We recently spent two months in our RV at El Dorado Ranch, Baja California, Mexico. We liked it so much that we bought a little house, so we can return there every winter! In this post we share our experiences on the ranch. We hope you will see why we fell in love with this intentional community, right next to the Sea of Cortez. We also provide information on how you too can enjoy the many amenities of El Dorado Ranch.
But first, here is our video that shows a little about living at El Dorado Ranch, including activities in the surrounding areas – San Felipe and Pete’s Camp.
Getting to El Dorado Ranch, Baja California
El Dorado Ranch is located in Baja California, 100 miles south of the US border, and 7 km north of the town of San Felipe. The ranch encompasses 35,000 acres, and is right beside the Sea of Cortez, with its own private beach. It is bisected by Mexico’s Highway 5. You can read all about how to get there in the post and video below.
How to Arrange a Stay at El Dorado Ranch, San Felipe
To stay at the ranch, you must contact the head office, or be introduced to an existing resident to find out what the opportunities are for short-term rentals. We were introduced by mutual friends (thanks Richard and Nancy!) and arranged our two-month stay via email with a very kind and busy woman named Sandra. She owns a serviced RV site with a ramada, which she rented to us.
You can use services like VRBO or Air BnB to stay at the ranch. However, we found the rates to be very high, and noted that the ranch sometimes charges a daily rate of $35 to purchase a wrist band to access the amenities. Far better to enter as the guest of an existing owner and use the facilities for free!
Arriving at El Dorado Ranch, Baja California
Once you arrive as a guest, you need to visit the HOA office (directions here). At the office you get your ranch photo identification cards, which are necessary to use the facilities, and also to re-enter the ranch. The office is only open during business hours and a half day on Saturday, so if you plan to arrive at any other time, you will need to make arrangements with your host for temporary passes. Temporary passes are only valid for a few days, so you will need to return to the office to get the photo cards soon.
San Felipe, Baja California
Approximately 7 km south of the ranch is the town of San Felipe. The town’s bay was named San Felipe de Jesús in 1746, but the first fishing camps were only established in 1925. Historically, the town was dependent on fishing, but now it depends more on tourism. Today, San Felipe’s three economic mainstays, in order of importance, are tourism, shrimping, and fishing.
The population of San Felipe was 17,708 at the 2015 census, but it can increase by 5,000 or more, due to the influx of (usually part-time) Canadian and U.S. visitors. Many of the local stores cater to these visitors, notably the Calimax supermarket.
Businesses in San Felipe
From El Dorado Ranch to San Felipe there are many businesses, including restaurants, tire shops, mechanics, postal services, solar power suppliers, a hardware store, hotels, a craft brewery, and grocery stores. In San Felipe there are all the amenities one could wish for. It is helpful to be able to speak some Spanish, as many of the merchants speak no English at all.
There are excellent veterinarians, dentists, doctors, a great computer repair store, a bicycle shop, barber shops, beauty salons, propane suppliers, pure water suppliers, and many, many more services. Of course, there are tons of places where you can buy Mexican take-out. We especially enjoyed the pollo asada.
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The Malecón in San Felipe
San Felipe has a lovely beach front, and a malecón (esplanade) shopping and restaurant area. Like many Mexican cities and towns, there are plenty of tourist-oriented restaurants on the malecón, which are also enjoyed by many locals.
There is also a marina, but it is undeveloped and under used. We drove down one day, and did not feel any urge to get out of the truck. However, you can buy fresh fish there. There are problems with the local fishing industry due to complex conservation issues. On the other hand, you can still buy wonderful shrimp everywhere.
Options for Staying in the San Felipe Area
There are many different ex-pat communities in the San Felipe area – Pete’s Camp and Playa de Oro, to name just two. We will focus on El Dorado Ranch because, in our opinion, it offers the best value and greatest amenities in the area.
While at El Dorado Ranch, we parked our RV under a ramada, on a plot owned by a local resident. We had full hookups, including sewer, 50 amps of power, and water (from a cistern). Our neighborhood is called Palos Verdes North.
We were on one of the very few streets in the ranch that have street lighting. The housing in that area is relatively dense, so there were always neighbors nearby. We prefer that over some of the more distant parts of the ranch, where houses can be few and far between.
The ranch is a gated community, with 24-hour security. The property covers approximately 35,000 acres and is surrounded by electric fencing and a ditch to deter thieves. Despite all the security provided, I would not describe this area of Mexico as a high crime environment. In fact, there seems to be a very positive relationship between the ranch community and the locals. Many residents of the ranch work on learning Spanish and participate in charitable projects in San Felipe.
Pete’s Camp near San Felipe
Pete’s Camp is a community, RV park, restaurant and bar, right next door to El Dorado Ranch. There is a close relationship between the camp and the ranch.
You can park your RV right on the beach, and make use of the limited facilities. Right on the beach are clean toilets. Up at the restaurant, you can pay for a shower. We did not see any hookups, but they are building and developing, so this may change.
We heard nothing but praise for the management of Pete’s Camp. Also, the bar at Pete’s Camp is world-class, with an ocean view to die for. It was hands-down our favorite local pub.
Wine and Chocolate Toy Drive at Pete’s Camp
We were at El Dorado Ranch over Christmas, and were happy to participate in some of the toy drives for local children. Pete’s Camp hosts a wine and chocolate toy drive, where people donate toys. This was a very well run event, and a lot of fun. The staff at Pete’s Camp are clearly very dedicated to doing their best for local children.
The food at this event was outstanding, and everybody had a great time. There was even a chocolate fountain!
Thanksgiving at El Dorado Ranch
We celebrated American Thanksgiving at two different events. The first was a potluck lunch at the Pavilion at the golf course. The Pavilion provided food as well, and then donated all leftover meals to a local charity.
We also enjoyed Thanksgiving at a private party on the ranch, attended by a mixture of Mexicans and non-Mexicans. The latter hailed from all over the world, not just the USA and Canada. For example, we met a couple from Switzerland! Thank you Rachel for this invitation and special experience!
History and Homes of El Dorado Ranch
The ranch was founded in 1989. The property contains a number of neighborhoods, which vary from solar-powered lots only, to mixed use (which means you can park an RV on your property), to fully powered suburbia where you must store RV’s and boats in enclosed garages. There is also an overflow storage area on the property for RV parking if needed.
Properties range from ramshackle adobes to beach-front mansions, and everything in between. There is even a condominium neighborhood in the Ventana del Mar (Window to the Sea) area.
Whether you live in an ancient trailer or a mansion, all owners enjoy equal access to the amenities of the ranch – of which there are many. And thanks to a 4% uphill grade, almost all properties enjoy a view of the dazzling Sea of Cortez.
Things to Do at El Dorado Ranch
There is a beautiful pool complex at the Canchanilla Pool on the mountainside. This comprises an Olympic-size pool, plus a smaller pool for volleyball and Aquafit. Both are heated to 81 degrees for comfortable swimming. Joe loved that this is cool enough to be able to swim laps. These are the only heated pools in San Felipe.
During the week we enjoyed water aerobics every morning, ably led by residents Rachel and Heather (Tuesdays through Friday) and one of the staff (Monday). This is always a very happy hour for all of the many participants. We did not participate in the water volleyball, but may try it in the future.
There is a second, smaller pool area located at Ventana del Mar, which is used mostly by the condominium dwellers. This pool is next door to the La Palapa Restaurant.
There are a lot of very creative people in the area, including ex-pats and locals. These creative types add interest to the frequent craft fairs. Alongside the mass-produced curios, expect to find some amazing art as well.
Las Caras de Mexico Golf Course
The ranch is home to San Felipe’s first and only golf course. Las Caras de Mexico (Faces of Mexico) is an 18-hole course right next to the Sea of Cortez. This golf course was thoughtfully developed. It uses a local species of ground cover, which does not require excessive water. On Saturday mornings one of the residents offers free golf lessons, which we enjoyed.
