About San Felipe
SAN FELIPE is a remote desert community of about 25,000 people that sits on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, known in the United States as the Gulf of California. It enjoys the benefits of a temperate, dry, winter climate, and a hot, humid (Florida-like) summer.
San Felipe Zip Code: 21850
Latitude, Longitude: 31.024915,-114.840782
Phone Area Code: (686)
Phone Prefixes: 577, 576 & 688
The Sea of Cortez is one of the world’s most prolific salt-water habitats with sport fishing tours being available for avid anglers. The Upper Gulf, north of San Felipe to the mouth of the Colorado river, is a Biosphere Reserve dedicated to preserving and fostering the unique aquatic life of the region.
Located 125 miles (200 km) south of the International border at Calexico, California/Mexicali, Baja California, the primary route to San Felipe is via Mexico’s Federal Highway 5. A secondary route exists via Tijuana following Highway 1 south to Ensenada, Highway 3 east to Highway 5 and south from there to San Felipe. Check the Maps page to see where San Felipe is located and how the roads are laid out. The largest major metropolitan area with good airline and transportation connections is the San Diego/Tijuana metroplex about 5 hours drive by car north-west of San Felipe. Although San Felipe has an airport, there are no commercial flights here at the present time. Check the San Felipe Airport page for more information.
San Felipe is isolated by 200km of desert from Mexicali, the State capital, but it is actually a “suburb” of that city and is governed locally by a “Delegado” (Mayor), representing Mexicali’s “Presidente”, who is responsible for all municipal matters. For many years, San Felipe has been lobbying to become a separate city in the state of Baja California so that it can gain control of it’s own finances and destiny. There is no timetable as to when this goal will be achieved.
San Felipe was founded in 1916 as a small fishing port. Although the town is still home to a sizeable shrimp-fishing fleet of small pangas, the principal source of income has changed over the past fifteen years from fishing to tourism to retirement living and real estate, with as many as 250,000 American and Canadian visitors annually.
November through March is the prime “snowbird” season with mobile homes arriving from all regions of the US and Canada. Increasingly we now also see tourism and investment in retirement homes from places as far away as Australia. Easter week (Semana Santa – the Mexican national vacation week) and the surrounding “spring break” weeks in March and April, when college students from schools around the southwest USA invade San Felipe, is the busiest time in town. Hotel rooms are then at a premium and traffic jams are routine on the road to and from the border crossing in Mexicali.
During the summer months, May through September, the weather is best suited to a relaxed lifestyle on the beaches. Fishing is good and the pace of life slows considerably. There are many accommodation options in town. You can find timeshares for sale and rent, condominiums, hotels and motels, many overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Take a look at our Accommodations page to find the perfect option for you.
Over the past several years there has been a major influx of retirees who are building homes here and cashing out on their property investments in the USA. Local businesses provide the requisite services including, but not limited to, House Design Services, Architectural Services, Construction Services, Lumber Yards and Hardware Stores.
Because San Felipe is a “cash” society, do not expect to use credit cards or personal checks at most stores and markets. ATM machines are located around town and they will accept your debit card and allow you to withdraw up to about 3000 pesos per day with an additional nominal charge to your bank account of about $5 (dollars).
The city water supply comes from wells about 30 miles south of town. While it is considered safe to drink, it has a high mineral content. Bottled water and mineral water is available at all liquor and grocery stores and excellent, purified,reverse osmosis, water is available at KonsAgua and other producers for around $.80 for 5 gallons. Purified water is used in all restaurants and homes and for making ice for the bars.
The city sewage system is unusual for a coastal town in that it does not discharge into the sea; it is piped to a plant in the desert community of Las Minitas for treatment. Septic systems are used for all properties away from the town’s main collector system. This includes all developments to the north and south of San Felipe along the beaches. In some cases these septic systems are barely able to cope with the major influx of visitors on weekends.
The sea water is maintained as clean as possible because of the great dependence of the town on the fish and shrimp industries. Tests of the bay water are made on a regular basis by the Mexican health agency COFEPRIS. Note that you will occasionally see “foamy water” along the shoreline. This occurs because of the incredible biological fecundity of the waters, with huge shoals of fish breeding. However, the further away you are from beachfront development, the cleaner the water should be.
Twice a month, around the time of the new and the full moon, very large tides develop and you will see the spectacular rise and fall of the water – see our Tide Tables.
San Felipe has good mobile telephone coverage provided by Telcel and Movistar. Both of these carriers use the GSM protocol and your AT&T or T-Mobile cellphone will work here and you will be able to make and receive calls while roaming in Mexico. Data services, however, are very expensive and you should plan to use your smartphone or laptop at a local wi-fi hotspot. Landline telephone service is available from Telnor (a division of Telmex) in the town but does not extend more than a few miles north and south of the center at this time. Internet service is provided using DSL lines from Telnor and wireless hotspots are available for the use of patrons at many hotels, restaurants and bars. Check our Telephones section for detailed information.
Only minimal emergency medical services are available at present. San Felipe’s St. James Hospital is no longer in operation but we do have competent doctors in town who can stabilize severe injuries, strokes and heart attacks prior to evacuation by ambulance to Mexicali (2.5 hour trip) or by air ambulance to San Diego (daylight hours only). More info on our Health Care page.
Links to further information:
Passport and visa requirements to visit San Felipe
Getting to San Felipe