Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico and is 3 hours away from the Pacific Coast and about 5 hours from the tourist nightmare of Puerto Vallarta. I was heading for a popular surf spot just north of there, Sayulita, but on the advice of other travellers, decided to stop instead in a small surfing village called San Francisco, known by the locals as San Pancho. This proved to be the right decision as it turned out to be an awesome little village.
Guadalajara is officially a city of about 1.5 million, but the greater metropolitan area has about 5 million. It is known for being a cultural centre and for having the best looking women in Mexico. Guadalajara has an extremely nice city centre with many pleasant squares and historic churches and buildings. There are plenty of plaques with information in Spanish and English, so you can be your own tourist guide. I stayed in a area west of the city centre, called Chapultepec, which most of the hostels are located and where all the action happens. From my research, I had expected it to be the bohemian quarter, but alas I was sadly disappointed, as it turned out to quite gentrified with starbucks and upmarket cafes for the well-to-do and monied classes. From talking to locals and expats, there seemed to be not much going on for such a large city. I am sure if I had had time to dig deeper, I would have uncovered some more action. I did, however, find one seedy area between Chapultepec and the centre, with a proliferation of tattoo parlours and head shops, where I also managed to find some great street art, which had been sorely lacking in Mexico City.
From Guadalajara, you can also make a side trip to Tequila, the home of the eponymous drug made from agave. Unbeknownst to me, there is another type of hard drug in Mexico called Mezcal also made from agave. However, only mezcal made in Tequila under strict conditions is allowed to be called “Tequila”, similar to the restrictions in Europe for Champagne.
San Francisco (San Pancho)
Sayulita had been recommended to me as a cool surfer town, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, a notorious tourist hell-hole. However, on the way there, I was warned off it by other travellers and decided to stay instead in a small village called San Francisco (San Pancho). This proved to be a wise decision. Sayulita suffers from its proximity to PV. It’s expensive, really crowded and a bit dirty. There are lots of load day-trippers there from PV, getting wasted on huge margaritas. The beach is inundated with sellers. It’s a good place to learn surfing with a nice gentle beach break, but you will end up colliding all the other learners. It’s also quite a party town, with plenty of bars and live music on the weekends.
San Pancho, on the other hand, has a really nice laid-back vibe. Quiet, with a local feel to it, but with some excellent seafood restaurants and a much nicer beach. You can also surf here, but it is more suitable for experienced surfers, due to the rocks and big waves, which I found out to my misfortune, when I was hit by one and badly injuring my knee. This is a good mix of locals and hippies from Argentina. It is totally safe – after my accident, I left my bike unlocked by the beach for 3 days and no-one took it. Unfortunately, due to my crook knee, I was unable to travel to the surrounding areas, where in certain villages in the mountains it is possible to participate in a Peyote ceremony with a shaman. Peyote is a cactus containing a strong hallucinogenic drug called Mescaline. The local tribe, the Huichol, hold it to be sacred and believe it allows them to communicate with the spirit world. They create fantastic art – tapestries and sculptures with beads representing the visions they see in the peyote trips.