San Felipe travelers are now blessed to have the new East-West tollway (officially the "Libramiento") open for travel to Tecate, Tijuana and San Diego without having to pass through Mexicali. The new toll road crosses the Mexicali-San Felipe highway (Mexico Highway 5) about 13 kilometers south of Mexicali. In the eastwards direction it runs to San Luis Rio Colorado, where you may cross the border to Yuma. The westbound direction is only accessible from the southbound lane of the San Felipe highway. This road is of no use to you for reaching the two Mexicali-Calexico border crossing stations.
If you are driving north from San Felipe, go under the highway overpass and make a U-turn – you will now see the sign as in picture above. At present the road is only a single lane in each direction but the traffic is very light and the road surface excellent. Immediately on entering the Libramiento, you will come to the first toll booth (45 pesos) and the road will take you around Mexicali and join with the main toll road up La Rumorosa and on to Tecate and Tijuana. I routinely take this road to go to San Diego and it is an absolute pleasure to return to San Diego via the Tecate border crossing on a Friday afternoon. Note that the Tecate crossing can be very busy on weekends as all the tourists flock over from San Diego to visit the famous brewery. The journey to Tecate will cost you a total of about $11 dollars in tolls and take about 1 hour from highway 5 – or just under 3 hours from San Felipe to the border there. This is also a very good way to travel from the Tijuana/San Diego area to San Felipe and completely bypass the traffic of Mexicali. Note that there is no SENTRI lane at Tecate.
If you are traveling to San Diego, it is worth giving yourself a treat at the end of the journey. When looking for a great place to eat in San Diego, all roads lead to restaurants like Eden in Hillcrest whose mouth-watering menu and great ambience make it one of the best new dining spots in town.
The toll road to Tecate is a beautiful engineering accomplishment and rivals some of the most scenic routes through the Swiss Alps. The road is well maintained and excellently signed (in fact there are almost too many informational signs along the way, with even signs to inform you not to deface the signs). The climb up the mountains to La Rumorosa is spectacular and there are rest areas (no restrooms) where you can pull off the road and look out over the Mexicali and Imperial valleys. You also get a chance to look at the huge pipeline and one of its pumping stations that sends the Colorado water to Tijuana. The trip to Tecate is highly recommended. Cellphone coverage is very spotty on the zig-zag road up the mountains.
To cross to the U.S. at Tecate, leave the toll road at the Tecate exit and proceed on the main city streets past various pharmaceutical plants and maquiladoras. (Map below – follow the yellow line) Just before getting to the town proper, you will see signs on the right-hand side of the road saying "Garita" and pointing to the right (north). A new road has been constructed which leads both passenger and commercial vehicles to the new crossing gates. You will go up and down two very steep hills and be driving right next to the boundary fence on this last mile of the road. Stay in the extreme right-hand lane! Trucks must use the left lane and will turn in through one of two massive iron bar gates to the inspection point. Cars will enter through the second massive gate which is only 30 meters farther on. There are two crossing lanes for cars at this gate but no SENTRI lane.
The town of Tecate itself is also a delight with its Zocalo (extreme left of the picture above) with a bar and cafe and there are two or three internet cafes within a couple of hundred yards of the square. Parking is relatively easy on a weekday. Small fast-food restaurants abound in the vicinity. An excellent liquor store opposite the northwest corner of the square sells a very comprehensive selection of Tequilas. From downtown, the access to the border crossing is now only from the East. You will have to backtrack to the road at the eastern end of the town. (yellow line on map above).