Mexico week 1: small town life in San Francisco (San Pancho)

Hello friends! I’m blogging from San Francisco, Mexico, where I spent the last 4 days on my own enjoying a week off from work (somehow I travel and still end up in San Francisco πŸ˜› ). Joe will be joining me very soon in Sayulita, a short 15-minute drive away, where we will be spending 3 weeks working remotely and enjoying daily beach town life.

These last 4 days have been absolutely lovely, as I’ve been soaking in the small town vibes of this charming town. I chose to come to San Francisco (locally known as San Pancho) because I read online that it’s a small but up-and-coming hippie surfer town, and basically what Sayulita was 10 years ago. Sayulita is one of my favorite cities in the world, so I thought I’d check out San Pancho for my solo leg of this trip and see what it’s all about. πŸ™‚

Tuesday: travel day + dusting off my travel mentality

My first day was dedicated to traveling from one San Francisco to another. Even though the flight was only 4 hours, I was completely pooped afterwards between very little sleep the night before due to a wedding, going through immigration, and accidentally leaving my phone in the taxi on my way to the hostel. After dealing with all the logistics and the phone fiasco (I did get it back!), I arrived at my hostel around 5pm exhausted but excited to finally be here. This was my first time staying in a hostel in 1.5 years (last time was in Kenya) so I definitely had to dust off my backpacker mentality.

Outside of San Pancho Hostel

After settling in, I took my first walk to get acquainted with town. San Pancho is super small with basically one main street. My hostel was at the edge of town and a 10-minute walk to the beach, which I ended up enjoying because I saw pretty much the whole town every day walking back and forth. I also liked living at the edge of town where more of the locals lived.

I was basically a zombie my first day, so I pretty much booked it to the beach area where there were more restaurants/shops for tourists and treated myself to dinner.

Row of restaurants in San Pancho

San Pancho is super low-key, so a nice dinner ended up costing me $5 US dollars. πŸ™‚

Fish tacos

Wednesday: finally feeling at home + beach day

After 11 hours of sleep, I felt myself again and ready to fully immerse myself! My morning started off with breakfast at the hostel and making my first friend. πŸ˜‰

Small cat on lap

Then I took a morning walk around town, this time going at a slower pace and also exploring the small streets off the main road. San Pancho is a lot more remote than I imagined. At a glance, it seems like a regular small town with a school, soccer fields, dirt roads, one small grocery store, and a community park. Shops don’t open before 11am or after 6pm, and restaurants barely later than that. Chickens roam the streets like it’s their turf. Locals outnumber foreigners by a great amount, and almost everyone in town was Spanish-speaking only (which is always my biggest handicap when traveling in Latin America – my Spanish is very limited!).

view from hilltop of San Francisco, Nayarit
Playground at community center in San Pancho

While there were a few hippie shops, vegan restaurants, and yoga studios that stood out from the rest of the town, San Pancho is still far behind Sayulita in tourism and development (which is part of the charm). However, I can see it becoming another tourist hot spot in a few years. From talking with locals, San Pancho has already changed a lot over the last 5 years, and I’m really glad I visited when I did.

Shopping by the beach in San Pancho

It took some adjusting as I felt pretty rusty with travel at first, but from this walk, I finally felt a sense of home and understood what visiting San Pancho was all about. It’s less of a destination where you see attractions and go on tours, but rather it’s a place for slowing down and enjoying daily life. This is probably why there’s a solid backpacker/expat community, especially from other Latin American countries where people are trying to escape COVID restrictions right now. I think San Pancho attracts a specific type of traveler who is looking for a more relaxing, local, and rural experience, which ended up being right up my alley.

Yellow jeep in front of small casa in San Pancho

After my walk, I headed to the beach for some lunch and a relaxing beach day. The beach area was more upbeat and attracted both locals and tourists from all around.

Entrance to San Pancho beach

I got a chair right on the water with views of the entire beach, and I listened to podcasts, napped, and read my book (I’m reading Barack Obama’s newest book, A Promised Land). It was the perfect relaxing afternoon especially after a long travel day yesterday.

