Our First Thoughts About San Pancho

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After our long travel day from Grenada to Puerto Vallarta, we took the local bus to the sleepy little village of San Pancho. As the bus pulled into town, the rain started to pour and it didn’t stop for three days! Unfortunately, those were the only three days that we had to look for an apartment before a long string of family visitors started to arrive. So what were our first impressions of San Pancho? That it’s a rainy, gloomy little town with no available apartments 🙂

Luckily, after 3 full days of searching, the sun started to shine and we finally found the perfect apartment for our stay. Our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 2 level flat is exactly what we were hoping for. Our neighbours are Mexican, there are roosters cooing every morning, and banana trees shade our second floor deck.

Check out the GoatLife TV Episode of our San Pancho Apartment Fiasco!

We came to San Pancho based on the recommendation of our friends Dan and Casey over at ACruisingCouple.com and because of a couple of articles on the website Bridges and Balloons and we’re happy that we took their advice. This small town of just 2,000 people has a beautiful beach with good waves for surfing, friendly locals and a fascinating community of expats and travellers, there are numerous things to do in San Pancho. But despite the town’s obvious charm, it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

When Dan and Casey came here at the beginning of 2014, San Pancho was a very different place. Even though they came in January during the peak season, they tell stories of a “relatively unknown” town that felt very Mexican. While San Pancho has retained some of its Mexican charm, it has been slightly diluted by a recent influx of tourism and foreign funded infrastructure.

Today, the main road is lined with European-style restaurants (albeit awesome ones like Maria’s), western cafes and foreign-owned vacation properties. Live music is still played at the restaurants and it’s amazing, but it’s typically French, American or Italian tunes that we hear. San Pancho is lovely and it has definitely grown on us, but we don’t really feel Mexico here like we did in say… San Cristobal, but the authentic feel of the town heightens as we venture away from the main drag.

Downtown San Pancho Surf Shop

Climbing the hills on either side of this tiny little town reveals quiet, tree-lined roads that seem to be cut right out of the jungle. Luxurious expat housing still dominates the hillsides, but in between the opulent mansions there are beautiful little Mexican homes, casas and casitas with children playing and roosters cooing.

This is where we feel most at home and at the same time, the furthest from it. We feel like we’re travelling and that we’re in a new and exotic place, but for some reason we don’t feel that same feeling on the main street.

Even though western restaurants, music and vacation rentals in San Pancho take away from its purity, there are still some very fascinating things going on here. Sometimes cowboys are seen trotting their horses down the road or along the beach, groups of old men congregate in the park to chat about their week and fishermen, mattress salesmen and water trucks drive up and down the street bellowing the quality of their goods through a loudspeaker. Now that feels like Mexico and we love it!

Take a walk around San Pancho with us in the GoatLife TV Episode Below:

Between here, Puerto Vallarta and nearby Sayulita town, we feel like San Pancho definitely has the best beach. The waves can sometimes make swimming a challenge, but overall the golden sand, clear water and lack of hawkers on the beach really makes San Pancho a relaxing place to chill out.

Also, the sunsets here are astonishing. People slowly saunter towards the beach at around 6:00 pm like flies attracted to a light. We all set up our blankets or chairs on the sand and wait for the light show to begin.

Shortly after the sun kisses the sea each night, we’re treated with a dazzling array of prismatic yellows, blues and reds often painted like brushstrokes on the late afternoon sky. You really can’t beat the sunsets in San Pancho and I’ve got to say, for some reason they’re even nicer than those in the Caribbean.

If the atmospheric art gallery wasn’t enough entertainment, dozens of baby sea turtles are released on the sand each night to start their dangerous life in the ocean. It’s fun to watch these tiny little creatures instinctively run towards the crashing waves before being swept away by the aggressive tides.

Horses in San Pancho at Sunset

One thing that hasn’t changed since Dan and Casey’s visit is the expat and travel community here. I’m going to steal Casey’s words because I can’t think of a better way to say it, but San Pancho has a very dynamic, interesting, and talented group of people.

We’ve met more unique, location independent entrepreneurs here in the past few weeks, than we have in all of our travels. Digital nomads, musicians, teachers, artists, bakers, seamstresses, jewelers, mid-wives and bloggers all seem to be attracted to this charismatic little town. We love meeting people here and learning about their interesting way of life. We actually plan to interview a couple of our favourites here on GOTR in the coming weeks.

To sum it up so far…

We’ve discovered many pros and many cons to San Pancho so far. I think we were both envisioning a very Mexican town with a massive variety of regional foods to sample, local music playing everywhere, silent sleepy streets and Mexican people completely outnumbering the foreigners.

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What we’ve realized over the past month is that this town has been discovered, by many. There are expats and tourists everywhere, English music is predominantly played, there are only a handful of Mexican food restaurants (most of which only serve up tacos and other snack foods) and the streets are very busy with cars and construction vehicles. Things are changing here in San Pancho…

On the positive side of things, we’ve met some incredible people (both foreign and local) and are loving the sunsets and the quiet beach here. We also really like our apartment and the little family run restaurants we’ve found. Plus, we’ve started Spanish lessons and Dariece has taken up Pilates. We both have a bit of a routine now!

In the end, although we both wish that San Pancho had a more off-the-beaten-path, authentic feel to it, because we have loads of family members coming to visit us (who probably prefer to have some western comforts thrown into their holiday), it would seem that this town was the perfect place for us to choose.

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We’ll be here for about 2 months total and have already done some really cool things! Stay tuned to hear about our adventures in and around this west coast town.  

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Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Nick's advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and he spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging. Learn more about Nick Wharton on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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