Despite warnings about the rise in violence from the drug war in Mexico, PV remains a safe and friendly haven for LGBT travelers
I fell in love with Puerto Vallarta decades ago. In fact, it was before I ever even visited there. It was when I was a teenager and I was reading the news stories about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton escaping there after they left Europe.
Their scandalous romance on the set of Cleopatra in the early 1960s had made them the prey of photographers and reporters from all over the world.
So still married to others, they fled to the tiny Mexican village nestled in a cove and surrounded by mountains where Burton filmed the Night of the Iguana. They bought a house in Puerto Vallarta with the hope it would be a respite from the prying eyes of the world.
Of course, the media just followed them there, and before you knew it Puerto Vallarta was catapulted into fame. And the tiny fishing and agricultural village grew to become a world-class tourist destination.
I made up my mind in those early days that I would one day also visit Puerto Vallarta. But I had a while to wait because I was only, like, 13 at the time, if that old. I think my family would have sort of frowned on that idea — as they did just about everything else I proposed.
But I eventually did make it down there, and I’ve been traveling to Puerto Vallarta for a really long time now.
I know the city well, and I certainly can still find Elizabeth Taylor’s old house. I had the good fortune to get to tour it years ago after someone else bought it from her.
This year for my 62nd birthday, I decided to return to Puerto Vallarta. Two friends — one a high school friend who now lives in Montgomery, Ala., and the other a college friend who lives in Houston — met me there.
I hadn’t been to Puerto Vallarta in two years because, like many people, I had been alarmed by the rise of the drug-war violence. But I decided to abandon caution and revisit the city I love.
A lot of other LGBT travelers obviously had the same idea. While I was there, I saw quite a few faces from Dallas, and I met many nice people from Los Angeles, New York City, Australia, Las Vegas and even Memphis.
One of the first treks my friends and I made was to go find Elizabeth’s old house, in the hills on a remote, cobblestoned street.
The two houses she owned on opposite sides of the street are now under restoration by a new owner, but the little pink bridge arching over the street connecting them is still there.
After that, we proceeded for days to sate ourselves on great food at the sidewalk cafes and fine restaurants the city offers, and on drinks at the many gay bars in the Old Town area, which is known as the Romantic Zone.
We also decided to get really active and went on the tree canopy tour outside of the city. This involves hiking 800 meters up a jungle-covered mountain, being attached by a pulley to a series of cables and gliding through the air down the mountain until you reach a bar on the edge of the river.
The next day we went on a boat cruise, called “Wet and Wild,” down the ocean coast. The cruise proved to be aptly named, as the crew was able to serve an amazing number of drinks in some highly creative ways on the seven-hour trip.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning about the state of Jalisco, which includes Puerto Vallarta, but the city seems to have been spared the drug-war violence that apparently is concentrated in more remote areas.
Acapulco has been plagued by violence, but it is much further to the south on the Pacific Ocean coast.
Despite the warnings and the scary headlines, Puerto Vallarta seems to be as popular with LGBT people as it always was, and the town’s people still welcome us with open arms.
I did catch someone trying to pick my wallet out of my pocket on a street in front of a nightclub one night, but they abandoned the idea of separating me from it when I raised a fuss. The same thing could happen in Dallas, Los Angeles or New York.
Actually, it happened to me once before in Puerto Vallarta about five years ago and I lost the wallet. This time I was more alert to what was going on around me.
In a far more serious incident, a Canadian man who was married to a Mexican woman was stabbed to death in his home on May 30 and robbed of $20,000 in his safe. But again anyone who keeps that kind of cash at home is asking for trouble. It could happen anywhere.
The really good news is that Puerto Vallarta is still charming and apparently safe. What’s more, the decline in tourism has led to some really good travel deals for both airline flights and lodging. So if you have the nerve, it’s a great time to visit this fabulous city.
I’ll be going back again. I’m dying to know how Elizabeth’s house turns out after the restoration.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.