Events at the Restaurants
The local restaurants cater to the ex-pat community with an assortment of different events. Some are purely fun, such as the dollar nights. At these, you can get dinner and drinks for two people for around $13! Other events are fund-raisers. We especially enjoyed the Blues for Hunger events at the Pavilion clubhouse at the golf course.
Social Life on El Dorado Ranch
There are many activities on the ranch including pickle ball, Zumba, water aerobics, water volleyball, horseback riding, movie nights, live music performances, theme and pot luck dinners, card games, and poker night. You can download weekly schedules and decide what you want to do each week.
We found that most people in our neighborhood were extremely friendly. For example, when we first arrived we were greeted by Ron, a stranger we had been put in touch with via a mutual friend (thanks Nancy!). Ron helped us get our passes and find our site, and quickly became a valued friend.
On our second day at the ranch, two local ladies (Patricia and Danita) arrived at our RV to welcome us to the ranch and invite us to an event! We quickly joined a companionable group for weekly card games, dinners, and brunches. These kind of private gatherings flourish alongside the organized group activities.
The people in the neighborhood we were staying in were wonderfully warm. For example, we all enjoyed a Christmas pot lunch together at Danita’s house.
We think that the mix of residents is approximately 70% Americans and 30% Canadians, with a surprising number of single women and widows who feel quite safe living alone in their homes on the ranch. They regularly drive the hundred miles to the USA to go shopping or to visit friends, often all alone. One such lady told me that she feels immediately safer when she leaves the USA! We never met a single person who said they felt unsafe anywhere in the area.
The Beach at El Dorado Ranch
The Ventana del Mar neighborhood is the only area that has beach access. We often went there, as we enjoyed walking on the beach with our dogs. In November and December, we often had the beautiful, private beach to ourselves.
A number of social events are held on the beach, such as the New Moon Mixer, and karaoke nights at Juanita’s restaurant.
The Sea of Cortez has very dramatic tides, so it is not uncommon to walk a quarter of a mile or more to get to the water. There are also many sting rays in the tidal areas, so it is recommended that you shuffle your feet to avoid stepping on a ray and being stung.
Due to the tides and the rays, this is not really a swimming beach. For that, it is best to go into San Felipe itself.
The El Dorado Ranch Swap Meet
Every Saturday morning there is a swap meet at the Canchanilla parking lot (near the HOA office and the pool complex). It runs from 7 a.m. to noon. Although it is called a swap meet, we never saw any swapping. Instead, it is more of a market, where ex-pats run their stalls alongside locals.
You can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, seafood, tamales and other snacks, furniture, trinkets, plants, and even used vehicles. We even found a Canadian butcher selling hams, sausages, and excellent chicken cordon bleu.
Joe bought a much needed new hoodie one week, and I even had a 5-minute chair massage for 100 pesos (approximately $5 USD).
The Medical Clinic at El Dorado Ranch
One of the best features of the El Dorado Ranch is the on-site medical clinic, which is contracted by the Home Owners Association. Residents can consult with a physician for a $10 co-pay. Services include emergency medicine, prescription renewal, bloodwork, and other tests. We found the doctors excellent and warm, and they spoke good English too.
In case of emergencies, the security staff are the go-to solution to transport you to the clinic. Not only that, but they are trained in the use of defibrillators, if required. This is useful on a ranch which the residents half-jokingly refer to as the “Wrinkle Ranch.”
Once you have seen your physician, you can fill your prescription at the local Orange Pharmacy, located 5 minutes south on the highway. It is owned by an excellent pharmacist who speaks better English than some native English speakers!
Daily Life on El Dorado Ranch
Each property on the Ranch has its own septic field, separate electric meter (unless it is a solar property), and cistern for water (usually buried). The average cistern is 2,500 gallons, which will last 2 to 3 months, depending on usage. Water delivery is easily arranged for approximately US$45 per fill. Electricity averages US$30/month (paid in pesos).
