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While traveling in Baja is not the adventure it once was, it is still not what most people are used to in the states.

Road Conditions November, 2011


Mexicali to San Felipe via Highway 5

The road between Mexicali and San Felipe is in very good condition - with the exception of the new construction zones. In some places, the new road surface is still being striped and the shoulders marked so be careful. At night, it is extremely difficult to see the edge of the road where new black asphalt has been applied.

In addition, it is common to see tire tread from heavy goods vehicles, or construction materials that have fallen off a truck, on the roadway. You need good visibility to see these hazards. For these reasons, we always recommend that you drive only during daylight hours!

Tire debris in the roadway


November 2011: Road construction to build sections of the four lane higway is continuing in the area south of km80 to km 90 - on the Laguna Salada. You may have a 1-2 mile diversion where bridges and drainage channels are being built.

Here is an example of a diversion from the road down onto its west side and the graded desert floor:

Travel on these sections can be challenging, especially when the traffic is heavy and the surface is torn up by the vehicles. Take it slow and avoid the temptation to overtake slower traffic if you can. The dust clouds that are generated can reduce visibility to near-zero at times (especially at night!).

See our news page for any updates..>>



General observations:

Allow 2.5 hours from the border at Mexicali to the Arches in San Felipe. Speeds of 70-80 mph are routinely possible in many stretches and on the four lane sections south of the Ensenada Road junction it is easy to find yourself doing 100 mph. Note, however, that the posted speed limits on this excellent highway range from 80 kph (50 mph) to 110 kph (70 mph). Highway patrol police will give you a ticket and escort you to the bank in San Felipe or Mexicali to pay it immediately.

There is a long, straight stretch of road between km 70 and km 90 which marks the causeway over the great Laguna Salada. The road is elevated several feet above the lake bed and there are no shoulders!! Many years ago (in the 1980's) the Laguna was routinely flooded by the waters of the Colorado and was one of the most spectacular stops on the winter flyway for migrating birds. Now we have only the dry lake bed and it can be plagued with dust devils or small tornadoes (tolvaneras) on hot summer afternoons. Be very careful if there are signs of a sandstorm ahead.Visibility can drop to near zero in a few hundred meters and your vehicle can be buffeted by very strong winds. One of the most dangerous features of a sandstorm is that large drifts of sand can pile up on the road. If you hit one of these drifts at any speed over 30 mph you stand the chance of your car overturning or drifting off the road and down the precipice onto the dry lake bed.

There is currently only the 'permanent' military checkpoint at the junction with the Ensenada Road where checks for drugs and guns are always made in both directions. With the new emphasis on security, random military checkpoints are being set up, often just for a few hours at a time, to catch drug smugglers. On busy weekends, the traffic north can be significantly delayed by these checkpoints. Remember there is no gasoline or diesel fuel available in the 130 mile stretch from Mexicali to San Felipe.


San Felipe to Puertecitos via Highway 5
The road south toward Puertecitos is in excellent shape and well paved to Puertecitos. Allow 1 hour for the trip. Note that the new Pemex station in Puertecitos still not open. Also note that the restaurant in Puertecitos is generally only open on weekends. A small store at the entrance to the town has beer and potato chips if you get hungry.

Puertecitos to Gonzaga Bay and Mexico Route 1

Everything is excellent down to El Huerfanito and Okies Landing, a distance of about 71 miles south of San Felipe.

The road a few miles north of El Huerfanito

Doug Magee sends this report from Rancho Grande at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga ( update 10/2011):

(see their website at http://www.papafernandez.com/)

The road south from San Felipe is paved and open to "Okies Landing". It is paved to Juan Pablo's ( Popeye's) and should open by the end of this month. That leaves only about 15 miles to our camp. and they graded that last week. Not perfect but graded !

The road is scheduled to be Paved to Rancho Grande by the first of the year (2012). The Ranch is putting a chase under the road now , so they can service the Palapas with Power and Water after the road is completed.

The Rancho Grande Pemex station is operating but is closed on Wednesday. Rancho Grande now has a excellent fulltime Restaurant. open from 8 AM to 8 PM . They have a full line of supplies even Ice cream. The road south to Highway 1 at Laguna Chapala is s also rough and rocky. Travel time from San Felipe to Rancho Grande is approximately 2.5 Hours in a high clearance Vehicle.


Algodones to the Mexicali-San Felipe Highway via Highways 2, 3 and 4
Significant work has been undertaken in the past year to improve the road from San Luis Rio Colorado and Algodones to Mexicali. If you are coming from these crossing points take Mexico 2, then get on Mexico 2D (Toll Road) that enables you to bypass Mexicali completely and land on Highway 5 to San Felipe.

