Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho

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.

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - Sunset

 

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.

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - Blue Clay

 

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.

 

The Town

 

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.

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - San Pancho Beach

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - Happy Street Dog in San Pancho, Mexico

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - Baby Sea Turtles Hatching on the Beach

 

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:

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - EntreAmigos

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - EntreAmigos

 

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.

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - San Pancho Polo Club

 

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.

 

Reflections on 6 Weeks in San Pancho, Mexico - San Pancho BBQ

 

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!

Adventures in the Yucatan | A Video Journey Into Cenotes 

Rhythms of the Night |An Unforgettable Encounter With Ancient Civilization

How To Travel Mexico in Style – The Vocho

A Preview of Life in San Pancho, Mexico

Meet: Casey Siemasko


Casey Siemasko is a blogger, content marketer, and co-founder of A Cruising Couple. She has been living and traveling outside of the US full-time since 2011. She finds her life inspiration in exploring the world and seeks to find the magic in the most ordinary of places.

26 Comments

  1. We didn’t make it to San Pancho even though we were in Puerto Vallarta for two weeks…I guess I blame our Spanish lessons from getting us up that way (we headed south when we explored instead). I will have to check out Bridges and Balloons post on it and make a point to go there ‘next time’!
    Emily recently posted…ABC: A Baños CarnavalMy Profile

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    • I can see how it would be easy to stay in Puerto Vallarta- there’s a lot of fun things to do there! Hope you make it to San Pancho on your next visit 🙂

      Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing this aspect of San Pancho – loved your post!

    Reply
  3. We’ve actually been struggling to find our next trip and we’ve narrowed the field down to San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua and Sayulita, Mexico – so this post has helped add another check mark to the Mexico side.

    We will be bringing our toddler and infant and plan to stay for a month, during May or early June. Do you think this spot is good for a family? Decent accommodation options? Thoughts?
    Cam recently posted…Recap from our first trip to Sunny ArizonaMy Profile

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    • We’ve never been to Nicaragua, but I’m sure whichever you choose will be wonderful! Sayulita is definitely a good place to stay for a month. There is a lot to do, good restaurants, and I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding decent accommodation. However, Sayulita is also becoming more touristy, and there are lots of surfers, backpackers, etc. As we would only visit Sayulita for an afternoon, I’m not sure what it would be like to live there. Will you have your own transportation? If so, then I would recommend San Pancho. Haha I might be a bit biased, but it’s a great place for a family, and with the EntreAmigos community center right there, you would have an amazing place to bring the kids. Sayulita is only ten minutes away, so if you have transportation it’s really easy to get back and forth between the two. The only downside to San Pancho is slow wifi. Sayulita is definitely a fun, safe, beautiful place, but it doesn’t have the same slow-paced vibe I think it used to (which is not necessarily a bad thing, either haha). Hope that’s helpful! Let us know what you decide!

      Reply
      • Thanks – appreciate the feedback. We’re leaning towards Mexico because we can get direct flights from Vancouver, which has become essential when flying with two little ones. Cheers!
        Cam recently posted…Recap from our first trip to Sunny ArizonaMy Profile

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  4. Looks so awesome guys, definitely a place for us to put on our own Mexico “bucket list” and perhaps flag as a potential base when we make it to that part of the world. It seems a bit to me like it might be akin to the Mexican version of Pai, a lovely little hippy town we absolutely fell for when we were in Thailand… which was kind of a surprise as I was actually quite certain we would hate it! Kind of the opposite of Paris Syndrome, I suppose, but certainly a more welcome one to follow victim to!

    Did you check out Sayulita at all while you were in the area? Was just wondering what, in your opinion, the benefits to San Pancho would be over Sayulita or if one place might appeal to certain types of travelers more than others. I do know several travel bloggers have based themselves in Sayulita as well.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Gorging on George Town: Does Malaysia’s Culinary Capital Live Up to the Hype?My Profile

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    • I’ve never heard of Pai, but it sounds perfect! It’s always nicer when places turn out to be much better than you expected, rather than the other way around 🙂

      We did go to Sayulita often! We had a motorcycle which made it really easy to get around. There’s a weekly farmer’s market we would go to, and if we ever wanted nightlife after 10pm that’s also where we headed. Sayulita is just much more touristy and doesn’t have the same sort of community feel to it. I think it’s kind of exploded over the past few years, and the beach isn’t nearly as nice. However, it’s only ten minutes away, so we loved being based in San Pancho, but then being able to go to Sayulita whenever we wanted to try a new restaurant or do something new! More and more people are actually relocating from Sayulita to San Pancho as Sayulita continues to become more popular with surfers and backpackers. So yea, I think they both are awesome, but San Pancho is better for the community, relaxed, small town vibe. Sayulita for a two-week vacation where you want plenty to do. Haha they really are so close though that if you have your own transportation, it’s easy to enjoy both!

      Reply
  5. hi casey –
    i’m arriving in san pancho on thursday! thanks for the inspiration!
    question, please – do most restaurants and shops takes credit cards or should i stock up on pesos? or is there an atm in town?

    Reply
    • That’s awesome! You will love it 🙂 There are a few ATMs in town. They don’t all always work simultaneously, but you’ll definitely be able to get money out at one of them haha. We didn’t use our credit cards at all, and I really don’t think anyone takes them.

      Reply
  6. Great post, I’m going to Mexico next year so I will definitely be checking it out. I can totally relate to ‘Paris Syndrome.’ I’ve done this to a few places now and was in serious danger of doing this to Havana, a place that I’ve wanted to visit for years. I’m pleased to say that though that thankfully it lived up to all my expectations 🙂
    Becky Padmore recently posted…Highlights of Sri Lanka’s southern coast by David’s Been HereMy Profile

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    • Havana is SO high on my travel list. I’m really glad to hear that it lived up to your expectations! It’s always awesome when a place does that 🙂 You will love Mexico- there is so much to see and do!

      Reply
    • For sure! That To-Do-Go list just keeps getting longer and longer for us! 🙂

      Reply
  7. I totally understand your frustration when you have no Internet and the work must be done. We suffered a lot in the Philippines for that reason :)!! I’m glad you had such a great time on the beach. Did you practice some yoga?
    Agness recently posted…A Lesson From The Road – A Story About Getting LostMy Profile

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    • Definitely frustrating! Haha the yoga did help a bit though! It was so nice to be able to practice at a studio and not on my own everyday! I went about three or four times a week.. not as much as I would have liked, but you had to pay per class, and we still have a budget to stick to 🙂 Now I’m back to practicing on my own, and the energy is just never the same for me.

      Reply
  8. Sounds great! San Pancho is, no surprise, on our list of place to spend a while in too – seems too good not to!
    Sam recently posted…Best Reads: February 2014My Profile

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  9. Baby turtles! Gah! So tiny and cute!

    San Pancho looks like a great place to call home for a while. It reminds me a little of Chiang Mai, Thailand, with more beach and less temples 🙂
    Heather recently posted…Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

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    • It was fabulous 🙂 the baby turtles were pretty great, too!

      Reply
  10. So pleased you got to experience San Pancho. We still really miss it there! We recognise lots of the faces in those photos too – Lilly the dog, and Chris and Hilary the humans! And I so remember the zumba music. It was directly before my yoga classes each day so we always had to wait for it to finish until I could start!
    Victoria recently posted…Kimitoön Archipelago: a photo storyMy Profile

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  11. Great to read this! We are heading to San Pancho in December with 2 kids (4 and 1). Any tips on finding a place to stay? Would it be worth finding an expensive vacation rental for a week and trying to find something cheaper/longer term once we are there? Hoping to stay for anywhere from 3-5 months, depending on how we like it 😉 So we’re looking for something affordable, longer term than a vacation rental and hopefully something spacious so we can have friends visit!! Any tips/ideas would be super appreciated, thanks!
    Pamela recently posted…4 things.My Profile

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