Just six hours south of Tucson, this Mexican beach town is exotic and serene



San Carlos is an Ernest Hemingway kind of town. Brawny andbeautiful, the Mexican village stretches along a sun-drenchedribbon of land between the mountains and the eastern shore of theGulf of California. Fringed with fishing boats and seasiderestaurants, with marine life teeming offshore, it's a setting thatcould inspire Papa to raise his pen―or a toast―to thischarmed convergence of land and sea.

On this balmy day, the Marina San Carlos is the place to be.Anglers bristling with fishing rods parade to their boats,preparing to hook their mythic marlins.

This is, after all, an incredible place to fish. According toRick Brusca, director of research at the Arizona-Sonora DesertMuseum, cold upwellings of nutrient- and oxygen-rich waters supportan abundant and diverse fishery―Mexico's most productive.Many boats from San Carlos make a beeline to the rugged upthrust ofSan Pedro Nolasco Island, where the phenomenon brings sierra,dorado, and snapper to the surface.

Behind the marina, tawny Tetakawi Mountain sweeps down into bluewater and overlooks laid-back San Carlos. About six hours south ofTucson, the community of 6,000 offers a string of qualityboutiques, resort hotels, and restaurants that make a tripworthwhile.

Friendly waitresses dish up enchiladas and chicken tortas(sandwiches) at Restaurante Rosa's Cantina. Couples enjoy spinylobster and tropical decor at San Carlos Grill, while entirefamilies leave the morning surf for swordfish and snapper lunchesat the San Carlos Plaza Hotel.

Look beyond such gustatory delights, and you'll find there'salso plenty of history here. Although San Carlos is about 7 milesnorth of the port of Guaymas, the two towns are intimately linkedby the past. This saga spans centuries and includes Guaymenas andYaqui Indians, a mission founded in 1701 by the legendary JesuitEusebio Kino, and pirates who attacked San Carlos in 1854.

Two centuries later, San Carlos Bay was drawing sportsmen andAmerican expatriates. Realizing the tourist potential, Mexicanofficials vigorously began promoting the area in the 1970s.

Apparently, their efforts paid off. "I escaped to this spot 25years ago," says Theresa Gonzalez, owner of the intriguing folk-artshop Sagitario. "It's a lovely town, and now I can't imagine livinganywhere else."

Lovely―and real. Though catering to visitors, San Carloshas not been overtaken by gringo kitsch. Mexican culture iseverywhere, from humble roadside fish-taco stands to the popularVirgen de Guadalupe painted on a mountainside, her feet warmed byglowing devotional candles. The pace is also authentic: Amañana ambience meanders into your consciousness like thelackadaisical traffic cruising through town on BoulevardEscénico Manlio Fabio Beltrones.

In turn, the road weaves past open-air restaurants like Charly'sRock, where couples sip beers on a balcony above the bay. The roadwanders around a rainbow of sailboats in the marina and out towardhotels along Playa los Algodones, or "Cotton Beach." Named forwhite sand and billowing dunes―and used as a setting for themovie Catch-22―the beach is now dotted with lawn chairs andthatched palapas. Parents lounge in the shade, while their kidsrace into the surf.

You can almost see Papa Hemingway gazing contentedly upon thisidyllic setting, his cap pulled low, his thoughts languid. "Yes,"he might say, "the sand is smooth, the water is deep, and the skyis very clear and very blue. Life is good."

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