Water quality in Baja is excellent, but the storage facilities and pipes are old, which leads to contamination, making the water undrinkable. Residents use 5-gallon containers, which are refillable in San Felipe for the price of 12 pesos (less than US$1)! We have three of them, which last us about nine days.
Grocery Shopping in and Around San Felipe
There are a number of grocery stores in and around San Felipe. Across the road from the entrance to El Dorado Ranch there is a store/deli, called El Rancho.
While El Rancho is not the cheapest option, it is extremely convenient for those small emergencies.
For cheaper shopping: in San Felipe there is a large CaliMax that offers an amazing range of groceries and alcohol. The prices are excellent. We were thrilled to find decent Mexican wine for $4 per bottle.
The Calimax also has spacious covered parking. We were amazed and happy to realize the covered parking was high enough to accommodate our enormous tow vehicle!
As well, there are numerous other stores, including a Costco-type warehouse store for those who wish to buy in bulk.
There are also a number of smaller grocery stores – such as La Vaquita in San Felipe, and the Gonzales Market located close to the ranch (our favorite store for good quality meat).
Internet on the Ranch
The AT&T reception on Joe’s cell phone was surprisingly good (but certainly not great), and we were able to do a little hotspotting with it. For serious online work we usually had to go down to the Ranch HOA office, where they have free Internet. There are several places on the ranch that have this.
If you live at the ranch for extended periods, you can sign up for a local Internet provider, Lynx. They have an office near the golf course entrance to the ranch.
Restaurants near El Dorado Ranch and in San Felipe
On the ranch itself, there are two restaurants: La Palapa near the beach, and the Pavilion, at the golf course. We enjoyed both of those for casual meals. La Palapa is open for breakfast and lunch daily, closing at 2:30 p.m. The Pavilion appears to be open all the time, and hosts multiple events and fund-raisers, as well as dollar nights.
Jolly Mon, Buckaroo Burger, and Road Runner
Also, there are many local restaurants along the 7-kilometer trip to San Felipe, and many more in the town. We recommend Jolly Mon (great dollar nights on Wednesdays), Buckaroo Burger, and Road Runner for casual dining.
La Vaquita Restaurant
We also liked La Vaquita, which is much more upscale, with great service and food. There is a La Vaquita very near the ranch, and another one in San Felipe.
If you ever go to La Vaquita, Joe recommends the giant mango margaritas! Personally, I found them a bit too sweet.
Many restaurants are located within walking distance, or a short drive, from the ranch.
A little further away is Rancho Allegre, which offers two-for-one-Margarita Wednesday, Open Mike Mondays (lots of noisy fun), and an awesome Sunday brunch.
Mariscos La Morena on the Malecón in San Felipe
In San Felipe, Mariscos La Morena is a lovely seafood restaurant on the malecón, where we enjoyed our first and last meals of our trip. Thanks to Ron for introducing us to this restaurant.
A more budget option is the Taco Factory on the Malecón, where one can order any kind of tacos, from octopus to chicken. We had lunch there with a friend, and the bill for three lunches and two beers was less than $20! There are many dining options we have yet to try, including a restaurant owned by an ex-NFL’er (the Sweet Spot, on the malecón).
Miguel and Paco’s
One very special restaurant is Miguel and Paco’s, which is a French-themed restaurant located on an ejido close to the ranch. (Fun fact – an ejido is a land co-operative given to the people by the government.) To get there, while heading south on highway 5, turn right at the blank billboard near San Felipe, and then turn left one road past the tree in the middle of the dirt road … and then be prepared to be blown away by a fabulous restaurant in the middle of nowhere!
Miguel and Paco’s is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, and one must make a booking in person for one of their seatings. For US$22 each, you get to enjoy a three-course dinner, including an assortment of appetizers, a choice from 5 different entrées, and a dessert course. The restaurant has no liquor license, so you supply your own alcohol. This is great, as it keeps the price of the evening ridiculously low.
