Huichol artist Mariano Valadez demonstrates the art of yarn painting. // © 2013 Flickr: IIhuicamina
The Mexican morning is perfect — warm and fresh. I smell tortillas browning, coffee brewing and jasmine blooming. The cacophony of cock-a-doodling roosters sings out along with the trilling warblers, and fluorescent purple, orange and pink bougainvillea tumble over me in canopies. I stroll through the cobblestone streets where lazy dogs bask in the sunlight.
Unlike other trendy towns nearby, San Francisco exudes its own unique vibe. Home of the famous Polo Club, the town comes alive during polo season, between November and May. San Pancho, as it is affectionately known, is quiet, tasteful and ecologically minded. About an hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta, it is a delightful Pacific Coast town replete with cobblestone streets, lush bougainvillea, turquoise waters, soft sand beaches and about 2,000 permanent residents.
The town has successfully mixed the expats and tourists with its native population to create a comfortable atmosphere. Visitors will be mesmerized by the fascinating Huichol culture, which exists throughout the state of Nayarit. The Huichols are a reclusive people who maintain their own language, traditions and intricately beaded artisan work. A few of them come to town to sell their wares, particularly in the beachfront plaza, bedecked in brightly colored, embroidered white costumes.
The EntreAmigos community center is a local gem, founded by a Californian woman. Funded primarily by private donations and relying heavily on volunteer support, EntreAmigos (“among friends”) is a 16,000-square-foot educational, cultural and community facility. Some 1,000 to 1,500 locals and tourists visit the center weekly, enjoying its free language, cultural and sports classes, recycling center, vegan cafe, organic community garden, tutoring programs, cultural events and more. EntreAmigos has 26 paid, part-time staff and about 25 to 50 volunteers in any given week.
The library and sports facility teach classes in Spanish, English, belly dancing, gymnastics, karate, pilates, guitar, sewing, history, culture and much more. Textile, glassworks and screen printing workshops at the Imaginarte Eco-Design Center use recycled products and sell the new creations at the gift shop.
San Pancho is pedestrian-friendly and has a lovely beach that offers surfing, swimming, boating and nearby scuba diving and snorkeling. It is located near a delightful beachside plaza, several small hotels and charming restaurants. Hotel Cielo Rojo is a charming boutique property with a welcoming atmosphere. Restaurants that never fail to please are Maria’s, MarPlata and Cafe Del Mar. Cafe Del Mar is owned by a French expat and hosts dance, reggae, jazz and contemporary music shows.
For travelers seeking an authentic Mexico vacation, San Pancho offers a warm welcome and plenty of local attractions to keep them entertained.