Two thousand miles of border separates Mexico and the United States. The base of operations for ISL Baja Mexico is located in Puerto Peñasco. This desert coastal paradise, like much of Mexico, has a health care system that is overwhelmed and desperately in need. At ISL, we don’t believe that borders should keep us from helping those in need any more than fences should keep us from being good neighbors, and with so many people in need around the world, we sometimes forget about those who are right next door.
A Brief Overview of Baja Mexico
The Baja region of Mexico is the geographic area that borders the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. Our ISL Baja program is located on the northeastern coast of the Sea of Cortez in the small city of Puerto Peñasco, also known as “Rocky Point” because of the prominent geographical feature at the entrance to the natural harbor. Puerto Peñasco is approximately 50 miles directly south of the Arizona border crossing of Sonoyta.
Border towns face many sociological challenges: more population than the local infrastructure can support, an ever-changing population as people move through, high unemployment, and healthcare challenges and diseases that are unintentionally brought into the city. Although Mexico has a socialized health care system, it can be very challenging to work with, as it is divided among four areas of separate governance and control and does not provide adequate coverage for the population.
Where We Serve in Baja Mexico
Puerto Peñasco is the only population center within 55 miles in the Northern Desert of Mexico. ISL service learning volunteers serve an urban population of over 50,000 people, focusing on specific areas to which we can return for sustainable service.
The Need in Baja Mexico
In urban areas we work very closely with the Ministry of Health to conduct house-to-house surveys, screenings, and clinic days throughout the city of Puerto Peñasco. We also provide service and support to local agencies, both private and governmental, which serve the poor, the orphaned, the developmentally challenged and the abused.
As with any great work, it takes great relationships to get the job done well. That’s why ISL Baja Mexico is excited to partner with nonprofits, NGOs, and governmental and religious institutions to better serve the underserved in Mexico. ISL Baja works with all levels of governmental health care in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico: city, state, federal, and low-income healthcare, which is comparable to Medicaid in the United States.
General Hospital: a Phase 2 facility.
Centro de Salud
Health Department: a Phase 1 facility.
Basic Rehabilitation and Family Development Unit
Cereso Puerto Peñasco
Puerto Peñasco Prison
Centro de Rehabilitación Nueva Esperanza
Men’s and Women’s Rehabilitation Centers
Centro Comunitario Piedras Vivas
Living Stones Community Center
Centro Comunitario Palabras de Esperanza
Words of Hope Community Center
Secundaria Profesor Gilberto Pacheco Castillo #27
Jr. High School
Primaria Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta
What to Expect as a Volunteer
You’ll arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, where you’ll meet an ISL driver and cross the border at the town of Sonoyta. After a four-hour drive, which includes a brief stop at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a few other small breaks along the way, you’ll arrive in Puerto Peñasco. With a full Mexican dinner awaiting you, you’ll get to know the ISL Baja Mexico staff and receive an orientation to the work you’ll be doing in Puerto Peñasco. The next day will be spent in training seminars and touring the city.
Health programs spend the majority of the days to come on various aspects of ISL’s community health service work mixed with seminars on border health issues, medical/dental Spanish, community health surveys, and a Medicinal Plants of the Desert seminar.
Health clinics are conducted with a variety of medical professionals and a full pharmacy. Because of our active partnership with the Ministry of Health, we are also often invited to join their staff in providing immunizations. ISL Baja Mexico received an award in 2015 from the Ministry of Health for our work in this area, as we enabled the underserved communities we work in to double their immunization rates.
With ISL Baja Mexico, you’ll get many opportunities to experience the culture of those you serve as volunteers. Here are some of the many possibilities:
Get an up-close view of Puerto Peñasco, a city that started out as a small fishing village and turned into a Mexican boom town during the American Prohibition Era in the early 1900s.
Learn how to make the signature-style pottery of northern Mexico, instructed by local artisans.
An Evening on the Malecon
A popular gathering place by the ocean, there is always something happening here, including concerts, festivals and community events, as well as restaurants and shopping.
Presentations at CEDO
CEDO, a center for the study of deserts and oceans, studies climate and the impact humans have on the fragile ecosystems and wildlife surrounding the Sea of Cortez. Take advantage of seeing CEDO up close and touring its only facility in the world.
Pinacate Biosphere Reserve
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, also known as “El Pinacate”, is one of the most important landmarks in northern Mexico. Its unique desert landscape includes moon-like craters over a mile wide, lava tubes, black pumice soil, cinder cones and sleeping volcanoes. ($5 entrance fee)
Horseback riding on the beach
Because of its location on the Sea of Cortez, Puerto Peñasco has one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. What better way to experience it than riding horseback through the ocean surf? – $25/hour
Beach time and shell hunting
For those on a budget, you can spend all day relaxing on the beach while hunting for shells, swimming in the breaking waves and soaking up the sun. The best thing is that it’s a free, authentic Baja experience.
If sitting on the beach isn’t quite your thing, venture out into the Sea of Cortez on an ocean kayak. – $10/hour
Want to see more than just sand? Rent a bike and pedal up and down the beaches of Rocky Point. – $10/hour
ATVs on beach and dunes
For those feeling more adventurous, you can rent an ATV and let loose on the beach or one of the many sand dunes. – $40/hour
Ultralight flights over the ocean and beach
Get a bird’s eye view of Rocky Point from an ultralight plane! – $45 for 20 minutes
Shopping for local crafts is a great way to experience the culture of Puerto Peñasco and to bring back gifts for friends and family. – Free to look!
Tequila factory presentation
For those interested in one of Mexico’s most famous drinks, you can see how tequila is made up close. – Free
Sunset dinner cruises
Experience the Sea of Cortez at sunset – a fantastic way to end the day. – $25-40 (public boat $25; private charters $30-40).
An estuary is a partially enclosed bay where freshwater flows into the ocean. If you feel like swimming but don’t want to brave the crowded beachfront, swimming in the estuary might be your idea of a perfect, laid-back day. Free
Puerto Peñasco began as a fishing village many years ago and is still famous for its world-class fishing. Take a guided ocean trip in search of the perfect catch and come back with a few fish stories to share. – $30/half day
Whether you lodge in a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, Mexico; a walled convent in the heart of Alajuela, Costa Rica; or an apartment situated above the bustling metropolis of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ISL’s volunteer lodgings are unique and carefully chosen based on very important criteria.
Accommodations are safe, clean and within a reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreation opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers and meeting spaces for training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include retreat houses, guest houses or home stays–all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL Country Coordinators will provide a description of your specific lodging in the Final Trip Document posted to your My ISL Portal prior to your departure.
ISL’s primary lodging in Mexico, Villa Granada, is not open to the general public–only to organizations serving the community. Villa Granada has a 24hr. surveillance security system. It is located in downtown Puerto Peñasco, 5-minutes from the Malecon (Water Front). An ISL staff person stays onsite with volunteers 24/7.
We love our staff and we are positive that you will too! Each staff member is professional, courteous, and has the same passion as you do: to serve others.