Rediscovering Puerto Vallarta

Despite warnings about the rise in violence from the drug war in Mexico, PV remains a safe and friendly haven for LGBT travelers

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

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

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Movies: Conviction, Jackass 3D, Cleopatra, Oscar’s Foreign Film List and More

Johnny Knoxville and the boys are up to their old tricks again.


…watches trailers through fingers (too many spoilers) and waits impatiently for the feature. He blogs daily at the Film Experience.

Are you seeing JACKASS 3D? I still remember hurting from laughing at the first one. If 3D must exist, let it be attached to gimmicky pictures like this, that might have some appropriate use for it and that are only worth watching in theaters with big crowds. The MPAA, the puritanical movie ratings board, has been in the news a lot lately. First they made the huge stupid blunder of giving BLUE VALENTINE, a wrenching marital drama, an NC-17 for no defendable reason. Now they've helpfully started labelling movies with a "male nudity" descriptor and Jackass 3D is one of the first to be so shamed. Never mind that the MPAA has never in their history placed "female nudity" on a rating. Apparently "nudity", the regular acceptable kind, is entirely the province of the female sex.

Conviction CONVICTION, the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) who became a lawyer to free her brother (Sam Rockwell) from a life sentence without parole is also opening. It's a bit generic given that it's a) a courtroom drama and b) you always know where it's going –helpful hint: they tend to make movies of the true stories with happy endings — but it's quite watchable and the actors do a lot to elevate the material. My favorites were Juliette Lewis, who the world needs more of, in a showy cameo and Sam Rockwell, who could even fetch an Oscar nomination as the unpredictable convict. And yes, he drops his pants briefly…again. Rockwell loves to moon us. Where's the MPAA? "Male Nudity!"


 road Who are these fierce bitches and what do they have to do with this year's Oscar race?



That's Cindy Scrash and Jenny Larrue, two queens from Portugal. They're starring as rival transsexual cabaret stars in the Portuguese Oscar submission TO DIE LIKE A MAN. While Oscar has handed statues to some trans-related films like All About My Mother and Boys Don't Cry in the past, it's not usually their kind of thing. Here are Cindy and Jenny doing the classic duet "I Know Him So Well". (This is not a clip from the movie.)

To Die Like a Man is directed by João Pedro Rodrigues who previously brought you the explicitly gay and rather disturbing O Fantasma (2000). To Die… didn't get much attention earlier this year at Cannes but at least one critic thought it was one of the very best of the venerated fest.

 road If you want to see the whole Foreign Film Oscar Submission List, click here for extensive information charts designed by yours truly. Each year sees around 65 films competing for the 5 coveted "Nominee" slots.

Undertow I've been covering this race in depth for ten years and generally among the sixty-plus films there will be one to three that are gay-themed or…uh… gay adjacent. This year, besides Portugal's transsexual drama, there's a Slovenian film about a cop who becomes obsessed with the life of a bisexual man who committed suicide and I assume there are gay characters sprinkled in a few others though info is still coming in. Gay festival favorite, UNDERTOW (previously reviewed here at Towleroad), from Peru was also submitted. Peru won their first nomination ever in this category just last year, so maybe they'll experience leftover goodwill from the voters?

The two most famous faces in this year's competition are Gael García Bernal who stars in Spain's EVEN THE RAIN and Javier Bardem in Mexico's BIUTIFUL which comes out in December this year… but even if you don't recognize the other names, there's a ton of beautiful actors in the submission list if you'd just like to gawk (Alexander Skarsgård's little brother is among them.)

Picture 4  road James Cameron (Avatar) is considering a Cleopatra biopic to star Angelina Jolie. It doesn't really sound like a Cameron project given his taste for boundary pushing f/x and genre films in general. But then… one can always dream. Here's mine for challenge-junkie Cameron: Dump Angelina. Convince Elizabeth Taylor to come out of retirement to recreate her signature role and develop a new technology that will make La Liz look exactly as she did back in the early 60s when she and that Cleopatra were bankrupting the studio.

 road Paul Verhoeven, infamous Dutch director of Showgirls and Basic Instinct, who recently had a critical hit with Black Book (well worth a rental), is coming back to Hollywood for Eternal, a sexy ghost story.

 roadDo you think Tom Cruise will really do this Top Gun 2 thing?

 road Amy Adams is joining the new Muppets movie. Please let her have a duet with Miss Piggy. Or Gonzo.

 road Let's end with a new image from BURLESQUE. Is Xtina is trying to bring the hand bra back?


Will Cher be pleased or is that too much of a Barbra thing?

Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright