Ready For A Weekend Warm Up?

Here’s a trip for you
BY: BART ALLEN BERRY

About this time of year, as we begin to put away the firewood that’s kept us cozy all winter, many people living on the Pacific Coast will tell you they are Jonesing for some warmer weather.  Even though we’ve already  had some warm days this February, the days are short and the ocean is still cold.  Hard blowing Santa Ana winds can be an irritation when, despite bringing in some warmth, they can make what should be a pleasant day unusable.  If you are reading this and you are from someplace colder, you might think there is something wrong with these Baja  Nortenos who act spoiled – but hey- we do get cabin fever, even living here in this beach paradise. 

isla el heurfanito copy.jpgThe cheap, fast and easy adventure is to head east for an expedition to the magnificent Sea Of Cortez and the San Felipe area,  and maybe points just south of there.  The Mar de Cortez is of course a beach and fishing paradise with another 800 miles or so of beautiful coastline south of there,  but points further south require an extra four to five hours of driving to get to places such as Bahia de Los Angeles.  San Felipe is around three and a half hours from Rosarito depending upon which way you drive, how fast,  and what you might be towing.  The recent drop in gas prices is a real factor in saving you money on this road trip. 

The drive out through the back door of Ensenada and over the mountains is a worthwhile experience in itself.  Elevation gains take you up and over some high plains and passes with spectacular mountain scenery before you are treated to a dramatic elevation drop back down to sea level.  There you will be introduced  to a real desert environment.  The changes in flora and fauna from century plants to giant organ pipe cactus confirm you have entered a whole new Baja Biome.  The intensity of the sun and ever present blue line on the horizon welcome you to the shores of one of the most beautiful and interesting adventure wonderlands in the world, and it’s so close to us here.

After passing through the checkpoint north of town- whether you elect to come from Mexicali from the north or Ensenada from the west, you enter the northern part of the little village of San Felipe.  There are numerous camps and small developments where you can simply drive in and camp on the beach and begin relaxing.  Most have some simple palapas and facilities for camping, while some have more developed amenities.  One popular beach camp neighborhood is Pete’s camp where visitors are welcomed warmly and everyone scoots around on their ATVs and sand buggies.  There’s a great restaurant there with a bar that offers some local entertainment, and we don’t mean just the colorful local people. These campos as they’re called, are basically ramshackle trailer parks.

The more upscale El Dorado ranch is a sprawling community that’s way more permanent and upscale. It has a community pool with hot tub, outdoor bar, and poolside entertainment.  It’s worth a stop in to see this xxpat haven which also offers a golf course and country club restaurant and bar with entertainment and special events.

San Felipe itself is a vibrant tourist and commercial fishing city with the iconic fleets of simple panga  fishing boats pulled up on the beach in the middle of town.   It is required of course that you try some of the local shrimp caught in the back yard and perhaps buy some to take back to your campsite.

 Nightlife and fun in San Felipe feels a lot like any other Mexican tourist destination, but the truly adventurous know there are some incredible gems waiting for them if they are willing to travel just a bit farther south. 

Although there are some 25 camps and small hotel spots in the south side of town,  the wilderness rewards come when you keep on the road heading south along the coastline.  This road has been improved and paved in recent years creating great access all the way to Gonzaga Bay (Bahia San Lucas Gonzaga).   As you travel south the coastal terrain really changes after the small development of Puertocitos which has a great boat ramp and private little beach with a tiny restaurant. They also have hot springs there.

Near shore Islands are soon visible from the road including the mushroom shaped Isla El Huerfanito .  This is an important landmark because here is exactly where the water temperatures dramatically changes.  This warmer water certainly affects your willingness to go swimming in late winter or early spring, but it also means the fishing gets better.  If your getaway weekend plans call for shore fishing, kayaking, or beach launching your inflatable with a 10 horse motor from the sand, you have come to the right place.  A personal favorite is the Punta Bufeo area just north of Gonzaga Bay.  The rocky point that sticks out here creates a choke point between itself and an island that all of the local fish must swim through.  

Catching 10 fish or more per hour here is not unusual with a delectable variety including, sierra, triggerfish, cabrilla, sculpin, bonita, yellowtail and pargo all in the same spot. 

Clams are everywhere and  if you add in sparsely populated beaches with free camping anywhere you’d like, you have an amazing formula for a truly relaxing weekend.  

Watching the full moon rise over the Sea Of Cortez and hearing the soft splash of tiny waves from your bonfire beach chair will confirm that you have discovered one of the most serene and easiest weekend getaways ever. 

So if your air travel budget is tight and you don’t have enough time to get all the way to Baja Sur remember San Felipe – and points just south where you can experience the magic of Baja just a few hours away.