A laid-back Mexican beach town may be the best-kept secret in the sport
There were barely a dozen other players on the field, but I was still riding scared at La Patrona, a palm-shrouded polo club in the tiny Mexican hamlet of San Pancho.
As my fellow riders expertly maneuvered their horses among the goal posts and one another, I found myself resisting when my instructor, Raul, implored me to follow through with my swing. I was terrified of accidentally whacking my horse—or myself—with my mallet. The proximity of the other animals put me even more on edge. Horses kick and hiss, crash and bash into each other on the field. More familiar with single-file rides from summer camp, I was convinced a polo pile-up was inevitable.
“Tranquilo,” Ivan Echeverria, the club’s founder, reassured me later that day. “Remember, horses run in herds in the wild, so there is nothing unnatural for them about the polo dynamic.”
There isn’t much unnatural about San Pancho’s dynamic, either.
Blissfully authentic, the town (whose official name is San Francisco) has mercifully avoided the cruise ship crowds and cookie-cutter condos that curse Puerto Vallarta, just an hour south. Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria—unrelated to Ivan—”discovered” San Pancho in the 1970s, when it was little more than wide swaths of barren, jungle-backed Pacific beaches. He embarked on a modernization plan, leaving the village with paved roads, a modern hospital and Villa San Francisco, a Bond-worthy hideaway atop a secluded hillside.
Today, San Pancho remains more funky than fancy, with one ATM and zero traffic lights—no easy feat considering that Nayarit, one of Mexico’s smallest states, is intent on a billion dollar master-plan to transform its verdant coast into a lower-density version of Cancun or Los Cabos.
Despite its almost Lilliputian size, San Pancho offers plenty to do—surfing, jungle hikes, multiple yoga studios. And of course, there’s the polo.
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