Last updated on January 12, 2024
San Pancho, Mexico was a town that surprised us. A month’s stay easily turned into six months and we almost set down roots there. We loved and love it, and my oh my how much we miss it. In homage to our beloved town, here are some reasons to love the San Francisco you’ve never heard of.
This includes things to do in San Pancho, Mexico and plenty of San Pancho travel tips. Also see our guide to the best restaurants in San Pancho.
Please note that most of San Pancho closes for the low, rainy season (from around May-October).
The best things to do in San Pancho, Mexico
54 reasons to love San Pancho, Mexico
1. San Pancho beach
I never quite got over the beauty of San Pancho beach. Beaches like this are usually filled with people and parasols, but apart from during New Year and Easter, San Pancho was always spacious. The ocean was intimidating so I rarely braved it, but watching the surfers, strolling the sand and marveling at the jungle backdrop more than made up for that. In the final weeks, we discovered phosphorescence, and danced to make stars in the sand.
Since we were last there, there’s regrettably, but somewhat inevitably, been more development along the beachfront. This includes the huge (and ghastly) Punta Paraiso resort, which has taken up some of the public beach – there’s a campaign to have it taken down.
2. The sunsets
Sunset is the hallmark of a San Pancho day. Everything is arranged before or after it, and locals and travelers alike gather to watch it from the sand, often clapping for the main event.
3. The community
Without a doubt, the highlight of San Pancho for Steve and I were the people. It taught us the meaning of community like no other place we’ve been before. If one of us was ill, people would come knocking with remedies; we couldn’t walk down the street without stopping for hellos; and we made friends we imagine we’ll keep forever. This little girl was always on hand with an ‘hola!’ as we passed.
Christmas day was a perfect example of our life there…when around 30 people gathered at our house for a pot luck lunch and secret santa. We’d only been there six weeks at that point.
4. The surf
As I said, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to waves, but San Pancho is a popular surf destination.
One friend Luis runs Santa Madre Surf school, and another friend Natacha runs both surf lessons and ocean confidence training at Animo Surf. The latter is something she started after I left, so I’ll definitely be trying that next time!
Natacha also has a gorgeous voice and does sound healing sessions too.
5. Yoga lessons in the plaza
The opportunity to practice teaching yoga was one of San Pancho’s finest gifts. I loved my four-times-weekly classes and the community that built around them. Visiting dogs were always a highlight.
My yoga classes were done by donation. From money to fruit to massages, students gave whatever they could. I wish all of life could be like that.
Although I’m not there now, San Pancho is the type of place that fosters such initiatives, so you’ll likely find something similar.
Something that brings a lot of people to San Pancho is the long-standing turtle conservation project. Volunteers can spend time with the Project Tortuga group, collecting nests and ensuring the babies safe release into the ocean. During the high turtle season (July-December), you can see the turtle release almost every night at sunset. It’s a beautiful sight, but also an eye-opener to the serious plight of turtle survival around the world.
7. The cafes and restaurants of San Pancho
For such a small place, San Pancho has an impressive array of wonderful cafes and restaurants. Our favourite cafe is Cafe Mañana. See our full run-down of the best cafes and restaurants in San Pancho.
8. Entre Amigos community centre
Many people cite Entre Amigos as one of the chief reasons San Pancho is so special. It certainly is an amazing place and many visitors come to volunteer there.
Started by an American lady as a simple after-school activity club, it’s now grown to a huge community centre including a library and computers that the local schools use, a creche for babies, a thrift store, and a whole programme of activities for both children and adults – ranging from yoga to language lessons to belly dancing and much more.
Each year they hold an annual fundraiser, which is always a grand event. Last year, one of the original art directors of Cirque du Soleil (who has a home in San Pancho) sent down some Cirque performers who taught the children their tricks. The silks are still up in the centre and circus lessons are among the most popular on the schedule.
And perhaps the most wonderful fact about Entre Amigos deserves its own category…
Not all of Mexico has the infrastructure for recycling, but San Pancho is lucky in that Entre Amigos doubles as the town’s recycling centre. Not only does it collect the town’s recycling and deliver it to larger recycling plants, it also makes use of some of the materials itself.
There are glass, fabric and plastic workshops in the centre that make all sorts of objects that are sold in the centre’s shop. This is also doubles as a way for local people to learn a new trade.
10. Amazing music scene
One of the things we missed the most about London when we were away was the easy access to live music and especially the tours by our favourite bands. The joy of San Pancho is that it seems to be a magnet for amazing artists (remember the Paracho guitar trip?), and the local musicians soon became some of our favourite bands – including the excellent Pantera Fantasma, Dos Bertos y Las Musas, and Selinger and Jess. It was like being able to see Edward Sharpe every week!
During the tourist season (November-April) there’s live music almost every night of the week in at least one of the bars/restaurants in town. Our favourite venue was Darjeeling’s open-air roof, which managed to be cosy beneath the stars. There’s even a San Pancho music festival!
11. Ibogaine community
To describe the ibogaine community deserves a post of its own, and it is one I’ll write eventually, but for now here’s a taster. Ibogaine is a plant medicine, originally from Gabon, which has most popularly been used in the western world as a treatment for drug addicts (it takes away the withdrawal symptoms and can also have a positive psychological effect).
There are a few ibogaine clinics in San Pancho, mostly catering for Americans who can’t get the treatment in the States (it’s illegal there). Many of the people who have gone through treatment stay on in San Pancho to recuperate, and it’s incredibly inspiring to see people who have made a positive step to change their lives.
Practicing and teaching yoga was a step change for my hunched-up-over-a-computer-screen body, so I turned to some of the town’s wonderful bodyworkers. Massages in Piel de Miel are wonderful, and Jaime at Orgon Via is magic (seriously, he has a gift).
There are also opportunities to try a temazcal sweat lodge – look our for adverts around town.
13. So many new things to learn
San Pancho seemed to be a magnet for interesting people willing to share and teach their skills. From musicians to African dance specialists to acro yoga teachers, there always seemed to be something new to learn.
While we were there, the town hosted an annual capoeira festival, which featured world-class performance and teaching. We never failed to be surprised by how much San Pancho had to offer!
Just ten minutes from San Pancho is Sayulita – a bustling surf town that feels like a city in comparison to its neighbour. With a busy nightlife, boutique shopping and waves suitable for beginners, it attracts many more tourists than San Pancho. We enjoyed having it nearby but were happy to retreat back home. How to get to Sayulita.
15. San Pancho Artisanal Market
On Tuesdays, there’s an artisanal market in on Plaza del Sol selling handmade jewellery and Mexican handicrafts. There are also food stalls, selling meals as well as fresh and specialist ingredients to make your own food at home. There’s live music too.
When we were in San Pancho, the market there didn’t exist, so we were regulars at the Mercado del Pueblo in Sayuita on Fridays (which still happens now). Filled with yummy organic produce and artisan products, it was the perfect place to spend a Friday morning listening to the live music and eating from the plethora of awesome stalls. A man specialising in Thai vegatables, and another serving cacao shots were favourties.
16. Organic farms
The Sayulita market made us realise that San Pancho is surrounded by a number of organic farms – and Entre Amigos also has a growing organic garden. We made friends with two young farmer girls and arranged to buy a selection of their latest produce every week for just 150 pesos. The picture above is their stall at the market. They even had kale and pak choi – not things you easily find in Mexico.
17. Cute places to stay
It was love at first sight when I found our little house in San Pancho. From the open kitchen to the rose garden, everything was perfect. There are lots of similarly charming places to stay.