We visited as a group of eight, with each couple providing their own wine. The décor is lovely and the restaurant had a very cozy feel in December. The food was excellent, better than any we ate in Paris! We have already decided that this will be where we celebrate my birthday every year.
Holidays and Events in San Felipe
Baja Mexico is host to a number of off-road car races. These races attract crowds to all the local venues and short-term rentals. Sometimes this means that there can be food and gas shortages, so residents are always careful to stock up ahead of time, and avoid the bars and restaurants during the events. We were also told that San Felipe is thronged with locals at Easter time, with many camping on the beach, and the streets choked with traffic.
We were told by residents that San Felipe used to be a favored destination for Spring Break, with the town overrun by drunken college kids from the USA. This is no longer the case, due in part to the Mexican police cracking down on public drunkenness. The remaining ex-pats are mainly over 60, and are very happy not to have drunken youngsters ruining the peace and quiet.
San Felipe is temperate in the fall and spring, cool in early winter, and extremely hot and humid in the summer. When we arrived in November the average temperature was mid to high 20’s Celsius (70-80 Fahrenheit). By mid-December, the temperature fell to the mid-teens Celsius (60’s Fahrenheit). This lasts all through January, into February.
There can also be high winds in the area from time to time and tropical storms (the last one was in 2014). The weather warms up again in March with temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s Celsius. By June the temperature increases to the high 30’s (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit). While there are some ex-pat residents who live there year round, most ex-pats head north for the summer months.
There is little to no rainfall in the area – a total of one a half inches most years.
Computer Repair in San Felipe
Joe had a near disaster when he got his MacAir so wet that it started sparking and smoking. We phoned a few businesses in the USA, who all said exactly what we expected: “No one can fix a Mac that has got wet and almost caught fire.” Then we found Cesar Rodriguez, who runs a computer repair business out of a trailer on the side of a dusty road in San Felipe. His business is called El Panal, Expertos en Laptops.
Cesar is a gentleman who speaks good English. He was not phased by the sight of Joe’s burned MacAir, which smelled like smoke. In a few days he had it better than new, and for a very reasonable price. Joe was immensely happy and relieved – he really, really needs that laptop for our blogging business. As we no longer have regular jobs, we could not really afford to splurge on a new one.
If you need computer repairs in the San Felipe area, we very highly recommend Cesar. When driving into San Felipe from the north, follow the main road. One of the first cross roads is Eucaliptos Avenue. Turn right. You will pass the propane suppliers on the left. About a block and a half in, you will see the bright green trailer on the left. The actual address is Ave. Eucaliptos 817 Sur.
Just before we left, we bought a little house on El Dorado Ranch! We were not planning to buy, but sometimes the universe conspires. We were very lucky to find a property for sale in the neighborhood where we were renting (thanks to Ron for that tip-off!). We had already bonded with our neighbors and loved the convenience of the location, so it was really a no-brainer for us to make the purchase. The price was right, and we love Mexico, so it just made sense for us.
The house has electricity, and a place where we can build a pad for our RV, right next to the house. Best of all, it has a view of the Sea of Cortez. And because the house fronts onto one of the many designated green spots on the ranch, no one will ever be able to obstruct our view.
Living in the RV this past 18 months has been very freeing, so it was initially hard to consider bricks and mortar again. However, there is a downside with RV living, in that it is impossible to host friends and family for visits. Even hosting a dinner party is difficult! Now that we have our house, we can invite friends and family to join us for a cheap Mexican vacation in a lovely resort setting.
We are currently at Catalina Spa RV Resort, enjoying the hot springs and the company of good friends. However, in March we are heading back to El Dorado Ranch, to get our house spruced up and ready for next winter. There are some repairs and modifications we need to get done, and a lot of cleaning, and of course, it needs fresh paint and some furniture. We can’t wait to get back to Mexico!
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