By Keith Rosenblum
Forget stereotypes about Mexico as home to the downtrodden; there are Hermosillo neighborhoods that make Paradise Valley look ordinary.
Tote those kids along, for there is more to do with children (and in friendlier environs) than in many American cities.
At one time, Hermosillo was the brunt of jokes. Its inhabitants were yokels: farmers, ranchers or miners eking out a living in an inhospitable climate amongst hostile (Yaqui, Seri) tribes. Southern Mexicans, alluding to the dish for which Sonora is famous, use to say that la cultura termina donde la carne asada empieza (“culture ends where grilled steak begins”).
How growth and a generation or two can change a society.
An hour’s flight from Phoenix or Tucson, Hermosillo is a diverse, cosmopolitan, industrial and commercial hub of northwestern Mexico whose population will soon touch the million mark.
That means first-time visitors will have to make the most of their time.
The first step for any newcomer is driving or climbing Cerro de la Campana (Hill of the Bell), the defining landmark mountain at the city’s center. The winding road permits the visitor a 360-degree city view and a remarkable desert landscape. Old Hermosillo (once known as Pitic) with its narrow, cobblestone streets, contiguous adobe homes and courtyards is immediately below. To the west is Plaza Zaragoza, around which a state government palace, the Catholic Archdiocese of Hermosillo, and City Hall cluster.
Throughout the city are century-old churches, homes and businesses. In each direction are neighborhoods of old money and the nouveau riche. These homes speak to the wealth of Mexico. Many homes in the Centenario, Pitic, La Jolla and Los Lagos colonias (neighborhoods) could be featured in Architectural Digest. At the same time, one can see small, government-backed homes; these are owned by families who annually earn $10,000 or less.
Lodging in Hermosillo is not a challenge unless you visit the city during a festival. Hotel Kino, a refurbished, century-old (low-ceilinged rooms) multi-story building is centrally located. Prices start around $40.
Many of the city’s largest hotels are located along Boulevard Kino on the northeast side: Hotel Arraiza, Hotel Gandara, Holiday Inn, Bugambilia, Fiesta Inn and Fiesta Americana are found there. Most offer rates and packages about $70 per night.
For lodging on the west side (near the airport), try the Hotel San Angel (about $55 a night); it offers an airport shuttle and a fine 24-hour buffet. All hotels have pools; most have gym facilities.
To see the premium that Mexico places on education, take a stroll through the Universidad de Sonora, whose private institutions include Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Supriores de Monterrey; Universidad del Noroeste; and Universidad Kino.
Kids will have good times at two public facilities: Centro Ecológico de Sonora, a combo zoo and reserve located on Highway 15 (Carretera 15) at Kilometer Post 2.5, Tues.-Sun 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (250-9084, 250-1215) (www.centroecologico.gob.mx); and a children’s museum, La Burbuja, Museo del Niño, which offers lessons in geography, geology, astronomy. Burbuja is located inside Parque La Sauceda (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 – 6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat. and Sun. (212-0581 and 212-0843.) (www.laburbuja.org.mx)
No trip to Hermosillo is complete without eating coyota, a flaky regional pastry. Try one at a bakery such as Coyotas Malú, Avenida Revolución 21-C, between Peralta and Hidalgo Streets (telephone 250-83-77); or Coyotas Doña María, Sufragio Efectivo 37 (telephone 250-58-83), all in the Villa de Seris neighborhood.
Use a credit card wherever possible. Most merchants in Sonora will take American and Canadian currency, but they do so at less-than-fair exchange rates. Credit cards are billed at the day’s official exchange rates.
Use Hermosillo as a springboard to see other places. The Sea of Cortes at Bahia de Kino (Kino Bay) is a mere 45-minute trip to the west. Guaymas, a port, and its beach-sister, San Carlos, are 90 minutes to the South. La Pintada, a petroglyph site, is an hour to the east.