Monday, May 16, 2016

WHERE WILL WE RETIRE IN MEXICO? La Peñita de Jaltemba or San Pancho, Maybe?

One More Step in Our Decision

     In my last blog post, I evaluated two of the eight towns and cities that we considered for our retirement home. I looked at the "Pros and Cons" for us to retire in San Carlos, Sonora or Mazatlan, Sinoloa. This article is our evaluation of two more of our favorite towns in Mexico, La Peñita de Jaltemba, Nayarit and San Francisco (San Pancho), Nayarit. Would one of these two be the town we would choose to retire in?
New Malecon in La Penita de Jaltemba 


     La Peñita de Jaltemba, simply called La Peñita by the locals, is a very Mexican town, a small fishing village. Located on the Jaltemba Bay, it has a sandy beach but, when we have spent time there, it was not busy with tourists. There is a new Malecón painted with the Nayarit state logo, a nice raised promenade with palm trees, pretty street lights, and benches placed the length of it that face out to the Pacific Ocean. Families gather here during the day, at sunset, and after dark to enjoy the sea breeze, to let the children play, and to talk and relax. There are steep ramps from the Malecón down to the beach on the ocean side, but it seems most people walk on the raised promenade. To read my blog article about our stay in La Peñita in 2014, click HERE .
     While staying there, I asked myself often, why do some North Americans choose La Peñita as their winter home? The main reason seems to be that the U.S. and Canadian dollars go a long way living in this Mexican town. In addition, this is a place where folks from north of the border can feel comfortable and safe living in a small Mexican town, yet surrounded by enough other gringos to have plenty of opportunities to socialize with each other. It does not have the amenities of a tourist town but is close enough to Rincon de Guayabitos, Puerto Vallarta, San Pancho, and Sayulita to go for a day trip.
La Penita Sunset from Little Rigs RV Park
Getting to La 
     The closest international airport is Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta (PVR), Jalisco. It is a 60 to 75 minute taxi ride, depending on traffic, south to the airport. In order to take the bus from the airport to La Peñita, one bus transfer would be necessary.
La Penita is About 960 Miles South of the Border by Road 
Here are the things we like about La Peñita de Jaltemba:
1.      It is a small, very Mexican fishing town, rather quiet, with few tourists.
2.     The downtown (centro) is pleasant. Located mostly along Avenida Emiliano Zapata, the main paved street through town, centro is lively with locals in the morning, mostly women, going about their business of shopping for the day’s supply of warm, buttery corn tortillas, whole red snapper caught that morning, and enough ripe, red tomatoes, onions, cilantro, peppers and whatever else is needed for the salsas and side dishes soon to be prepared. The men sit around on the benches or curbs chatting. The children walk to and from school in groups, laughing, talking and singing, and in the background is the happy sound of Latin music playing. The Avenida is two lanes divided by a central island for pedestrian traffic. Along the stamped concrete walkway are many pretty wrought iron benches for relaxing and people watching. Centro is the hub of this town, and always interesting.
3.      The new Malecón, though relatively short, is a nice place to sit and relax while listening to the gently lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean.
4.   Though the beach and waves are not often good for swimming, boogie-boarding, or surfing, as far as we could tell, the neighboring town of Rincon de Guayabitos is very good for these water activities. 
5.  We felt safe in La Peñita, even walking home after dark.
6.  We enjoyed the weather in La Peñita. It is more tropical than the more northern coastal cities of Mazatlán and San Carlos, so the humidity is higher and takes a little getting used to. After we adjusted to the humidity, we found that our skin, nails, and hair were healthier because the air did not dry them out. 
7.  The cost of housing is relatively low for a coastal town in the state of Nayarit.
8.  The cost of dining out is relatively low compared to the more touristy towns along the coast.
9.  The locals are very laid back and friendly to the North Americans in La Peñita. We always felt accepted in this town by the local merchants, by the restaurant owners, and by Mexicans walking on the street who greeted us as we passed. 
10.  It is a small enough town that it is easy for us to walk anywhere we need to go, and even across the “Bridge of Life” to nearby Rincon de Guayabitos during daylight hours.
11.  There is a small gringo population, with more Canadians than Americans, it seemed to us. We felt welcomed by the Canadians in this community.
12.  Popular with locals and out-of-towners for its Thursday Market, the largest collection of vendors in this area, north of Sayulita.
13. Groceries at the Maxi Super and Mini-Super markets downtown are very inexpensive.
14.  There are several pharmacies and banks in town.
15. There are at least two Zumba classes in town. Josh teaches Zumba classes several times a day, Monday through Friday, at his new studio on the east side of Highway 200 at the south end of La Peñita, across the highway from the intersection of Calle Francisco Villa (Francisco Villa Street). He also does a class called Powerjump on mini trampolines. 
16.  Rincon de Guayabitos, the sister city next door, is a taxi ride away and has many good restaurants, live music, and a nice beach with many palapa restaurants to have lunch, a beer, and hang out.
17.  Health care is available in the area with two small hospitals nearby, Real Nayar Hospital in La Peñita and San Pancho Hospital General. Larger medical centers are in Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara.
18.  Puerto Vallarta is 40 miles south if we need to shop at Home Depot, Mega, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, or other department stores or go watch a movie on the big screen.
19.  Campo de Ensuenos (Field of Dreams) Golf Course is just 6 miles south on Hwy 200. It’s public and inexpensive! It even has a clubhouse and serves lunch and drinks.
20.  The Plaza has recently received a face-lift, including a sweet dolphin sculpture and landscaped raised gardens edged with concrete seating areas. 
Typical Colorful Corner in Downtown La Penita

