It’s not until you’re standing just feet from a careening dune buggy that you realize that car races in Mexico are not quite the same as in America. The San Felipe 250, an off-road race that takes place on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula in either February or March is a crazy lot of fun—even if you do have to be a little more careful when standing on the sidelines.
Normally, San Felipe, a sleepy town of about 25,000 residents that sits on the Sea of Cortez, is a relatively calm place renowned for its miles of beaches and laid-back atmosphere. Founded as a fishing port, the area is now sustained by tourism and retirement living, with about 250,000 Americans and Canadians visiting annually.
That sedate climate changes in the first few months of the year, when the San Felipe 250 comes to town. The race, marking its 31st year in 2017, is a three-day loop that travels 250 miles through the desert, and crowds gather all along the desert course to watch drivers hell-bent on making it as fast as possible to the finish line. There are all different types of vehicles involved, from motorcycles to stock VWs, buggies, trucks and even customized race vehicles. And, as I discovered when I went to watch it, there’s nothing more between you and the speeding cars than a whole lot of flying sand.
The adrenaline rush is incredible, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be inside one of those cars, though I can tell you from watching YouTube videos that it sure doesn’t look comfortable! Visitors can check out the vehicles before the race as they parade down the Malecón in downtown San Felipe, as well as chat with the drivers who you can find all over town the weekend of the event, which this year will take place from March 30-April 2.
If car racing isn’t your thing, there’s still a lot to do in San Felipe, especially if you like to spend time outdoors. Located on the edge of the desert and the sea, San Felipe offers the best of both worlds whether you want to spend a day fishing, or drive out to see the desert springs and waterfalls. Quads are available for rent, as are kayaks, personal watercraft and paddleboats. There’s a tourist office in town (right by its single traffic light) that can help you plan your adventure.
Local fishing guides, or pangueros, are available to take you out on the water where you can fish for corvina, white sea bass and chochito (triggerfish) among others. Their rates are negotiable, so it is recommended that you go down to the marina the day before you want to fish to make a deal—wait until the morning of, and their rates may be a little higher. I also suggest Dramamine for those who tend toward seasickness; on the day we went out the water was really rough and I have to admit that I was pretty happy when we headed back to shore.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to bring home a big catch, there’s no shortage of fish or shrimp tacos to be found in town, so you’ll still get a chance to sample the local delicacies.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for a first quarter visit, there are other great times to visit San Felipe because it seems like the town is always celebrating something, especially on Mexican fiesta days. There are also other off-road races that pass through town; check out www.sanfelipe.com.mx for more details.
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