What other P-Town? Puerto Vallarta, the gay-tastic beach town on Mexico’s sunny west coast. And the similarities to gay resort towns like Provincetown might surprise you.
The first thing to say to the American traveler who may be misinformed about crime in Mexico, is that Puerto Vallarta is very safe. And really friendly. The only threat of shots in Puerto Vallarta are of the tequila variety, and yes, I can admit I was a happy victim on more than one occasion.
The second thing to know about PV, as it’s called, is that it is really, really gay. I’ve always thought of Mexico as a very religious country, so I didn’t expect to experience such a liberal embrace of gay life here. And unlike some other popular expat-oriented towns around the world, the PV natives and the new residents seem to have a warm and cooperative relationship. It feels like all the straight locals tend to have a very live-and-let-live attitude and seemingly appreciate that gay tourism is big business. In fact, as soon as I got in my cab from the airport, the straight driver was talking about all the great places to go, “if you like men.” You may be surprised by just how integral to city life gay culture has become.
The hub of gay life in town is known as Zona Romantica in the old city. There are plenty of resources online to give you the specifics in terms of the lay of the land of Puerto Vallarta, but here I’ll just focus on a few great experiences that I recommend you put on your must-list…the one that begins with ‘book flight to Puerto Vallarta.’
Casa Cupula happens to be a gay luxury hotel, but it is also one of the top rated places to stay—gay or straight—in Puerto Vallarta, and I recommend it without qualification. Owner Don Pickens takes well-earned pride in the impressive property he’s created, and his friendly staff will see to it that your every need is met. Most of the rooms are suites that vary in design and layout; I was in the Cupula Suite, which was magnificent. The open-plan kitchen/living room allows you to host friends for cocktails, as do the two massive private terraces. But the real jewel is the upstairs bedroom surrounded by floor-to-ceiling casement doors with panoramic views of the ocean. I kept those doors open all night, and fell asleep listening to the surf. Waking up to the blue sea and the sounds of exotic birds chirping is sure to help start your day with a smile. When not at the beach or off on an excursion, you can relax poolside among other LGBT-friendly travellers, or work out in the nicely equipped gym.
Michel’s Trattoria – For traditional rustic Italian, try Michel’s inviting terrace located just a block off of the beach on Olas Altas. We enjoyed the cheesy and low-carb eggplant parm and a delicious duck ravioli in browned butter. Michel, a Swiss expat, is the consummate host and one of the many gay business owners that are bringing a bit of international saavy to Puerto Vallarta. In addition to the Trattoria, Michel is the owner of the Lido beach club just north of Blue Chairs, where you can relax under an umbrella snacking on food that goes beyond salty beach grub.
Taste – Located in the Casa Cupula hotel, with a terrace that sits among the treetops, Taste has burnished a reputation for delivering truly great meals with a creative and international flair. As it’s name indicates, the menu encourages tastings and is comprised of small dishes from four different regions (US, Asian, Mexican, South American). We were wowed by so many fantastic dishes here, including the braised short ribs and dim sum, all courtesy of Chef Oscar Rito’s inventive and sophisticated flavor combinations. Taste was named Best New restaurant in 2011.
Nu – For a casual lunch or dinner of ‘global tapas’, check out Nu, owned by Jae Palsce. Located at Pulpito 115, Nu has a full dining room upstairs and a more relaxed street level corner bar. It’s a good perch from which to people watch, as you choose from a diverse but concise selection of small plates including various vegetarian options. A great beach break, or for a somewhat lighter dinner before a night of drinking and dancing.
La Palapa – La Palapa has been around for over 50 years, and photos from yesteryear line the hallways of this Puerto Vallarta beachfront classic to prove it. Located directly on the Playa Los Muertos (one of the hottest gay beaches in the world) La Palapa still maintains her old school charm, and refined tropical decor. Come here for a pina colada or some ceviche and imagine Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson boozing it up at the table across from you…there was a time when they certainly were.
Palomar – with expansive views overlooking the city and the shoreline, Palomar is unabashedly romantic, as the snogging couple at the table next to me could attested to. Set in an old villa with a vast open air terrace and high end service, Palomar is an hidden gem offering a mix of Mexican and international dishes. For a delicious and pyrotechnic end to your meal, order the flaming coffee for dessert.
Beach around at Blue Chairs
Blue Chairs resort was one of the first gay hotels on the beach, and is among the main spots where gay guys and gals gather to bask in the sun. Additionally, there is a large open air bar where drag shows and go-go boys entertain the crowds. Chairs & umbrellas with waiter service line the beach, as they do at equally gay ‘green chairs’ and Lido Beach Club which flank it on either side. With no fee at any of them, except a minimum food or drink order, you can while away the entire day with a margarita (or four) and enjoy the view of both the beach and the boys.
The designation ‘booze cruise’ doesn’t quite do this tour justice, though it is certainly boozy and cruisy. Get on board this boat with about 40-60 other gays, lesbians & friends for a full day excursion of sun, fun & rum. Diana is the hostess with the mostest, and makes sure her amazing crew is attending to you at all times, with food, drink and anything else you might need. The open bar means you won’t get to finish your drink before they are handing you a new one or offering you some other treat. You’ll cruise the beautiful coastline south toward a picturesque spot for snorkeling, then stop at a hidden isolated beachfront, and finish with lunch on shore. By the end, you will have made the friends you’ll be hanging out with at the beach and at the bars all week. There are other gay boat tours in town; Diana’s is the only one that gets consistently high marks from guests, and was certainly a highlight of my trip. And it’s a deal at just 950 pesos for the day, all inclusive.
Jungle Zipline Adventure with GoGay! – Take a beach break and hit up Go Gay! Puerto Vallarta to book a thrilling day of ziplining in the jungle at Mundo Nogalito, just a 15 minutes car ride from town. GoGay puts together group excursions for gay guys & gals (and their straight pals), making it extra social, and significantly limits the chance you’ll end up spending your cruise, hike, or horseback tour with screaming kids. Logan and Brett were great hosts and the zipline guides they hooked us up with were not just gay-friendly, they were gay celebratory. If Jimmy happens to be your guide, you’re in for a pretty hilarious, outrageous day of adventure. The four-hour tour ends with lunch and a margarita, and will have you back to your hotel in time to enjoy the afternoon poolside.
Massage & More – The massage biz is alive and well here. ‘Spas’ appear on almost every block, and aggressive vendors will offer foot or full body rubs right on the beach. If you like to be pampered, this is a fabulously cheap place to do it, as a 60-minute rub down can be had for as little as $35. A friend got a luxurious and ridiculously long mani/pedicure on the beach for $40. There are really too many options here to recommend just one, but whether you choose a store front, beachside or arrange for a masseur to come to your hotel room, a massage is on the must-do list of indulgences while you’re here.
Gay nightlife in Puerto Vallarta is conveniently located all within a few short blocks, making for easy bar hopping and a variety of scenes to check out during your night on the town.
If you’d like a guide to all the fun, and VIP access with a man who knows where the party’s at, you might want to check out the Gay Vallarta Bar Hopping tour. Christian is as passionate about ensuring you a great time as he is about his adopted town of Puerto Vallarta. The tour includes dinner and makes stops at all the main bars and clubs. With drinks included at each, it adds up to one hell of a boozy night of dancing and partying. On busy weekends, you’ll avoid any waits and go straight to the front of the line with Christian in charge.
If you’re venturing out on your own, here is where the action is. When I was here there were no covers at any of them, but they may charge at other times depending on the night/season or event.
La Noche – A cool, casual bar with a great outdoor roofdeck. This is where a lot of folks start the night off before heading to other spots.
Paco’s Ranch – Around the corner from El Noche, Paco’s attracts a fun crowd who come for the drag shows and the dancing.
CC Slaughters – The area’s main dance destination with a friendly and attractive crowd in a larger space where pop remixes rule and drag shows or other performances punctuate the night.
Wet – A ‘strip’ bar for men only where young go-go boys aim to please the patrons, either on the pole or up close and personal. A glass-enclosed shower behind the bar features a rotating display of Mexican beefcake.
Garbo – Imagine a gay piano bar that was airlifted out of St. Louis and dropped into Mexico. Martinis, Show tunes, and mature adults are all in abundance here.
Enter – This larger event space has been host to major DJs such as Tony Moran and the late Peter Rauhofer. The sound system blasts out hot house tracks as go-go boys bump and grind, but when I was there around midnight it was still empty. I was told that no one really gets here much before 2am, so plan on a late night if you go.
High season runs roughly from Oct-March, though the city is open for business year round. In 2013, the gay business community organized the city’s first ever Gay Pride around Labor Day weekend in hopes of luring an international tourist crowd with pride related festivities and events.
For more information check out gayguidevallarta.com
And check out Charlie David’s BUMP! trip to PV.