The coastal town of San Francisco (or San Pancho, as it’s more commonly used moniker), in Riviera Nayarit, invites rest and relaxation like few others in the region. And yet, with its art galleries, restaurants, artists and writers collectives and environmental organizations, not to mention annual music and art festivals, it encourages short or long-term visitors, national and international, to get as involved with the community as they choose.
San Pancho has a really friendly vibe conducive to spontaneous chats, which is just one of the reasons down-to earth expatriates are moving there and Vallarta locals love to spend the weekend. Still very much a small town with a funky local flavor, its main street is really fun to check out, the best of the Old World without sacrificing today’s benefits, like the perfect latté. And then there’s its untamed natural beauty, with long stretches of pristine sandy seaside and lush jungle to explore. Surfers are attracted to the area’s best waves and the restaurant scene is surprisingly fantastic and diverse.
San Pancho’s history can be traced back to pre-hispanic times, and it was in 1524 that it was christened with its name by Don Francisco Cortés de Buenaventura.
Nothing much changed in this mango processing town until a few years ago, when there was a sudden a boom in real estate development and visitors discovered the town’s many pleasures.
San Pancho is located less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta along Carr. 200 North, and only five minutes past Sayulita, another popular beach town. The exit to San Pancho is clearly marked on the highway, and most of it’s attractions are located on, or within walking distance to Ave. Tercer Mundo, its main thruway, that runs from the highway to the beach. A leisurely stroll from the highway to the beach along Tercer Mundo will take you less than 30 minutes.
For people going to San Pancho directly from Puerto Vallarta’s International Airport, it is wise to check ahead of time with your hotel to verify if pick-up and transportation can be arranged. Public transportation from Puerto Vallarta is available throughout the day by way of the Compostela bus line, which can be boarded at Walmart, in front of the Maritime Terminal. Bus lines such as Transportes y Autobuses del Pacífico offer departures from Puerto Vallarta’s Bus Terminal to Tepic and points north, and will often stop at San Pancho on the highway upon request.
Culture: Arts, Music, Cuisine
It is no surprise that San Pancho is considered the “cultural capital” of the state of Nayarit by many. San Pancho features several annual events, such as the San Pancho Music Festival, and the Artist Collective annual exhibition that usually takes place at the end of December. There is also a very active writers’ group, a birding group, a marine turtle preservation group and Hojanay, an environmental group devoted to the preservation of the jaguar and its habitat. All of these and several other organizations provide visitors and residents many opportunities to get involved through hands-on volunteering activities.
San Pancho’s environmental pursuits go hand in hand with the town’s culinary offerings. Basic eateries abound, with a couple choice restaurants that feature a more sophisticated or organic feel to their menus, and a few that feature live music during the evenings.
During Winter and Spring months, several businesses located along Ave. Tercer Mundo, organize an Art Walk on Friday evenings, an excellent way to become acquainted with the town’s offerings.
Landmarks, Sights & Activities
San Pancho is home to La Patrona Polo Club one of only two polo fields in the region, the other one located in Costalegre. La Patrona features seasonal polo matches that attract national and international athletes, along with training and practice. Exhibition matches take place every Saturday during Winter and Spring months, providing an excellent social and recreational opportunity for the town’s resident and visitors.
While in town, a visit to EntreAmigos, the local non-profit organization for the children of San Pancho is a must. Their sustainable 16,000 square-foot educational facility features a well-stocked library for children, a computer center, coffee shop, classrooms and exercise spaces, a second-hand store with goods donated by members of the community, and a unique gift store, where recycled and repurposed objects created by local residents are sold. Their building has been recognized as a model facility for environmentally responsible design, with its integration of natural elements and innovation in the use of recycled materials.
San Pancho beach is so wide and peaceful it is virtually impossible for it to appear crowded at all. It stretches for several miles and its powdery sand is favored by beach joggers. Better suited for surfing than swimming, the beach features several eateries with public facilities right in the center of the beach.
Neighborhoods & Neighboring Regions
Most of the activity in San Pancho takes place in or near Ave. Tercer Mundo. North of town, a residential neighborhood features beautiful oceanfront homes and hillside properties, along with a few hotels. Given the short distance between Sayulita (five minutes south) and San Pancho, it is possible to explore and discover both destinations on a single trip.
Where to Stay
San Pancho features a small number of hotels and b&b’s, along with a considerable number of properties that can be rented directly from their owners, or through local websites (see Related Sites and Publications below).
San Pancho real estate opportunities have traditionally been limited to single family homes built in the town or on the hillside to the north of San Pancho. New developments now offer townhouses and gated communities, with a few small condominium projects as well. Originally built as a model for Third World development by a former president with aspirations to a UN post, Luis Escheverria (1970-1976), its infrastructure is solid and well thought out, the hospital he built a central focus of village life to this day. Nothing much changed in this mango processing town until a few years ago, when there was a sudden a boom in real estate development as visitors discovered the town’s many pleasures, several projects now taking shape.
Regular Important Events
- Named after St. Francis of Assisi, San Pancho celebrates it’s annual patron saint multi-day fiestas on and around October 4.
- Weekly polo matches take place at La Patrona Polo Club every Saturday during Winter and Spring months.
- Art Walks take place at participating galleries, restaurants and shops along Ave. Tercer Mundo every Friday evening during Winter and Spring months.
- The annual art collective exhibition usually takes place during the final week of December.