Headed to Mexico and looking for the best things to do in San Pancho, Nayarit?! You’re in luck! I’m sharing all my favorite things to do in San Pancho, as well as how to get there, where to eat, and tons of other helpful tips!
San Pancho is tranquil and relaxing, quiet and quaint. It’s everything you want in a tiny Mexican beach town. There’s enough to keep busy for a few days, but not so much that you feel like you’re missing out. It’s the kinda place you may never wanna leave – and I totally get it!
We had to peel ourselves away from this quaint Mexican town!
I bet you haven’t heard much about San Pancho. We hadn’t either until visiting! We tend to love unpretentious little towns not many people have heard of. Kinda like when we visited Borrego Springs on our Southern California desert road trip, and Todos Santos as a side trip to Los Cabos.
When planning our trip to Jalisco and Nayarit, we had an extra 2 nights to spend somewhere. So I found an eco hotel in San Pancho, and decided we’d head there before Sayulita. I had heard it was kinda like the Sayulita of the past (before it got overrun with tourists and expats), but I didn’t know much else.
I admit, as we made the turn into town after heading over from bustling Puerto Vallarta, I was worried I had made the wrong choice booking 2 nights here. The streets seemed relatively dead, I didn’t see many shops/restaurants, and upon first glance it looked kinda rundown. But as soon as we checked into our (gorgeous) hotel and took a short walk, I’m glad that all my initial doubts quickly faded away. I can promise you a visit to San Pancho is well worth the effort!
Overview of San Pancho
San Pancho is the Sayulita of 15 years ago. It’s unassuming and unpretentious, with an eclectic community full of artists, expats, locals, and tourists. It’s way more down to Earth and even considered the “cultural capital” of Riviera Nayarit.
We woke up to roosters every morning, felt like we had sections of the beach to ourselves, and it was relatively quiet at night. Way quieter than in nearby Sayulita which had music blasting until the wee hours of the night.
Unlike Sayulita, San Pancho remains relatively unknown – it really is Riviera Nayarit’s best kept secret. This quaint surfer town is definitely a special place, with a laid back vibe and a strong sense of community (with virtually no crime).
The town is technically called San Francisco (no, not the same San Francisco in California of course!), but everyone calls it San Pancho. We sure had fun telling people we were from San Francisco when asked, haha. It’s literally the San Francisco you’ve never heard of!
Psst → If small towns aren’t your thing and you’re looking for more nightlife, you may enjoy visiting Sayulita instead.
The People of San Pancho
It was the people of San Pancho that really made our trip. Looking back now, I see why we had such a great time. Everyone was so friendly, helpful, warm, and generous. And I don’t say that lightly. The vibe just felt different – in the best way possible. Everyone knew each other, stopping on the street to say hi and catch up. I think I could see myself living here, at least for a little while.
We met the owner of Su Pancha Madre (a sope truck on the outskirts of town) who invited us to his International Sope Festival that night (the first ever), expats in Casa Gourmet who gave us tons of local recommendations, and locals on the beach who graciously let us play with their dogs. Even the woman outside Limbo making fresh tortillas – who I dubbed the “Tortilla Lady” – treated us to warm tortillas with cheese and wide smiles every time we walked past.
San Pancho Trip Planning Logistics
Where is San Pancho
San Pancho is located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the state of Nayarit. It’s about 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta and only 15 minutes north of nearby Sayulita, so you can totally combine the three towns for an amazing trip!
It’s tucked away, surrounded by mountains and lush jungle. And thankfully it’s not hard to get to, conveniently located near major cities and the Puerto Vallarta airport.
Psst – when you type San Pancho into Google Maps, the name automatically changes to San Francisco. Don’t be alarmed! As noted before, San Francisco is the actual name of the town; everyone just calls it San Pancho.
How to Get to San Pancho
Coming from the states? You’ll first need to fly into Puerto Vallarta (to Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport, airport code PVR), and then head an hour or so north to the small town of San Pancho.
PVR is an international airport with plenty of nonstop and connecting flights, so you won’t have a hard time finding flights. We were pleasantly surprised that our flight from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta was less than 4 hours! I fully expected it to be way longer for some reason. Here’s a small sampling of the flight times to give you a general idea of how long your flight may be.
- From Mexico City (MEX): ~1 ½ hours non stop
- From Dallas (DFW): ~2 ½ hours non stop
- From Los Angeles (LAX): ~3 hours non stop
- From San Francisco (SFO): ~4 hours non stop
- From New York City (JFK): ~6 hours non stop
- From Miami (MIA): ~7 hours (connecting)
Already in Nayarit or Jalisco? A lot of people visit San Pancho, Nayarit after visiting Puerto Vallarta and/or Sayulita (that’s what we did!). We took a taxi from Puerto Vallarta for about 800 pesos ($~40USD), although we could have gotten a better deal bargaining on the street most likely (we had our hotel in the Romantic Zone in PV call a taxi for us).
Expect the ride from Puerto Vallarta to San Pancho to be roughly 60 minutes. From Sayulita it’ll be much less expensive at around 300 pesos (~$15USD, and only a 15 minute ride.
How to Get From the Airport to San Pancho
If San Pancho’s your first stop, once you reach the Puerto Vallarta airport, you’ve got a few choices on how to get to San Pancho itself.
1. Uber: Technically, Uber drivers aren’t allowed inside Puerto Vallarta airport (or within San Pancho itself). But don’t fret – you can easily use Uber just outside the airport to head to San Pancho. You’ll just need to walk across the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the highway (taking you away from airport grounds) first.
Don’t worry, it’s really easy to find – just look for a large orange bridge after walking outside of the arrivals hall. You’ll need to obviously bring all your luggage with you across the pedestrian bridge, so be prepared (thankfully there’s a ramp up).
Expect an Uber to cost 500 to 700 pesos (~$25 to $35USD), depending on the time of day and how busy it is.
2. Taxi: Taxis are everywhere at the airport – you’ll have no problem finding one. There are essentially two types of taxis you can get from the airport.
The first are authorized taxis allowed to pick up passengers directly from the airport grounds. While they are definitely the most convenient option, they’re more expensive at 1200-1500 pesos (~$60 to $75USD) due to the airport tax. Simply arrange a taxi from one of the taxi booths right at the airport after you exit customs if you don’t mind the expense.
However, to save the most money on a taxi, cross the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the highway. Here you’ll find street taxis, which are typically 800-1000 pesos (~$40 to $50USD). Always bargain and agree upon a price before getting into the taxi – it’s common here in Mexico to haggle! And make sure you have enough pesos as they don’t take credit cards.
3. Public bus: If you’re looking to save some money, take the public bus from the airport to San Pancho! Just like Uber, you’ll need to cross the pedestrian bridge described above. Once you’re across the highway, look for the green and white “Compostela” buses (make sure the bus says “San Pancho” in the windshield as not all of them go to San Pancho!).
The buses come every 20 minutes or so, and only cost around 50 pesos (~2.50USD). Can’t beat that! But since this is a public bus there’s no room for luggage – meaning if you have a lot of stuff this might not be the best option for you!
4. Rental Car: If you’re planning on checking out the surrounding beach towns, you may wanna rent a car (Uber is difficult in many of the smaller towns, including San Pancho, Sayulita, Punta Mita, etc).
I typically rent cars ahead of time, but if you’re visiting in the lower, rainy season (summer), you may be able to find a good deal directly at the airport at the last minute. Personally, I wouldn’t rent a car as we saw plenty of traffic jams on the one-way cobblestoned streets, and I imagine parking is a bit of a nightmare.
5. Day Trip from Puerto Vallarta: If you’re tight on time and basing yourself in PV, you can easily take a guided day trip to San Pancho from Puerto Vallarta! Now, I HIGHLY recommend more than a day tour, but better than nothing, right?!
The tour also stops in Sayulita, so you’ll get to see both beach towns on the same day trip!
How to Get Around San Pancho
Walk! The town is super, super tiny with a main street and some small streets off of it.
If you went up and down each individual street it would probably take less than 20 minutes!
And plus, the streets are cobblestone, there’s little to no parking, and plenty of dogs wandering in the street. I wouldn’t wanna drive over here, that’s for sure! And there’s honestly no reason to. You will see some super cute old buggies — I couldn’t resist not photographing them all!
San Pancho is even smaller than Sayulita, so there’s no need for a taxi, golf cart, or uber unless you’re visiting a nearby town.
When to Visit San Pancho
HIGH SEASON: WINTER (LATE-OCTOBER TO MAY)
Winter is the high season in San Pancho, with sunny days and low humidity. The air temps are warm and comfortable (high 70’s, low 80’s) but never scorching. There’s hardly any rain between November and May, and the nights are cool enough to wander around and sleep comfortably without AC.
