San Felipe, via Ensenada and Mexicali: May 1 - May 6, 1998
My wife, Martha, and I left LA on Friday, May 1, 1998 at 2:30PM.
We took the 5 Freeway south to the border, stopping along
the way for gas, insurance, and groceries. Reached San Ysidro
at around 6:00PM. The border crossing was unusual. We did not
get an "inspection" red light, but the car next to us did.
However, there were no Mexican border guards at the gate, so the
driver just kept going, and no one was there to stop him!
The toll road was in OK condition, however it has looked better.
Tolls were $1.90 each (16 pesos). We were getting anywhere from
8 to 8.3 pesos to the dollar in Mexico.
We made it to Ensenada by 7:15PM, and the town was very busy,
but luckily we had made reservations at the Travelodge. The
room was expensive, though, $68 a night. Last time we were
there in January, it was only $45 a night. The manager
explained that it was the "time of year", and the rate was
posted on the wall, so there was no sense in arguing.
We hauled our bags to the room, and quickly headed to the bar
for "happy hour" - all the welcome margaritas we could drink,
until 8PM. We must have had 3 each. We ate dinner at a
Mariscos restaurant (I forget the name), and were back at the
hotel by 9:15PM.
Before we went up to the room, I passed by the pool, to check
the temperature. For the first time I can remember, the pool
was heated! It was bath tub temperature. Since the hotel also
has a Jacuzzi, and it was not nearly as warm, I believe that the
people at the front desk made a mistake, and heated the pool
instead of the Jacuzzi. Oh well, it was to our benefit. We
stayed in for an hour or so, then to bed.
Saturday May 2,1998
We left Ensenada at around 9:30AM, taking Highway 3 across to
San Felipe. We reached the first army checkpoint, just before
Km 40. We were questioned, then waved through. At Km 72, the
pot holes begin. At Km 77, the road was washed out, but
The road is terrible from this point, all the way to the next
checkpoint, just after Km 112. At this checkpoint, a soldier
took down our license plate number, and asked me (the driver)
for my name. He wrote this information onto what appeared to be
some sort of "log", then waved us on.
At Km 138, more pot holes appear. The road is decent the rest
of the way to the junction with Highway 5, where another army
checkpoint has been placed. We were waved through this one.
Traffic was fairly heavy on this stretch of Highway 5, and we
saw many people passing other cars at very high speeds. We also
saw a police officer pull over 2 cars that had just passed us
going around 70-80 mph (the speed limit is 50 mph). We also saw
police on the way into town, and on the way north to Mexicali,
so it appears they are enforcing the speeding laws rather
strictly now. Be careful!
Once we got into San Felipe, we found out all hotel rooms were
booked up! It turns out that May 1 is "Labor Day" in Mexico,
and since it was on a Friday, many Mexicali and Tijuana
residents decided to take off the weekend and head for San
Felipe. Unlike us, these people had made reservations. About
80% of the cars in San Felipe had "FRONT BC" license plates.
With no other choice, we ended up driving the 2+ hours north to
Mexicali, to find a room. We reached the checkpoint at the
Highway 3 junction, where we were asked to open the trunk of our
car, and a soldier "searched" a bit. At Km 87, was the only
other army checkpoint, and we were questioned, then waved on.
In Mexicali, we stayed at Hotel Lucerna, which is $80 a night,
but a very nice hotel. Since it was around 90 F that day, it
was refreshing to be in the non-heated pool that afternoon.
Sunday, May 3, 1998
We left Mexicali at about 11AM, and ended up in San Felipe at
close to 1:30PM. I have never seen so many cars on Highway 5,
heading north, as I did this day. We must have passed over 200
cars on their way back home from their weekend.
We were waved through the checkpoint at Km 87, and questioned at
the checkpoint at the junction with Highway 3. We finally made
it into San Felipe, and eventually we got a room at the El
Cortez Hotel. This is our favorite hotel, more for the
atmosphere than the looks. The bar, restaurant, and pool, are
actually on the sand of the beach (the pool is fenced in). It's
a very nice place.
