Starting Out in San Felipe

Kayaking the Sea of Cortez
By Andromeda Romano-Lax
San Felipe Details

Trip Length:
52.5 miles; 4-6 days.

Charts Needed:
MEX Topo H11 B47, H11 B57, H11 B67, H11 B77 at 1:50,000

Getting There:
From the border, you can cross over at Tijuana, Tecate, Mexicali or San Luis (south of Yuma, AZ). Try Mexicali to San Felipe via Highway 5 (123.6 miles). Highway 5 is well-paved and signed, with less traffic than Highway 1.

Bus service runs between San Felipe and both Mexicali and Ensenada but does not continue south to Puertecitos.


San Felipe, a town of about 11,000 residents, is a just-across-the-border tourist spot; and though it profits from the weekend parade of American partygoers, it also bears a sort of extended hangover from the pains of that trade. There are taco stands and two-for-one margarita deals, but there is also broken glass and dunebuggies zipping along the beach and fireworks whistling overhead just when you're trying to sleep.

Development has brought telephones and good roads, but also the need to be more careful not to leave gear unattended on the shore. Make no mistake, San Felipe is no Tijuana (or Los Angeles, for that matter). It is small, and it is still pretty safe and friendly and crime-free. But it is also not a hideaway or a remote tropical paradise; especially not during spring break, when student crowds swarm.

Hence, San Felipe is best used as a launching point. Make the most of its easy coastal access, enjoy its bright clam cocktail stands along the Paseo de Cortez, and then be off for less well-trod ground further south along the coast.

Where to Launch
There are two options for launching. A level, sandy beach lies just across from the main boardwalk downtown, on the shore of the Bahma San Felipe. Parking spots are plentiful on the Paseo, just feet from the beach, making kayak unloading easy. The rocky headland of Punta El Machorro, visible north of the beach, provides some shelter within the bay.

For less commotion and a more remote launch, try one of the many beaches south of town just off the Avenida Camino del Sur, the main route hugging the coast. Beach access here is changing weekly because of the many hotels and condominiums sprouting up along the coast, but finding a paved road linking the Camino del Sur to the waterfront is not difficult.

Launching at the downtown beach, one paddles south through the hotel zone (beaches are technically public but dominated by a handful of resorts and RV parks overlooking the sea). Subdivisions are extending their concrete tentacles south. Be on the lookout for jet skis, swimmers, and pangas.

A small breakwater-enclosed harbor is at mile 2. Take a detour inside to check out a small, battered fleet of shrimp trawlers. Fishing efforts have been drastically cut back as of 1992, as a result of orders from the mainland, increasing tourism's importance as one of Baja's primary industries.

The coast from this point south is dominated by wide stretches of sandy shore, backed in parts by low bluffs. The Sierra San Felipe provides a stunning backdrop but is a good 10-20 miles inland; quite different from Baja Sur, where steep escarpments drop directly into the sea. The relatively flat, vast coastal morphology makes distances difficult to ascertain and low points difficult to distinguish from the cockpit of a kayak.

Miles 2-9 south of San Felipe are fairly developed and under construction. Between miles 9 and 10 the Hotel Fiesta and a terraced RV park are visible from sea.


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