Cool waves gently slapped against our backs as we moved out further from the white sandy beach. All around us hungry pelicans dive-bombed headfirst into the sea – hoping to grasp an errant fish for lunch.
“If this isn’t heaven, it’s darned close,” I sigh as I sink to my shoulders in the cool green seawaters. In the heat of the summer with temperatures hovering in the 100’s, there is no better place to be than bobbing gently in the Sea of Cortez. With a cold Corona beer in one hand.
San Felipe. A fishing village perched on the edge of history, time, and change.
If the Mexican Baja Peninsula is a study in contrasts, then San Felipe is certainly a prime example of just that.
Desert dunes, sandy swirls of nothing, and craggy desert mountains seem to follow you right to the edge of this little fishing village of 20,000 souls. After several hours (2¼ to be exact) of driving south through the arid desert from the border town of Mexicali, the bumpy road dumps you smack-dab onto San Felipe’s white sandy beaches. And, those green colored waves just beg you to enter and enjoy.
About The Village
Hey, they just got electricity in 1964. So, please don’t expect Four Seasons.
San Felipe is a few steps up from most fishing villages, but is still the destination of choice by those who don’t want or need much. …other than warm seas, great fishing, sandy beaches, lots of cold Mexican beer and scrumptious seafood.
“Downtown” butts right up on the seashore. About six blocks of sidewalk along the little sea wall and sand are crammed with terrific seafood vendors and shopkeepers selling water toys and t-shirts. Oh yes, there’s also a good sized cigar shop tucked in there between the raucous Rockadille bar and Rice & Beans Restaurant.
Where to Stay
Take your pick. Do you require A/C and indoor plumbing? Or, is camping near or on the beach more to your liking? San Felipe offers both. Decide if you’re a happy camper or must have comfort and convenience. Then, go for it!
Here are our picks:
Motel El Cortez
Clean, A/C, and on the beach a little south of the Malecon and downtown. Prices range from $60 to $100. depending on the season and holiday schedule. Want a little suite – ask for 135 (or is it 134? We were drinking a little so have some memory problems here…) Anyway, it’s ground floor, on the beach with an outside patio.
Don’t bother asking for their web special; they’ll never respond as you repeat over and over again that you’re supposed to get a discount because you found their site on the web. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone from the U.S. 1-888-313-7409.
Costa Azul Motel/Hotel
You can’t miss this big blue and white motel/hotel structure right on the beach as you get to town. Moderate to deluxe accommodations. Great location – we’re trying them out next time! Mexico telephone number is 657.71548.
Great camping is right on the edge of the beach. Plan now on not showering and just pigging out for a weekend at Ruben’s R.V. Trailer Camp “De Kiki.” Owner Alvaro Diaz tells us that if you arrive on a Friday morning, you have a good chance of getting a beachfront campsite for the weekend. Cost is $15 a night in the summer and $12 a night in the winter. RV hookups are available at no extra cost.
The De Kiki is a quick walk from town via the beach and offers showers/toilets for the guests. Call Senor Diaz at 011-52 (657) 7-20-21 for more information.
Whatever you do, eat downtown on the Malecon. Fish tacos are the specialty. You can have shark, turtle soup, octopus; if it’s from the ocean, they got it!
If you must – cheeseburgers and American fare are on the menu at many San Felipe restaurants.
Try the Playa Del Sol Restaurant or the Red Lobster Inn (no relation to the US ones).
On the Malecon we enjoyed the sea view and people-gazing at Rice & Beans, but the food lacked spice and love. Have a beer there, but skip the grub.
Fish with the guys – you can pick up a fishing guide along the Malecon in the morning.
Sports betting at the Calienti between downtown and Motel El Cortez.
Relax. Watch the extreme tides of the Sea of Cortez. Watch the silly pelicans dive for fish.
Off-road ATV – you can rent 4-wheelers for about $20 an hour (probably for a lot less if you chat with the rental guys for a little before you strike a deal).
Be a water-baby. Swim, float and take rides with the guys towing plastic floaters back and forth on the beach.
Rent a horse and ride the beach.
Rockodille – this is THE place for nightlife in San Felipe.
When to Go
Year round – whenever you crave a cold Corona, the sea, fishing or relaxing.
Summer weekdays and weekends (not holiday times!).
Holidays, spring and winter college breaks.
Late spring and early fall.
How to Get There
From Mexicali/El Centro (California border), take Highway 5 straight south about 133 miles. No turns, no surprises, no problemo.
Road is excellent by Mexican standards and good by American standards. Keep your eyes open for a few potholes, but there are no major problems.
From Ensenada, Baja, take Highway 3 over the mountains to Mexico Highway 5. Follow it right into San Felipe.
Don’t speed! Believe it or not, the police use radar – when a speed limit sign says “80,” it’s 80 kilometers per hour – NOT 80 miles per hour!
Expect two Federale checkpoints on Highway 5 south from Mexicali. The military fellows are very polite and nice – don’t be scared just because they’re packing guns. That’s their job.
When they ask to look through your junk in the car, do it with a smile. They’re looking for guns, drugs and weirdoes. Since you don’t have guns or drugs and you’re not a weirdo, you have nothing to worry about.
By the way, just like at an airport, checkpoints are NOT the place to wisecrack about guns or drugs. Keep a smile on your face and don’t be a smart ass (We give the fellows our left-over beer on the way back north – that really brings out the smiles).
What to Wear
Old t-shirts, cutoff shorts, sandals and sunscreen. Anything more and its total overkill.
What to Take
Camera & film
Ez-Up or beach umbrella
ID for getting back to the USA