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Home -> Rocky Point Cellphones, Puerto Penasco Cellphones

Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco): Cellphones

Cell phones facts when entering Penasco (Rocky Point)

Rocky Point Mexico 

A lot of people want to know if their American cellphones will work in Penasco, and/or in the surrounding areas on the way down and back up into the US.

I'll let you in on a (not so) huge secret - I'm a huge tech and gadget dork, so I've researched this question into a level of detail that would probably scare you. So I'll do the best to sum it up in non-tech speak.

Save yourself some time and money and just rent a cell phone online. If you want to fill out a request, we will contact you with your options. Click here to fill out a request to rent a cell phone.

The big 3 questions
Q: I already have a cellphone - will it work in Penasco/Sonora?
Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?
Q: Do you have coverage maps?

Will my cell phone work in Sonora?

Yes and no - it depends on a few factors:

Your phone may not work at all
Several major providers - Qwest Wireless, Alltel, Nextel's non-GSM models, to name a few - simply don't work across the border in Sonora. They use different technologies and frequencies, and/or they may require activation to work on the Mexican cellular network. Many older (non-triband) phones simply won't work, period.

Rules of thumb:

Cingular, T-Mobile, - yes, they can work in Penasco - but you have to call your provider and activate international service ahead of time (1 week ahead is a good idea). Verizon does not work in Penasco most of the time. Verizon's roaming partner switched technologies in Summer of 2007, and I don't believe any Verizon phones work at all in Puerto Penasco now.

With Cingular, if you are in Penasco and want to reach a US number, dial 001 + (areacode) + (number). When you're in Penasco and calling a Penasco number, you just dial 638 + number.

If you're calling 1-800 numbers in the United States from Mexico, there's something funky about that too - you must dial "001-880" and the 7-digit number you want to reach (the last 7 digits of the 1-800 number).

Call your cellphone provider and ask about SIM cards - some readers have emailed to tell me that certain providers and phones will take new SIM's that let you use your phone in Mexico. I'm trying to compile some info on exactly which models and providers have this capability.

With all other cellular phones ...

Your phone may 'roam'
... but not recieve incoming calls or text messages. This phone is essentially useless if someone has to get in touch with you in an emergency, since it becomes an 'outgoing only' phone.

Your phone may 'roam'
... but your cellular plan may hit you with excessive roaming charges. We've seen Mexican/International roam rates as high as $3/min (US). And again, depending on your provider, text messaging and data services may not function.

Your phone may 'roam' in analog mode
... but this is an amazingly bad thing to do. It is both expensive, eats up your battery, and isn't a 'secure' method of communicating.

There is good news! If you have a GSM phone - or one of the newer quad-band PDA's like a blackberry - it will probably work just fine! (See below, under 'cell technologies.') Depending on your GSM provider, you may have to activate your phone for out-of-country roaming, and there may be some fees associated with that activation. Again, it depends on your carrier. Refer to our compatability matrix, below.


Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?

Here is a compatability matrix we have assembled:

Provider Technology Works in Sonora? Rate(s) Notes
Alltel CDMA No    
Cingular (&AT&T) TDMA/GSM Yes, w/ activation 49 ¢/min, 20 ¢/txt Int'l activation fees vary. 72 hour activation process.
Cricket CDMA No    
Nextel iDEN No   Unconfirmed reports of GSM offerings from Nextel
Qwest Wireless CDMA No    
Sprint CDMA (Some GSM/GPRS models) Only if phone is triband/GSM capable: i.e. a Treo   VERY phone specific - Int'l activation required, $4/mo
T-Mobile (& VoiceStream) GSM Yes, w/ activation $1.49/min Int'l activation free, high rates
Verizon CDMA - triband(?) Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco
Virgin Mobile CDMA No    


This compatability is constantly changing. Please email us if you have new compatability info you would like to see included here.


Q: Do you have cellular coverage maps of Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and Sonora in general?

Yes, we do. These maps are not perfect, but have been compiled using data from providers and personal trial and error. We try to keep them as accurate as possible!

Puerto Penasco

Northern Sonora / Puerto Penasco detail

This map is provided courtesy our Telcel. Coverage centers around highways and major cities, with a certain amount of nautical coverage around major ports. On this map, for example, you can see coverage extending into the Sea of Cortez south of Puerto Penasco. Anecdotal reports put this coverage at about a mile out to sea.
Rocky Point

Sonora general coverage

If you are interested in San Carlos, or perhaps Hermosillo or Culiacan, or other parts of Sonora, this map shows very general GSM coverage areas. (We are currently awaiting finer-grained maps for San Carlos, Culiacan and Guaymas)
Rocky Point Mexico

US Network coverage

This is a general GSM coverage map provided by Cingular.

Non-scientific personal report(s)

On my last trip, I had coverage from Tucson to Kitt Peak with my Alltel service. After Kitt peak, it hit spotty Analog Roam mode until we were in Sonoyta, then on into Penasco, and then stayed on Analog Roam.

My companion's T-mobile serice, however, was kaput after Kitt Peak, and that was it.

Many people have their phones set 'not to roam' in non-digital areas, and sometimes just un-setting this mode is the trick to getting service. You will, however, pay dearly for it, as Analog Roaming in a foreign country is not cheap, no matter what plan or service you have.

06/01/2007 - Alltel used to have some coverage in Nogales/Sonoyta, but as of 06/01/2007 they sent their customers a notice that they were killing their coverage in these areas. Gee, thanks Alltel.

John Fleming's excellent penasco.com has a writeup re: Using a cell phone in Penasco that mentions how to get your phone 'flipped' to a Mexican number with a number of set prepaid minutes, and indeed there are many TelCel ( Juarez Blvd./383-3300 ) and Movitel ( 29 Juarez Blvd./383-5058 ) offices in Penasco and Sonoyta, but I personally have not tried this with any of my own phones.


[a motorola FRS radio] If you're just looking for a way to stay in touch with one another in and around Penasco, we've had good luck with FRS radios - those little walkie-talkie style handheld radios. They're a total lifesaver for car-to-car communications on the way there, for example, and if you've got groups of people wandering around town or the beach. These radios have become really, really popular among RV'ers and vacationers all over because they are relatively cheap, easy to use, and very handy to have lying around.

CAVEAT! GET THE 7-8 MILE VERSIONS! Remember, you get what you pay for! I've used about 4 or 5 different models of FRS radios so far, and I'm a big fan of Motorola's units. The Uniden GMR325's we picked up for $20, for example, were total crap. They are billed as 3 mile radios, but they have low battery life, low range, bad audio quality, and their signals wouldn't even penetrate the cars we were riding in, which effectively killed our ability to talk to one another.

I prefer something a little more robust, like the 2 watt, 7-mile Motorola T7400AA or the T7400R, which is just the NiCad rechargeable version. These things are the way to go if you just want a cheap, portable way to keep in touch with people in your group while you're on vacation.

If you have different information re: cellphones in Penasco, please email me, as I admit this is one area I am weak in ...