This post was last updated on August 17th, 2014
Often we find it’s best not to set expectations about a destination. That’s simply because places and attractions don’t always live up to the hype that surround them. We’ve lost track of the number of times a ‘must-see’ destination only proved so-so, while a similar attraction everyone said to avoid was the highlight of our trip. We do our research and love learning and hearing about destinations around the world, but when it comes time to visit for ourselves we try to banish any preconceived expectations.
We like to call it ‘avoid Paris Syndrome’. Did you know that every year a handful of Japanese people undergo a psychiatric breakdown in Paris? While the cause could be part culture shock or exhaustion, it’s also due to an idealized image of Paris that is prevalent in Japanese culture and advertisements. Some Japanese have built Paris up to be so much that the reality of the city could never live up to their expectations. As a result, they have to undergo hospitalization or even repatriation!
So like I said, we try to avoid all that by keeping our expectations to a minimum. But sometimes, we just can’t contain our excitement. Such was the case with San Pancho.
We first learned of San Pancho from Bridges and Balloons. Victoria fell in love with the charming Mexican town, explaining in detail 54 things to love about San Pancho. I quickly found myself falling in love with San Pancho through her blog posts. When it came time to choose a destination for January and February (we needed to be home in early March for a wedding and our flights to Sweden), San Pancho easily won the bid.
By this point, my expectations for the small town were up in the clouds and there was no point trying to pull them back down again. I just knew the town would be perfect for us.
So was San Pancho as magical as we had hoped, or did we create our own San Pancho Syndrome?
We’ll be honest. There were times that San Pancho drove us crazy. Like when there was no Wi-Fi in what seemed to be the entire town. Or during the Zumba classes in the plaza behind our house that blared the same playlist twice a day for the entire duration of our stay. Or when it seemed like we were going to be eaten alive by mosquitoes.
So no, San Pancho wasn’t perfect. But it was still absolutely amazing, and we wouldn’t change one moment of the experience—zumba classes included.
San Pancho has become quite popular among bloggers, but outside of the travel blogosphere it is still relatively unknown. While traveling on the Caribbean side, we only met one Mexican familiar with San Pancho and that’s because he was from the area. Honestly, we would like San Pancho to remain off the radar. We thought about keeping all our wonderful San Pancho memories to ourselves, but ultimately decided that wouldn’t be fair. After all, we came to know San Pancho from a fellow blogger, so it’s only fair to pay the favor forward.
San Pancho is a small town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta and just 10 minutes outside of Sayulita, a popular surf destination. It boasts about 2,000 residents, a lovely mix of Mexicans, expats, and artists. Though there is definitely an international vibe to the town, it feels very local as well. It’s situated on a lovely strip of beach and surrounded by jungle and mountains. At any time of day you can see dogs happily running wild along the shore. At night most of the town congregates on the beach to watch the best sunsets in the Nayarit Riviera, and during some months you can see baby turtles being released into the sea.
It’s quite interesting because in the 1970s, Mexican president Luis Echeverria was so charmed by San Pancho, just a fishing community at the time, that he began investing in the town to make it a self-sufficient, ideal village. I’m not sure if it was his initial investment that molded the town to be the way it is today, but regardless, he was one of the first to be captivated by San Pancho’s magic.
One entity that certainly has positively influenced San Pancho is EntreAmigos, a non-profit community center in a repurposed warehouse. EntreAmigos could be an entire article in and of itself, but essentially it is providing a fantastic space for children (and adults) to learn and play. In addition to the regular classes and workshops it offers, there’s a library, café, equipment from Cirque du Soleil, a recycling center, and a re-sale shop! One of the things we loved the most is that the Community Arts Center is actually strengthening the community. It’s in many ways the core of the town, a place where people volunteer, meet, play and discover. Which brings us to our next point:
There were lots of things we loved about San Pancho. We won’t share each and every one of them here as Bridges and Balloons already did such a good job in the blog post noted above, but we do have to talk about the main reason that San Pancho stole our hearts.
From day one of our arrival in San Pancho, we felt like we were members of a dynamic, interesting, and talented group of people.
Our first day in town, we walked into a small store to ask some mundane question, totally irrelevant to the store. The owner helped us out, but then also took the time to ask our names, where we were from, and what we were doing in San Pancho. We were struck by his friendliness, and left to continue our errands with a smile on our faces. Then we went to dinner and yoga that evening, and the same thing happened. People asking us questions about our lives and what brought us to San Pancho. The trend continued at each new establishment we visited—with our neighbors, with new people we met while out for a drink. But the best part was that when we ran into our new acquaintances later, they would always remember us. And they always had time to stop for a moment and say hello.
Maybe it’s just small town living, but we loved walking down the only main road in San Pancho and nearly always seeing someone we knew. What would normally be a five-minute walk would inevitably take us fifteen due to the conversations had along the way. And we were only in San Pancho for six weeks.
Being part of a community like this, if only for a brief time, really impacted us. We love traveling and being nomadic and going where the wind blows us—for now. But there will definitely come a day when we will want a more permanent home base. If it’s somewhere like San Pancho, with its strong and safe community, talented artists and musicians, excellent restaurants, farmer’s markets, beach, yoga and surfing… well, we certainly wouldn’t complain.
Have you heard of San Pancho? Does this sound like the sort of small-town community you would love, or are you more of a city person?
Did you like this post? You’ll probably LOVE one of our other posts about Mexico, too!