Our Temporary Home in San Pancho, Mexico

We came to San Pancho to see our friends Victoria and Steve who raved about this tiny beach town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. We were enticed by talk of whales and turtles, jungle covered hills and long stretches of empty sand. We stayed because it’s a place full of surprises.

San Pancho (officially called San Francisco) is a sleepy pueblo with one main street and a population of around 2000. But there’s a hospital; a number of excellent restaurants including a gourmet organic bistro; a fancy polo club where you can enjoy mimosas and watch a game over brunch; a community arts centre that received equipment and training from the Cirque de Soleil whose founder has a house here; a turtle conservation project; music festivals during the high season; ibogaine clinics that treat drug addicts with a African plant medicine; a skate park; an excellent multi-lingual folky band that plays every week at a bar serving both excellent pizza and gourmet teas; and the town attracts all sorts of creative, interesting people—surfers, dancers, writers, artists, musicians, yoga teachers, hippies.

San Pancho is unusual because in the 1970s President Echeverría, who had a holiday home here, used this fishing village as a model for his ideal of a self-sufficient village. He invested in the infrastructure constructing a hospital, housing, schools, and cobblestone streets. Now the town attracts a mix of Mexicans, expats, and tourists, but it hasn’t been commercialised, only gets a passing mention in my guidebook, and is much less crowded than the surfer town of Sayulita just 6 km away.

San Pancho food

Tasty eats in San Pancho: hibiscus flower sopes at Bistro Organico, cheese and mushroom quesadilla at Eva’s, veggie taco at Baja Taqueria, and pizza at Darjeeling

San Pancho polo club

Fast and furious polo game at La Patrona polo club

San Pancho, Mexico beach

San Pancho beach

The beach is a long curve of wide golden sand and crashing waves, empty except for the few beach bars near the main entrance. On my morning runs there are only a few other people around—dog walkers, fishermen, people doing yoga. The busiest time of day is sunset when everyone gathers on the beach to watch the sky light up in shades of orange and pink and the sun sink down behind the horizon while pelicans dive for fish.

San Pancho, Mexico beach at sunsetSan Pancho sunsetsWe missed the whale season, but luckily caught the last baby turtle release. It was amazing but heart-rending to see hundreds of tiny turtles getting tossed about by the waves—only a small percentage make it.

San Pancho turtle release

Baby turtles being released on the beach

We arrived in April as the season was winding down and since then it’s been getting quieter and quieter, hotter and hotter. Friends have left, restaurants closed, and the sleepy town has become even sleepier. It suits us though. The peace is just what we need right now as we’re busy working on the new, improved Trail Wallet 2.0 that we hope to release before we leave at the beginning of July.

San Pancho street

Quiet, cobblestone street in San Pancho

San Pancho street

San Pancho is a colourful place full of flowers like these bright pink bourgainvillea

Our Casita

San Pancho casita

The living area of our casita, always open to the elements

Serendipity led us to find the perfect home in San Pancho without even trying. We have been able to sublet a casita from a friend of a friend, a talented photographer who, along with the owner, has created a quirky, colourful and unique home full of Mexican artwork and creative details. It’s open air which means nature is part of the decor—one wall is dominated by the giant bamboo, and when we eat at the table by the window we can gaze down at our garden full of red, pink and purple flowers, cacti and banana plants, and the jungle covered mountains beyond. The breeze keeps the house cool, even when it’s steaming outside in the sun.

The kitchen and Simon's desk

The kitchen and Simon’s desk

The garden of our San Pancho casita

The garden of our casita. The sign says “The princess who fell from the sky”

The garden is home to birds, butterflies and squirrels. The birds are our daily soundtrack, before the crickets take over at night. The range of sounds is quite amazing—birds don’t just chirp, they chuckle and chortle, screech and squawk, and in the case of the chachalaca create a chainsaw-like cacophony. A hummingbird loves the red flowers of the tree next to the hammock so as I read I hear the rapid beating of its wings as it flies furiously from one nectar filled blossom to another, sounding like a miniature plane about to take off.

San Pancho casita terrace

The upstairs terrace of our casita with fresh mint and rosemary plants

San Pancho flowers

Some of the flowers in our garden

We are 10 minutes walk out of town, up a steep hill but it’s a wonderfully tranquil retreat…except when our neighbours play their music. This is Mexico, and Mexico is never truly quiet. We try to embrace it as much as possible but after two months of the same Mexican ballads played over and over again (with Gangnan Style thrown in for some diversity), it can make us a little crazy. Still, most of the time we feel incredibly lucky to live in such a special place.

San Pancho cat

As a bonus our casita comes with an adopted cat

San Pancho has been a very different experience from Playa del Carmen, the other Mexican beach town where we lived for three months at the beginning of the year. San Pancho doesn’t have the turquoise sea and white sands of the Caribbean, it doesn’t have Playa’s supermarkets, cinema, wide variety of restaurants, transport links, and fast internet. It does have a completely different vibe, slow and relaxed; a small, friendly community that means you are guaranteed to meet someone you know every time you walk into town; an alternative arts scene; and you are immersed in nature surrounded by jungly hills. Right now, it’s just what we need.

