San Pancho, Mexico (officially “San Francisco, Nayarit” on the map!) is hands-down the best-kept secret of the entire Riviera Nayarit.
But those who have been or have lived here already know that, and most people visiting San Pancho for the first time come to believe so, too.
San Pancho is an unassuming pueblo located on the Pacific coast of the lovely Riviera Nayarit in western Mexico. You can find it tucked off the main highway about an hour’s drive north of Puerto Vallarta.
Here in San Pancho, you can dine on fresh seafood, bathe in the sun on a long stretch of sandy beach, and take in the tropical mountain and palm tree views from anywhere in town.
Of course, those are all great. But more than anything, the best thing about San Pancho is its eco-conscious, activist-driven community.
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As a travel blogger who has lived in San Pancho, Mexico on and off since April 2018, it’s not easy for me to share with my readers whom I know to be fellow travel-hungry adventurers in search of unique destinations!
That said, this guide is designed to inform you about the town of San Pancho and how you can visit it responsibly.
Let me tell you more about this beloved community and what makes this town so special.
The Ultimate Guide: San Pancho, Mexico
San Pancho is unlike any other place I’ve traveled to or lived in.
But first, where is San Pancho, Mexico?
As I said, San Pancho is a special place, and it attracts a certain special type of people! It’s not like its neighboring pueblo of Sayulita, the chic surfer’s town where the streets and beaches are crowded with tourists.
San Pancho promotes a calmer, quieter, and more down-to-earth and eco-conscious type of tourism. And this is exactly my raison d’etre. More and more, people are searching for San Pancho. And they’re going to find it!
My hope with this ultimate guide is to bring across the essence of this charming pueblo so that when you visit San Pancho—for the first or fourth time—you can make your time here much more meaningful and beneficial for both you and the San Pancho community.
So without further ado…
Here’s literally everything you need to know about visiting San Pancho, Mexico! Please remember to visit us with care. 🙂
Visiting San Pancho for the First Time?
✈️ Find affordable flights to Mexico on KAYAK from $99+
🚗 Rent a car from Puerto Vallarta to San Pancho on Discovercars.com
🏠 Stay at one of my favorite hotels in San Pancho
🛡 Insure your Mexico adventures with SafetyWing, the global travel medical insurance for nomads ($40/4 weeks)
🖼 Book with GetYourGuide for fun activities in Nayarit and airport transfers!
*Updates for traveling to San Pancho in 2023*
- Open restaurants have taken sanitation measures.
- Some businesses and organizations will reopen only after the summer/low season (i.e. Entreamigos, etc). Most activity begins again in mid-October and early November.
- Wearing a mask is not required, but optional.
If you’re visiting San Pancho for the first time, here’s a quick overview of what this town is all about.
San Pancho is home to many artists, healers, yogis, muralists, dancers, writers, teachers, musicians, painters, photographers, circus performers… You name it, we got it!
One of the first things you might notice about San Pancho is that it’s full of associations giving back to the community.
From the Entreamigos Community Center to the Jaguar Alliance, Circo de Los Niños, and San Pancho Turtle Rescue, this town oozes community service and activism. (More on these places later.)
Other fun things to know when visiting San Pancho:
- While tourists enjoy the beach by day, it’s the locals who crowd it at night in order not to miss one of San Pancho’s many magical sunsets.
- Food is best served with an agua del dia.
- The Plaza del Sol hosts the Tuesday open-air artisanal market and other events.
- The best spots in San Pancho are off the main street, so go explore a little!
- And oh yeah, free-roaming dogs own this town. 😉
Fun fact: The main street in San Pancho is called Avenida Tercer Mundo (Third World Avenue). If you look closer, you’ll notice all the side streets are named after countries (Pakistan, Kenya, Cambodia, Honduras, etc…).
When is the best time to visit San Pancho?
The best time to visit San Pancho, Mexico is during the dry months from December to May. But, my advice is to skip the holiday crowds and come sometime in January or February.
