace and wait till the sun goes below the horizon. Be careful and make sure your windshield is clean, inside and out. Having said all that, we have driven thousands of miles in many parts of Mexico and have never had an accident in all that time. We consider it a safe place to drive as long as we’re careful; but accidents do happen here.
If you’ll be driving late on the Kino road, you might choose to stay at one of the many decent hotels in Hermosillo and make a fresh start in the morning (good choices: the Hotel Bugambilia in the Zona Hotelera, and the Hotel San Angel near Blvd. Solidaridad). While you’re in Hermosillo, you can catch a lecture at the Universidad de Sonora (Unison), an opera at the Auditorio Cívico del Estado, or a winter league baseball game at the Estadio Hector Espino (near the Hotel San Angel). Radio Sonora (94.7 fm) is a very good station that carries everything from Bach to norteño music to thoughtful discussions regarding health and domestic issues (you do speak Spanish, right?), as are Unison (University of Sonora) stations at 107.5 FM and 850 AM. The signals carry about 20 miles north of Hermosillo, and most of the way to Kino. There are also translators at Santa Ana and other towns in the state.
The Kino road is straight across the desert flats, past a small volcanic mountain range, with just a few curves along the way. At times you’ll pass broad fields of vegetables, large vineyards, pecan orchards and, of course, orange groves. And there are a couple of Pedro Domecq brandy distilleries along the way. The road goes directly to Kino Bay, with side roads leading off to the north and south (including a back road to Guaymas at kilómetro 52). The road to Kino passes through only one other town – named Miguel Aleman, but often called Calle Doce – a dusty, hard-working desert town with trucks and colorful little shops on both sides of the main street, people walking across the road, kids walking to and from school in their uniforms and backpacks, cowboys, farmers – a real street scene. If you have time, take a short break and enjoy life in rural Mexico. There's an ATM in Miguel Aleman on your left at a Bancomer, after you pass the only stop light. It's your last chance for a good rate on pesos, as there's no bank or ATM in Kino.
The drive from Hermosillo to Kino takes about 1 1/2 hours. The most comfortable speed seems to be about 60 to 65 mph. The road has very wide shoulders -- almost enough to qualify as a four-lane highway – well past the town of Miguel Aleman. But at this time (January, 2006), there are still a few detours due to the ongoing road work, and the last 25 km, (about 15 miles) remain narrow and poorly marked. Drivers are generally courteous, but watch for people on foot or on bicycles on their way home from work, and don't be in a hurry.
When you get to Bahia de Kino, there is one stop sign in Kino Viejo (the old fishing village). After the stop sign, continue onward past the little town (it’s mostly on your left). Soon, the road curves to the right up a small hill, once a large old sand dune. At the top of the hill you’ll see Kino Nuevo stretched out along a beautiful 7-mile beach with Isla Tiburon appearing like a large mountain range in the distance. The view from the top of the hill is spectacular. Continue down this main street along the beach and enjoy the sights.
MILEAGE FROM the STOP SIGN in KINO VIEJO:
• At 1 mile you’ll pass La Playa RV Hotel on the left and La Posada Hotel on the right.
• At 2 miles you’ll see a bunch of palapas (thatched shade shelters) along the beach and La Palapa restaurant and La Cobacha restaurant, all on the left. If it’s a weekend, there will usually be lots of peopleand vendors at this spot. Drive slowly and watch for kids.
• At 2.6 miles you will see Tienda ‘Super Juliana’ on the right.
• At 3.4 miles the Tacos Bar will be on the right and Posada Santa Gemma on the left.
• At 4.1 miles is El Pargo Rojo restaurant -- painted bright red, with a tall sign and a big Tecate "T" on the top.
• From there it is just a short hop to our house at 4.5 miles on the left, just past the Punta Chueca road. There’s a stone address marker (2645) on the wall by the garage. Step in through our large double gate and pull the bell rope to your right.
• If you go past us, you’ll see the Super Bahia Kino grocery store at 4.7 miles on the right, and you’ll know you’ve gone too far!
WELCOME to BAHIA de KINO!