If you’re visiting from December to March, you may get lucky and see humpback whales breaching from the beach! This is prime whale-watching season – we saw at least a dozen on our trip to the Marietas Islands. So special. If this is high on your bucket list, you’ll definitely wanna sign up for a whale watching tour!
Unlike Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, I wouldn’t worry about crowds. We visited over Christmas break (one of the busiest times of year to travel) and felt like we had parts of the beach to ourselves at times. So nice and quiet after a few days in buzzy Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita.
In terms of weather when we visited (late December), it was absolutely perfect, with hardly any clouds and so much sun! The air felt hot but not disgustingly sticky, and there was very minimal humidity. It did get a bit chilly at night, but nothing that a light sweater couldn’t fix (around 65°F once the sun went down).
LOW SEASON: SUMMER (JUNE TO MID-OCTOBER)
Summer is the low season in San Pancho, with high humidity, high (high) heat, and tropical rainstorms at night. This is the rainy season, with the wettest days of the year happening in June. And yes, don’t worry, you can still enjoy all the best things to do in San Pancho in the rainy season as it hardly ever rains all day.
So if you’re looking for cheaper hotel rates and still plenty of sunshine, a visit to San Pancho in the low season is a great option!
With that being said, if you’re not a fan of constantly sweating in high humidity and heat, choose a different time to visit. There’s a reason the locals flee San Pacho and travel during this time of year (the weather is almost unbearable for them).
Do note that most of San Pancho (including some hotels and restaurants) close for renovations during this time as it’s just simply too hot and there’s too much rain.
Additional Tips When Visiting San Pancho
Is English Spoken? Yes – but that doesn’t mean everyone is fluent nor should you expect them to be. While English is widely spoken in town, locals will greatly appreciate it if you use a bit of Spanish (or at least try!). So download Duolingo and practice the basics before you go! After a few days in Mexico I guarantee you’ll pick up on a few common words anyways.
Local Currency: Like the rest of Mexico, the local currency in San Pancho is the Mexican Peso. I highly advise you to take out some pesos at an ATM at the Puerto Vallarta airport upon landing (as you’ll get the best conversion rate using an ATM and never at a currency exchange kiosk).
Don’t expect all restaurants and shops in San Pancho to take credit cards, so always be prepared. In addition, you’ll want some cash for tips (see below), at small handicraft shops, and road-side taco stands, as well as for any taxis you may be taking.
At the time of writing (January 2022), the peso is equivalent to 5 cents USD (or 1 USD = ~20 Mexican pesos). I found it easy-ish to convert in my head by thinking of 100 pesos = roughly $5USD (or 200 pesos = ~$10USD). It takes a bit of practice but after a day or two you’ll be able to do the conversion super quickly in your head.
ATMs: I had read online that there were no ATMs in the town of San Pancho, so we took out a fair amount of cash beforehand in Puerto Vallarta. I’m happy to report that the town now has a few ATM machines, so I wouldn’t recommend taking out more than you need for a day or two.
Hate paying those pesky ATM fees? I feel you – those are the worst and really add up over time. Look into a no-fee debit card before your trip. We’ve been using Charles Schwab for years and haven’t paid a pesky fee in forever.
Tipping in San Pancho: Tipping is not expected, but always greatly appreciated as Mexican salaries are very low. Common practice is 10-20% for wait staff, although we typically gave closer to 20% for most meals, considering it was almost Christmas and all.
How Long to Stay in San Pancho: We stayed in San Pancho for 2 nights and 2 ½ days, and felt it was the perfect amount of time. Note that we also stayed in Sayulita for 3 nights and Puerto Vallarta for 4, so if you’re planning to base yourself in San Pancho, I’d stay a few extra nights so you can see more of the area!
Health and Safety in Nayarit
Health: YOU CANNOT DRINK THE TAP WATER IN MEXICO, and yes, this includes San Pancho. But don’t worry, you’ll easily find bottles of purified water in all restaurants and markets. And rest assured, all ice is made from purified water. Our hotel had bottles of water for us everyday, and we thankfully didn’t get sick from any fresh veggies or fruit we ate.
In terms of food, when ordering from street vendors, ensure it’s fully cooked and hasn’t been sitting out for too long (if foods not selling this is a good indication it’s been there a while). We had no problems with any drinks or food in San Pancho, and felt everything was of great quality.
Safety: We felt exceptionally safe in San Pancho. The town holds no history of crime or violence, and there’s a charming community-like feeling. Everyone we met was super friendly and helpful.
Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to use precautions like you would elsewhere in the world – like keeping expensive jewelry/watches at home, hiding electronics, being extra careful and observant at banks and ATMs, and knowing your alcohol limit. Better safe than sorry!
Dogs in San Pancho
I swear almost everyone has a dog in San Pancho, and 85% of them are off-leash (I don’t recall seeing any homeless pups thankfully). With that being said, we were pleasantly surprised by how clean the streets and sidewalks were, but always watch where you’re stepping just in case!
On another note, San Pancho may not be for you if you’re scared or get nervous/anxious around off-leash dogs. Many of the dogs we saw were quite big, and kinda just wandered near their owner, although occasionally wandered up to other people. If you know me you know I’m mildly obsessed with any and all dogs, so I welcomed this, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re not a dog lover.
Wifi and Cell Reception in San Pancho
To put things simply, the internet is pretty mediocre here in San Pancho. Even the wifi at our hotel hardly worked in our room and we only got (spotty) service in the main lobby. In addition, it’s not uncommon for the internet and cell reception to completely drop off for the day.
We ran into one lady who was supposed to be meeting a date in San Pancho shortly and unfortunately they were unable to communicate!
With that being said, if you rely on the outside world, this may not be the place for you. But if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, San Pancho will be a welcomed escape!
Where to Stay in San Pancho
The town is super small, with one main street and a bunch of smaller streets branching off it. With that being said, there’s no bad location to stay in San Pancho.
You won’t find any major hotel chains here, and small boutique hotels are the majority of accommodation (which I loved, because boutique hotels are my favorite).
- Agua de Luna: This is where we stayed and I’d definitely recommend it! The hotel is one of the newer ones in San Pancho, with a bohemian-chic Mexican contemporary design, leafy pool, and hot tubs on the roof. Our room was super spacious with a cute little outdoor patio.
- Palmar Hotel Tropical: We almost booked this place as the overall vibe seemed similar to Agua de Luna, but didn’t feel like changing our reservation (haha). Palmar is a calm and serene spot, with a minimalistic and boho-chic design. There’s also on-site yoga and massages right next door if that’s what you’re looking for.
- Marii Hotel Boutique: I mean, the rooms border a jungle garden with a pool. What could be better? Even if you don’t stay here, consider this spot for lunch! I heard it’s great!
- Hotel Casa San Pancho: Looking for something a bit more homey, rustic, and colorful? Check out Hotel Casa San Pancho – there’s touches of Balinese design and a heated saltwater pool.
Do note there are quite a few thatched-roof bungalow-type places located right along the beach, which at first glance looked pretty cool when I was researching. After reading lots and lots of reviews (that’s what I do), none of them appealed to me. I was really bummed because I wanted to live out my jungle fantasy in San Pancho!
If anyone’s been to any jungly, palapa-style accommodations they loved, please let me know!
What to Pack for San Pancho
No one dresses up much here in San Pancho; it’s got more of a hippy, boho vibe. Plan to wear loose-fitting, flowy clothes, and it can’t hurt to wear your bathing suit underneath for the beach!
Definitely bring along a cute bathing suit coverup or two (I have this one and this one and love both!), as well as some comfy sandals for the pool, beach, and walking around town!
Other miscellaneous items you’ll wanna bring along:
- Polarized sunglasses (better for blocking out the harsh UV rays)
- Beach bag and/or backpack: make sure it’s large enough to fit a beach towel or two!
- Hat/s: The sun is strong here! I love taking a wide-brimmed sun hat for the beach and a fun trucker hat when hiking.
- A waterproof kindle or other e-reader for reading at the beach and hotel pool (I’d be worried a physical book may accidentally get wet!)
- Your hotel may give you towels, but we love traveling with a sand-free beach mat
- Reusable water bottle: better for the environment and a must at the beach!
- Reef Safe sunscreen (always apply when you’ll be in the ocean water, as other sunscreen is harmful to marine life): We love ThinkSport (make sure the bottles are less than 3.4 ounces if you’re bringing them in your carryon)! Don’t forget about SPF lip balm as well!
- Aloe Vera Gel: always have some handy in case you get a sunburn; aloe will give the burn some much-needed relief
- Dramamine: This will help with motion sickness if you’re planning to do a snorkeling or boat tour (the waves can get rough depending on the day!).