January through April are specifically the better months to visit San Pancho because the skies are sunny and clear while the days are warm and the mornings/nights are fresh.
It’s also during this time that San Pancho comes alive with festivals and events! There’s something to do and see virtually every week here during the high season.
The low season of San Pancho is during the extremely hot and wet summer months.
Special events & festivals in San Pancho
Here is just an idea of all the events and festivals happening in San Pancho during the high season.
There are TOO many to include here, so I will just name a few. But know that there are many, many more!
La Bodega de Teatro (Jan-April) hosts several shows, plays, mini-concerts, dances, and theatrical skits. Check the entrance board for upcoming events or ask around in town. The entrance fee is usually by donation or only costs around $100-200 pesos.
Entreamigo’s Annual Fundraiser & Gala (February) is hosted each year at the gorgeous beach-front palapa at La Patrona Beachclub, owned by the Polo team in town. (Yes, San Pancho has its own Polo field and stables!) Ticket sales go toward supporting the children and activities for the next year at Entreamigos.
Entreamigo’s Environmental Fair (March) is a festival hosted by Entreamigos in order to promote environmental awareness and sustainability in the community. There is a dance/music parade down the street all the way to the Plaza del Sol, where tables and stalls display ecological and environmentally-friendly projects, initiatives, experiments, products, and more.
Circo de Los Ninos Fundraiser & Show (March) is the annual fundraiser of the circus school in San Pancho. Co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil created this school as a place for kids to express themselves and create through circus art. The fundraiser show is a stunning performance of around 50 kids in the community who take regular classes here at the school.
San Pancho International Music Festival (Feb-March) is a special event in San Pancho that brings together dozens of artists and local (and international) musicians to perform live for a weekend of fun, music, and community in La Plaza del Sol. There are games, drinks, food, and more!
San Pancho Art & Cultural Capital Festival (December) is a special event that celebrates San Pancho as the cultural capital of the state of Nayarit. There are artistic, cultural, and sports events happening all over town with support from our local businesses and restaurants.
Where to Stay in San Pancho
San Pancho is growing by the day. When we left and came back after 6 months of our Canadian van road trip, we found San Pancho not only grew, but it grew fast! New hotels popped up while others have already disappeared.
Read the compilation article here for more details about each place, or use my quick links below to book your stay at each of these deserving San Pancho hotels and accommodations.
- Best modern + chic hotels with an eco thumb: Marii Hotel Costero, Pal.Mar Hotel Tropical
- Traditional Mexican-style San Pancho favorites: Hotel Cielo Rojo, Hotel Casa San Pancho
- Eco-friendly accommodations in San Pancho: Aldea Bamboo, Maraica Eco Hotel
*Please do not support the illegal hotel/condominiums being built on the public beach of San Pancho. It is called Punto Paraiso and it is robbing a federal-owned public beach and disturbing the natural habitat of the sea turtles. There are many efforts to legally bring down the concrete monstrosity and it is up to us and YOU to bring responsible tourism to this town. Otherwise, San Pancho will no longer be the San Pancho we all love…
Activities & What to Do in San Pancho
Even though San Pancho is a small town of about ~3,000 full-time residents (with that number spiking during high season), it’s somewhat shocking how much there is to do and see here. So much in fact that I’ve written an entirely separate article for it!
So without going into too much detail here, what are the best activities in San Pancho? Here is just a brief selection of my favorite things to do!
1. Watch a magical San Pancho sunset
San Pancho is famous for its sunsets. If you visit San Pancho you have to stay until sunset and hope it’s not cloudy (although sometimes those produce amazing sunsets as well!).
Bring a blanket to sit on and enjoy the scene. Don’t be surprised if people start to clap once the sun finally dips down below the horizon!
Tip: Check sunset times in San Francisco, Nayarit when you visit. At the start of January, the sunset was around 18:30 pm. In mid-February, it was at around 19:30 pm. So check the time for sunset in San Pancho to know when to catch it.
