A couple of weeks ago I posted about my most latest trip to Mexico and my stay at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Puerto Vallarta. Happily, I was able to venture away from the resort and explore a couple of nearby towns, too. My first stop was the village of San Francisco, known locally as San Pancho. Have a minute? Because this colorful little fishing village has an interesting history. Its development became the pet project of Mexican president Luis Echeverría, who, during his term from 1970 to 1976, committed to turn San Pancho into a “third-world, self-sufficient model town.” During Echeverría’s term, funds were poured into the town and yielded exciting new infrastructure, including roads, a school, a fruit-processing factory, a hospital, and housing, among other facilities. But the momentum ground to a halt when Echeverría left office, an event that, combined with Mexico’s otherwise poor economy, stopped San Pancho’s profound growth in its tracks. Its fruit-processing factory functioned into the 1980s, but Echeverría’s vision never materialized beyond the parameters of his presidential term. (You can read more about it here.) Today, San Pancho’s sleepy streets are lined with bodegas, cafes, galleries, and a few surf shops, and a wonderfully un-crowded beach welcomes surfers and wave watchers, and dogs eager to run up and down its shore. Here are a few things I highly recommend during a day in San Pancho.
1. Have breakfast (or, even better, stay!) at Hotel Cielo Rojo
Start your day with a wholesome breakfast at the organic bistro on the sunlit patio of this enchanting boutique hotel. The menu includes standard breakfast foods, like pancakes, scones, granola, and eggs, but freshness, quality, and beautiful presentation combine for a meal that’s anything but. A beautifully arranged plate of banana, pineapple, and papaya—drizzled in local honey and tasting as if it had been plucked from the earth minutes before my arrival—was blissfully sweet and refreshing. I’m glad I didn’t stop there, though, because the juevos rancheros—piled atop rustic, seedy tortillas—were some of the best I’ve had. After breakfast, have a look around the hotel’s boutique and grab a piece of handmade jewelry, a woven tote, or an embroidered caftan. And if it’s not occupied, poke your head into the street-facing guest room by the front desk. With hand-painted tiles, crisp, white linens, artfully arranged shelves, and a.m. rays pouring through the window, its charm factor is off the charts.
2. Stroll through the color-filled streets
From homes to storefronts to public spaces, brightly colored facades are everywhere in San Pancho, like this chartreuse stunner just next door to the hotel. Painted in cheerful yellows, greens, pinks, and blues, there are plenty of pretty ones to see on a post-breakfast stroll around town.
3. Take a peek inside a tortilleria
It’s not every day you get to watch soft, hot corn tortillas come fresh off the press, but you can in San Pancho. We stumbled onto this tiny tortilleria, where two well-practiced ladies were busy slapping tortillas on a press and wrapping them up at lightning speed. The savory, nutty smell alone was worth a stop. If you’re planning to stick around a while, grab a bag to go and snack to your heart’s content on the curb just outside. (I didn’t write down the name of this spot and can’t find any info about it online. If you’ve been and know what it’s called, let me know!)
4. Hit the beach
Like San Pancho itself, its beach is refreshingly free of crowds. A couple of cafes offer seating on the sand, and when you’re done, you can take a walk, go horseback riding, watch surfers, or splash around in the waves. You might even see a few four-legged revelers enjoying the saltwater surroundings.
5. Pay a visit to Entre Amigos and Circo de los Niños
My favorite stop in San Pancho was Entre Amigos, a non-profit community facility for families that houses a library, classrooms, a student-run consignment shop and cafe, and educational workspaces for everything from recycling to sewing to toymaking. Entre Amigos’s aim is to increase educational opportunities for youth in San Pancho, to provide a safe, inspiring, and enriching place for families, and to arm locals with the skills they’ll need to contribute to—and succeed in—their community. What makes Entre Amigos even more unique is that it’s home to Circo de los Niños, a circus-training facility founded by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Gilles Ste-Croix and his wife, Monique Voye. In 2011, the couple held a circus-style fundraiser for Entre Amigos starring children who use EA’s facilities. It was such a hit in the community that the couple established the permanent circus school on its grounds. You can read more about the program’s history and growth here, but better yet, just go see it—and Entre Amigos—for yourself. Together, they’re the jewel in the crown of this special seaside town.
Have you been to San Pancho? What did you think?