18. A gorgeous place for digital nomads
Sadly, editing and design work often keep Steve inside, protected from the sun’s glare. I, on the other hand, like to try and be outside as much as possible. My ‘office’ in San Pancho was ideal – on our roof terrace, surrounded by plants and with a view across the jungle. ‘Ideal’ could also be substituted with ‘distracting’, prompting many a mind wander as I dreamed across the trees.
Cafe Mañana and Maria’s were other favourite places to work.
19. Whale watching
During the whale season (from around November-March), you can often see the magnificent creatures out at sea just by sitting on the beach, which is an awe-inspiring experience. If you want to get closer, you can take whale watching boat trips from Punta Mita, which also go to the beautiful Marietas islands for some snorkelling.
Fill a boat with at least five of your friends and you’ll pay around 100-150 pesos each. We went with the Planetary Collective crew and Shannon of A Little Adrift and had an awesome time snorkeling and spotting whales and dolphins.
20. The dogs and cats of San Pancho
At first, we thought San Pancho was full of stray dogs but soon realised they all had owners. Dogs live a cat’s life there – coming and going as they please. Some of them became great friends. We miss them dearly.
We lived above our landlord who had four excellent cats and appeared to host the town’s cat club. One of the visitors seemed outraged by our arrival in his adopted domain. He would always stare us down. We christened him Herman. Perhaps that’s why he hated us.
21. A plethora of excellent creatures
Being so close to the jungle meant that some of the world’s more unusual creatures often graced our presence, sometimes bringing to mind the pre-historic. We loved the iguanas and this armor-clad beetle.
There are also lots of amazing birds and you can go on dedicated bird watching tours with the San Pancho birding network.
Capomo is a wonder-drink and could single-handedly persuade us to live in Mexico. Made from the fruit of the capomo tree (also known as the Maya Nut), it’s a little like coffee minus the caffeine. In fact, it’s good for you with many health-boosting properties, including plenty of magnesium.
23. Escaping to Yelapa
One of the wonderful things about being in Nayarit and so close to Vallarta is that there are tons of amazing places to visit in the nearby area including ruins, reams of stunning beaches, and little towns galore.
We were so enamored by San Pancho (as well as busy working) that we didn’t take advantage of this as much as we could have. We did however make it for a weekend in road-less Yelapa for Steve’s birthday, which was a wonderful place to unplug and be immersed in nature. If you go, make sure to stay in Casa Isabel.
24. Inspiring words from Pancho Vida
Every day, the folk at Pancho Vida t-shirt shop write a new inspirational quote on the board outside. It was always fun to see what the day’s lesson would be, such as the one above: “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life”. Wise words indeed. The t-shirts are also fun, and Steve is the proud owner of one of their excellent San Pancho Day of the Dead designs.
25. Flora galore
I already dedicated a whole post to the flowers of San Pancho. The photos say it all.
26. The jungle
I never once got bored of staring at the trees from our roof terrace, and was even more enchanted when taking a walk into the jungle that surrounds San Pancho. The tree above is nicknamed the ‘gringo tree’ due to it’s red and peeling skin!
There are a few jungle hikes around San Pancho, including the route from San Pancho to Sayulita, which begins at Hacienda San Pancho.
27. Calle Tercer Mundo
Despite its number of excellent things, San Pancho is actually very small, and nearly everything is situated along one road – Calle Tercer Mundo. It connects the highway to the beach, and we couldn’t walk down it without bumping into someone we knew.
28. Alianza Jaguar Association
The Alianza Jaguar Association is another of the amazing conservation organisations in San Pancho. It’s dedicated to jaguars, helping to conserve their existence through sustainable developments.
29. Tailwind jungle lodge
I would never have found San Pancho if it hadn’t been for my yoga teacher training course held at the gorgeous Tailwind Jungle Lodge, so I’m ever thankful to both Drishti and Tailwind. The lodge can also arrange kayaking and stand-up paddle board excursions.