2. Eat at one of San Pancho’s amazing restaurants
San Pacho has so many good restaurants (read my full article on where to eat in San Pancho). From upscale international cuisine to fresh catch-of-the-day seafood to local Mexican taco stands, San Pancho has something for everyone.
Our personal favorite places to eat in San Pancho are:
- Hotel Cielo Rojo (organic bistro),
- Barracuda (fresh seafood and more),
- Maria’s (Mexican/American),
- La Cerveceria (cozy craft brewery with charcuterie plates, fries, + more),
- El Gallo (local handmade authentic Mexican fare),
- Itzalayasayan (homemade Mexican fusion),
- Ikan Cocina Marina (fresh seafood with a creative touch)
- El Dolce Jardin (pizza garden),
- Bahia Brew Pub (burger bar with craft beer)
- among others!
And don’t miss out on the local carts rolling around town: Dona Teresa’s ceviche tostadas (she now has her own restaurant!), Amanda’s homemade falafel wraps, or the $10 peso churros from the churro couple who whip them up fresh from the back of their truck.
3. Tour/Volunteer at the Entreamigos Community Center
A visit to San Pancho wouldn’t be complete without seeing the amazing Entreamigos Community Center.
This center, now thriving on its pillars of education, sustainability, and community, once was an old, abandoned dairy and mango factory in the 1980s. Fifteen years ago it got its start thanks to a young and curious Nicole Swedlow, who set up a table on the streets of San Pancho where locals could display and sell their art.
Now, Entreamigos is an eccentric place where community, friendship, and growth unite. Families from the town are able to work full-time alongside their infant children, who play in the internal daycare center. Children can attend daily workshops and activities ranging from art, music, sports, English, tech, reading, and much more while women and men in the community can hold pivotal jobs/roles in the development of the center and the town.
The center boasts a 9,000+ book library, a garden, a communal kitchen, a recycled second-hand shop, an art gallery, a screenprinting station, a glass sorting station, a classroom for movies and presentations, and so much more.
Most striking of all is perhaps its recycling center, which takes in dozens of tons of trash, glass, and recycled material from the community. With over 140 recycling bins across town, it’s thanks to Entreamigos and the community efforts that the town can remain clean (except for some heaps of dog crap) while promoting ecological values to both the locals and visitors.
Note: Please recycle your glass and plastic bottles, beer cans, and recyclables in the Entreamigo receptacles scattered around town for your convenience! Also, please be mindful not to leave cigarette butts on the beach or streets.
4. Spend the day at the San Pancho Beach
La Playa San Pancho (San Pancho Beach) is what most tourists come to see. The beach here is clean (thanks to the community’s frequent beach clean-ups) and is not as crowded as other beaches.
Even if there is a crowd, a 10-minute walk in either direction is enough for you to lounge in the sand in peace with hardly anyone around.
Surfing in San Pancho
While you’ll see dozens of surfers surfing the waves in San Pancho, this isn’t exactly the place to start for beginners.
San Pancho has some serious wave action, and only the more advanced surfers go here. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try it out with a knowledgeable surf guide!
If you head to the left side of the beach you’ll find shore-front surf rentals and surfer dudes ready to teach you a few tricks. Or alternatively, you can book a surfing tour in town or a surf tour that goes to the ever-popular surf beach at La Lancha, near Punta de Mita.
Popular and trusted surf shops in San Pancho:
Beachfront restaurants & chairs
For those who enjoy chips and guac with a margarita in hand at the beach, don’t fret! San Pancho Beach has two beachfront restaurants — La Perla and Las Palmas. Pick a side and enjoy it! Both offer the same quality/price.
Services near the San Pancho beach:
- There are restrooms at both beachfront restaurants ($10 pesos for non-customers)
- An ATM machine is located right beside Las Palmas on the plaza
- The San Pancho Malecon is busy with local vendors and artisans
- Shopping and restaurants are extremely close
Turtle releases on the beach
June to November is the prime turtle season here. And the San Pancho Turtle Rescue and Nursery, headed by long-time turtle guru Frank D. Smith, often receive volunteers to help rescue and release the hatchlings. If you’re here during this time (sometimes the season will spill over through January from late nests), you can witness a release on the beach at sunset.
