San Carlos, Sonora
by Dorothy and Bill Bell
San Carlos or Nuevo Guaymas is a seaside haven with a population about 3,000 swelling to 7,000 residents in high season. 70% are American and Canadian. This graceful resort and residential area is known for its beautiful beaches and vistas of the San Carlos Bay.
It has a decidedly American influence and differs sharply from its twin city of Guaymas only a 10 minute drive south down the highway. San Carlos is only a four hour – 250 mile drive from the border towns on Highway 15- a four lane divided highway. There are four toll stations along the way. You will immediately notice Tetakawi hill with its brilliant gold color – the informal symbol of the city.
While considered a new settlement by many, a two thousand year history shows otherwise. The history of San Carlos is of course tied to Guaymas and the other towns in the area. The area was fist inhabited by the Guaymenas tribe who lived in the area for a thousand years. There were many small settlements with well over 200 lived in the area. The Tetakawi hill was considered a magical source of power of the spirits of valiant warriors who defended these shores from the enemy. Rumors exist of contact with Chinese who had visited the Sea of Cortez.
A Jesuit priest in 1617 recorded contact with these people while he was traveling with a military detachment. The mountain was now called ‘Tetas de Cabra’, or ‘tits of a goat’, due to its golden hue and distinctive shape.
In 1769, Captain Antonio Soto and a military garrison of 85 with was dispatched from Mexico City with orders to secure the harbors and establish a settlement. After substantial growth, the town established itself as a major supply center and opened up in the early 1800’s as a duty free port.
During the 1847 war with the United States, the area was captured and held by the US navy Eagle and Reliant for two years. These were uneasy times. Pirates, including French Captain Rousset and his band of over 400 men secretly anchored and then attacked the harbor. The ensuring battle took over 4 days. Roussett was hung, shot and beheaded in the town square. The surviving pirates immediately fled to the seas.
San Carlos was an important port for supply vessels in the American Civil War. In 1863 ships from San Francisco unloaded supplies and reloaded on horse drawn wagons for select military destinations North of the border; New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada. During the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900’s, Poncho Villas Army used San Carlos Port as a supply center.
San Carlos began to thrive and slowly grow as a fishing village. In 1960 the Movie “Catch 22” was filmed in the tiny village. This notoriety and interest spawned the first resort in the area – Club med and hotels and tourist facilities began to grow.
Today San Carlos survives primarily as a small resort community and tourist destination. It is known for great fishing, large marinas, and scuba diving in the clear blue and green waters. The waters are perfect for spectacular diving and snorkeling and kayaking. Two world class marinas with paved launch ramps, dry storage facilities, and complete marine repairs make this a must stop location for boaters. It is considered one of the finest sailing venues in the Sea of Cortez with secluded coves and bays. Offshore fishing is particularly good in the abundant sea of Cortez with big game fish including sailfish, marlin, dorado, tuna in abundance.
San Carlos also offers an 18 hole championship golf course and tennis courts. Restaurants catering to tourists and the primarily English speaking residents are abundant and feature seafood and Sonoran Beef.
The weather is excellent, it is an arid climate with no rainy season and little humidity. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums are generally south.
Accommodations suit a variety of tastes and budgets. San Carlos offers modest motel and hotel room to five star resorts. RV Parks are in a goodly supply too. El Mirador and Playa de Cortez are both first class places to park; and the Tonaka and Hacienda de Tetakawi are clean and decent places to stay.