- Bug spray will come in handy during San Pancho’s humid months (June to September), and calamine lotion/hydrocortisone cream is good to have on hand for when you undoubtedly get bitten
- Underwater camera: All my underwater photography tips and gear here. I’d check out an underwater phone case, too.
- Portable battery charger: Charge your phone on the go and never run out of battery! I always need to borrow my friends so I’ve finally made it a habit to start bringing my own.
- Noise-cancelling headphones: Great for both the plane and the beach! I’m obsessed with my AirPods and Noah loves his Bose Quiet Comforts.
- Tote bag: If you’re planning on doing some shopping in San Pancho, bring your own fold-up tote bag! I love this collapsible reusable tote bag (hardly takes up any room in your suitcase and it’s so lightweight)
- Some meds for an upset stomach/antidiarrheal medicine (just in case you accidentally drink the water or something doesn’t agree with you – bound to happen, just be prepared)
Best Things to do in San Pancho
San Pancho is the kind of place where you can do a whole lot or absolutely nothing at all, and still be completely satisfied. And after a busy few days in Puerto Vallarta, it was nice to have some downtime without feeling like we were ultimately missing out on must-do activities.
Here’s all the best things to do in San Pancho – from my favorite markets and shops to stunning sunsets on the beach and everything in between.
1. Be a beach bum at Playa San Pancho
This is an obvious choice! One of the best things to do in San Pancho, and ultimately, why so many come here, is the beach! And why?! Well, Playa San Pancho is absolutely gorgeous. Imagine pristine golden sand framed by lush jungle foliage, tons of space to spread out, and some of the most spectacular sunsets you’ve ever seen (more on that later). Plus tons of dogs frolicking freely in the sand!
And thankfully, because of community beach clean-ups, the beach is relatively clean.
Unlike the main beaches in Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita, we found Playa San Pancho to be hardly crowded! Even when we visited during Christmas week (one of the busiest times to visit Riviera Nayarit). Yes there were definitely people enjoying the water and tanning on the sand, but we had a lot of space to ourselves at the beach.
Don’t miss grabbing some chips and guac and margaritas at the beach bars lining the sand – we went to both La Perla and Las Palmas and loved our drinks. Do note non-customers will need to pay a small fee (~10 pesos) in order to use the restrooms.
Local Tip: If you’re visiting from December through March, keep your eyes peeled on the horizon! You may be lucky enough to see a humpback whale in the ocean!
2. Go Surfing – or just watch the pros
San Pancho is not the place to learn how to surf – the waves are just too wild (meaning the breaks are faster and shorter). But if you’re a more advanced surfer and looking to rent a board, walk to the left of the beach and you’ll see plenty of spots for rentals right on the sand.
Not ready to paddle out? I feel you – I guarantee you I’d fall smack right off the board. Watch instead! I always have a great time watching experienced surfers riding the waves, and I did a fair share of that here in San Pancho (just like I did in other surf towns like San Clemente and the North Shore of Oahu). To say I was super impressed with their skills is a massive understatement.
Psst – beginner surfers should head to nearby Sayulita as the waves are much better suited for those just learning how.
3. Watch the Stunning Sunsets
Ohhh the sunset – easily one of my favorite things to do in San Pancho every night! Unlike the main beach in Sayulita (where the sun sets behind the mountains and cliffs), due to the position of Playa San Pancho, there’s an unmissable sunset every single night on the beach. Right over the crashing waves.
I swear, the sunsets are legendary here. And there’s kinda like an unofficial sunset party here every night. I watched the sun go down with dozens of others, and even the locals clapped once the sun dipped below the horizon. Make sure to plan your other activities around sunset – and stay at the beach 20 minutes afterwards to really watch the sky explode with color.
If you’re spending a few nights here, buy a day pass to La Patrona Beach Club – I heard the sunsets are absolutely lovely over there as well.
4. Wander around town
While the town of San Pancho is super tiny, it’s worth a quick walk around the quaint cobblestone streets. And to prove how tiny it is, you can literally walk from the highway (Hwy 200) to Playa San Pancho in under 15 minutes.
You’ll find lots of restaurants, coffee shops, and local boutiques along the main street, Calle Tercer Mundo. Walk all the way down and you’ll actually end up straight at the beach!
Unlike other Mexican beach towns, you’ll be walking directly past locals homes as you stroll around off the main street, so be sure to be extra courteous and friendly.
5. Release Baby Sea Turtles
San Pancho is home to one of the largest turtle conservation projects in Riviera Nayarit, The Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde. I was SO excited when I read turtle releases happen here, but unfortunately the last release happened a few weeks prior to our visit.