We ate at El Nido steakhouse that night, which, as always, was
Monday, May 4, 1998
We had decided to make the drive to Puertocitos in the morning,
with the idea of getting into the hot springs. The road from
San Felipe to the airport junction is not bad, and the road to
Puertocitos is decent up to Km 9 (there are some portions where
the extreme side of the road is washed out, but these are very
few). After Km 9, though, the fun begins.
At Km 9, there is about a 5 foot section of road washed out, be
very careful crossing this section.
At Km 10, the pot holes begin.
At Km 12, the road is washed out, and you are taken off the
At Km 14, again the road is washed out, and you are taken off
At Km 16, there is a small washout.
At Km 18, another portion of road washed out, and again you are taken off road.
At Km 21, another major washout.
At Km 59-60, there are significant portions of the road which
are completely gone. You must drive very slow here. It is very
rough (similar to the road south of Puertocitos, heading to
Bahia San Luis Gonzaga).
Overall, the road is very poor. Pot holes abound, some
extremely deep. You must be very cautious on this road, take
your time, and give yourself at least 2 - 2 1/2 hours to make the
40 mile journey.
On the positive side, we made it in my Acura Integra, so it is
possible. Also, I counted at least 13 separate "washouts" which
had been fixed, and Mexican construction crews were working on
others as we drove through. Unfortunately, they are fixing the
washouts, but not the pot holes. The pot holes are actually
worse than the washouts. It would seem very easy for someone
who is not paying attention, to hit one of these pot holes at a
high speed, and puncture a tire, or worse.
Be very careful in the newly paved sections.
Every one of the sections which the road crews had finished, were
set in "vados". At the top of these "vados", where the fresh
pavement ends, the road reverts back to its nasty form. It is
very easy to get complacent about the "speed" you can obtain on
these small, freshly paved stretches, and once you get to the
top, it is difficult to slow down and miss the numerous pot
holes which await you. There are many "bottomed out" marks on
the top of these stretches, which is testimony to my advice.
Overall, if you take your time, you should be OK on this road.
Hopefully, the road crews will have the pot holes filled soon,
and the road will be much better to drive on again shortly.
Back in San Felipe, we decided to try the fish tacos at the new
"fish taco plaza" that the city has "created". The rumors are
true, the fish taco stands have been removed from the
waterfront, and have been placed into this "plaza" type area.
We found the new place very uncomfortable, and the food not
nearly as good as on previous visits.
Tuesday, May 5, 1998
Didn't do much at all this day, stayed at the hotel almost all
day, on the beach, at the pool, in the bar, or in the
restaurant. We ate that night at Rosita restaurant. It was
very good, as always.
Wednesday, May 6, 1998
We left San Felipe at close to 9:00AM. Heading north on
Highway 5, we were waved through the first checkpoint at the
junction with Highway 3, then questioned at the checkpoint at Km
87. We had no trouble getting across the border at Mexicali.
The U.S. Immigration checkpoint on the Junction 8 Freeway was
closed. We were waved through the Immigration checkpoint on the
5 Freeway near Camp Pendleton.
Highway 3 from Ensenada to San Felipe, poor condition.
Km 39 1/2 - questioned
Km 113 - took down name and car license plate #.
Junction w/ Hwy 5 - waved through.
Highway 5 from Mexicali to San Felipe, very good condition.
Km 87 (heading North) - questioned
(heading South) - waved through.
(heading North again) - questioned.
Junction w/Hwy 3 (heading North) - searched.
(heading South) - questioned.
(heading North again) - waved through.
Road to Puertocitos from San Felipe, extremely poor condition (being worked on).
Ensenada Travelodge - $68 a night
Mexicali Hotel Lucerna - $80 a night
San Felipe El Cortez Motel - $61.20 a night (after AAA 10% discount).