Here are the reasons we ruled out La Peñita de Jaltemba as our retirement home:
1.     La Peñita is too small and quiet for us. We like a little more action.
2.  The wave action at the beach was not sufficient for us to boogie-board (our favorite water sport!). We would have to take a trek with boards, umbrellas, chairs, Bella, and cooler in hand to Rincón de Guayabitos or Sayulita each time we wanted to boogie-board. That meant we wouldn’t do it very often. We wanted our waves a short walk away.
3.  The town felt dirty to us every time we have stayed there, dusty during dry periods, flooded and muddy when it rained. There is only one paved street through the middle of town. Many of the cobblestoned roads were in disrepair and full of potholes. In several neighborhoods, the roads were narrow, rutted dirt single lanes, meaning they were a muddy mess when it rained. Since we walk almost everywhere we go, and always in flip-flops, this is an important factor to us. A brown mud stripe splattered up the back of our calves when we reached downtown was not a pretty sight. Possibly the road conditions have improved in the past year since the government of Nayarit tends to put money into upgrading their seaside towns.
4.  The selection of restaurants is relatively small with little variety in types of food. We would need to travel by taxi or bus to nearby towns one or two times each week to go out to dinner as often as we like to. It seems we would be happier living in a town or city that is a bit larger.
5.  When we took our walks down the beach, it was dirty, littered with trash that had been tossed down or washed up by the waves, especially as we neared the downtown area. Daily beach clean-up did not appear to be happening in this town as is the trend in more touristy cities along the coast.
6.   La Peñita is too far from the airport for us, a 60 to 75 minute taxi ride, depending on traffic on the two-lane Hwy 200, traveling south to the airport. This makes the taxi ride expensive. In order to take the bus from the airport to La Peñita, one bus transfer would be necessary, and that was too time-consuming and cumbersome for us with luggage and Bella, our miniature dachshund.
7.  It is too far from the major medical centers and other services in Puerto Vallarta.
8.  A bus trip to shop or dine in Puerto Vallarta was too far from La Penita for us. There is no direct bus service from La Peñita to Puerto Vallarta, requiring a bus transfer, and the trip was too long. In order to shop at Mega Supermarket, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Liverpool Mall, or other department stores, it would require over one and one-half hours each way. We have decided to forego owning a car in Mexico to cut our expenses, so bus service is important to us. In addition, we always walk, bus, or take a taxi when going out for dinner so we won’t drive after drinking alcoholic beverages. Going to Puerto Vallarta from La Penita for dinner would require an expensive taxi ride home or an overnight stay at a hotel plus finding doggie-daycare for Bella. We need to be closer to the big city, it seems.
9.  The downtown is not very attractive. Power lines have not been put underground downtown as is the recent trend in tourist towns, so the wires crisscrossing every which way on every street adds to the cluttered, messy look in centro.
10. The two estuaries from the small rivers that flow to the ocean smelled and looked like sewer whenever we crossed them on the footbridges, headed to downtown.

