Day trip: El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve

cactus

One of the largest and most pristine nature preserves in the upper portion of Mexico, the El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is not to be missed if you are anywhere close to Puerto Peñasco. It is a fantastic way to spend a day outdoors, or an overnight if you like to camp!

Entrance sign

The preserve is located about 44km/27mi northeast of Puerto Peñasco on Highway 8. There is clear signage on the highway near the turnoff; you won’t miss it if you are looking. There are a few things that you’ll want to remember for this trip before you head out:

1. Make sure you fill your fuel tank before you go, as the total amount of dirt road that you’ll drive one you enter the park is about 77km/48mi. The closest gas station is right outside of Puerto Peñasco. If you try to go with a 1/4 tank of gas, you’ll be in trouble.

2. The park info states that you do not require a truck, but the roads are dirt and/or sand, uneven and have high centers in spots. I took my truck, and I believe that without my four wheel drive, I would have gotten stuck in two different spots (both uphill with lots of loose sand). My advice: take a truck or an SUV with four wheel drive or all wheel drive. If you try to drive this park in a Camry, you might be in trouble.

3. There are no services in the park or stores near the park. Take lots of water and a supply of food. There was intermittent cell service in the park, but not at all times. When I had signal, it was mostly weak. Don’t plan to depend on your cell phone once you’re a ways into the park.

4. Total time needed to navigate the park: 3-4 hours minimum, more if you take a lot if time to sightsee and stop for all the sights. The park closes at 5:00 pm. I recommend you start early. The parks opens at 9:00 am, seven days a week.


At the entrance of the park, there is a ‘ranger’ station , where an official will take down your name, address, and vehicle information. The man we talked with was extremely friendly, and spoke some English as well as Spanish. You should get a small booklet that gives some information about the vehicle route and the points of interest. These were available in both Spanish and English. There was no fee to enter the park, which was a pleasant surprise. If you want to, you are able to leave a donation.

Once on the road into the park, the drive was amazing, although rough in spots. There is amazing diversity in the plants, with cactus and trees everywhere. The area is very flat, with lots of sky and mountains in the distance, in almost every direction you look.

You are free to stop your vehicle and walk off the roads to sightsee and take pictures, but do NOT drive your vehicle off the road.

We also saw some wildlife in the park. At one point, we saw two antelope running near the road. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photo. We DID get a photo of this guy:

The highlight of the trip was the stop at ‘El Elegante’, a volcanic meteor on the west end of the park. After almost getting lost a few times due to unidentified forks in the road, we finally found this path:

You can drive up to this path to a parking area, but I just parked below and walked.

After climbing to the top, this is what we found:

panorama view

Here are more photos, but they do not do the attraction justice.

  • El Elegante crater

The return trip:

Overall, an amazing day.

More info at the official park website: http://elpinacate.conanp.gob.mx/

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Pinacate_y_Gran_Desierto_de_Altar_Biosphere_Reserve

UNESCO: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1410/

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