Drinking diet coke on San Pancho beach
Selfie on beach chair on San Pancho beach

The rest of the day was spent exploring town a little more, grabbing dinner, and then catching up with Joe in the evening and reading before bed. I had somewhat of a forced digital cleanse these few days since the wifi at my hostel was limited and cellular data didn’t reach this town, which meant a lot of time with my book. πŸ˜›

Thursday: Surfing in Punta Mita

The next day, I was ready for some action after a lazy day yesterday, so I decided to go surfing. I got a ride with a local surf shop in town to Punta Mita, where the waves are gentler for beginners. I was hoping to surf in San Pancho, but after talking with some surfers I found out it’s more for intermediate/advanced level.

Our group was a fun one, filled with mostly expats in their 20s and 30s who have been living in San Pancho for several months already. I was excited to be with other people since my hostel was pretty quiet and I was craving some social interaction (spoken from an extrovert πŸ˜‰ ). We boarded up the truck and headed to Punta Mita, a 30-minute drive away. While driving through Punta Mita, the town seemed more upscale than San Pancho, full of bougie shops and resorts. I think it was the right call to stay in San Pancho and shuttle to Punta Mita for the waves!

Loading surf boards in pick up truck

We arrived at the surf spot, Stinky’s (yes that is the name). Immediately I was in awe of the wide open beach and the long breaks. There was ample space in the water – even on a crowded day, there is plenty of room for everyone to spread out.

Stinky's beach in Punta Mita
Surf board at Stinky's in Punta Mita

I surfed for ~3 hours and was in heaven. The vibe was super welcoming for beginners, as the experienced locals gave me tips and joked around with us. I’ve definitely been to some spots where the advanced people are impatient with beginners, and this was not the case. One big goal of mine this month is to improve my surfing, so I appreciated getting help from local experts.

Overall a great session! I caught a lot of waves and loved that the breaks lasted a while – sometimes you get up on the board and before you know if you’re down again, so it was a treat to experience a longer break. This was hands down my favorite surf spot I’ve ever been to.

Surfing selfie

After surfing, we headed back to town. I cleaned up and then headed right back to the beach for a late lunch and relaxing. I spent the rest of the day reading my book and giving my body much needed rest.

Quesadilla lunch on the beach

Friday: Rainy morning + surfing day 2

The next morning started off with a surprise – pouring rain. I guess it’s not that much of a surprise since it is rainy season here. πŸ™‚ Nevertheless I enjoyed hearing the rain on the roof and feeling the cooler temperature – coming from California it feels like a miracle seeing some rain. πŸ™‚ I relaxed at the hostel in the morning, working on this blog post and doing some yoga.

Rain in San Pancho

By noon the rain stopped, and I got a message from another surf shop I was in touch with saying they were heading out to Stinky’s at 1pm and asked if I wanted to join. I immediately said yes, packed a bag, scarfed down a taco, and headed out with them. I couldn’t say no to another day on the water!

This time I got a ride with another surf shop called Santa Madre, which I liked better than the one yesterday because they gave me a much better price, and the shop is a smaller operation basically run by its owners with smaller class sizes, selling local brands, etc. I would try and hit up Santa Madre if you’re in town! I rode to the beach with the owner and his girlfriend and we chatted away.

Another solid session at Sinky’s. I took it easy this time because my body was sore from yesterday, and I was happy to catch a few waves. πŸ™‚

Surfboard on head

We got back in the evening, and I set out to find dinner. There was a taco stand in the community park that I passed every day and decided to try it before I left San Pancho. I got 3 street tacos for 30 pesos ($1.50 USD) and it was the best meal I had so far. The owner was so nice to me, and I loved the casual setting eating on plastic chairs in the park. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Taco stand in community park in San Pancho

I stayed one more night at the hostel, and the next day I headed to Sayulita. I can’t believe my time in San Pancho is already over! It was the perfect, relaxing mini solo-trip and the reintroduction to international travel that I so wanted. Despite my lovely time here, I’m honestly pretty excited to move to nicer accommodation and share this adventure with Joe. πŸ™‚


2 thoughts on “Mexico week 1: small town life in San Francisco (San Pancho)

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