     As much as we enjoyed staying at the RV Parks in La Peñita de Jaltemba when we were living in our motorhome, our “Pros and Cons” list made it clear to us that this would not be where we would choose to retire. Many folks from north of the Mexican border do decide to settle in this town and enjoy it. It just isn’t our first choice. La Peñita is changing for the better though, and each year it becomes more attractive.

     To read my blog articles about RV Parks in La Peñita, see: . My blog article from our trip the year before can be viewed at: . For more information on La Peñita, see . 


Just a Few of Our Happy San Pancho Memories

     San Francisco, Nayarit, nicknamed San Pancho by the locals, is one of our favorite towns in Mexico. After living there in a rented condo for three months one winter, we thought seriously about retiring in San Pancho. Each time we arrive in San Pancho, the taxi driver says, “Ah, tranquillo”. A sense of calm emanates from the community, and we feel tranquility begin to grow within ourselves as we enter San Pancho. When we reach the beach and settle into a chair with a glass of cold lemonade, the rhythmic sound of the gentle waves complete the sensation of “we’re in paradise”. Jon and I look at each other, smiling, and we both say "ahhhh" at the same time.
     We have spent more time in San Pancho than in any other town or city in Mexico. We have gotten to know it well and have made friends there. Maybe that is part of why we return again and again, picturing ourselves purchasing a home in this little pueblo and living there for the rest of our lives. For additional information on San Pancho, see