Update: It’s also very affordable—we’ve written a detailed post about our cost of living of in San Pancho

Trail Wallet

38 thoughts on Our Temporary Home in San Pancho, Mexico

  1. we are looking for a place in Mexico, I don’t know what area yet I’am looking, we want to stay for 6 months, and if we like it we will stay longer, as we are both retired where you are looks great but we will not have a car unless we rent but it would be nice to be close enough to stores, I don’t know if where you are that is possible, but I love the place it looks amazing, and there is also the price maybe you can help me out a little. Thank you.

    • Hi Claudette, it is much easier here with a car but we manage without. We can get most of what we need at the small shops in the village but occasionally make the bus trip to the Mega supermarket about 30 minutes away. You can get a taxi there too but it’s a bit pricy. Transport connections aren’t amazing here and you have to walk to the highway (about 10 minutes) to get a bus anywhere and sometimes have to wait a while.

      If you’d prefer somewhere with more choice of shops there’s Sayulita nearby (although you still need to get a bus to the supermarket) and Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean Coast but accommodation is more expensive there.

      Our house is US $400 a month. We’ll be writing a more detailed post about the cost of living here.

  2. Great place, sounds like fun and laid back place. Hope to visit. Keep me posted on your next travels. Hopefully after retirement love to go.. Safe Journeys!, Chris and Sally

  3. Bridges and Balloons also sold me on San Pancho too, after reading this I think it is defiantly on our list when we visit Mexico in December. We fly into Cancun so Playa Del Carmen is an obvious stop, but I’ll be interested to compare your costs. It might help us decide where to put roots down for a while.

    • Yeah, those guys have put San Pancho on the map. I haven’t worked out our exact costs here yet but I think it’s quite similar to Playa. San Pancho is really far from Cancun though so Playa makes more sense to start with. Be aware that it might be hard to find affordable accommodation in December though.

  4. Wow, it looks so calm and nice. Normally, when you think Mexico this is not it. Guess I’ve underestimated it. :) Seeing baby turtles must be quite an experience! It’s so sad that so little a percentage make it.. They look cute! :(

    Hope you’re doing great. :) Love your blog!

  5. This looks amazing. I’ve never been to Mexico, but to Guatemala, El Salvador a & Honduras years ago, but I’m thinking the feel is a bit similar.

    Wonderful photos, makes you want to pack up and leave straight aways – thanks for sharing.

  6. Beautiful place you two stay at. I had no idea Simon wrote the program for Trail Wallet. Thank you for sharing great articles.

  7. Hi Simon and Erin, I spent a month in Playa from mid March – mid April and loved everything about it. It was especially wonderful because I found a room with a private bathroom and shared kitchen in Zazil Ha with a Mexican couple, through airbandb. It was just a few blocks from Bio-Natural where I ate most of my meals (when I ate out). A new coffee shop opened at 40th and 5th ave. called La Bendecida where they are roasting their own organic coffee from Veracruz. The owners were so sweet to me and I would recommend it to anyone travelling alone as it has become a special meeting place for visitors to the area. I am back in Nova Scotia, Canada, where I live and am planning another, longer trip to Mexico next winter. Perhaps I will even make it to San Pancho as it sounds so quiet and appealing. Saludos, Heather

  8. Great to read about you and how you left. We did almost the same except we did not leave anything behind and we make our living by writing books. Making websites and films we have done only as work exchange so that we get food and accommodation in exchange of our work. Was it easy to rent in Mexico? Greetings from Managua, we are heading slowly to the North towards you!

  9. I like your choices of towns to stay in. full of character, exotic enough, and necessities fort daily living are accessible. I hope to make it to Mexico one day

  10. Pingback: The Cost of Living in San Pancho, Mexico

  11. This is really a paradise waiting to be discovered! I mean beautiful cobble stoned roads, with beautiful trees on the sides and gorgeous yellowish homes and view from your temporary abode is just out of the world. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Pingback: Photo of the Week: Jungle Road Crab, San Pancho

  13. Pingback: Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants in San Pancho, Mexico

  14. Pingback: Nomadic Interviews: Victoria & Steve of Bridges & Balloons

  15. Your site is great! We’re hoping to go to a smaller town on the beach, we’re in our 60s and would love a small, quaint place on the beach or very near. We will not have a car and like to use the bus. We may start in Sayulita and want to progress N. to San Pancho and Chacala. Maybe even as far as San Blas.
    Any recommendations, thanks in advance.

  16. Hi, Nice blog! My husband and 9 month old babe and I are coming to San Pacho from Vancouver BC for 5 weeks starting Dec 9th. I’m looking for an appt for us to rent. I’ve checked VRBO, and unsurprisingly everything is booked up for the XMas week. Hmm. I know we’re late. I’m wondering if you have ideas of low key places we could stay or how to find them (I’m open to homestays, camping, whatever, but would prefer an appt just for ease with the babe). Thanks a lot :-)
    Steph

  17. Hi, I am a photographer and my wife and I will be spending 10 days in San Pancho starting Dec 27th. I was wondering if you have any recommendations for interesting photo sites. I like old ruins, birds, junk cars, old rusty crusty things and of course beautiful scenics. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

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