Ultimate Guide to San Pancho, Mexico – Riviera Nayarit’s Best-Kept Secret

by | Last updated Jan 12, 2021 | Mexico | 12 comments

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

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.

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!

So why, if I have found paradise, would I be willing to share it with the world? First, let me tell you more about this beloved community and what makes this town so special.

San Pancho’s Good Vibes & Eco-Conscious Community

san pancho beach views with palm treesView on the San Pancho Beach

San Pancho is unlike any other place I’ve traveled to or lived in.

But first, where is San Pancho, Mexico? 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.

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 a 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?

san pancho mexico art mural with beach scene

*Updates for traveling to San Pancho in 2020*

1. Please be aware that the local community encourages wearing a mask in light of the global situation until further notice.

2. BYO take-out containers for eating out as some restaurants are offering take-out only for the foreseeable future. Open restaurants have taken social distancing measures.

3. 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.

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 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

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 which 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’s 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.

As part of my mission to spread responsible tourism, I have compiled a list of the best places to stay in San Pancho that I personally experienced and can whole-heartedly recommend.

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 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

girl on beach at sunset

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! — 40 Awesome Things to Do in San Pancho, Mexico

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. Go out to eat at one of the many amazing restaurant’s

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, 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 Entreamgios Community Center

the entrace at entreamigos community center san pancho mexico

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 from the 1980s. Twelve 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, its 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 so crowded like 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 knowledgable 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: Santa Madre, Nativa

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

cerveceria artisanal san pancho

Cheers!

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

couple playing live music at La Buena Vida

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

table with organic produce san pancho mercado

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

palm trees and beach with open-air market

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.

Clothes stores

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:

  • Moana
  • Artesanadores (Crochet beach tops)
  • Mazahua
  • Nativa Surf Shop
  • Sea & Salt Beachstore
  • Mestiza
  • 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
  • Mestiza

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
  • Nativa
  • Sea & Salt
  • The San Pancho surf shop on the left of La Cerveceria brewery

Souvenir shops

As for souvenir shops in the typical/touristy sense of the word, there’s the 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 Market stores

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 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 stack up on cases of beer. El Indio also has shelves and shelves of wine, mezcal, tequila, and other spirits.

Tourist + Medical Services 

outdoor plaza with statue in san francisco, nayarit, mexicoSan Pancho Malecon

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

batala san pancho band marching in streetBatala San Pancho

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 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 ecotours.

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.

Ultimate Guide to San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico

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 responsible 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 overtime 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!

Like it? Pin it!

Sharing is caring!

12 Comments

  1. Anika Weissbach

    I was wondering this whole time if there’s such a place in Mexico that is not over crowded with tourists, and you’ve shown me! Thank you so much for sharing such a great list of information. I’m contemplating of visiting during Summer (Jul/Aug), you’ve mentioned that it’s rainy season, do you think it’s still worth it to go? Also, just wondering what’s the restriction at the moment in regards to COVID?

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Anika! Thanks so much for reading and reaching out! It’s hard to say regarding the rain – but know that it will be very hot and humid (luckily you have an ocean to cool off in, but still, make sure to book a hotel with AC haha). We were there in July and August one year and found that it rained more in August and September than in July. But yeah, it’ll be low season so it won’t be crowded. Also, there aren’t any restrictions right now to enter Mexico and San Pancho, as far as I know, is pretty much open. I hope that helps! Happy to answer any more questions! x

      Reply
  2. Nicole

    What a well organized, well written, and all around worthy blog. Thank you for the helpful information. I look forward to visiting the community center next week sometime. What a charming community of people. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to visit.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Ahh thank you SO much, Nicole! I am thrilled to read you enjoyed my guide to San Pancho. The town and its people have a special place in my heart. I hope you have the best time! Please enjoy it for me 💛

      Reply
  3. Silia

    I just moved to San Pancho for 3 months, possibly longer and your post is the best I have located to date. Thank you so much. I plan to follow all the links in it about San Pancho to help me acclimate to my new home. I picked it for the same star-struck charms you mention. All the best.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Aww, hi Silia. Thank you so much for your sweet comment! It made my day 🙂 Hope you enjoy your time in San Pancho to the fullest and do let me know if anything has updated or changed! Kindest, Xx

      Reply
  4. Katie

    Some of your pictures are amazing! Thanks so much for the tips as well – I am adding this to my bucket list now!

    Reply
    • Bri

      Thanks Katie! It’s easy when the place is so beautiful itself lol!

      Reply
  5. Cristina

    I had never heard of San Pancho, but you really make me want to go 🙂 It seems to be a very special place from what you’ve said and all your pictures. I would love to watch the sunset on the beach and eat in those amazing restaurants.

    Reply
    • Bri

      I’m sure you would love it! It’s a VERY special place indeed. Living there was wonderful and we miss it already!

      Reply
  6. Taylor

    Wow! San Pancho looks absolutely amazing and right up my alley. Your blog posts from Mexico truly introduced me to all of these amazing places I need to go to in the future. Also, all of the food looks delicious and I love how it’s very creative. 🙂

    Reply
    • Bri

      Yay, so glad to hear that!! I love sharing about Mexico and really hope to inspire more people to explore there! Thanks Taylor : )

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

Booking.com Getaway21 Banner