Virtually every visitor to San Felipe comes here by road. The most popular route from Southern California, Arizona and points north is to come via Interstate 8 (San Diego-Yuma) to El Centro and then head south on California Route 111 to Calexico where you cross the border into Mexicali continuing south to San Felipe (about 2 hours drive from Mexicali on Mexico route 5). You can see simple maps of the route, including the main road through Mexicali and the street map of San Felipe by clicking on the "maps" button on the left. Check these pages to see the latest information on diversions in Mexicali caused by new road construction! Information on road conditions is updated periodically and you can see it by clicking on the link to the left.
Around 10% of the visitors arriving by car decide to go first to San Diego and then cross the border to Tijuana and take the scenic toll road to Ensenada. From Ensenada, there is a well maintained two lane highway that runs across the Baja peninsular and joins up with the Mexicali-San Felipe road about 30 miles north of town. See the map page to get a better understanding of the routes. While many people are afraid of going through Tijuana, there is little danger if you are heading to Ensenada because the road system guides you straight to the toll road without having to go into the city. Immediately on crossing the border from San Diego, follow the signs saying "Rosarito Cuota"
An interesting and very pleasant trip from the San Diego region to San Felipe can now be made by crossing the border at Tecate. This route completely bypasses the traffic jams of Mexicali and all the new road construction that is being undertaken in the capital city. For more information on this route see here.
For tips on returning to the United states, click on the "Returning to the US" button on the left. (When it comes to returning to the U.S. after your stay in San Felipe, be prepared to wait an hour or so in the border crossing lines - particularly on a Sunday afternoon. You can check U.S. Border wait times here .)
Visitors from other parts of Mexico will also almost always come through Mexicali and head south on Mexico route 5.
Crossing the border into Mexico
Crossing the border is extremely simple, there are no immigration checks entering Mexico for travel in the border region and you do not need a Mexican visa to visit San Felipe unless you plan an extended stay (see below). However, if you go into the interior of the country you will encounter vehicle importation and immigration checkpoints, but none of this happens on the trip to San Felipe. You will seldom be asked to pull over for an inspection by the Customs authorities, the exception being vehicles that seem to be heavily loaded or hauling electric appliances. Do not bring your gun (or ammunition!) into Mexico - the Mexican government is very strict about bringing firearms into the country. If you are caught with a gun, your vehicle and everything in it will be confiscated and you will go to jail.
Buy Mexican insurance for your vehicle (there are links in our Business Section - Auto Insurance, for on-line purchases) by the day or year for your visit. At the very minimum, purchase liability coverage which will run around $7/day (much cheaper if you buy an annual policy - typically around $180). You can also stop in Calexico and pick up insurance before you cross into Mexico. You may also want to stop at one of the duty-free shops on the right-hand side of the road. There are good deals on liquor and tobacco products. You are allowed legally to bring only 2 cartons of cigarettes and 3 liters of liquor (per person) into Mexico. Note that each person must have a receipt for his/her duty-free allowance. If there are four of you in the vehicle you will each need to have a receipt for your share of the duty-free purchases or risk having the excess confiscated. The customs agents seem almost telepathic at times and know what you bought at the store. Remember that you are only allowed to bring one liter of alcohol back into the US when you return.
You don't need a visa to enter Mexico if you are going no further south than San Felipe and staying less than seven days. If you are staying longer or heading further south you must get a tourist visa (called an FM-T) at the border. Neither the immigration office here in San Felipe nor the agents at the airport in San Felipe have authority to issue these as of October, 2006. You must stop at the immigration office at the border you are entering. If you are staying longer than six months or own or lease property in Mexico, you need to get an FM 3, the Mexican equivalent of a green card.
To enter Mexico and go south to the San Felipe region, no other paperwork is needed. Just be sure you have proof of vehicle ownership and citizenship for re-entry into the U.S.A. at the end of your visit.
Gasoline and Diesel Fuel
Fill up with gasoline or diesel in Calexico or Mexicali (at present, November 2008, Mexicali is about the same cost as in California). Once you are south of the city of Mexicali there are no gasoline stations for 120 miles until you reach San Felipe. The Mexican Customs agents may seize any large tanks of gasoline you bring - be warned. The old stations at La Ventana (halfway to San Felipe) and at Three Poles by the Ensenada road junction no longer serve fuel. However, you can find snacks, beverages and primitive "comfort stations" there. The current price for regular unleaded gasoline in San Felipe is around $2.50 /US gallon equivalent. Diesel is around $2.10 per gallon.
We get a lot of questions about the quality of the fuel supply in Baja California. The grades of unleaded gasoline are 87 and 91 octane and, at least in the newer stations, generally as good as the products you can get in the USA. Of course, there is always concern about contamination, particularly in relation to water getting into the storage tanks. For this reason, many of our weekend visitors perfer to fill up just before crossing into Mexico to have enough fuel on hand to make it back across the border without having to buy the cheaper Mexican gasoline. Obviously, if you are going to stay for a while, you will have little option but to refuel in San Felipe. Under these circumstances you might feel more comfortable just buying 5 gallons or so when you arrive in town so that any impurities are diluted to the maximum extent possible with known good gasoline already in your tank. Owners of new diesel vehicles that mandate using the ultra low sulfur fuel will be happy to know that Pemex oficially says their fuel meets the requirements of the new engines. However, be careful where you buy your diesel as the regular "low sulfur" diesel is still supplied for agricultural and marine use. Again, most of our correspondents prefer to tank up in the USA and not buy fuel in Mexico because of the possibility of voiding their engine warranties.
The road to San Felipe is in good condition for a two lane highway and has relatively free-flowing traffic. On typical mid-week days the flow is rarely more than 100 vehicles/hour. Weekends may see peaks of 300/hour but everyone moves at (or above) the 50mph speed limit. When you get to the outskitrs of San Felipe (from El Dorado south) the volume increases dramatically and there are now many accidents as old, slow, vehicles pull on to the main highway from side roads. Be very careful on this last stretch of road. Read more on our "road conditions" page.
Maps of the border region, the road to San Felipe and a simple street map of the town may be found in the section "About San Felipe".
Your U.S. GSM cellphone (ATT/T-mobile) or international GSM/3G mobile is fully supported in Mexico and will work at most places on the journey down but there are some deadspots in the mountains. Be sure to call your service provider before leaving home to tell them to enable access in Mexico. For full details of using your cellphone and making emergency calls, see our page on telephones. The only CDMA service provider in Mexico is IUSACELL and they have very limited presence in Baja California and no service in San Felipe. If you have Verizon or Sprint service your phone may work in Mexicali and Tijuana but that is about it. Check with your company before coming to San Felipe - or rent a GSM phone from them.
Flying in to San Felipe
Although San Felipe has an airport (symbol SFE) there are no commercial flights here. Visitors travelling from distant locations in the USA, Mexico or internationally will want to fly into a major airport. The closest ones are San Diego (SAN) in California, and Mexicali (MXL) and Tijuana (TIJ) in Baja California. Imperial airport (IPL) in El Centro does have commuter service to Los Angeles and Phoenix where connections to all major intercontinental carriers can be made.
If you are flying into San Diego, you can rent a car there and drive to San Felipe. See "flying" in the left-hand sidebar for rental car agencies that allow their vehicles to be taken to Mexico (check with the agency and be aware that you will have to sign up for their Mexican insurance package which could add another $20-30/day to the cost !) or you can take a bus to Tijuana and then catch a bus that will bring you to San Felipe (either via Ensenada or via Mexicali) - see the "bus" section in the left-hand navigation bar.
Visitors from Mexico and Latin America can fly to Mexico City or Guadalajara and connect to flights to Mexicali. Again a rental car or bus service will bring you to San Felipe.
The current exchange rate (November 2008) is about 13 pesos/dollar U.S. at most businesses in San Felipe, but dollars are accepted everywhere and it is not necessary to exchange currency before crossing into Mexico. Banks in Mexicali and ATM machines in San Felipe will allow you to use your debit card to take up to about $300 US dollars worth of Mexican currency from your account each day.
There are two banks in town, BBBV/Bancomer and the brand new Banamex. However, do not expect to be able to do most of the transactions that are possible in the U.S.A. There is no such thing as "total business relationship" banking here. If you need to do anything other than withdraw cash from the automatic teller machine, plan to be in the bank for an hour or two. Did you think that you would be able to arrange for the bank to pay your bills automatically? Allow for a few months of missed payments and service cutoffs before the system will work. The banks will not accept Cashier's Checks or personal checks made out for cash. In fact, even if you have a bank account in San Felipe, the bank will not permit you to write a check on your U.S. account and deposit it in Mexico. (You can, however, get some third party to write a check to you and then deposit that check in your Bancomer account, pay the commission and wait 10-14 days for funds in pesos to be made available to you.) This peculiar law (part of the procedure in place to stop the extensive money laundering from drug trafficing in Baja California) really ties people up in knots. Consider if you are down here and you need to pay a contractor that is building a house for you - you may have to bring down thousands of dollars in cash from the border area. This in turn, leads to great worries about driving on the very lonely road and being subject to search by the police, the military patrols or even bandits. You may be able to write personal U.S. dollar checks for major purchases if you live in San Felipe but you will generally find that the merchant will ask you to leave the payee name blank. This is unnerving to most Americans but it is a way of doing business here. When you get the cashed check back you may find some unknown person or organization actually negotiated the check.
Do not even think about going to the bank following a major holiday weekend. On Monday mornings, in particular, all the merchants are trying to deposit their takings from the weekend business and the line will serpentine back and forth in the bank and often out onto the sidewalk. You will also get totally frustrated because locals who know the bank manager get to go straight to the head of the line.