Puerto Vallarta could be the best gay resort destination in North America
It’s hard to name a gay destination in North America that has more going for it than Puerto Vallarta, a fast-growing city on the fabled Mexican Riviera. PV’s historic downtown, El Centro, is nestled beneath the verdant slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains; just south, in Zona Romantica, you’ll find a bustling gay scene. But there’s far more to this friendly city that offers virtually everything you could want.
Puerto Vallarta has seen huge growth in recent years, to the point that it bears little resemblance to the sleepy fishing port portrayed in old movies. In recent years, PV has developed into one of Mexico’s most desirable resorts, its diverse elements appealing to a wide range of visitors. It’s a major cruise-ship circuit port, and sprawling international resorts and condo developments attract families, retirees and honeymooners. Sporting and adventure enthusiasts come for the zip-lining forest canopy tours, scuba diving, mountain biking, deep-sea fishing and more.
Zona Romantica is a compact patchwork of hilly lanes tucked beneath the Sierra Madre foothills. Its relative isolation, elegantly faded veneer and historic charm may account for its ever-increasing draw among gay visitors. It’s a neighborhood that celebrates its insularity and diversity.
A few more general attributes further enhance Puerto Vallarta’s standing. Although the city has become significantly more expensive as its star has risen, it’s still less costly than many other alluring tropical locales. Dinner entrees at top restaurants rarely cost more than $25 and often run $10 to $15. Hotel rates, cab fares, cocktails and gifts also tend to cost less than those in the Caribbean, Hawaii or California, although you can easily find high-end exceptions.
Although it helps to understand Spanish, you can get by easily in PV speaking only English. The city, set stunningly in the center of the largest natural bay in Mexico, enjoys a spectacular climate. It’s generally dry and breezy with temperatures in the 80s, the exception being the summer rainy season when highs often reach the low 90s and humidity can sometimes be oppressive. (Puerto Vallarta receives far fewer visitors off-season, and some businesses close for extended periods in summer.)
PV has dozens of outstanding restaurants, a slew of hip bars and a continuously-evolving scene, but there are some “must tastes.” At the upper end, don’t miss Cafe des Artistes, a sumptuous spot with refined service and rarefied contemporary cuisine. For authentic regional Mexican food served in a charming, warmly furnished dining room, try lesbian-owned El Arrayan.
Boca Bento serves Latino-Asian fare in an elegant setting. Chiles and Kit-Kat are a pair of hip gay lounges that also serve reasonably priced lunch and dinner fare, and slightly more upscale Banana Cantina turns out superb contemporary Latin cuisine. For a snack, grab a sandwich at the gay-owned Coffee Cup, or enjoy a hearty meal at the campy gay diner, Mama Dolores.
Nightlife starts late here and continues into the wee hours. The after-dinner crowd tends to congregate at one of the low-key lounges, such as lesbian-owned Apaches, upscale La Noche, or fun Stereo. Another great bet is Garbo, a jazz club and piano cabaret. Bench and Bar is a great Latino bar with lively drag shows. And just about everybody ends up at the city’s hottest gay club, Manana’s, a stunning former hacienda with a big swimming pool in the center of its open-air lounge-and-dance area. This is just a sampling of favorite options PV has more than a dozen gay bars.
The city offers a wide range of accommodations. To chill out at a large mainstream resort away from the fray and with a nicer beach than Los Muertos, consider the regal Marriott CasaMagna, a swanky full-service resort just a short cab ride from the airport. Although popular with families, management is very gay-friendly. This is a nice option, especially the day you arrive or the day before you leave, when it’s handy to be near the airport.
In Zona Romantica, you’ll find a nice mix of gay-friendly stays. If you’re on a budget in the center of the action, check into the 28-room Hotel Mercurio, just steps from many gay bars and restaurants.
PV’s famed Blue Chairs Resort is a six-story hotel right on the gay beach the location couldn’t be better, although the property underwent some major management changes recently. An intimate gay B&B in the Conchas Chinas district, the lovely Arco Iris B&B is run by helpful owners Ran and Thom (the latter an expert chef who whips up amazing breakfasts).
Puerto Vallarta is also home to the alluring, dramatically situated gay resort Casa Cupula, which excels as much for its stately accommodations as for its friendly, knowledgeable and charming staff. It has also developed the world’s first gay condo hotel these seven residences adjacent to the inn are currently under construction. Once you’ve spent a little time relaxing here, you may find it hard to leave this romantic resort.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007