About San Felipe

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

Located 120 miles south of the Mexican border on the northwestern Baja, San Felipe is an entertainment, a frustration, a wonder and a paradox. It is nestled in the northern hook of the Bahia de San Felipe, between Punta El Macharro and Punta Estrella. The convergence of the Sierra San Felipe and the San Pedro Martir ranges form a wide, rocky horseshoe. A few adventurous peaks break away from this formation and collect on the east side of Highway 5. The town of San Felipe leans like a small book of sonnets against two of these sloping giants. To the west, through sheer energy of disposition, the parent range continues its errant and unathletic run southward another hundred miles. Unassuming in the eyes of a true mountain man, the range is impressive enough to the citizens of San Felipe. Picacho del Diablo, one of its peaks, shoulders up over ten thousand feet into the air. In winter, its summit is often a claw of snow and ice. For those who have uncontrolled geologic zeal, try this site for a chiropractic history of the Baja's granite bones.

It is nearly always sunny in San Felipe, warm for most of the year and something of a smithy's forge in the summer months. This is because the town has chosen to sleep in a desert, part of the Gran Desierto, the scorched, juiceless area that begins in the northwestern corner of the state of Sonora.

Of course, without water there can be no community. But San Felipe is blessed with reasonably clean water, drawn from an underground river located several miles south of town. The water is piped through pumping stations into town and plumbed into homes that can afford it or transported in pipas, great lumbering trucks with huge sloshing water tanks on their backs. These trucks supply the outlying campos and communities.

Because the water is not immediately potable, being slightly saline straight from the ground, several filtration stations were built to provide the town with drinking water.


Satellite view of San Felipe.

The history of San Felipe is much like the history of mankind itself, which is believed to begin with God and suspected to end with greed.

The first European to set foot on the sands of what he called San Felipe de Jesus, was the Jesuit Padre Juan de Ugarte, in 1721. De Ugarte was exploring the inner coast of the Baja. Twenty five years later Father Fernando Consag, another Jesuit, mapped the area and marked the location of the bay. In the late eighteenth century the Dominicans, third and last of the religious orders to embrace the indigenous peoples of the Baja Peninsula with their dogmas, attempted to make San Felipe a supply post for its northern missions. Attacks on their storage sheds and supply trains by the aggressive Yuma Indians persuaded the Dominicans to relocate their depositories to the Pacific coast.

In the mid-eighteen hundreds, gold fever seemed to grip the entire west coast of North America. Prospectors flooded over the American borders into Mexico and shacks began to spring up in the San Felipe area. But when the mines didn’t yield as expected, the shacks were left to the heat and wind. Plans to develop San Felipe as a mining port were abandoned.

In 1855, Guillermo Andrade leased 30,000 hectares around the bay. In 1876, he made a contract with the Federal Government to colonize the area, but died before he could complete his project.

In the early nineteen hundreds the governor of the territory, Coronel Esteban Cantú Jiménez moved the capital of Baja from Ensenada to Mexicali. He planned to connect the new capital by roads and railway to a young port at San Felipe. In 1916, Coronel Cantú began the first of three expeditions to San Felipe. Problems and supply shortages aborted the first two journeys, but the third one was successful. It was Governor Cantú's engineers who built the first car-access road to San Felipe. Cantú's administration permitted precious metal prospecting in the area and that is what attracted the first white 'settlers'. But available funds could not support his ambitions and again San Felipe was abandoned. The San Felipe property purchased by Cantu gradually moved into the hands of his descendants, where it appreciated in value merely from proximity to someone else's partially realized or failed real estate scheme.

In the 1940's, ex-President of Mexico Aberlardo Rodríguez, wanting to increase tourist activity in the area, graded and paved Cantú's deteriorating road. At the same time, his brother José María Rodríguez Luján, who owned over 4,000 hectares of San Felipe, established the Port of San Felipe and other enterprises.

Commercial benefits began to attach themselves to San Felipe as the Colorado River was harnessed to provide irrigation to the farmlands of the Imperial Valley to the north. Mexicali slowly became an oasis of rich, arable land and the population increased. During the Second World War, the American Army's Corps of Engineers constructed a usable road to San Felipe where it built a Submarine-Watch Station. Sharks began to be harvested for their livers, which were discovered to contain ten times the amount of vitamin A as the livers of codfish. Alongside this enterprise, local Chinese shipped the bladders of the huge totuava fish back to China where they were dried and ground into powders used to enrich and thicken soups. When two American entrepreneurs saw the great corpses of the bladderless totuavas simply pushed into the surf, they began their own business by hauling ice from across the border and transporting the fish to California, where they were sold to restaurants as "sea bass".