With that being said, the public sea turtle releases happen between June/July and November/December (depending on the nests). So if this matches up with your timeframe, don’t miss the chance to help release the little babies! I promise, watching them scurry down the sand into the water at sunset is something you’ll never, ever forget.
You can even volunteer for a month if that’s something that interests you. What a dream!
We were lucky enough to participate last year in Todos Santos, and it was such a magical experience. One of the most rewarding things to do in San Pancho for animal lovers! I can’t stress enough how magical of an experience this was – the hatchlings you help release are literally born that day! Find more info here.
6. Practice Yoga
Yoga is a way of life here in San Pancho, so why not join in the fun?! I swear, you’ll see tons (and tons) of yogis wandering the town – some of them even barefoot! Ouch, haha!
The most popular yoga studio in San Pancho is El Estar Yoga and Healing Center (where we got our massages!). And it’s gorgeous – classes are held under a palapa and the whole space is just so tranquil. The studio offers different classes every day of the week, so either pop over or check their Facebook page for the monthly calendar. They also offer plenty of massages and meditation practices!
Other studios offer multi-day yoga retreats a few times a year, as well as outside wellness companies using San Pancho as a base for their own wellness and yoga retreats! It’s kinda the perfect place for it, so I get it!
7. Get a Massage
We got massages at El Estar Yoga right next to Palmar Tropical Hotel. And lemme tell you – after a few days of running around Nayarit, it felt so nice to soothe my aching muscles. Because lounging by the pool and sipping cocktails is hard work, wink wink.
You’ll need to sign up in advance (we made a same-day reservation that morning), and pay a deposit to hold your spot (just FYI). So bring your pesos!
8. Go shopping
Despite San Pancho’s small size, there’s plenty of shopping opportunities over here. Yes, you can stock up on all your favorite Mexican goodies in town, at the beach, and right outside the beach! You’ll probably need to pick up a tote bag or two to bring everything home.
And if you’re looking for even more textiles and handmade, local products, you’ll find those are the San Pancho Tuesday Market – more on that below!
Note that some shops in San Pancho close mid-day for a quick snooze. They usually reopen around 5ish or so, so you can browse/shop on your way to dinner!
In Town: A quick walk around town and you’ll find lots of jewelry, paintings, ceramic work, and more. San Pancho is home to lots of artists and artisans, and I loved browsing the local shops.
Beach Plaza: These are less traditional stores, and more like stalls right on the beach plaza (malecon). If you’re walking to the beach from Calle Tercer Mundo (the main road in San Pancho), you won’t miss them. Here you’ll find handmade jewelry, handwoven hats, and more.
But the stars of the show are definitely the meticulously beaded designs by the Huichol Indians. They display their traditional colorful, beaded bracelets and hand woven baskets, and they are GORGEOUS. I highly suggest buying a piece or two.
Beach Vendors: Hanging on the beach? The beach vendors will undoubtedly find you (whether you like it or not). They carry woven Mexican tote bags, silver jewelry, hats, and among other things. Some very beautiful pieces, but not guaranteed to be made in the area.
If you don’t want to be bothered, simply say “No Gracias” and they’ll be on their way. There’s definitely way less of them than in nearby Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, I can promise you that.
9. Shop at the Tuesday Market
Here in San Pancho, you’ll find the Mercado Artesanal Tuesday Market, taking place during high season on Tuesdays from 10am-2pm, hence the name! It’s one of the best things to do in San Pancho – only on a Tuesday obviously! Find the Tuesday Market right near the main street in the Plaza Principal of San Pancho
Local vendors sell their beautifully woven textiles, handicrafts, healthy foods, and organic produce. And there’s typically live music and always a great local scene!
And you most definitely won’t go hungry – there’s plenty of stands selling Colombian arepas, blue-corn quesadillas, empanadas, and other delicious snacks. Don’t miss some fresh fruit juice as well – I can’t go back to regular old OJ at home now (I need it fresh!).
10. Hang at La Patrona Beach Club
Ready for the best kept secret in San Pancho? It’s La Patrona Beach Club! Imagine sipping handcrafted cocktails in the infinity pool overlooking the beach and then eating in a towering open-air palapa with more great views at sunset. Now that’s my kinda afternoon.
The space is absolutely stunning – the architecture was even internationally awarded for an amazing design! I’m super bummed we missed out on this (it’s easily one of the best things to do in San Pancho)! I think we were just too blissed out and chill to even remember that it was high on my list of places to check out. Next time!
