San Francisco, Nayarit
San Francisco, or San Pancho as it is more commonly referred to, is a quaint Mexican village nestled between the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains and jungle and a long stretch of pristine Pacific coast. In close enough proximity (hour drive) to the international airport at Puerto Vallarta, yet full of small town appeal, San Pancho is being proclaimed as one of the next great destinations in the so-called Riviera Nayarita, and as another desirable alternative to the more commercialized vacation typical of resort areas like Puerto Vallarta.
San Francisco is situated along the vast Pacific coastline pertaining to the Mexican state of Nayarit. The entire state of Nayarit is located below the Tropic of Cancer, and therefore San Francisco experiences a truly tropical, hot and humid, climate.
At the edge of the proclaimed biosphere of the Sierra Vallejo, San Francisco is bordered by the lush undeveloped jungle that is home to the regal jaguar and scores of other exotic mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and bird species. The region is also extremely rich in flora.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, and still somewhat today, the mountainous region that nears San Francisco and is known as the Sierra Madre Occidental was sparsely populated by indigenous groups like the Cora and Huichol.
As the Spanish put down roots and began to develop ports at San Blas to the north and Puerto Vallarta to the south, the region began to increase in population but still at a much slower pace and cut off from urban centers like Guadalajara. The presence of Franciscan-order priests also took hold, with many presiding along with landowners over huge latifundio estates and peons.
Long after Mexican independence, in 1931, as part of sweeping land reform following the Revolution, the land that comprises modern-day Sayulita and San Francisco was transferred to communal ejido ownership.
San Francisco remained a sleepy communal village, surviving on subsistence fishing and some mango and tropical fruit cultivation, until the small town struck the fancy of the Mexican President Luis Echeverría in the 1970s. First charmed enough by San Pancho to make it the site of his family vacation mansion, Echeverría then directed a flow of federal funding to San Francisco to be put towards his dream of making it a “self-sufficient” “Third World village”.
While the President’s vision did not come to fruition, since funding ended as did his presidential term, the town still benefits today from the cobblestone streets and full-service hospital that came out of his efforts and facilitate both visiting and living in San Pancho now.
With only approximately 1,600 full-time residents, San Francisco still displays the characteristics of a more traditional Mexican town—with men on horseback riding through the streets, or roosters running free in a neighbor’s yard for example. Yet even for such a small village, the population is still reasonably diverse. Drawn by the tranquil pace of life, the months of unwavering sunshine, and the tropical coastal atmosphere, San Pancho is also home to a growing number of expatriates hailing from the United States, Canada, or even Europe or southernmost Latin America. The result is an eclectic cultural mix that—along with the beautiful natural environs—is creating even more of a draw for visitors and new residents.
Alongside the interesting cultural mix of a fine art gallery or hidden haute-cuisine restaurant, San Pancho is also brimming with art and social responsibility activity. The art collective Colectivo San Pancho organizes various art expositions and events throughout the year, and a community volunteer organization mobilizes recycling education and efforts and youth activities in the town. Various environmental organizations also work to educate about and protect for instance the local jaguar habitat or the nesting turtle populations on San Pancho beaches.
While recently certain development projects have been planned and commenced in and around San Francisco, the peace and tranquility in the town is still uncompromised. San Francisco (San Pancho) is a unique spot, where pristine white beaches meet jungle green, and old Mexico meets a new international fusion.
- Clark, Jayne, “Riviera Nayarit is Mexico’s Next Great Place” in USA TODAY, 3/6/2008.
- Kaufman, David, “Mexico Rising” in Continental: The in-flight magazine for Continental Airlines, Oct 2008.
- Meyer, Jean. Breve historía de Nayarit. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997.