Getting to San Pancho
San Pancho is 16 Miles South of La Penita

     The Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International airport in Puerto Vallarta (PVR), Jalisco is 26 miles and generally 45 minutes to an hour by taxi from San Pancho, depending on traffic. The bus from the airport and Puerto Vallarta runs to San Pancho about once each hour.
    San Pancho is about 16 miles south of La Peñita de Jaltemba, which makes it quite a bit closer to Puerto Vallarta. This may not seem significant until you have driven that 16 mile stretch of curvy, 2-lane highway, following a heavily loaded semi that is going uphill at 20 miles per hour with 25 cars and buses backed up behind it. A 45 minute taxi ride can turn into an hour and a half, and that is if there is not an auto accident ahead of you on the highway to deal with. Being 16 miles closes to the airport and Puerto Vallarta could turn out to swing our decision in favor of San Pancho for our retirement home. But, first, let me list our feelings about all of the factors we are weighing, the "Pros and Cons" of moving to San Pancho.
Many Good Memories of San Pancho, A Clean, Attractive Town
Here are the things we like about San Pancho
1.   As the locals say, San Pancho is muy tranquilo, very peaceful and calm.
2.  The town is very small. It is easy to walk anywhere in town that we want to go. We wouldn’t need a car. A golf cart to shuttle groceries and laundry home would be sufficient. We could easily reach our goal of walking 10,000 steps daily if we walked to the beach, to shop at the mini-super market, to check out the local happenings in town, and then to dinner. One of our main criteria is to live in a town or city where we can walk almost everywhere we need to go. That’s “Healthy Living in Mexico”!
3.  San Pancho is a clean, well maintained town. The electrical wires have been put underground in the downtown area, adding to the clean feel. The main street is paved and most of the other streets are cobblestone. The residents keep the streets swept, minimizing dust and debris. 
4.     The beach is beautiful and clean. It is very enjoyable to walk along, usually quiet and uncrowded. We looked forward to sitting at one of the palapa restaurants on the beach, enjoying a lunch of chicken quesadillas that are oozing melted cheese and topped with guacamole and spicy salsa. Sipping a cold, refreshing drink while we listen to the waves break and watch the pelicans soar over the water....a perfect afternoon.
5.  The weather in San Pancho is similar to that in La Peñita, semi-tropical and more humid than Mazatlán and San Carlos on the northern coast. We found the days to be pleasantly warm and sunny.
6.  The locals are very laid back and friendly.
7.  There are some very good restaurants in town. Our favorites when we are splurging are La Ola Rica, Maria’s, and Cielo Rojo. Baja Takeria has the best fish tacos and margaritas in town, in our opinion.
8.  There is a significant gringo population in San Pancho and we found it easy to make friends in this community. 
9.   San Pancho is a family-friendly town. 
10.  We have always felt safe in this town, even walking home from dinner or an event after dark.
11.  The town and beach are dog-friendly. Bella enjoys a good run down the south end of the beach, chasing sand crabs and sea birds.
12.  Groceries at the few Mini-Super markets are inexpensive and well stocked with basic supplies and produce. The nearest supermarket is Mega, 16 miles and 45 minutes south by bus. (This is an important factor for us since we have chosen to sell all of our cars and use buses or taxis.) We decided that it is cheaper and more relaxing to let the bus driver take us there while we watch the jungle scene through the window, and then observe the activity increase as small businesses begin to emerge followed by the bigger cities of Bucerías and Puerto Vallarta to the south. 
13.  There was one small pharmacy in San Pancho the last time we were there and the information on San Pancho states that there is still one. See
14.  There was one Zumba class in town when we stayed in San Pancho, free to participants. It was so much fun and a good place to meet people! That is where I became hooked on Zumba! See my blog article for more information by clicking: HERE
15.  Sayulita, the town five miles south of San Pancho, is a taxi ride away and has many good restaurants, live music, and a nice, clean beach. Numerous palapa restaurants provide lounge chairs and umbrellas, perfect for an afternoon of relaxation, lunch of fresh fish “al gusto” (as you like it), margaritas on the rocks, and playing in the water (before the margaritas). We have had many fun days of boogie-boarding and Stand Up Paddleboarding in Sayulita.
16.  Health care is available in town, with a small hospital, San Pancho Hospital General. It is unclear whether there are doctors or dentists in town regularly, or only “on call” for the hospital. Larger medical centers are in Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara.
17.  The Puerto Vallarta Romantic Zone is 30 miles south if we want to go for dinner and a show or need to shop at Home Depot, Mega, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, or other department stores. The disadvantage is that it takes us at least an hour and 15 minutes from San Pancho to Puerto Vallarta by bus and usually longer including waiting time since the bus only stops in San Pancho once each hour.
18.  There are two golf courses to choose from! Las Huertas Golf Club is right in San Pancho, a beautiful garden setting. This is the more challenging course of the two in the area. Campo de Ensuenos (Field of Dreams) Golf Course is just 10 miles north on Hwy 200. It is public and inexpensive! It even has a clubhouse now, serving lunch and drinks.
19.  The Turtle Project to save the turtle eggs and release the baby turtles has been in operation in San Pancho for many years and has released over one million baby turtles! It is so much fun to watch the baby turtles scrambling over the sand at sunset, finally catching a wave and heading to sea. It was also educational when we volunteered to help at the turtle nursery.
20.  Bird watching is very good in this area, especially around the lagoon where the river empties into the ocean. We also enjoyed iguana watching each morning when we stayed at Maria’s Condominium. From the balcony, we could see the iguanas in a large nearby tree come to life as the sun warmed their colorful bodies and they began battles for their territory of the day. Simple entertainment, relaxing and humorous, a healthy way to start our day!
21.  The Plaza is pretty and well maintained. The stage backdrop is a work of art, with a vividly painted mural, changing each year. Music festivals, a weekly market, Zumba and yoga classes, birthday parties, and many other activities are held in this pretty park. The basketball/soccer court is used often, a real asset for San Pancho.
22.  EntreAmigos Community Center: An amazing place in San Pancho, it must be toured to appreciate everything it provides for both children and adults. We would use this facility for classes such as “Bird Watching with Luis”, the new pickle ball court, tours to the orchid gardens, recycling, and so much more. To learn more, go to
23. Circo de Los Niños is a school founded by the well-known Gilles St. Croix and Monique Voyer to teach children ballet and circus skills requiring strength, power, resistance, agility and balance. Each year they put on an outstanding show, performed by the youth of the circus class.
24.  Theater, Art Shows, and Comedy Shows are fun activities during high season (November to April).
25.  La Patrona Polo Club is a fun place to watch polo matches. We look forward to the time when their new facility is completed. Hopefully the new restaurant will be as good as the one at their original facility!
26.  San Pancho Spanish School: I promised myself that I would begin taking Spanish classes once we moved to Mexico and became expats. This Spanish school has a very good reputation.
27.  Gardening in this area would be enjoyable for me, with the colorful tropical plants, ferns, banana and papaya trees, and many flowers that grow here. That is one hobby I have missed while we were living in our motorhome. I look forward to planting my first Bird of Paradise.
28.  For a city map and additional information on San Pancho, see