5. Grab a craft beer at La Cerveceria Artesanal
A special place to visit, with a warm and inviting atmosphere, is the Cerveceria Artesanal San Pancho.
Headed by Wally, originally from Portland, Oregon where craft brewery reigns, the Cerveceria aims to bring San Pancho artisanal Mexican craft beer, food, and fun.
It’s the best place to go with friends for a night out. They’re often hosting the best local live music, too, which leads me to my next San Pancho activity highlight…
6. Listen to local live music in town
Local live music is a San Pancho staple here, and you can find it happening pretty much every night of the week somewhere in town. Whether it’s Open Mic at La Buena Vida on Tuesdays, at El Gallo for Friday’s salsa nights, or at one of the many restaurants in town.
To find live music, use this handy community calendar from San Pancho Life here.
7. Shop at the San Pancho artisanal open-air market
The San Pancho Mercado Artesanal is the town’s local open-air farmer’s market.
It takes place every Tuesday from 10 am – 2 pm and features organic food, artisanal products, clothes, jewelry, handicrafts, and samples from local businesses in San Pancho and nearby communities.
The market comes alive with live regional music from local performers and the atmosphere is generally happy and friendly. It’s a great place to discover and feel the down-to-earth San Pancho vibe.
Shopping in San Pancho
Other than the local market, there are plenty of places to go shopping in San Pancho. All along down the main avenue are shops, which increase in number as you get closer to the beach.
You can find lots of artisanal Mexican crafts and regional products here, such as handmade rugs, jewelry, home decor, clothes, etc.
Below are the best places to shop in San Pancho by category.
While Sayulita might take the crown for best boho-chic shops, don’t overlook San Pancho for shopping. There are plenty of beachy clothes shops here to check out, including:
- Artesanadores (Crochet beach tops)
- Nativa Surf Shop
- Sea & Salt Beachstore
- Santa Madre
- Pancho Vida
- Elote Arte
Mexican Art & Handicrafts
San Pancho celebrates traditional Mexican folk art and artisanal handiwork. You can find authentic Mexican art and handicrafts at the following stores in San Pancho:
- Pancho Jaguar
- Huapango Arte Mexicana
- Elote Arte
- Oaxacan rugs on the street (open-air display, can’t miss them!)
- Tuesday’s Mercado Artesanal
- Luna Layne
Beach & Surf shops
There are just a couple of beach and surf shops in town for boards, surf clothes, and other beachy items.
- Santa Madre
- Sea & Salt
- The San Pancho surf shop on the left of La Cerveceria brewery
As for souvenir shops in the typical/touristy sense of the word, there’s only one and it’s called San Pancho Souvenirs. Otherwise, the Mexican art shops I mentioned above make great places to find souvenirs or special keepsakes from your time here.
Liquor, Convenience, & Mini Markets
As for the other types of shops in San Pancho, there are a few you might find useful during your time here.
Mini markets: El Indio and Emiliano’s are two mini-markets on Calle America Latina where you can find veggies, fruits, and some canned goods. We like to get our fresh produce at the market on Tuesdays when we can, otherwise, we grab them at Emilianos and then stack up on canned goods at El Indio. You also have a couple of markets near the highway and hostels in San Pancho, just in case you’re staying on that end of town.
Convenience stores: As for gas-station types of stores, there are two. The Kiosko in the center of town, and the Oxxo at the entrance of San Pancho are just off the highway. You can get all the typical drinks/snacks/services here.
Liquor stores: For mezcal or tequila, head to the La Selecta – Artesanal Mezcal Tequila y Raicilla shop on the left as you go down the main street (it’s on the left before the park). It’s also nearby the Kiosko where you can purchase beer. El Indio also has shelves and shelves of wine, mezcal, tequila, and other spirits.
