San Pancho Mexico, also known as San Francisco, Nayarit is without any doubt the hidden gem of Riviera Nayarit.
It is a beautiful small pueblo located on the Pacific coast in the western part of Mexico, right on Riviera Nayarit.
San Pancho is only a 1-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, so it is the perfect day trip destination if you stay in the area.
The town is home to many artists, dancers, healers, writers, musicians, photographers and painters.
What I like most about this village is its full of associations giving back to the community.
This pretty town is a must-visit place in the area and it is just 11 km away from Lo de Marcos.
San Pancho preserves perfectly its quaint vibe of a small community town where everybody knows each other and looks after one another.
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about this magic pueblo and why you should include it in your travel list.
Where is San Pancho Mexico
As I have just mentioned, San Pancho is located on Mexico’s Pacific coast in the state called Nayarit.
In the last years, this part of Mexico, also known as Riviera Nayarit, became more popular among tourists worldwide looking for an authentic Mexican vibe.
As regions like Tulum and Cancun reached their maximum capacity, tourists became more interested in discovering new “undiscovered destinations”, and Riviera Nayarit is one of those.
Today, Mexico’s Pacific coast above Puerto Vallarta is the new big thing.
Recently, more beautiful luxury hotels appeared in the area, and Americans and Canadians rush here to spend quality time with their friends and family.
Nayarit San Francisco is also extremely popular for weekend weddings.
The beautiful village of San Pancho is just 7 km north of Sayulita.
Why is San Pancho called San Francisco
Actually, this tiny village is officially known as San Franciso, but everybody refers to it by its nickname San Pancho.
Now let me explain to you why it is correct to call San Francisco Nayarit San Pancho Nayarit.
Many centuries ago, when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area named this part of Mexico San Francisco, after St Francis de Assisi.
In Spanish, “Pancho” is the nickname for “Francisco”, so that is why San Pancho is translated into San Francisco.
But when we say San Francisco, everybody thinks of the larger American city, San Francisco, California.
So, for this reason, to avoid any confusion, this small village is called San Pancho and not San Francisco.
When is the best time to visit San Francisco Mexico
San Pancho, Mexico is a year-round destination, but the best months to visit it are between December and May, when is the dry season.
The most crowded period is during the holidays, so I would say that January and February are the best months to visit the village.
January to April are great for visiting San Pancho as the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and the days are warm, with fresh mornings and nights.
This is also the time of the year when many events and festivals take place.
The low season is during the wet and hot summer months when the crowds are gone, the prices are down, and you can enjoy more of the Mexican vibe.
Interesting and fun facts about San Pancho (San Francisco)
- The village is quite small, with a total population of around 3,000 people
- San Pancho is home to a small activist community determined to support the environment and the local people in need ( e.g. San Pancho Animales, Casa Chucho, Entreamigos, Project Tortuga)
- The village is known as the cultural capital of the indigenous Huichol people
- The nearest international airport is Puerto Vallarta (PVR) located about one hour south
- From the beach, you can see one of the most romantic sunsets ever
- Food is best if served with agua del dia
- To discover the beauty of the town, walk off the main street
- The main street is called Avenida Tercer Mundo or Third World Avenue, and all the side streets are named after countries (Kenya, Pakistan, Cambodia, etc).
Special events and festivals
A town with so many artists must host a plethora of festivals and events.
I drop below a list of the most interesting and popular ones.
San Pancho International Music Festival — February- March
This special event brings together musicians from local and international communities who perform live in La Plaza del Sol during the festival.
There are all kinds of games, food, and drinks so you will have fun and listen to good quality music.
La Bodega de Teatro — January to April
This event hosts mini-concerts, shows, dances, plays, art galleries, and all kinds of theatrical skits.
There is an entrance fee, around 150-250 pesos, and many go to charity.
Entreamigo’s Annual Fundraiser & Gala — February
This event takes place every year on the beachfront palapa La Patrona Beachclub, a place owned by the Polo team of San Pancho.
The money raised from tickets sold supports children in need and the team’s activities in the next year.