30. The mud beach
We didn’t get to the mud beach until our final few weeks in San Pancho, but if we’d have found it earlier, it would have been a regular trip. The two-hour jungle hike from town takes you to the secluded beach with its own supply of nutrient-rich, blue therapeutic mud. We felt like we were in Avatar.
31. Discover the local bars
The bars have changed a bit since we were there (our old favourites were Los Santos and Cafe del Mar) but there are still plenty there. Current recommendations from our friends on the ground include La Baba del Diablo mezcal bar, craft beer at Cervecería Artesanal and El Gallo, which hosts salsa and cumbia nights on Fridays.
32. Singing trucks
“Human Gods….In Charge.” This is what we liked to believe the gas truck was shouting as he drove around the town. In fact, we made up our own interpretations for all the trucks’ jingles. What could have been an annoyance (they are pretty loud!) was actually a joy. We especially enjoyed buying our produce straight from the farmers’ hands…
… and spotting some of the more unusual niches, like this excellent mattress truck.
There’s a churros truck that occasionally turns up too.
33. Huichol art
Steve and I are both big fans of Huichol art and the jewellery is beautiful. Huichol people sell the art at stands next to the beach at the end of Tercer Mundo, and some also sell around town. For the more up-market end, go to the Huichol art gallery next to the kite shop. Steve had this Tibetan Dream Flag design custom made by Andreas, a man who sells his work around town.
You can also find Huichol art at the eco art walk in downtown San Pancho on Fridays.
34. Beach fires
A beach fire is always a good option of an evening in San Pancho, especially when it’s a new moon and the phosphorescence is out. A guitar, some frieds and stars both above and beneath you – magic.
This post is already choc-a-block, and we don’t have photos of the last few things, but they certainly deserve a mention.
Steve was a skater in the past and is always transfixed by the sound of a skateboard and sight of tricks. San Pancho therefore gets plus points for its skatepark, complete with ramp and rails. It’s in the park, also popular with men playing dominoes.
36. Wine and brownies Thursday
Every Thursday, the lovely people at the Huichol Art shop and gallery give out free brownies and wine, which is a lovely social event. The shop itself has some incredible items including masks from Asia intricately decorated with Huichol beads.
37. El Indio
It is only a little supermarket but I feel as though Indio has to be included as a day in San Pancho isn’t really complete without a trip there for something. It’s a true convenience store with most everything you need. They even had a little Japanese section.
38. Kite flying on Sundays
Jeremy from Panchitos bar (where they hold the open mic) also runs a kite shop, San Pancho Aire, and on Sundays he takes some of his creations down to the beach for some fun kite flying. It’s a beautiful sight and you’re free to join in. During Easter, the kites were so popular, he nearly sold out the entire store!
This might sound like an odd one, but it’s very unusual for a town as small as San Pancho to have a hospital. For anything major, you’d have to go to Puerto Vallarta, but knowing it is there is reassuring. The hospital was built during a tim when the President of Mexico owned a home in San Pancho and pumped money into the village to show what could be done with a tiny town.
40. There’s even a book about it!
And finally, if this isn’t enough, there is even a book about San Pancho. Written by local authors, Viva San Pancho includes stories inspired by the town.
Useful information about San Pancho
You can get to San Pancho from Puerto Vallarta by bus. If arriving from the airport, you need to cross to the other side of the highway and catch the bus from there. It costs about 25 pesos. Alternatively, a taxi costs around 500 pesos. The bus travels directly down Highway 200 and you get off at the stop after Sayulita.
There are plenty of places to stay in town including tons of private rentals. The best way is to arrive and ask around, but you’ll need to book during the busy periods over Christmas, New Year and Easter. If you’re on a budget, the new Hostal San Pancho comes recommended. Roberto’s Bungalows and Cielo Rojo offer a next step up, and are again highly recommended (some people call the owner of Roberto’s –Earl – San Pancho’s resident ambassador!). For jungle living, Tailwind is great.
You can buy a local cell phone from the phone shop opposite Entre Amigos.