And one of the best parts – kids under 13 aren’t allowed (#sorrynotsorry!).
It’s truly one of those luxury meets nature kinda places, and you won’t wanna leave. Although you totally should to ensure you check out all the other great things to do in San Pancho.
Buy a day pass and find out more info about La Patrona Beach Club here! The bar lounge is THE place to be at sunset (meaning it may very well get crowded).
Psst – it’s also sometimes referred to as Tierra Tropical Beach Club, but don’t worry, they’re the exact same place.
11. Try the restaurants
One of the best things to do in San Pacho – eat! Yes, you read that correctly! Despite being so small, San Pancho is a foodie’s paradise. We were completely surprised by how much great food there was.
There’s a lot of authentic Mexican food here (think tacos al pastor in the street) as well as some international cuisine (like Argentine-style steak and even Asian fusion). The area is known for fresh fish and seafood, so be sure to order some during your time in San Pancho.
I’ve compiled a list of all the spots we enjoyed a bit further down. Don’t miss Barracuda and Limbo – our two fave spots in town.
And if you see the woman outside Limbo making fresh tortillas, befriend her! She’s super friendly and such a sweet woman – she may even gift you a warm tortilla. I saw her multiple times and she’s one of my fondest memories of our time in San Pancho. It’s the little things, right? 🙂
12. Go riding at the polo club
Yes, San Pancho has their very own riding and polo club! Who would’ve thought?! Kinda unique to a tiny beach town on the coast of Mexico, right?
If you’ve never even been on a horse, no worries! You’ll still find the perfect riding experience. I mean, the surroundings couldn’t be better – imagine riding around lush vegetation with beautiful views of the Sierra Madre mountains in the distance. Sounds like the perfect ride to me!
And if you’re already a pro, there’s dressage and jump lessons, or you can even learn how to play Polo (or just watch a match if that’s more your style). Find out more information about La Patrona Polo & Equestrian Club here.
13. Visit the community center
Entreamigos, the community center in San Pancho, is a 501(c)3 non profit organization (and has been working since 2006!). The main focus of Entreamigos is on education (they’ve built a beautiful little library for the kids), the environment (including beach clean-ups and tree planting projects), and the San Pancho community as a whole.
The name literally means “between friends”, so it makes sense that a lot of their outreach is for community action.
Stop in for a quick visit to see what the organization is all about! And if you can’t get over there to volunteer yourself, you can support their important work by donating!
Day Trips from San Pancho (Even more things to do in San Pancho!)
If you’re spending more than 2 days in San Pancho, I highly recommend taking a day trip or two! The ones listed below are the most common, but know you can also go to Bucerias, Punta Mita, and Yelapa!
The beach town of Sayulita is less than 15 minutes away, so there’s no reason not to take a short taxi ride over! It’s colorful, laidback and bohemian, with lots of chill, beachy surfer vibes. There’s impressive street performers, gentle surf breaks, and beach bars to hang at while watching the sunset. And plenty and plenty of yummy restaurants (don’t miss a chocolate dipped banana from ChocoBanana).
15. Puerto Vallarta
I’m sure you’ve heard of Puerto Vallarta – it’s where you flew into after all! I highly recommend spending more than a day in PV, but if that’s all the time you have, you can really see a lot in just a few hours!
Take a long walk along the malecon, hit up the (overly-crowded) beach and see the famous sculpture on the pier, try all the street food (mmm that esquina with cheese), wander around the Romantic Zone, check out the Isla Cuale Flea Market, and watch the sunset with a drink in hand. You can also hike up to Mirador Cerro de La Cruz for some spectacular views!
16. Marietas Islands
One of the best things to do in the Riviera Nayarit is a visit to the Marietas Islands, a group of small, uninhabited islands off the coast. As soon as we bought tickets to Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita, I instantly booked a tour to the Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas). That instagrammable hidden beach was high on my Mexico bucket list! And it didn’t disappoint!
Don’t miss the famous hidden beach (which you need to swim through a cave to reach), whale watching – we saw at least a dozen humpback whales (in season), and snorkeling with all the tropical fish. There’s also blue footed boobies here which I was especially excited about!
We took this EXACT tour and I can promise you we made it to the hidden beach! Here’s another with the possibility of the hidden beach if that first one’s already sold out. You’ll need to make your way to the Puerto Vallarta marina for pickup, but it’s really not that far, I promise.
