While everyone is recovering from Thanksgiving festivities and prepping for the upcoming holidays, I’m waxing poetic about my recent trip to Mexico. It broke all preconceived notions I’ve had in the past about traveling to Mexico. While much of my early adulthood revolved around going to Tijuana to partake in their nightclub scene, I’ve never spent a night there.
When a local P.R. company representing Mexico’s Department of Tourism invited me to San Felipe’s annual shrimp festival, I hesitated. I wanted Paul to travel with me, mostly for my comfort but also because we should experience this trip together. A few invitees bowed out of the trip and Paul was approved as my guest.
As with most pre-trip planning, I tried to bone up on my research as much as possible. But all my research did not prepare me for the what lay ahead.
San Felipe is situated on the east side of Baja California, right on the Sea of Cortez about two hours south Mexicali. A common way to get there is through Tijuana east to Mexicali and a straight shot south — which took approximately 4 hours by car.
I’m sure you’ve heard the ads on 91X — the roads are indeed modern. I noticed many California license plates headed in the same direction as us. I found out later that San Felipe is a popular destination for many Americans and Canadians during the winter months. Many of these “snowbirds” even own property in San Felipe in a major housing development on the outskirts of town.
San Felipe itself is devoid of any American institutions (i.e. no McDonald’s, no Starbucks) but everything is surprisingly comfortable and many people understood my high school-level Spanish. Back to the ex-pats— I couldn’t throw a rock without hitting an American citizen who was 1) currently visiting for the Shrimp Festival; 2) an ex-pat staying for the winter months; 3) a retiree living in San Felipe full-time, or 4) a young hipster in town early for the Baja 3000 races. To say I felt safe even wandering the streets alone is an understatement. Everyone, both locals and ex-pats, was so friendly and in a festive spirit.
Fishing is one of the major industries in San Felipe — that’s how the town came to be. They claim to have the best shrimp in the world, hence their annual shrimp festival.
The San Felipe Shrimp Festival spans over three days and features cultural events, entertainment and many restaurants showcasing shrimp up and down the main boardwalk. Many of Baja California’s best chefs were vying for best shrimp recipe for this year’s festival. Lots of vendors had their own take on shrimp for sale: coconut shrimp, Philadelphia shrimp (shrimp stuffed with cream cheese), garlic shrimp and the popular bacon-wrapped shrimp.
Besides the shrimp, my favorite take away from the weekend was the stingray cake. What I initially thought it was a crab cake was actually minced stingray sitting on top of pureed black beans. I also cannot say enough about the freshly squeezed orange juice — it featured the sweetest oranges I’ve ever tasted. It has ruined plain o’ regular orange juice for us.
San Felipe is also home to several natural wonders.
Every morning the water recedes back several hundred yards, allowing us to “walk the ocean.” We woke up early to watch the sun rise over the sea and walk along the water. Kayakers, fishing vessels and load of birds are seen in the distance.
A short drive away from San Felipe is the Valle de Los Gigantes featuring some of the largest Cardones cacti in the world. One lucky cactus was transported to Spain for the World’s Fair in 1992.
While the desert is expansive in Baja California, it is breathtaking to see many areas end right at the water.
In all, it was a welcome relief from our normal routine with fantastic weather (we saw it was raining in San Diego all weekend) filled with impressive food. We are already planning our return trip to Baja to do more exploring on our own.
Many thanks to the Baja California Tourism board, San Felipe officials, Allison & Partners P.R. as well as our fellow travellers for providing an insightful and fun weekend!