Circo de Los Ninos Fundraiser & Show — March
During this event, the circus school in San Pancho raise funds to support themselves. This school was created by the co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil and is one of the best places in Mexico where kids can learn circus art and express themselves freely.
Thanks to this fundraiser, each year, about 50 kids take regular classes at this school.
Entreamigo’s Environmental Fair — March
The polo team from San Pancho hosted another event, this time in March.
This time they promote sustainability and environmental awareness in the community.
There are all kinds of parades all the way to Plaza Del Sol, stalls where people present projects, experiments, and initiatives related to the festival theme.
San Pancho Art & Cultural Capital Festival — December
The year ends with this special event, which celebrates the role of this town in the state of Nayarit. There will be sports events, art shows, and many other interesting things.
Local businesses and restaurants fund the festival.
Top 5 reasons to visit Nayarit San Francisco
1. It is still undiscovered
When you say Riviera Nayarit, you immediately think of the surf town of Sayulita or the luxury resorts of Punta Mita.
Today the area around Punta Mita is under a complete luxury development, and it is the playground for the rich and famous.
The small and pristine fish villages packed with charm and authenticity became more and more popular.
So, if you are looking for something authentic, head to San Pancho, a little further off the beaten path.
2. Best dining on the Riviera Nayarit
Mexican food is absolutely delicious, and there is no better place to try it than in a small fishing village.
In the last years, the food scene developed into something special, with many unique restaurants serving traditional reinterpreted dishes.
This tiny town has everything from street food to fancy Mexican restaurants.
3. Best place for a relaxing holiday
There are not many things to do in the area, but San Pancho is the best place to go if you want to relax and avoid city pollution.
You can start your mornings with yoga, walk on the beach or visit a gym here.
Spend your day in the jungle, swim in the ocean, relax on the beach, and enjoy a massage.
Don’t miss the spectacular sunsets from the beach at the end of the day.
Most bars and restaurants close at 10 pm, and then a relaxed and peaceful vibe surrounds the town.
4. Best places to stay in the Riviera Nayarit
San Pancho Mexico is famous for its stunning luxury resorts, most of them with all-inclusive options.
If you are looking for a cozy boutique hotel, a traditional Mexican guesthouse, or a jungle camping, you are in the right place.
Here you will find the best places to stay in San Pancho and the whole Riviera Nayarit.
5. San Pancho keeps alive the community feel
Once a place becomes a touristic destination, it tends to lose its spirit and authentic vibe, but this is not San Pancho’s case.
Locals struggle a lot to keep their sense of self and to keep the community feeling alive.
Many expats and retirees live here, but San Pancho never forgets about the community and the people who were here in the first place.
Day trip to San Pancho from Puerto Vallarta
If you are staying in Puerto Vallarta and want to explore this magnificent town without renting a car, then a tour is what you need.
From Puerto Vallarta: San Pancho and Sayulita is the best tour that we recommend to reach this cozy village.
The tour lasts about 6 hours and includes hotel pick-off and drop-off, a visit to 2 of the most popular beaches at Riviera Nayarit, a tour of Sayulita town, and a tour of San Pancho.
17 interesting things to do in San Pancho Nayarit
1. San Pancho Beach
One of the most relaxing things you can do in San Pancho is to enjoy the beautiful white sandy beach of the town.
Playa San Pancho is a long strip of sand that embraces the Sierra Madre mountain range with its luxury vegetation in strong contrast with the blue ocean.
Here you will find one of the cleanest beaches in Mexico, with very few vendors, so you really can enjoy the ocean.
You can perfect your tan here and go for a walk along the beach while watching the surfers practicing their best moves.
San Pancho is a popular surfing destination, but it is not suitable for beginners as the waves are quite difficult.
2. Take a Spanish class
It is always good to know a few words in the local language of the country you visit, and there is no better place to learn some Spanish than in San Pancho.
There are Spanish classes you can attend at Entre Amigos Center, so you’d better check them out and book a lesson just for fun.
The cost is really small.
3. Enjoy the international cuisine in San Pancho
Although a small town, San Pancho is packed with delicious restaurants.
