Thursday, March 05, 2009

Puerto Vallarta---Mexico's Gay Riviera

By Roy Heale
Often when we think of gay icons, whether they are straight or gay,we recognise them for a sole contribution to the GLBT community. Such is not the case with Dame Elizabeth Taylor.When being out and gay was considered a career disaster she is renowned for supporting her Hollywood closeted gay friends and co-stars like Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. But mostly she is acclaimed for her brave stance in speaking out for AIDS awareness in the early eighties when everyone else in Hollywood was afraid to even mention the plague’s name. You might well ask, so what is the connection between our dear Liz and a small Mexican coastal town named Puerto Vallarta?

Early in the sixties when Liz and Richard Burton were at the height of their steamy, on-again/off-again romance, Burton was starring in the John Huston movie Night Of The Iguana, which was being filmed in and around Puerto Vallarta. Liz visited the set to be with her new beau and jointly they fell in love with the peaceful coastal communities. So much so that they purchased side-by-side homes and connected their properties with a bridge.

The global media attention attracted by the movie production and the famous lovers resulted in Puerto Vallarta becoming the newest in spot for vacationers to discover.This focus on the beautiful Mexican coastline in and around Puerto Vallarta put it on the map and the result forty years later is the tourism boom of today. Especially because every time Liz and Dick had a lover’s spat the hot-headed Taylor tore down their connecting bridge which only led to more media hype.

Gradually, Puerto Vallarta became affectionately known as PV and over the last decade it has evolved into an extremely popular gay vacation village.Thanks again, Liz, for giving the gay community another safe haven in a tumultuous world.

Today, PV is the Mexican city with the most tourist return visits and after your first time here you will understand why. During my stay I met numerous gay travellers and, in fact, one young man was on his seventh trip to PV in the past twelve months. If only one could have that kind of time and money!

Call it Old Town, Zona Romantica, Olas Altos or Los Muertos—it’s the hub of gay activity in this ocean bay city. Cobbled streets, white stucco architecture, red-tiled roofs, sidewalk cafes, sandy beaches, boardwalk restaurants together have created the romance of PV’s gay village.

The gay beach at Playa los Muertos in front of the Blue Chairs Resort is the busiest gay spot during the daylight and is recognised as the gathering place to soak up the rays and cool down in clear blue waters with white surf. The rooftop pool and bar also provides a great venue to watch the sunset and enjoy early evening cocktails.

The gay nightlife is renowned for being very late—well past midnight—but in fact, in the more than twenty bars the revelry starts at sunset and continues when the clubs open, some of which don’t close until six in the morning on weekends. In other words, start to party whenever you please and finish with the sunrise if that appeals.

Everything is within walking distance and dinner on the beach is literally at a table on
the sand if you choose, or at a sidewalk café along Olas Altas.

The Kit Kat Club offers an eclectic menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner providing all day dining which is perfect for whenever the hunger pangs strike. Cafe La Terraza located on the road to the gay beach offers an inexpensive, hearty all day breakfast that’s perfect for those late night owls.

Langostinos on the beach serves some of the freshest seafood or on Olas Altas Anthony’s offers excellent Italian favorites. A real inexpensive treat is Mama Dolores Diner for American staples served with laughter and entertainment. The unpretentious Café Tizoc guarantees your Mexican favorites at affordable prices.Whatever you desire on any given night, it is available within a short walk. Dining is a relaxing part of the day at a guaranteed leisurely pace. A simple evening stroll around the village offers a multitude of choices from elegant to casual dining feasts.

In the evening, the bars and their patios come alive, offering a variety of atmospheres and choices with reasonably priced cocktails.

In the centre of town on Olas Altas, the popular Canadian-owned Apache’s Martini Bar and Bistro serves you with a smile and cheerful style. A round of applause is in order when a surprise cloudburst sprinkles rain on the patio patrons signifying a rare event worthy of celebration in this sunny resort.They also offer simple and reasonably priced appetizers and entrees for those early evening cocktail munchies. Apache’s has been a local favorite for over twelve years and it’s very easy to understand their longevity and success.

The centrally located Garbo is a quiet, intimate bar with background jazz music and occasional live performers. Sama is a sidewalk martini bar with great drink specials all night long.

An evening stroll along the famous Malecon (boardwalk) to Cheeky Monkey, the gay nightlife’s newest addition, will be rewarded with a third floor view of the sunset and some of the lowest drink prices in town.

The Gay Guide Vallarta is the best source of details about all that gay PV has to offer and is readily available online at or the printed version can be found at almost every business in the gay district.

Not surprisingly there are many choices for gay accommodations. These range from condominium rentals, hotels, resorts, B&Bs and smaller inns. Almost all are centrally located in the gay neighbourhood and within walking distance to the gay beach and nightlife.

The Boana Torre-Malibu condo-hotel is just up the hill from the gay beach and offers spacious one-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes at affordable prices.The Hotel Mercurio is
located in the heart of town, close to Olas Altas, with beautiful rooms, a courtyard pool and cocktail bar. Nearby is the larger Abbey Hotel, a new addition to PV’s reasonably priced
accommodations, providing large rooms with balconies, a swimming pool, lobby bar and restaurant. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance of your trip as this gay
resort’s increasing popularity results in “sold-out” periods.

An important travel tip for PV is to be prepared for the fact that many establishments do not accept any credit cards. Cash is the only method of payment in many bars and restaurants.
While the sun, surf and nightlife make for a perfect and romantic vacation, you may want to explore the region to find out why Liz and Dick fell in love with everything surrounding the town and made it one of their homes for several years.

Heading out to sea, Diana’s Tours has served the gay community with ocean cruising
for seven years. Her onboard and beach parties are part of the PV gay legend. They include breakfast, lunch, a beach stop, snorkeling, swimming and of course an open bar for cocktails.This season she has added a gay whale watching half-day tour.As the Banderas Bay is a mating place for whales, I have it on good authority that a whale sighting is almost guaranteed, but I’m not sure how you identify the gay ones.

If you prefer a more intimate personal guided tour then several guides will customise an excursion to suit your desires within your own schedule. This is an excellent way to allow a local to sit behind the wheel (and after first-hand observations of the Mexican drivers this a must) and recount the history or describe the sights, which will make your vacation complete with rich local colour and anecdotes. This is perhaps the best way to get to know this coastal and mountainous paradise with your own agenda and at your own pace. Check with your hotel front desk to find a local tour guide.
When you head south the coastal road takes you past the spectacular Los Arcos peaks where the mountains rise up from the ocean floor creating island sanctuaries.

Along the same road don’t be afraid of the Fruit Checkstop.You won’t be arrested, but apparently it’s illegal to carry fresh produce from one county to another! Leave your bananas in the hotel room.

Further south at the fishing village of Mismaloya, you can take a water taxi to the spectacular secluded beaches of Colomitos, Las Animas, Quimixto (with its spectacular waterfalls) and Yelapa.These beaches can only be reached by boat and as such will afford you privacy, allowing you to escape the crowds. If peace and quiet is what you are looking for then this is heaven.

Just a little further south you will reach Chico’s Paradise and Chimo’s Paradise.These are both perfect for the outdoor adventurers with horse-back riding, hiking, rock climbing, canopy tours, waterfalls, swimming holes and much more for a perfect escape from city life.This is also the location for much of the filming of John Huston’s movie that made the area famous.

If you choose to head north from PV, the coastal road will offer a visit to the large boat marina, an exchange with crocodiles in their natural habitat and a beautiful beach at Punta Mita. Here you can dine on fresh barbecued seafood from the catch of the day while watching the gentle blue ocean come and go.

Heading inland on a safari experience to the remote and authentic old Mexican villages that lie on the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountains, amidst the jungle it is possible to experience local culture. Enjoy hand-made corn tortillas, visit an organic coffee house, meet local artisans and enjoy spectacular views of the mountains.

No matter what makes a perfect holiday in your own mind, PV and environs offer everything from simple beach relaxation to adventurous outdoor activities.

For the last night of your vacation, an absolute must is dinner at Las Carmelitas.This naturally beautiful restaurant and bar is over two thousand feet above the city of PV with a spectacular view of the townsite and Banderas Bay. It’s a short but hair-raising ten-dollar cab ride on a rough mountain road with the richest rewards at the peak. From here the blue sky slowly changes hues into the orange sunset followed by darkness illuminated only by the stars and the fairy lights cluster of the city by night. This is an experience guaranteed to make you one of the many gay tourists that return again and again.

Puerto Vallarta is deserving of its reputation as Mexico’s romantic new riviera for the gay traveller.You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

For more travel stories by Roy Heale visit

1 comment:

michaelj72 said...

very nice low down on gay Vallarta; some things have changed, Kit Kat is not as popular as it once was since Michael sold it and moved on, but there is the upscale gay owned BarrioSur next door too for dinner and Coco's breakfast. the gay owned Cafe Bohemio around the corner from Mama Dolores is quite popular and crowded during the winter season with Chris and Sol at the helm.

After several years closed, Los Balcones is trying to make a come back

you might also want to consider checking out the Gay Puerto Vallarta travel and rental guide for further info on aspects of gay life, tourist tips, cruises and tours, and for condo and villa rentals