San Felipe Military Checkpoints

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

On your way to San Felipe, Baja, Mexico you'll see a group of uniformed men standing under a canopy near the Ensenada turnoff. Don't be alarmed. These are the Federalistas whose job is to prevent the dissemination of drugs, arms and ammunition. These soldiers are very young, but they are well-trained, polite and know their jobs. Your vehicle is required to stop at this checkpoint and you will be questioned. They'll want to know where you are from and where you are going. You may be asked to open the trunk, glovebox, suitcases, etc. The search is usually perfunctory and painless.

San Felipe Checkpoint guards at work.
Checkpoint north of San Felipe

The troops at these search stations are disciplined and tolerant. They have to be. They're stuck in the desert forty miles from the nearest town, with no refrigeration or air conditioning. They usually sleep in tents and have no social interaction except among themselves. Their posting is for a three month duration and then they are moved to another checkpoint for three months. Then back again.

Because of the heat, the routine and the unchanging society, the soldiers are quite open to outside communication, especially if it presents a face of humor. Feel free to practice your Spanish on them. Be personable. They won't bite. Just don't joke about guns, ammo or drugs.

The checkpoints on either side of San Felipe aren't going to win any design awards. They are simple, functional roadblocks with shade canopies, tents, perhaps a shack or two, an observation tower and banks of sandbags that look like they might marginally impede the death threat of a runaway Honda Civic, but not much more. At night you may see a lane bordered by flickering flames. This is the low-budget lighting designed to help you navigate the checkstop and keep cars away from their kneecaps.

Military Checkpoint guards inspecting a truck outside san felipe
A truck search in progress.

For anyone who entertains the idea of running a military checkpoint, there is a board of nails hidden behind a shrub or sandbag that unfurls a length of cord across the highway where a guard is at the ready, presumably with countless hours of rope-pulling training under his belt. The spike-bristling board, sans recumbent fakir, will skate out onto the highway at a moment's notice and introduce its sharp arguments to the underside of your fleeing wheels. So don't try it. It's a low-tech but effective contingency. And of course if the vehicle still manages to fobble away from this deterrent, there are machine guns that'll convincingly finalize the debate.

If you find yourself at a checkpoint at midday or during the afternoon and the outside temperature makes the road look like you're inside an aquarium looking out, it would be a nice gesture if you offered a chilled soda to the soldier attending your vehicle. These guys are a long way from a maltshop.

Traveling south from San Felipe will bring you to another checkpoint just past the turnoff from the airport road. Again, be polite and good-humored.

Military checkpoints serve the added purpose of letting would-be highwaymen know there is law-enforcement in the area. Roadside banditry is very rare around San Felipe, probably due to that very reason.