From street food to fine dining, you can find here everything you want.
My favorite restaurant is Barracuda and I always start the day with a coffee at Kokonati.
4. The sunset
Sunset in San Pancho is always fantastic. Tourists and locals rush to the beach to watch this magnificent show.
The sky becomes a pink red a romantic vibe surrounds the place.
This is definitely something you should not miss when in San Pancho.
5. Start your day with the best coffee in San Pancho
San Pancho Mexico is packed with coffee shops where you can drink creamy coffee, eat a croissant, or a banana cake.
My favorite one is Kokonati, located close to the beach, where you can find good coffee, delicious pastry, and a cozy atmosphere.
Cafe’ Manana is also a good choice, especially if you want to sip a coffee hidden in a quiet garden.
6. Check out the artisanal market on Tuesday in Plaza del Sol
At this market, you can find a lot of interesting things, from delicious homemade food to clothing, decorative objects, and natural medicine.
Besides the interesting things I found here, I was fascinated by the atmosphere and the seller. They were really friendly and always with a smile on their face.
7. Entre amigos community centre
The community center Entre Amigos aims to give children in need a helping hand.
After school, children can gather here, do their homework and learn new skills while having fun in a safe environment.
You can give the community a helping hand and offer yourself to volunteer for a few hours or even the whole day.
In return, you will get free access to their library and free WIFI.
8. Join the turtle project and help the leatherback turtles
Many years ago, these beaches of Mexico were the main nesting places for thousands of turtles.
But due to coastal development, tourism, poaching, and shrimp fishing, the number of turtles decreased to only 200 in 1988.
In 1992 the first marine nursery was created with the main purpose of protecting this endangered specie.
And today, 20 years later, the efforts of the specialists paid off, and the leatherback turtle and Olive Ridley turtle populations increased to almost 1500 nests.
You can support the program with a donation and you can also call them and make an appointment to visit the sanctuary.
9. Discover San Franciso’s Nayarit amazing murals
We strongly recommend you walk along this tiny town’s beautiful streets and admire the murals.
Most of the grey walls had been transformed into art.
The most beautiful murals you will find in Plaza de la Harmandad and the lateral streets that go to the beach.
10. Lo de Perla Jungle Garden
Lo de Perla Jungle Garden might not be as big as Puerta Vallarta Botanical Garden, but definitely is one of the most beautiful.
The best way to visit it is with a guided tour that lasts for about 3 hours. Here you will find a variety of insects and birds and many species of plants and trees.
At the end of the tour, you will visit El Santuario, a nursery where you can find more than 70 species of endemic orchids.
11. Go for a hike
The area has plenty of hiking trails, but the most popular one is the one that goes to Sayulita and back.
The trail has about 5 km, and the hike last for about one hour.
It is also a good way to explore the beautiful town of Sayulita and enjoy the beauty of nature.
12. Go bird-watching in the Estuary
When you are on the beach, you can see a wetland on one side that almost merges with the ocean.
There is the Estuary, a place packed with beautiful species of birds.
It is one of the best places in the area where you can observe birds in their natural environment.
You can go bird watching only with a certified guide, but worth every dollar spent.
The guide will provide you with a lot of useful information about migratory birds and the history of this unique habitat in San Pancho Mexico.
13. Explore the deserted beach of Playa Clavelinas
Playa Clavelinas is located on the golf course on Las Palmas Road, dotted with beautiful hotels and nice beach houses.
It is also a good place to watch the sunset and listen to the ocean.
14. Visit the Mexican town of Bucerias
Bucerias is a small village located about 24 km away from San Pancho on the way to Puerto Vallarta.
It still keeps its authentic vibe and the Mexican spirit alive.
You will find colorful houses, beautiful endless beaches, and cobblestone roads here.
There are a few seafood restaurants where you can have lunch on the beach.
The menu depends on what they catch from the ocean.
15. Join Yoga classes
Plenty of yoga centers in San Pancho allow you to practice yoga while on vacation.
El Estar for yoga and Pilates San Pancho for acro yoga and pilates classes are the most popular.