Then a former Mexican president, Ableardo Rodriquez, and a lawyer named Guillermo Rosas, seeing the generosity of the sea's abundance, purchased a large part of the village. They planned to make San Felipe the center of a tourist sports fishing industry.

They sent an American fisherman into the area to assess the angling potential of the surrounding waters. Two years later the road was improved and the town began to attract tourists, both for its beauty and its sport fishing.

Since then, San Felipe has grown on a solid foundation of hooks, nets, pangas, shrimp boats, restaurants and the American dollar. And more recently, the investment and retirement potential of the area.


Satellite San Felipe

San Felipe is generously supplied with striking landmarks that can be seen from nearly anywhere in town and a few that can be seen from miles out of town. There are the arches, called by the Department of Tourism The Gateway to the Sea of Cortez. These are two tall plaster and metal "goal posts" standing so close together they form the letter M. The inside profile is of two arches painted a blinding white. They sit in the middle of a traffic circle at the entrance to the town. About three miles north of town the highway curves into a view of these "gates" and they can be seen from almost anywhere in town.

Then there is El Machorro, a high peak on Punta San Felipe, a promontory at the northeastern end of town. From the top of this hill there is a spectacular view of the entire Valle de San Felipe, the sprawling San Pedro Martir mountains and the vast Sea of Cortez which sparkles like an opened jewelry box against the endless blond beaches.

There is the Cerro de la Virgen, a hill where a very recognizable capilla or chapel faces east toward mainland Mexico. The chapel (dedicated to La Virgen de Guadalupe) is white and built of cement blocks. It's highest wall, facing south, was cleverly designed so that two rows of missing blocks formed a cross. It is during times of severe weather the wives of local fishermen make the long ascent up the stairs to the altar where they offer up candles and flowers to the resident statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe and pray for the safe return of their husbands from the sea.

Another prominent landmark, very close to the chapel, is the lighthouse. This can also be seen from many parts of town and anywhere along the south shore as far as El Faro. In the evening it is a beacon for all visitors as well as any boats fishing at night.

Modern San Felipe

Most areas of San Felipe now have electricity. Telephones, both cellular and land-line, reach many miles north and south of the town. In San Felipe, you can find almost every amenity offered by larger communities. There are laundri-mats, beauty salons, video rental stores, storage facilities, upholsterers, glass repair shops, sign painters, appliance repairs, lumber yards, doctors, dentists, masseuse, and even a chiropractor. Soon, the Cobach High School Theater Project will be finished, bringing plays and musical events to an indoor venue.

Because of its proximity to the US, the once-inaccessible fishing village has gradually become a place where two very different cultures mingle under the conflicting influences of their respective conditioning. One culture shapes its behavior according to the natural laws it perceives in its environment. The other has been taught to bend and shape those laws for its own purpose. This difference in world-views is in itself enough to fuel some interesting exchanges. Where the norteamericanos were nurtured by a system designed to meet expectations (because this brings back the customer), Mexicans have never had any of their expectations fulfilled. And so they have not been conditioned to think or behave accordingly.

American values are measured against progress, which in turn is the parent of expectation. What passes for a lie to an American is just a campaign promise to a Mexican, who has been suckled from cradle to grave on the assurances and covenants of politicians. But a campaign promise is not the fuel that feeds the engine of material progress, and it is not enough to satisfy the expectation of an American waiting for pledges to be fulfilled. Because the average Mexican has no expectation, either from himself or the person at the other end of a promise, interactions between the norteamericano and local comerciantes often result in frustration and bewilderment.

But by and large, San Felipe is like any other community. Some people struggle from morning until night to feed their growing families and only have a better life in their dreams while they sleep. Others take their dreams to the sidewalks and by force of will and a thirst for the 'good goal', shake and bend the system until it surrenders the lifestyle they want.

Max. 47° C (117° F)
Min. 3° C (38° F)
Ave. 22° C (72° F)

Sea Temperatures:
31° 02´ Latitude
114 ° 46´ Longitude
Pop'n in 2005
14,831 hab.

Special Local Festivals and Celebrations:
Articles About San Felipe, Baja

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News ItemSummer Visit

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