     After compiling our list of “Pros” for moving to San Pancho, I realize how much Jon and I really love San Pancho. We have envisioned living in this pueblo for years. Would our list of the “Pros” outweigh the “Cons” for retiring in San Pancho? Read more below. To view some of our photos of San Pancho, see my blog article at:

Here are the Reasons We Hesitate About Choosing San Pancho as our Retirement Home:
1.      The downtown (centro) is too small, really just a short strip of restaurants, stores, and souvenir shops along the main road into town, Avenida Tercer Mundo. We would need to travel to nearby towns for basic services such as haircuts, doctors and dentists offices, a Veterinarian, hardware stores, etc.
2.  The waves in the San Pancho bay were usually not good enough for us, as beginners, to go boogie-boarding, swimming, or surfing when we were there. There are times when the waves are great for experienced surfers, but most of the time the surf was too strong for us. The neighboring town of Sayulita is very good for these water activities, especially for beginners, but would require that we take a taxi ride five miles each way (120 peso one way, about $7 US).
3.  The cost of housing is relatively high for a coastal town in the state of Nayarit.
4. The number of restaurants in San Pancho is limited since it is such a small town. If you’ve read many of my articles or books about our travels, you know that having plenty of good restaurants nearby is an important criterion for our choice of a place to live. We look forward to going out for dinner three or four times each week. If we lived in San Pancho, we would need to travel often to Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta, or other towns in the Riviera Nayarit to have enough variety in restaurants. Our limited retirement budget allows for dining out four times each week, but not traveling by taxi that often. Even if we owned a car, we wouldn’t drive to dinner because we would want to enjoy wine with our dinner. Our hard and fast rule: we don’t drink and drive!
5.  There are no banks in San Pancho. The closest banks are in Bucerias, 15 miles south. There are ATMs in the two mini-super markets that are considered secure, but we prefer to take a bus ride to the bank once a month to withdraw pesos from their secure ATM.
6.  There was only one Veterinarian in town that we could find and it was always closed when we walked by. Our friends who live in San Pancho take their dog to a Vet in Sayulita. This is important for us, since we only want the best dog food and care for our long-haired dachshund, Bella.
7. Taxis are few and sometimes a little hard to find in San Pancho. We either had to walk up to the hospital where the main taxi stand is, or call one of the local taxi drivers to see if he was available and wait for him to come pick us up. Since we don’t own a car, this is a factor for us to consider.
8.  The bus stops in San Pancho, going north or south, only about once each hour. Also, it doesn’t come into town making it was necessary to walk to Hwy 200 to catch it, a long hike from the beach and plaza area. We could solve this by owning a golf cart and driving it up to the bus stop.
9.  The only church in town is catholic, as far as we know, with Spanish and Latin the spoken languages. The closest church where English is spoken is in Sayulita, 5 miles south.

           Up to this point, we have evaluated four cities and towns for our choice of a place to retire on our limited funds: San Carlos, Sonora, Mazatlán, Sinoloa, La Peñita de Jaltemba, Nayarit, and San Francisco (San Pancho), Nayarit. We had a tough time ruling three of these out, especially because we really love San Pancho. But, of these four, we finally decided Mazatlán would be our preferred city to live in, probably because it was big enough to have so much more to offer for activities and restaurants, and we could easily walk or bus to everything.
     We still had four more of our favorite cities to evaluate. Would one of those four beat out Mazatlán in our tough decision about the place we would make our home during our retirement? It was time to start evaluating Jocotepec, Jalisco and San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato.
Parasailing at Sunset in Mazatlan
     To read our "Pros and Cons" list for retiring in Mazatlán, click: