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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
January 2010 Email this to a friend

Puerto Vallarta

By Ed Walsh

Hotel Mercurio, Puerto Vallarta

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded Puerto Vallarta article click DailyXtraTravel

Puerto Vallarta is Mexico's most popular gay destination, bar none. The seaside getaway on the country's west coast is a magnet for gay tourists from all over North America, but especially those on the west coast of the US, since most cities are a quick flight away.
The city's gay evolution began just over 20 years ago. That's when Paco Ruiz opened his namesake gay nightclub, Club Paco Paco. At the time, there was only one other gay bar in town. Despite being arrested three times, Ruiz refused to be intimidated by the police harassment. Eventually the media attention and public sympathy that followed created a friendlier environment for his and other gay businesses.
Today Puerto Vallarta has about 20 gay bars and nightclubs and more than a dozen gay hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Neighborhoods
Zona Romantica. Almost all the gay businesses are located in the south end of the city in a historic district called the Zona Romantica. Everything is easily walkable in this quaint, cobblestoned part of town.
El Centro. This is the city's downtown, located just north of the Zona Romantica on the other side of the Cuale River. Although some refer to the Zona Romantica as the "Old Town," El Centro is older. El Centro is home to three gay bars and a gay B&B.
The Hotel Zone. This is the area north of downtown where you'll find most of the modern high-rise hotels. Unless you are desperate to redeem points at a chain hotel, you'll be better off staying in Zona Romantica or El Centro.

Getting here
Puerto Vallarta's airport is just north of the hotel zone. A cab ride from the airport to the Zona Romantica is usually $20 to $25, but you can save about $5 or $10 by walking across the pedestrian bridge and taking one of the cabs lined up on the other side of the road. Diana's Tours (Dianastours.com) offers a pickup service. For $20, a driver will whisk a group of up to three travelers to their hotel.

Getting around
Unless you plan to do a lot of driving outside of the city, don't rent a car. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, although you should agree on a fare before you get inside. Pay in Mexican pesos for a better rate. It's not customary to tip taxi drivers, although locals often round up the fare. Most Americans tip anyway, which is why taxi drivers are so eager to pick up Americans.

What to see
It's always warm enough to swim in Puerto Vallarta, so, not surprisingly, the beach is the city's most popular attraction. Puerto Vallarta's unofficial gay beach is the Blue Chairs Beach. It's on the southern end of Los Muertos beach, directly in front of the Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea. A second, smaller gay beach sprung up over a year ago in front of the Blue Seas Beachfront Resort and Spa, just a few minutes' walk north of Blue Chairs Beach.
Be sure to walk along the Malecon: that's the boardwalk that runs from the north end of Zona Romantica, over the Cuale River and into downtown Puerto Vallarta. Interesting sculptures (including incredible sand sculptures) dot the Malecon once you reach downtown. Sculptures of the famous dolphin and the arches that are symbolic of Puerto Vallarta are across from the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the city's best-known landmark.
If you take a stroll up the hill behind the church, you will find the famous pink Puente del Amor. The "love bridge" connected the mansions once occupied by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The address is 445 Calle Zaragoza.

Local media
Be sure to pick up Gay Guide Vallarta when you get into town. It's written mostly in English and includes a handy gay map.
Foodies will want to pick up Beck's Best: Puerto Vallarta's Restaurant Guide. It is written by a gay guy, Gary Beck. (cafepress.com/vallartaguide.)

in focus
Rainbow high. It's not hard to spot the catamaran run by Diana's Tours, one of the gay-friendly cruise companies in Puerto Vallarta.

Cruising, Puerto Vallarta style
For 10 years and counting, Diana DeCoste has led gays and lesbians on tours of Puerto Vallarta's Banderas Bay. Her boat trips attract a mix of men and women, but the vast majority of the cruisers are gay men.
"I like to go to bed with women, but I can't make money off them," says DeCoste with her trademark cackling laugh that punctuates her tours.
Diana's Tours runs daylong catamaran excursions that depart every Thursday morning from Los Muertos Pier, two blocks north of the Blue Chairs Beach. Look for the boat flying the rainbow flag.
The first stop on the tour is usually Los Arcos, a local landmark just south of Puerto Vallarta. Los Arcos, which means "the arches" in Spanish, refers to three giant hollowed-out rock formations large enough for some small boats to navigate. (When you see arches used to symbolize Puerto Vallarta, they refer to these natural wonders.)
The swim-through rock formations rank as Puerto Vallarta's most popular snorkeling stop. Tropical fish, including angelfish and damselfish, dart in and out of the crevices, making for a colorful show. No need to bring your own snorkeling gear, as Diana's Tours takes care of that.
After Los Arcos, the tour makes another stop at a private beach complete with a walking trail and waterfall. That's followed by lunch at a restaurant onshore.
"Now that you are all here," DeCoste often says, as her guests take their seats, "please listen very closely to this 90-
minute time-share presentation."
She laughs, and everyone instantly gets the inside joke. Travelers are besieged by people selling time-share properties in Puerto Vallarta, starting when they arrive at the airport.
After the cruise, DeCoste invites all her guests to enjoy a free drink and some male strippers at an after-party at the Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea's rooftop bar. The total charge for the day is $80 per person.

DeCoste's success has lead to competition. Another company, PVRPV (Pvrpv.com), runs all-day gay cruises that include everything except the after-party. The boat sails Fridays from Los Muertos Pier and costs $70 per person.

If you're interested in whale watching, openly gay oceanographer Oscar Frey runs one of the most respected whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta, Ocean Friendly Tours. While his clients are mostly straight, his tours are very gay-friendly. The four-to-five-hour excursion costs $95 per person, including beverages, snacks and lunch. Whale watching season runs from early December to mid-March.

Event planner
New Year's Eve Circuit Party. This annual event usually starts the day after Christmas and runs through New Years Day.

Beefdip Mexico. Held in late January, this is PV's annual leather and bear week.

Carnival 2010. Held in February, Puerto Vallarta's annual gay carnival celebration is held in the Zona Romantica.

Latin Fever and Vallarta Fever, two competing circuit party events, are held over Thanksgiving weekend.

Top experiences
Dance the night away. Nightlife in Puerto Vallarta starts late. Don't expect to see anyone in any of the city's big gay dance clubs before midnight.

Mix it up. Mexicans love Americans and Canadians, and vice versa. Most gay people in Puerto Vallarta speak enough English to get by, so don't worry if you only speak the international language of love.

Shop on water. An island in the middle of the Cuale River includes a long stretch of shops where you can buy souvenirs and more artsy-fartsy stuff from local artisans.

Eat outside. It's almost never cold in Puerto Vallarta, so dine at one of the many sidewalk, beachfront and rooftop restaurants. And don't be afraid to eat like a local at a sidewalk taco stand.

Accommodations

Overlooking the bay, just a block from the beach, Abbey Hotel (Pulpito 138, Olas Altas; +52-322-222-4488) is a four-star gay facility with 55 rooms and suites, a massage spa, pool, and open-air restaurant.

The legendary Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea (Malecon 4, Playa Los Muertos; US/Canada 888-302-3662) is one of the world's best known gay hotels, with a wildly popular beachside restaurant right at the gay beach. Their popular rooftop patio/bar has nightly shows, and their staff is happy to book local tours and day trips.

Blue Seas (Malecon 1; US/Canada 813-855-0190) is a gay luxury beach-front hotel of suites, beach club and spa with gym, a restaurant and nightly events in the their cocktail lounge.

Boana-Torre Malibu Hotel (Amapas 325, +52-322-222- 0999), a short walk from the beach, their units include bedroom, two baths, kitchen & salon with water-facing balcony, a romantic pool, and tours can be booked here. Boana-Torre also has budget rooms at Boana 2 starting at just $35; and at their Casa Benito B&B the $55 rates include access to the pool and other facilities of the main hotel.

Casa Benito B&B (Amapas 325; +52-322-222- 0999). Host Benoit offers rooms with baths in three-level house, with full access to large Boana Torre Malibu pool next door and small rooftop terrace with small pool.

Close to beach, restaurants, and cafes, luxurious Casa Cupula (129 Callejon de la Igualdad; +52-322-223-2484) is stylish and intimate, with gourmet food, tempting cocktails, two pools & gym.

Gay-owned and staffed, Hotel Mercurio (Francisca Rodriguez 168; +52-322-222-4793) has 28 rooms, good location, outstanding service and value, gourmet breakfast, plus a romantic indoor pool with a popular happy hour for drinks attracting guests, visitors and locals.

San Franciscan Resort & Gym (Pilitas 213; +52-322-222-6473), a boutique hotel for luxury at affordable prices. Also features a gym and a comedy club.

Vallarta Cora (Pilitas 174; +52-322-222-6234) is a men-only hotel where the socializing is easy at their busy bar, or at the Jacuzzi. This attitude-free haven has a backroom, a clothing-optional area and a private sun terrace too.

For more listings of area lodgings click here

Restaurants and Cafes

Archie's Wok (Francisca Rodriguez 130) blends Thai, Chinese and Filipino cuisines, with subtle sauces at reasonable prices.

Upstairs Banana Cantina (Amapas 147) has contemporary Mexican and International cuisine in stylish, comfortable settings and affable staff. Try chocolate-covered frozen bananas at the ground level Choco Banana. Great people watching at this Amapas/ Pulpito corner.

Bario Sur (Pulpito 122) international Latin cuisine in beautiful garden setting, with take-out options next to the Abbey Hotel.

Bistro Balsamar (Francisca Rodriguez 155, upstairs) authentic regional Mexican cuisine, breakfast, lunch and dinner, full bar and wine selections, and bird's eye view of Olas Altas.

At Casa Iguana Hotel, Boca Bento (5 de Mayo 455) bar and grill, combines Latin and Asian flavors with entrees such as Yellowfish Sashimi, Tuna Tartare and Achiote Miso Sea Bass with Cilantro Chard.

Cafe Bohemio (Rodolfo Gomez 127), patio bar and bistro offers romantic outdoor dining from hosts Chris and Sol with an Mexican and International menu. Two daily two-for-one happy hours (5 to 7pm, and 11pm to midnight.

Cafe des Artistes (Guadalupe Sanchez 740) Mexican and French cuisine in formal and elegant setting.

Cafe San Angel (Olas Altas 449), crepes and sandwiches at sidewalk tables.

Coco Tropical (Manuel M Dieguez, the beach at Olvas Altas), European and Mexican food from a Swiss chef. Great sunset views from beachfront terrace.

Atop the hill above the Malacon in an old colonial building at Hotel Los Cuatro Vientos, Chez Elena (Guadalupe Sanchez 740) is part of the old Vallarta of the Liz and Richard days; a small restaurant with big reputation and fine cuisine.

Coffee Cup (Rodolfo Gomez 146), for first or last coffee of the day (try their soy chi latte). For locals and travelers, an easy-to-make-friends spot with internet access.

Cybersmoothie Cafe (Rodofo Gomez 111, local 3) has fruit, yogurt and protein shakes and you can check your email, 9am to 10pm on their machine, or yours with wifi access.

Le Bistro (Isla Cuale 16) is an elegant jazz cafe with excellent service amid lush and beautiful surroundings by the river, serving International and Mexican cuisine.

Mama Dolores (Olas Altas 534-B) where Rob & Jeff of Kansas City deliver home cooking, atmosphere and location. Dining deck with great people watching. Giant-size fresh fruit juice martinis.

The Swedes Bar & Bistro (Pulpito 154) serves great Colleens Breakfast Cafe far, as well as from their own bistro menu with some Swedish specialties from a couple of gay Nordic transplants.

The Sweet Desire Cake Studio (Lazaro Cardenas 234) sells really good, high quality cakes and pastries for special occasions, or just for treats.

Trattoria Michel (Olas Altas 507) owner/chef Michel Ferrari uses only freshest fish, game and meat in traditional Italian cuisine. Fine wines, fantastic sunsets.

For more Vallarta restaurants, click here.

Nightlife

North across the bridge, men-only "gentlemen's club" Antropology (Morelos 101, Plaza Rio, Zona Centro) is clearly focused on the study of man, with continuous nude male dancers from 9pm to 4am and good-looking staff too.

Apaches (Olas Altas 439) restaurant and bar owners Maryann & Endra mix gay, straight, lesbian, and artist types who congregate at sidewalk tables chatting.

Blue Sunset Rooftop (Malecon 4, Playa Los Muertos), on the roof of Blue Chairs Resort. Popular nightly events include Sunday & Wednesday "Dirty Bitches, and Thursday & Saturday male strippers.

Casanova's (Lazaro Cardenas 302) has good looking male strippers every night; lots of fun but mixes straight women with the gay men.

Diva's (Francisco Madero 388) is an intimate cantina neighborhood bar popular with local gay expats and Mexicans both, especially during happy hours.

Encuentros Pizza Bar & Lounge (Lozaro Cardenas 312), a contemporary hideaway with delicious drinks and tasty pizza.

Frida (Insurgentes 301) cozy "only authentic alternative cantina" has inexpensive drinks, meals including Wednesday spaghetti specials. Opens from 1pm downstairs; balcony from 7pm for cocktails and people watching.

Garbo (Pulpito 142) is a gay piano bar with live jazz where regulars meet for cocktails before the clubs.

La Miseria (Lozaro Cardenas 267-D), an unpretentious cantina with inexpensive drinks, open until 2am, a great place to relax before the serious partying begins.

La Noche (Lozaro Cardenas 257), quiet conversational lounge club, usually packed to overflowing each night, often with a crowd spilling from the classy interior into the street.

Los Amigos (Venustiano Carranza 239) is a friendly upstairs gay cantina with terrace next door to Paco's. No cover, inexpensive drinks.

Los Balcones (Juarez 182) one of Vallarta's original gay dance clubs has returned with new owners, still with unique and beautiful decor. Located in town center, away from main gay district, but worth going out of the way for.

Club Manana (Venustiano Carranza 290) rules Puerto Vallarta nightlife with drag shows and international comedy routines. Strippers in a showroom beyond the pool.

No Borders (Libertad 221) cowboy theme cantina bar with popular bingo nights across from the new Los Balcones.

Paco's Ranch (Ignacio L Vallarta 278) is the new evolution of Paco Paco, one of Puerto Vallarta's first gay clubs. They're hopping with dancing and shows, plus five bars and a tri-level terrace.

El Pianito (Basilio Badillo 284, upstairs) newest piano bar in town, 6pm to 2am nightly.

Club Picante (Ingacio L Vallarta 264) is one of the hottest nightspot on two levels with dance club upstairs, and ground level lounge with restaurant. Weekend drag shows too.

Sama (Olas Altas 510) is chic and elegant martini and video lounge with white leather seating and sidewalk patio. Famous for appletini and chocolate martinis by owner Jose.

Stereo (Lozaro Cardenas 267), a tiny modern dance and cocktail bar has events and parties for a young mixed crowd.

Viva (Olas Altas 508) newest club taking over the old Palm location, with entertainment inside and street seating.

Club Zenet (Pino Suarez 235) video lounge with outdoor swimming pool, great sound lights and dancing to top DJs until 6am.

Shopping & services

To look your best on the beach go to Blu By Len (Olas Altas 513) for everything from cuts and pedicures to mud wraps and waxing.

Blue Massage Spa (Olas Altas 411) a personal refuge for total relaxation. Walk-ins welcome, and home service available.

The Bookstore (Plaza Caracol, North Side) for something to read in English as palm fronds rustle overhead in the warm tropical breeze.

Cassandra Shaw Jewelry (Basilio Badillio 276), an elegant store with original handcrafted designs in the art of bijoux.

Christopher Wynn Designs (Pulpito 146) with treasures from all over Mexico -- an interior designer's delight.

Condom House (Lazaro Cardenas 239) the name says it all, with lots of selection, and lubes too.

Galleria Omar Alonso (Leona Vicario 249) gay-owned art gallery with modern and antique Latin photography, sculpture and more.

Galleria Sol y Luna (Lozaro Cardenas 230), art for the uninhibited, with erotic and exotic male form by international artists such as Randy Cooper, Victor Vera, Abraham Jorge, and others.

Liquid Men (Ignacio L. Vallarta 245 and Basilio Badillo 222) with Diesel and hot Mexican designs: beach attire, fashion or club wear.

PVRPV (Francisca Rodriguez 152), a vacation rental and concierge service. Book for gay cruises aboard comfortable, classic sailboats for a day of music and good food.

SeaMe Sunglasses (Amapas 114-B) for designer sunnies from the all over the globe.

Some visitors fall in love and stay in Puerto Vallarta. Marc Serrao of Tropicasa Realty (Pulpito 145-A; +52-322-222-6505) offers superb service for those who crave a little piece of paradise.

God and Toltec king Quetzalcoatl brought chocolate to the Aztecs. Let Xocodiva Artisan Chocolates (Rodolfo Gomez 111) send you to heaven with their divine hand-crafted confections.

Need a good Dentist? Dr Francisco Rincon (Pulpito 135; cell phone: 44-322-289-3151) is well-respected in his field, and speaks fluent English.

Getting to town

From the airport, a cab is the easiest way into town. Exiting the airport you'll find taxi drivers waiting, trying to get your attention and attempting to help with luggage. Save your money with "No, gracias." These drivers must pay airport fees and will charge you around $25US. Head to the other side of the highway, by way of the overhead walkway to the left of the airport building, where local yellow taxis are waiting. Negotiate the rate before you head off and you'll pay a lot less.

Organize your day

Area gay nightlife offers a wide variety of restaurants, clubs, bars, and martini lounges, most in the Zona Romantica. The scene starts relatively late, then continues at some locations until 8am. To follow local custom, take an afternoon siesta before heading out for a busy night of dinner, drinks, shows and dancing. Among the many shows are comedy routines, and drag and stripper shows. The Olvas Altas sidewalk cafes and bars, close by the beach, provide a particularly pleasant place to stroll in late afternoons and early evenings. Later, the scene moves to the late-night spots further in. Take care when leaving the clubs late -- travel in groups or have the club call a cab.


Events planner

December
Virgin of Guadalupe Day
Begins December 12
Religious street parades & feasts
until Jan 17

New Year's
Latin Fever
Annual circuit party & weeklong New Years bash.
For this and events in February, July and November, see
Willgorges.com

January
Beef Dip
An annual festival for bears & friends.
January 24-31, 2010.
Beefdip.com

February
Vallarta Fever Carnaval,
February 12-16, 2010.
For this, and Spring Fever dates, see
Vallartafever.com

September
Mr Gay Vallarta
Paco's Ranch
Pacopaco.com

November
For the past three years, the
Festival Gourmet de Mexico of Puerto Vallarta & Riviera Nayarit
has taken place.
Look for details on future meetings of great master chefs & young international talent at:
Festivalgourmet.com

Public transit

Buses run north and south for those who want to explore further out, and renting a Jeep or Volkswagen convertible is easy and affordable. Most hotels have excellent concierge service and can point you in the right direction. Looking for a day on a secluded beach? There are many local fishing boats you can charter to take you across the bay. Ask your concierge to recommend one.

Speaking in tongues

Most locals speak some English, so getting along without Spanish is possible. But it's always appreciated when the effort is made to speak the local language and a few phrases can go a long way.

Safety warning

The beaches along Banderas Bay are warm and inviting, even at night. But it is not recommended to be on the beach past sunset. The government is strict about enforcing the curfew. Be cautious with drug use or pickups, too. Accepting a solicitation for drugs or sex on the street could land you in a tight spot.

Day trips

Tired of the beach? Your hotel can arrange everything from sailing to fishing, scuba diving to archeological visits. Or a day on a remote island beach.

Or head off yourself on a day trip 12 miles south of the city on Highway 200. The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, is an educational research center and pleasure garden occupying 20 acres and boasting 3,000 different plant species.
A unique tropical dry-forest ecosystem at 1,300 feet, the area is framed by the peaks of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Another tourism option is ATV touring. Unique ATV Tours has trips to the nearby Rio Cuale with it's huge boulder strewn riverbed, swimming, and trails.

For more information

Sites worth checking out include Gay Guide Vallarta, and Discovery Vallarta. An English-language window onto the area's rich history can be found at Puertovallarta.net.

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