As you know, San Pancho on Mexico’s pacific coast was a town that surprised us. A month’s stay easily turned into six months and it may well be a place we plant roots. We loved and love it there, and my oh my how much we miss it. In homage to our beloved town, here are some reasons to love the San Francisco you’ve never heard of.
This includes things to do in San Pancho, and plenty of San Pancho travel tips.
*Please note that most of San Pancho closes for the low, rainy season (from around May-October).
Reasons to love San Pancho
I never quite got over the beauty of San Pancho beach. Beaches like this are usually filled with people and parasols, but apart from during New Year and Easter, San Pancho was always spacious. The ocean was intimidating so I rarely braved it, but watching the surfers, strolling the sand and marveling at the jungle backdrop more than made up for that. In the final weeks, we discovered phosphorescence, and danced to make stars in the sand.
Sunset is the hallmark of a San Pancho day. Everything is arranged before or after it, and locals and travelers alike gather to watch it from the sand, often clapping for the main event.
Without a doubt, the highlight of San Pancho for Steve and I were the people. It taught us the meaning of community like no other place we’ve been before. If one of us was ill, people would come knocking with remedies; we couldn’t walk down the street without stopping for hellos; and we made friends we imagine we’ll keep forever. This little girl was always on hand with an ‘hola!’ as we passed.
Christmas day was a perfect example of our life there…when around 30 people gathered at our house for a pot luck lunch and secret santa. We’d only been there six weeks at that point.
“Human Gods….In Charge.” This is what we liked to believe the gas truck was shouting as he drove around the town. In fact, we made up our own interpretations for all the trucks’ jingles. What could have been an annoyance (they are pretty loud!) was actually a joy. We especially enjoyed buying our produce straight from the farmers’ hands…
… and spotting some of the more unusual niches, like this excellent mattress truck.
Yoga lessons in the plaza
The opportunity to practice teaching yoga was one of San Pancho’s finest gifts. I loved my four-times-weekly classes and the community that built around them. Visiting dogs were always a highlight.
Exchange economy for yoga classes
My yoga classes were done by donation. From money to fruit to massages, students gave whatever they could. I wish all of life could be like that.
The dogs of San Pancho
At first, we thought San Pancho was full of stray dogs but soon realised they all had owners. Dogs live a cat’s life there – coming and going as they please. Some of them became great friends. We miss them dearly.
We lived above our landlord who had four excellent cats and appeared to host the town’s cat club. One of the visitors seemed outraged by our arrival in his adopted domain. He would always stare us down. We christened him Herman. Perhaps that’s why he hated us.
A plethora of excellent creatures
Being so close to the jungle meant that some of the world’s more unusual creatures often graced our presence, often bringing to mind the pre-historic. We loved the iguanas and this armor-clad beetle.
Capomo is a wonder-drink and could single-handedly persuade us to live in Mexico. Made from the fruit of the capomo tree (also known as the Maya Nut), it’s a little like coffee minus the caffeine. In fact, it’s good for you with many health-boosting properties like plenty of magnesium.
We ate more breakfasts here than our budget cares to admit, but it was worth every penny. The breakfast/brunch menu is entirely vegetarian minus one fish dish, and consistently delicious featuring Mexican favourites as well as other more unusual dishes. The spinach omelette, vegan chorizo and huevos rancheros were our favourites, always accompanied by a capomo. We also loved the tequilla tasting on Fridays, which included one free shot of the house special as well as a a flight of three for 120 pesos. It was a great way to start the evening. The garden setting is suited to everything from a working breakfast to a romantic meal, and the best thing about Cielo Rojo is that everything is organic – an even better excuse to visit there.
Although I do love to sometimes be off the beaten track where tourists are an anomaly rather than expected, there are certain benefits to being in a traveller-friendly town. One such joy is a Frappuccino and a bloody good cupcake. Paraiso delivers on both counts. The brownies are unmissable. (Thank you Never Ending Voyage for the lovely photo above)
For our first few months in San Pancho, we wished for one of our digital nomad musts – a great café with wi-fi where one can comfortably while away a few hours working. There are a few options in town but nothing hit the spot quite like the arrival of Café Manana. This stylish, homey café doubles as a artisan store and book shop. Run by the wonderful Jill and Lincoln, they’ve created one of our favourite cafes in the world. Upstairs is especially wonderful, with spacious wooden tables and garden views of gorgeous Bougainvillea. The cakes are incredible and the perfect size for a morning treat. I tried to try them all, and loved each and every one. Sadly we failed to get a photo (I was too distracted by the cakes).
Entre Amigos community centre
Many people cite Entre Amigos as one of the chief reasons San Pancho is so special. It certainly is an amazing place and many visitors come to volunteer there. Started by an American lady as a simple after-school activity club, it’s now grown to a huge community centre including a library and computers that the local schools use, a creche for babies, a thrift store, and a whole programme of activities for both children and adults – ranging from yoga to language lessons to belly dancing and much more. Each year they hold an annual fundraiser, which is always a grand event. Last year, one of the original art directors of Cirque du Soleil (who has a home in San Pancho) sent down some Cirque performers who taught the children their tricks. The silks are still up in the centre and circus lessons are among the most popular on the schedule.
And perhaps the most wonderful fact about Entre Amigos deserves its own category…
Not all of Mexico has the infrastructure for recycling, but San Pancho is lucky in that Entre Amigos doubles as the town’s recycling centre. Not only does it collect the town’s recycling and deliver it to larger recycling plants, it also makes use of some of the materials itself. There are glass, fabric and plastic workshops in the centre that make all sorts of objects that are sold in the centre’s shop. This is also doubles as a way for local people to learn a new trade.
Cocina Entre Amigos
A recent addition to Entre Amigos is the fantastic vegan cafe, which was one of our favourite places for lunch. Run by the lovely Tom, it has a daily lunch special as well as regular menu including burgers and egg-less omelettes. It was always reliably healthy and delicious.
Towards the end of our stay, the cafe started opening in the evening for tasty vegan pizza nights, often with live music in the garden too. Entre Amigos is also one of only two places we found in San Pancho that sells capomo, and they even sometimes offers capomo cookery classes.
Learning new things
San Pancho seemed to be a magnet for interesting people willing to share and teach their skills. From musicians to African dance specialists to acro yoga teachers, there always seemed to be something new to learn. While we were there, the town hosted an annual capoeira festival, which featured world-class performance and teaching. We never failed to be surprised by how much San Pancho had to offer!
Just ten minutes from San Pancho is Sayulita – a bustling surf town that feels like a city in comparison to its neighbour. With a busy nightlife, boutique shopping and waves suitable for beginners, it attracts many more tourists than San Pancho. We enjoyed having it nearby but were happy to retreat back home.
Sayulita Organic Market
One reason we returned to Sayulita again and again was for the Friday organic market. Filled with yummy organic produce and artisan products, it was the perfect place to spend a Friday morning listening to the live music and eating from the plethora of awesome stalls. A man specialising in Thai vegatables, and another serving cacao shots were favourties. I’ll be writing a more detailed post on the market soon.
The market made us realise that San Pancho is surrounded by a number of organic farms – and Entre Amigos also has a growing organic garden. We made friends with two young farmer girls and arranged to buy a selection of their latest produce every week for just 150 pesos. The picture above is their stall at the market. They even had kale and pak cjoi – not things you easily find in Mexico.