San Felipe sparkles. The water here is the color of sapphires in the sun,
soft white sand stretches as far as you can stroll, and palm palapas dot the
Despite its location (an easy four-hour drive from the border at San Ysidro),
this small Sea of Cortez city is unspoiled and underdeveloped.
That doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to break a sweat. San Felipe
has all the beach toys and scenic lures and tours of any great strip of
prime coastal real estate. You can swim, snorkel, sail, sport-fish or easily
spend an entire day just shelling.
You can windsurf; fly across the dunes in an open buggy or mountain bike the
nearby hills. It's even possible to climb Baja's tallest peak - nearby
Picacho Del Diablo (the Devil's Peak) in the San Pedro Matir range. At
10,156 feet, you'll be able to see both Baja coasts simultaneously.
Beachcombing is a competitive sport in San Felipe, though an almost
addictive occupation because of the area's unusual tides. Tide swings as
high as 23 feet cause the sea to recede as much as a half mile at times.
There has been more than one first-time visitor who parked a pickup at the
tide line to dig clams, wandered away down the beach for a lengthy walk,
then returned only to find the old Chevy abob or gone completely.
Back in town, you can shop at the curio stores without once being hawked by
a vendor. However, shopping is hardly an Olympic sport here nor is golf. You
can swing a club on the free "sand" golf course just north of town; if
withdrawal seems to be giving you the shakes.
Late afternoon or sunset in San Felipe means time out on the malecon
(waterfront walkway), feet up on a rail, watching the calm, quiet world of a
fishing village as it finishes its chores. Clusters of fishermen join to
push their colorful wooden Pangas up the beach, one by one, beyond the
rising tide. Children stand tiptoe at the sea wall watching. Enjoy a bottle
of wine or cold beverage as the sun sets.
word of caution: Unless you're single and 18, you won't enjoy San Felipe
during the annual two- to three-week invasion of U.S. college kids during
spring break. Some 5,000 party hounds take over the town of 20,000, leaving
little in the way of local scenery beyond string bikinis and beer bottles.
Not that there's anything wrong with that view. Just be forewarned.
San Felipe’s original Hotel, Las Palmas, continues to be the favored spot
for returning visitors. Nestled in a rustic hacienda-style atmosphere, with
bougainvillea-covered patios, fountains and statuary, Las Palmas Hotel
features a spectacular panoramic view of the tranquil Sea of Cortez and the
Sierra Madre mountains. The Hotel is situated on a hilltop, 250 yards from
the beach, making it the only hotel in town to have balmy breezes throughout
the warmer months of the year. And don't forget, there are almost 100 miles
of unspoiled beaches running north and south of town where you can always
throw down a sleeping bag and build a palm-frond fire.
The malecon alone is dotted with almost a dozen fresh shrimp and fish taco
stands, which also specialize in fresh seafood cocktails and freshly dug,
steamed clams. At any stand, you can mix and match your favorite blend of
octopus, scallops, shrimp, squid, clams and whatever else the shellfish gods
give forth that day. Seafood cocktails are priced by size and mixture. A
platter of 20 steamed butter clams, accompanied by a big shrimp glass of
melted butter, is $4. Batter shrimp, fish or shark tacos are $1 anywhere in
town. Additionally, scattered along the beach and throughout the beach town
are a variety of informal restaurants and unique food finds.
The natural hot sulfur springs at Puertecitos are about 60 miles down the
road. Take a cold six-pack and a picnic lunch, and plan your visit to
coincide with the day's high tide, when breaking ocean waves cool the
steaming private pools to manageable temps. The one-hour, desert-and-sea
drive is as beautiful and relaxing as the pools. Tony Reyes Sport Fishing
Charters offers tours of the hot springs, as well as desert eco-tours,
coastal cave tours, enchanted Islands safaris and wilderness camping
safaris that include all meals, transportation and gear.
On the Sea of Cortez, 124 miles south of Mexicali via Mexican Highway 5, and
230 miles from the border at Tijuana. From San Diego take Mexican Highway 1
from Tijuana to Ensenada, then Highway 3 southeast to the junction of
Best time to visit:
Anytime. The climate is near perfect with a medium annual temperature of 71!
Delightful in spring and fall, hot and dry but bearable in summer, with
temps over 100 from June until September; pleasant all winter. November's
water begins to take on a chill, but a light wetsuit will keep you
comfortable through the winter months. The summer and fall seas are bath
Practically none. Compared with Baja's Cape area and with other warm-water
resort areas along the Mexican Riviera, San Felipe's relatively low prices
on everything from accommodations to food are a powerful draw. Vacationing
in San Felipe may be cheaper than staying home.
None. Credit cards are accepted at most major restaurants and shops. English
is spoken almost everywhere in the main tourist areas. Dollars are accepted
Absolutely. There is a lot for kids to do in a very safe, small-town
environment with the biggest draws being huge beaches, swimming pools and
plenty of other kids. On summer weekends, San Felipe is a kid's paradise.