Tourist + Medical Services in San Pancho
San Pancho Hospital: has both general and emergency services. It’s located on Calle Africa 10. I’ve been a couple of times, painfully, and although wait times can be extremely long, the personnel have always been friendly.
Veterinaria San Pancho: In case you need a vet while in town, Julio and America are the local vets here and you can find them at their new location in town on Calle Pakistan. Their contact number is +52 322 156 5977.
ATMs: There are just a handful of ATMs in town, and sometimes they don’t work. So bring extra cash with you just in case. The best ATM (cheapest fees) is at the hospital. There are also ATMs inside the Kiosko and El Indio markets. Plus, there’s one on the plaza in front of the beach, and a few pharmacies have them inside their stores as well.
Taxi Stand: To get a taxi from San Pancho, go to the Parque de la Hermandad across from the Kiosko in the center of town. Prices are normally $150 one-way to Sayulita and $200 for Lo de Marcos.
Health & Wellness in San Pancho
Wellness, health, and self-care are all integral aspects of local San Pancho life. There are so many opportunities to get involved. For example, you can take pilates, meditation, or yoga classes (among many others).
As I mentioned, healers and yogis speckle this town, so it’s extremely easy to find a service or class just for you.
- Yoga & Pilates: Check out El Estar, Pal.Mar, and the Pilates studio on Tercer Mundo.
- Meditation & Healing: El Estar also offers meditation and a variety of therapies and massages.
- Massages: Angelical Spa, El Estar, Pal.Mar, and individual massage therapists around town.
San Pancho Associations & Centers
Finally, to close off this ultimate guide to San Pancho, I want to highlight a few of the civil associations and non-profits that truly make this town so special.
Here I will mention a few so you can support them during your visit to San Pancho. 🙂
Entreamigos Community Center — The educational + environmental community center for children and adults.
San Pancho Animales — Group of dedicated San Pancho residents who raise money to spay, neuter, and rescue sick, injured, or abandoned cats and dogs in the community.
Circo de Los Niños de San Pancho — Non-profit Circus Arts School dedicated to promoting youth development through circus arts.
San Pancho Turtle Nursery & Rescue — The local San Pancho turtle rescue is dedicated to the protection and conservation of marine turtles. Check for volunteer opportunities and baby turtle releases on the beach.
Alianza Jaguar San Pancho — Civil association working to promote jaguar preservation in the area.
Birding San Pancho — A non-profit organization dedicated to training and educating about bird and habitat conservation by integrating education, community development, and science with local eco-tours.
La Bodega Teatro San Pancho — Cultural center and non-profit in San Pancho offering events on theater, dance, music, visual, and performance arts.
Colectivo San Pancho — An independent community arts collective promoting artistic personal and cultural development.
LILHA Residencia — Art residency and multi-disciplinary center designed to enhance creativity and artistic development.
SOS San Pancho — Civil association dedicated to promoting environmental awareness and the environmental and community’s well-being in San Pancho.
Batala San Pancho — An Afro-Brazilian Samba Reggae percussion group for the community, by the community, and the newest of 45 Batala’s around the world.
San Pancho is a place to experience, not just to visit! My hope is that this lengthy guide can give you a deeper sense of what this community is all about.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to practice sustainable and ethical tourism. Please be mindful when you travel!
Lastly, if you’re still reading this then thank you so much for your support! I would especially appreciate your thoughts and feedback in the comments below! My aim is to keep this guide updated over time as much as possible, so please let me know if a business has since closed down.
Please feel free to reach out with comments or questions!
More Nayarit travel inspiration here:
- 13 Cutest Beach Towns & Destinations in Nayarit, Mexico
- 50 Unforgettable Things to Do in Riviera Nayarit
- 10 Best Boutique & Beach Hotels in Sayulita
- Top 20 Things to Do in Sayulita, Mexico
- What to Do in Tepic, Nayarit in a Weekend
- The Ultimate Packing List for Mexico (+ Free Printable)