The Ensenada to San Felipe Road via Highway 3 - a lonely route - drive only during daylight.
This is the scenic route from the San Diego area to San Felipe! Normal driving time from Ensenada to San Felipe is 3 hours. Repairs and pothole-filling are a constant and on-going activity but the road is in generally good condition.

The 30 kilometers between Ensenada and Ojos Negros consists of spectacular curves with wonderful scenery but no passing lanes. Heavy goods vehicles use this section of road carrying produce and construction materials between Ensenada and the farming communities in the valley. Settle down and follow these vehicles at a safe distance. There is essentially no safe place to overtake and you might as well relax and enjoy the scenery. A permanent military checkpoint is located at Ojos Negros.

Beware of the tire-bursting topes (speed bumps) outside Heroes de Independencia; they warn you to slow down and you should take the warning seriously.

Independencia has small stores and refreshments available

The section of the road between Trinidad Valley and San Felipe is in fairly good condition. You will find workers making repairs along the section between the Trinidad Valley and Heroes de Independencia.

The Vistabella mini hotel, on the south side of the road at Valle de Trinidad, is the only rest facility on the journey. Beware of the small, almost invisible, step at the cafe entrance. Stay overnight in Ensenada and enjoy a relaxing gourmet meal rather than drive this very isolated road in the dark!!!


Mexicali west to Tecate, Tijuana and San Diego; east to San Luis Rio Colorado

San Felipe travelers are now blessed to have the new East-West tollway (officially the "Libramiento") open for travel to Tecate, Tijuana and San Diego without having to pass through Mexicali. The new toll road crosses the Mexicali-San Felipe highway (Mexico Highway 5) about 13 kilometers south of Mexicali. In the eastwards direction it runs to San Luis Rio Colorado, where you may cross the border to Yuma. The westbound direction is only accessible from the southbound lane of the San Felipe highway. This road is of no use to you for reaching the two Mexicali-Calexico border crossing stations.

If you are driving north from San Felipe, go under the highway overpass and make a U-turn - you will now see the sign as in picture above. At present the road is only a single lane in each direction but the traffic is very light and the road surface excellent. Immediately on entering the Libramiento, you will come to the first toll booth (45 pesos) and the road will take you around Mexicali and join with the main toll road up La Rumorosa and on to Tecate and Tijuana. I routinely take this road to go to San Diego and it is an absolute pleasure to return to San Diego via the Tecate border crossing on a Friday afternoon. Note that the Tecate crossing can be very busy on weekends as all the tourists flock over from San Diego to visit the famous brewery. The journey to Tecate will cost you a total of about $11 dollars in tolls and take about 1 hour from highway 5 - or just under 3 hours from San Felipe to the border there. This is also a very good way to travel from the Tijuana/San Diego area to San Felipe and completely bypass the traffic of Mexicali. Note that there is no SENTRI lane at Tecate.

If you are traveling to San Diego, it is worth giving yourself a treat at the end of the journey. When looking for a great place to eat in San Diego, all roads lead to restaurants like Eden in Hillcrest whose mouth-watering menu and great ambience make it one of the best new dining spots in town.

The toll road to Tecate is a beautiful engineering accomplishment and rivals some of the most scenic routes through the Swiss Alps. The road is well maintained and excellently signed (in fact there are almost too many informational signs along the way, with even signs to inform you not to deface the signs). The climb up the mountains to La Rumorosa is spectacular and there are rest areas (no restrooms) where you can pull off the road and look out over the Mexicali and Imperial valleys. You also get a chance to look at the huge pipeline and one of its pumping stations that sends the Colorado water to Tijuana. The trip to Tecate is highly recommended. Cellphone coverage is very spotty on the zig-zag road up the mountains.

To cross to the U.S. at Tecate, leave the toll road at the Tecate exit and proceed on the main city streets past various pharmaceutical plants and maquiladoras. (Map below - follow the yellow line) Just before getting to the town proper, you will see signs on the right-hand side of the road saying "Garita" and pointing to the right (north). A new road has been constructed which leads both passenger and commercial vehicles to the new crossing gates. You will go up and down two very steep hills and be driving right next to the boundary fence on this last mile of the road. Stay in the extreme right-hand lane! Trucks must use the left lane and will turn in through one of two massive iron bar gates to the inspection point. Cars will enter through the second massive gate which is only 30 meters farther on. There are two crossing lanes for cars at this gate but no SENTRI lane.

The town of Tecate itself is also a delight with its Zocalo (extreme left of the picture above) with a bar and cafe and there are two or three internet cafes within a couple of hundred yards of the square. Parking is relatively easy on a weekday. Small fast-food restaurants abound in the vicinity. An excellent liquor store opposite the northwest corner of the square sells a very comprehensive selection of Tequilas. From downtown, the access to the border crossing is now only from the East. You will have to backtrack to the road at the eastern end of the town. (yellow line on map above).

November 2011 update

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San Felipe, Baja California, México