If the hidden beach tours are already sold out (bummer), check out this snorkeling and beach tour of Marietas Islands instead! The water really is iridescent! And if you’re a diver, even better – there’s an option for certified divers as well!
17. Whale Watching
Visiting in the winter months between December and April? You’re in luck! Whale watching is one of the best things to do in San Pancho! Due to its location, San Pancho (and the surrounding areas) are a prime spot for incredible whale watching – humpback whales are commonly seen along the Nayarit coast.
Imagine seeing a humpback whale breach – what an incredible sight! But for the best viewing (and to get up close), you really need to book a whale watching tour!
Suggested San Pancho Itinerary
The great thing about San Pancho is that you don’t really need to show up with a planned itinerary. It’s one of those places you can wake up and decide what you wanna do that day (unless you wanna head to the hidden beach of the Marieta Islands – you gotta book that in advance for sure).
We had no set plan when we arrived in San Pancho, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Kinda felt like laid-back island life! Here’s a rough example of what we did:
- Day 1: check into hotel, quick stroll on Calle Tercer Mundo, stop for date shakes at Casa Gourmet, margaritas/mojitos and chips/guac at La Perla, *turtle release (from May to December), watch the sunset on the beach, dinner at Limbo
- Day 2: breakfast at Marias, hang at hotel pool and hot tub, lunch at Su Pancha Madre, massages at El Estar Yoga, relax at the beach/watch the surfers, check out handicrafts on the malecon near beach, sunset drinks at Las Palmas, dinner at Barracuda
- Day 3: sleep in, wander around town/check out shops, sip an agua de cacao from Mexicolate, long walk on the beach, head to Sayulita
See, nothing too strenuous. You can do as much or as little as you’d like. Just whatever you do, don’t miss the sunsets here!
Where to Eat and Drink in San Pancho
- Restaurante Limbo: The cocktails are inventive. The seafood is fresh. The ambiance is upscale boho-chic. And there’s typically live music at dinner. Sounds pretty perfect to me!
- Barracuda: Tuna tostadas. Enough said. But really though, everything on the menu looked delicious. Just don’t miss a tuna tostada or two! Noah had the marlin tostada as well and he enjoyed both.
- Cafe Gourmet: The best bread, pastries, and date shakes in town. I stopped here every day for a chocolate banana date shake, and it was just what the doctor ordered.
- Su Pancha Madre: Do NOT miss this spot – they make the most delicious gourmet sopes ever. We were actually invited to the first annual International Sope Festival by the owner himself which took place when we were in town, and it was such a fun event/experience!
- La Perla: We came here for drinks on the beach one night for sunset, and it was the perfect end to our day.
- Mexicolate: While there’s lots of sweet treats here, don’t leave without trying the agua de cacao. It’s like sipping a chilled hot chocolate that’s not as sweet. Pure perfection.
- The Dough Joe: I was originally intrigued by their cute branding, so of course had to go. The shop is filled with lemon poppyseed muffins, over-the-top donuts, and blueberry pancakes stacked high.
- Amar Y Ya: The cutest coffee shop right next to our hotel (Agua de Luna). My husband grabbed a mocha every morning, and I always ended up drinking half of it – whoops.
- Bistro Organico: A plant and seafood based restaurant with a completely organic menu (hey, it’s in the name right?). We unfortunately missed this spot but I heard great things about it.
- Maria Bonita Restaurante: Come here for breakfast one morning (I can confirm the breakfast chilaquiles are delicious). The outside patio in the back is so cute!
- Taqueria Los Arbolitos: It’s taco time in San Panchos! Delicious, inexpensive, and great salsas. What else could you want? Probably the cheapest meal you’ll have in Mexico.
- Kokonati Coffee: Another great option for a healthy and delicious breakfast with organic ingredients. Plus, it’s only a block from the beach, the wifis great, and it’s super dog friendly. Try the chicken mole and beef and potato empanadas – mmm…. And they have the most wonderful pastries too!
- Local hole-in-the-walls: We asked the hotel manager where he’d recommend grabbing chilaquiles for breakfast one morning, and he gave us directions to his favorite place (which was like 2 blocks away). Unfortunately we never caught the name of the place, but I recommend asking some locals and you’re bound to discover some unknown (but delicious) local spots.
Hope this helps you plan the best trip ever to San Pancho! Which of these things to do in San Pancho will you be adding to your itinerary? Any questions? Ask below in the comments!