Cardon cactus

San Felipe, Baja California

San Felipe is a town on the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) in the Mexican state of Baja California, 190 km south of the United States border and within the municipality of Mexicali.

Temperatures in San Felipe average approximately 24°C year-round. The seven-meter tides expose a kilometer of ocean floor. San Felipe experiences one of the largest tidal bores in the world due in part to the Colorado River delta to the north.

The port of San Felipe is a small town historically economically dependent on fishing and now on tourism, catering mostly to U.S. travelers and containing an international airport.

San Felipe is located in a unique ecosystem, where the desert meets the sea. Temperatures range from a nocturnal winter low of 4°C to 46°C in the shade during July and August. The Bay of San Felipe is 3 meters above sea level. At low tide, the water can recede as much as 2 km.

The population of San Felipe was 14,831 at the 2005 census, and can increase by up to 5,000 during the presence of part-time residents (retirees and vacation homeowners) or holidays such as spring break or Memorial Day.


The Baja California Peninsula was discovered by Hernán Cortés on May 3, 1535. The history of San Felipe began later with the expeditions of Francisco de Ulloa's, one of Cortés's captains who navigated the bay in September 1535. In 1536, Hernando de Alarcón and Domingo Castillo explored the region and made the first detailed map of the peninsula, giving San Felipe its original name, Santa Catalina.

After the first expeditions were long forgotten, Father Eusebio Kino rediscovered the Baja California peninsula in 1701. Juan de Ugarte later built the first ship in Baja California and explored the area, arriving in San Felipe on July 5, 1721. Twenty-five years later Father Ferdinand Konščak arrived and christened the bay San Felipe de Jesús. In 1766, Wenceslaus Linck was the first person to reach San Felipe by land, and in 1772 the Lt. Governor of the Californias, José Joaquín Arrillaga, named it a port and began using it as such, sending ships as of 1794. He also established the land route between San Felipe and Ensenada through Valle de la Trinidad.

It is not until 1925, during the administration of General Abelardo L. Rodríguez, territorial governor, that San Felipe began to incorporate, when the first fishing camps were established and the government organized the first sub-delegation and school. Octavio Vega Ruiz was appointed sub-delegate and the basis for the growth and development of San Felipe were established during his administration from 1926 to 1942.

The sea transportation of both people and cargo also contributed to the integration of San Felipe as a township. Among the most celebrated ships of the era were José Ascolani's Trieste, and Pacita and Río Colorado, owned by Arnulfo Liera. By the end of the 1920s, San Felipe had nearly 100 permanent inhabitants, and in 1940 appeared for the first time in the census with 287 inhabitants.

By 1947, the Compañía Industrial del Golfo de Cortés, owned by José María Rodríguez Luján, bought the land from Guillermo Andrade's estate to build an international tourist center. The Mexicali-San Felipe highway began paving in 1948 and was completed in 1951. At the same time, the 15-room Hotel Augies (later the Villa del Mar, Trucha Vagabunda and Las Palmas Inn) opened. In 1959, the motel El Cortés was opened to the public.

Many new hotels were established in the 1960s, including Hotel Riviera, El Pescador, Arnold's del Mar and Arco Iris, and the tourist camps of Costa Azul, Las Arenas, Miramar, Playa Bonita, Playa de Laura, and Rubén's. The port had electricity by 1963 and piped drinking water by 1967. The 1970s saw the establishment of the government building, restaurants, bars, gas stations, a small boat anchorage, airport, sea walk, main boulevard and sewage system, as well as the first four-star hotel, the Playas de San Felipe, followed by the Fiesta Hotel. The La Hacienda opened in the 1980s; the Marina Resort and Spa in 1993.

Currently, San Felipe’s income depends (in descending order of importance) upon tourism, shrimping, and fishing.

The Valley of the Giants

The natural reserve of the thousand-year-old Cardon Cactus has become a major attraction after the transport of one of these giant specimens to Seville, Spain forWorld Expo '92. The area has also become a favorite spot for photographers worldwide.


San Felipe is a popular spring break spot for residents of the Western U.S. states and northern Mexico, due to its many tourist attractions. Nightclubs and bars dot the beach areas. Some visitors enjoy camping on the beaches or off-roading on ATVs and dirt bikes in the adjacent desert.

Several hotels, ranches, camp sites and RV parks in or near the town boast volleyball, tennis, pools, bathing areas and fishing. In 2005, San Felipe's first golf course, Las Caras de Mexico, opened to the public. This oceanside golf course is located at La Ventana del Mar.

Other popular activities are off-road racing events such as Baja 250 and San Felipe 250, the former a spin-off from the popular Baja 1000 international race and the latter akin to SCORE's Baja Series but hosted by CODE, an off-road racing organization based in Mexicali. In 2007 CODE'S race was changed to Ensenada, but by racers' request CODE is considering to return to San Felipe. Currently, CODE holds two races in the San Felipe Desert: CODE McMillin 500 in March/April and the CODE Race Ready 275 in November/December; the first is a loop from Mexicali down to San Felipe and back, while the other is a one-way race from Mexicali to San Felipe at the end of the season.

Another visitor attraction are the hot, sulfurous, geothermal springs at Puertecitos on the Sea of Cortez, cooled somewhat by sea water.

In recent years, San Felipe locals and tourists have enjoyed a new activity, Carnaval. It is often referred to as a Mexican Mardi Gras but the name is an exaggeration, since the locale is smaller than in other Mexican carnivals.

See also


External links

See also Kat's Korner - the "San Felipe Scoop" at ( and the Instituto de Informatica de San Felipe is a non-profit organization (NGO) dedicated to bringing information technologies and opportunities to the San Felipe area. )

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