16. Explore the nearby beaches
In the area around San Francisco Nayarit, plenty of beautiful beaches are waiting to be discovered.
The best way to get to these remote beaches is with a rented car.
A car gives you the freedom and mobility to move around and discover even the most hidden places.
Have a unique experience by exploring the area in your own rented car
Whether you prefer day trips from your hotel or a tour around the country, car rental is the best way for creating your own experience and live your dream vacation
17. Surf in San Pancho, Mexico
San Pancho is ranked as one of the best beaches near Sayulita for surfing.
It is a very appreciated beach by the surf community but unsuitable for beginners.
The waves and currents here are perfect for pro surfers and intermediate.
You can bring your own surfing board or rent one from the town shops on the main road, close to the beach.
Where to stay in San Francisco Nayarit
Although a small town, San Pancho is packed with amazing hotels, guesthouses, and hostels.
No matter how much money you want to spend on accommodation, you will surely find something beautiful and cozy.
I drop below a list of my favorite accommodations from San Francisco Nayarit, the ones with the best price-quality ratio.
Modern and chic hotel
Pal.Mar hotel Tropical
This boutique hotel is located right in the heart of the town, within a short walk to the beach.
Pal.Mar hotel Tropical is a hotel with a sustainable focus and a relaxing atmosphere.
All apartments include a fully equipped kitchenette, comfy beds, Air conditioning, coffee makers, and water filter.
The huge folding doors open up in a tropical courtyard and a small pool.
Traditional Mexican-style hotel
Hotel Cielo Rojo
Another beautiful boutique hotel in San Pancho Mexico is Hotel Cielo Rojo, or Red Sky.
It is an elegant hotel with a peaceful and relaxing vibe.
The rooms are beautifully furnished, and the on-site restaurant serves some of the best lunch options in San Pancho.
Maraica Eco Hotel
One of the most beautiful hotels in the area, located right on the beach, is Maraica Eco hotel.
This hotel is a short walk from the town, boasting an outdoor swimming pool and stunning sea views.
You have a sun terrace where you can enjoy the Mexican sun and an on-site restaurant serving delicious dishes.
Shopping in San Pancho
Besides the local market, there are plenty of other interesting places you can go shopping in San Francisco Mexico.
The main avenue is packed with shops and some other nice shops hidden on the town’s narrow streets.
You can buy clothes, Mexican art and handcrafts, beach and surf items, souvenirs, liquor, and daily-use products.
The best souvenir shop in the town is called San Pancho Souvenirs, where you can find goods manufactured in the area.
My favorite restaurants in San Pancho Mexico
San Francisco Nayarit Nayarit Mexico is packed with a large variety of restaurants and bars where you can taste incredible Mexican food.
From street food to fancy fine dining, you will find everything you want here.
I drop below a list of my favorite 5 restaurants from San Pancho.
This restaurant serves seafood dishes in simple but inventive ways.
All the seafood is fresh from the ocean, and the menu depends on what the fisherman catches in that time of the year.
2. Bistro Cielo Rojo
In my opinion, you can find the best breakfast/ brunch from the entire area.
You can even find vegetarian dishes, extremely delicious with a Mexican touch.
We liked a lot the spinach omelet for breakfast and the free shots served at the tequila tastings on Fridays.
The garden is perfect for breakfast or a romantic dinner and all the dishes served are organic.
3. Taqueria Los Arbolitos
This is the place where you must go if you want to try an authentic taco experience with homemade tortillas.
The location is not fancy at all; you will find plastic chairs here, but the food is absolutely fantastic.
Mar Plata is the sister of Cafe del Mar and is one of the best places where you can dine in San Pancho Mexico.
You have stunning views of the sea and a gourmet menu suitable for everyone, including vegetarians.
5. Burrito Pinata – Entre Amigos
The delicious restaurant Burrito Pinata is opened in the same place where Entre Amigos once was.
It is a beautiful restaurant with a great vibe serving many types of Mexican dishes, including vegetarian options.
The prices are more than affordable, and the food is absolutely fantastic.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.