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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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Hello! Thanks for sharing such nice tips and your cool never ending voyage. This article it’s particularly of my interest because my partner and I are moving to San Pancho this February for 3 or 4 months. Once we’re not there, it’s more complicated to rent a place, specially due to the actual high season. So I’m wondering if you still have the contact of your beauuuutiful casita or maybe tips where I can find a place to rent. Many thanks. Keep “voyaging” :)
It’s definitely much cheaper to rent a place once you arrive – just ask around in shops and restaurants and look for signs. February is high season though so you may struggle. I doubt the casita is available but you could try emailing [email protected]
One of my friends is from the area, but left very young for the U.S. before ever visiting the beach.
We spent a week in San Pancho about 8 years ago. It makes me happy to hear it hasn’t changed . Such a wonderful time we had. My favorite memory ishow the air smelled sweet at night like mangos. We rented a house there up above the costal axial resort area we enjoyed driving up and down the coast from here to Puerto Vallarta all the small towns along the coast are nice retreat from big commercialized beach resort areas. Most defiantly want to return one day
Cost of rentals?not vacation permanent
So excited to read about your time there. My grandmother was born there and I’m looking for more info. I couldn’t believe her records said San Francisco , Mexico! Never heard of it before then.
We are thinking of checking out both Puerto Escondido and San Pancho for long term 4 -5 month stints, but we are also interested in the area a little further north like Ricon de Quayabitos. Diid you explore that area? If so, what were you impressions & how does the area compare to SP?
Thank you in advance for your responses.
We didn’t go to that area I’m afraid.
I retire in November and been dreaming of finding a place like this for us to live for 6 months of the year (November to April) on a pension of $3,600/Month. Nothing like tranquility after 35 years of working and raising 3 kids.
Hi…I just ran across your article abot San Pancho.
I am currently living near P.V. and am looking for an appartment/ casita for next Jan.( 2016) for 4 months.
Are you still living there and do you have any leads?
You suggested that I just go look, but it would be nice to have a connection.
Also considering Sayulita.
I am single, retired and adventurous with a budget. ;)
Any words of wisdom ?
I’m wondering if you found a place to stay in San Pancho earlier this year. I’m also single, retired and adventurous with a budget…am in Rincon de Guayabitos now, going to San Pancho tomorrow. Love this area. Marilyn
We’re in San Pancho now and I’m wondering if you can tell us the name of the place that you stayed in? Or if you have a contact number for them? It turns out it’s the start of high season and we’re really struggling to find a place!
Yeah, this is a difficult time of year. I don’t know if our place is available but you could try emailing: [email protected]. It’s his house and I’m not sure if he’s living in it or renting it out at the moment. Good luck!
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.
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 :-)
Xmas is going to be difficult. You could try contacting places on http://www.sanpancholife.com/
We usually recommend just turning up and asking around but that’s probably not the best idea at this time of year, with a baby and for a relatively short stay.
Good luck with it!
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.
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.
That place is lovely and very cozy. San Pancho treats tourists with warm hearts and warm quesadillas! Yum :P
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
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!
We’ve found it pretty easy to find places to rent in Mexico, although over Christmas in Playa it took a while.
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
Sounds great -glad you enjoyed it.
Wow talk about la dulce vida!!! What a gorgeous town and casita! Disfrute!!!
Beautiful place you two stay at. I had no idea Simon wrote the program for Trail Wallet. Thank you for sharing great articles.
It looks so great..I am suitably envious and I am following your journey…
It is all great!!
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.
the place is absolutely awesome!and that was just your temporary home?looks enticing to visit.
We’ve been here for two months so far and are leaving in a month.
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!
It’s definitely a peaceful town.
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.
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
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.
I would definately like to read that
Passed through San Pancho last year on a drive down from Stone Island (Mazatlan) and would like to stay for a few months or the whole winter season 2014-2015. Any leads on finding a place similar to yours would be greatly appreciated.
James & Liz
We got lucky as a friend of a friend was living there. For what we heard from others the best way to find somewhere is to come to town and ask around in the shops and restaurants. Places online is much more expensive. You’ll have more luck the earlier in the season you get there.
My Fiancé and I are also looking to spend a good portion of the year (6-8) months outside of the US, and return to spend Thanksgiving + Holidays back in LA. We’re truly looking for a beach front or close walk, as we are both avid swimmers and enjoy the water (pool/beach/gym) at least once daily. We’ve considered Panama, however I’m really considering Mexico. This website is absolutely amazing on top of informative, I’m ready to catch the first plane out! Lol Although I’ve only visited Mexico in the “Resort” type situation on a ladies only trip, I fell in love with the country as well as the slower pace, and far less expensive living. Even though my Fiancé has never been anywhere near Mexico nor that region (most of our travel has been Europe over a dozen times) the beach is our true calling. We would be quite satisfied with the basic needs, bed/kitchen/small living room/restroom, just basic needs. We’re not big on partying or drinking, but live music, friendly faces, and frankly everything described in this website is so informative. Should you have any additional information, we’d love to hear more! We thank you so much for all the time you and other’s have taken to share your experiences! We appreciate everything and hope to hear where you settle and how your upcoming experiences are. Thank you again ! :)
I love that area…. .and I want to go curl up on your upstairs balcony with the fantastic lime green walls and never leave! Lovely!
That’s basically what our cat does most of the day :)
Sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing. Your photos are gorgeous, and most of all thank you for knowing to use “heart rending” rather than “heart wrenching.” ;)
Ha, thanks Tamara :)
Wow, looks awesome! I’m adding San Pancho to my list of stops in Mexico now :)
I hope you make it there Victoria.
We’re so pleased that you love San Pancho too. We miss it a lot!
Thanks for introducing us to it :)
Looks Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!
how much is rent to live there, a small one bedroom or two bedroom, close to the beach, can you rent a furnished place, or is it easy to find furniture there. Please let me know some detail. Thank you