San Felipe (pop. 25,000) is a small coastal town on the Sea of Cortez, about two hours’ drive south of the U.S.-Mexico border. California and Arizona residents flock here for weekend RV and fishing trips. Punta San Felipe protects the bay from north winds.
To get oriented, begin your trip by climbing the stairs to the top of the 240-meter Cerro El Machorro located on the point. You’ll see a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe and panoramic views of the bay.
In the 1940s and ’50s, American fishermen came down to catch the abundant totuava, a sporting croaker that could reach up to 115 kilograms. The tasty fish proved to be too popular and it’s now on the endangered species list and off limits for any fishing.
San Felipe faces a similar clash of supply and demand today. Recent fishing and shrimping practices have endangered a rare breed of small porpoise called the vaquita. The Zoological Society of London has designated it as one of the 100 EDGE species (Evolutionarily Distinct, Globally Endangered), which makes it a top priority for conservationists. There is a monument to the vaquita at the center of the malecón in San Felipe.
The populated area around San Felipe stretches for quite a few kilometers of coastline to the north and south. Besides fishing, there are sand dunes for ATVs and dune buggies, which are a common site around town.
Until recently, the town has a splash of nightlife along the malecón with several clubs, bars, and the periodic S.W.A.T invasion. S.W.A.T is a tour company that brings in busloads of college students during spring break and throughout the year for all-inclusive party weekends.
The partying has pretty much come to a halt as of 2011 with the decline in tourism overall. The city has repainted the parking lines along the malecón, perhaps in anticipation of more visitors.
Most visitors choose the months of November–April to visit the area. The temperatures are generally milder than Mexicali in the summer months, but they can still often break 38°C.
Getting to San Felipe
By Air: San Felipe has an international airport (SFE, Mar Caribe Sur/Airport Road, tel. 686/577-1368 or -1568, danielpg60 [at] hotmail [dot] com, winter 7 A.M.–5 P.M. daily in winter, 8 A.M.–6 P.M. daily in summer), but it isn’t served by any commercial airlines. The closest major airport is Mexicali.
Grey Eagle Aviation (U.S. tel. 760/804-8680 or toll-free 888/280-8802, www.greyeagleaviation.com/sanfelipeinfo.htm) advertises an air taxi service from Long Beach or San Diego, California, to San Felipe on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. Services for private pilots include aviation gas and customs clearing. The trip to town is 9.2 kilometers and costs US$15 by taxi.
By Bus: San Felipe has a bus depot (tel. 686/577-1516) on Avenida Mar Caribe Sur, south of Calzada Chetumal and near the Pemex. It’s open daily 5 A.M.–11 P.M. (when the last bus from Mexicali arrives). Autotransportes de Baja California (ABC, www.abc.com.mx) offers connections to Mexicali, Ensenada, and Tijuana. You can buy your ticket an hour before the bus departs. To reach the Tijuana office, call 664/683-5681. Estrellas del Pacífico (Tijuana tel. 664/683-5022 or -6789) also runs buses to San Felipe from Mexicali and Ensenada.
By Taxi: Taxis congregate on Calzada Chetumal near Los Mandiles, or you can call 686/577-1293 to order one. Local trips around town should cost under US$5.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition