Why We Chose San Felipe as Our First Stop – Vanlife, Baja Mexico

After thousands of miles on the road, two van breakdowns, and many USA adventures on beaches, through deserts, and in town and cities, we made it to Mexico! We entered Baja, Mexico via the Mexicali East border crossing and chose San Felipe as our first destination. The drive through Mexicali was relatively easy and uneventful. The route through and out of the city wasn’t particularly attractive but after about 45 minutes, the truck stops, semi-abandoned shacks, and garbage-lined roads gave way to open desert and mountain views. We entered Mexico with a renewed sense of adventure and with mouths watering for some long-awaited fish tacos. Although San Felipe has never made it onto our bucket list, we decided it would make a perfect first stop in Baja Mexico – and we’ll tell you all why in this post.

Easy Drive from the Border

From our border crossing at Mexicali, the drive to San Felipe was just over 2 hours. As border crossings into Mexico can be a bit stressful (lots of administration, unknowns, and a sudden requirement to function in Spanish after months of not speaking it), we like to keep our first day of driving in Mexico short. The roads from the border to San Felipe were in good condition, the route was straightforward, and Google did a great job getting us to our campsite. Based on our chats with other campers, it seems that a lot of Vanlifers and RVers make San Felipe their first and last stop before crossing the border for this very reason.

Heading Into the Mountains Between Mexicali and San Felipe

Located On the Sea!

Need I say more? San Felipe and most of the campgrounds in town are along the Sea of Cortez. After spending weeks in the desert, San Felipe was an oasis and we wanted nothing more than to dip our toes in the ocean. The golden sand beach along downtown San Felipe is bordered by a malecon (boardwalk) that attracts vendors, visitors, beachgoers, and lots of local dogs. It was easy to spend a full day enjoying our campsite, browsing the tourist shops, and eating in restaurants without ever having to leave the waterfront. Best of all for us, the beach is dog friendly.

The Quintessential Town Sign – Just About Every Town in Mexico Has One
View Toward the Lighthouse, Just North of Downtown
View to the Downtown, the Beach, and the Malecon

Several Campgrounds of All Types & Prices

San Felipe is chock-full of campgrounds that vary greatly in size, amenities offered, and location… in other words, there’s something for everyone. Most campgrounds in San Felipe cost roughly $25 – $30 USD per night but on iOverlander, we found campgrounds for as low as $15 USD and as high as $55 USD (we also spotted a couple of free boondocking opportunities). Prices vary considerably based on proximity to downtown, views to the ocean, and types of services (full hookups versus dry camping), and can often be negotiated based on time of year or number of nights.

We’re always trying to get the best bang for our buck and we chose Campo Turistico #1. The campground wasn’t fancy, but it had everything we needed and wanted. It was on the ocean, far enough from the downtown to be peaceful, but close enough to be within walking distance for a day of exploring. It had hot showers, flush toilets, electrical and water hookups, and a central dump station. It also had a little bar and restaurant onsite. We negotiated $15 USD/night for 2 nights and left freshly showered with as much freshwater as we needed for the coming days of wild camping.

Campsite With a View at Campo Turistico #1

Easy Introduction to Mexico

The Baja Peninsula is an easy introduction to Mexico and San Felipe ensures a smooth transition between cultures. Here, you can get a taste of Mexico – hearing Spanish (and speaking it if you can), eating Mexican food (fish tacos anyone?!), walking along the ocean, admiring colourful buildings, and watching locals go about their daily routines – without many of the challenges that we’ve experienced in other parts of Mexico related to language, driving/navigating and culture.

View North From the Lookout Toward the Lighthouse and Campground

English is commonly spoken and understood in San Felipe due to the strong American influence and large ex-pat community. Most staff working in restaurants, shops, RV parks, etc. can speak at least some English. The roads aren’t too narrow and they’re relatively easy to navigate in a van or mid-sized RV. The town doesn’t have nearly as many topes (speed bumps) as is typical for Mexico – Sally was thankful for that! The downtown is small and easy to visit on foot. There’s a BBVA bank right downtown, so you can stock up on pesos before continuing south. Right-off the main highway, there are large, American-style grocery stores that have almost everything you could possibly want or need.

So… Why Didn’t We Stay Longer?

We spent 2 nights in San Felipe and at this point in the post, you might be wondering why we didn’t stay longer. Well, there are a few reasons.

Baja Norte (the north half of Baja) can be chilly in the winter. The nights were quite cold when we visited at the end of February and after months of chilly weather across the southwest US, we were itching for some warmer temperatures. We’ve heard that March/April is a pleasantly warm time of year to visit San Felipe.

The city is small and within a day, we’d explored most of the downtown on foot. I’m sure there are nooks and crannies worth exploring if we’d stayed longer – and there were certainly more restaurants to try – but we felt satisfied with our day downtown.

Ultimately we didn’t come to Baja for the towns. We do hope to find some gems of towns and cities while we’re here, but we’ve been spoiled over the years by the bustling, historic, colonial towns and cities in mainland Mexico. Rather, we came for the wild camping, vast open spaces, natural beauty, and outdoor activities… and that’s what was luring us south.

For us – San Felipe was the perfect place to get our bearings upon entering Mexico, stock up on food, pesos, and supplies, enjoy our first glimpse of the sea, and savour our first fish tacos and margaritas of the trip. For others – this is a place to happily spend the whole winter. Everyone seeks something different from their travel destinations.

Have you been to San Felipe? We’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Helpful Resources

4 thoughts on “Why We Chose San Felipe as Our First Stop – Vanlife, Baja Mexico

  1. If you missed the La Vaquita restaurant try to catch it on return. Proprietor is a member of the upper bay of Cortez group whose mission is to try and save the highly endangered species of porpoise call the Vaquita… read up on that… a gift from me to you.


    1. Thanks Ron! I’m not sure if we’ll be passing back through San Felipe on our way out but I’m marking this down so that we don’t forget to try La Vaquita next time we pass through. Our transmission blew in Loreto and we’re on day 8 of the repair (awaiting a final part) so plans are up in the air at the moment.


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