Puerto Vallarta has been an LGBT destination for decades, but there's more reason than ever to visit this sophisticated, easy-to-reach West Coast resort city: the state of Jalisco, of which Puerto Vallarta is part, legalized civil unions late last year (and marriage equality shouldn't be too far off). The city is also hosting June's International LGBT Business Expo, the leading LGBT travel business conference in Latin America. The city's Vallarta Pride event, planned this year for May 22-26, expands to five days from three, and will include a mass committment ceremony, along with the usual music festivals, beach parties, and fashion shows. The year will also mark the first Pink & Proud Women's Party, which "aims to to celebrate, promote, and strengthen the identity of the lesbian community in Puerto Vallarta," according to officials. If you don't know much about P.V., or it's gay-friendly zone known as the Romance District (Espanol: Zona Romantica), here's your primer. (A selection of images are courtesy of Michael Mayo at Discovery Vallarta.)
EAT: Tacos, Flautas, and Enchiladas Just the Beginning
People love to eat Mexican food in California and Texas, but when you’re actually in Mexico, it’s a requirement. Just don’t forget there’s a great variety of restaurants in P.V., from ultra-high-end to super affordable, serving everything from authentic Mexican to superb global cuisine. Try it all.
TRIO: Popular since opening in the Clinton era, Trio’s Mediterranean food is renown. Try the Lebanese salad (baked beets, goat cheese, and parsley) or the Chile roasted red snapper filet over vegetable ratatouille. As inviting is the food is the ambience; the restaurant occupies a restored townhouse, with numerous levels and an open courtyard. (Guerrero 264, Centro, more info)
DAIQUIRI DICK'S: A local favorite for decades, as well as a tourist draw, Daiquiri Dick’s sounds like a sad Senor Frog’s type of place, but it’s not. The Mediterranean/Mexican/Asian fusion is delicious and hearty, pours on drinks are substantial (obviously, you have to try a daiquiri), and the views of the Playa de los Muertos (beach) divine. (Avenue Olas Altas 314, Col. E. Zapata, more info)
RED CABBAGE: Named the best Mexican food in P.V. by Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Red Cabbage is a bit of a hike from the beach, but worth it. This is authentic Mexican food, served in a colorful atmosphere (literally) with the work of local artists on the wall and much love shown to national treasure Frida Kahlo. Smoke-free and cash-only. (Calle Rivera del Rio 204, more info)
MANGO CAFE: This delightful spot is a perfect place for breakfast or lunch, with egg dishes, fresh-baked focaccia, homemade jam, and all kinds of coffee and espresso drinks. This hangover-blaster is a perfect spot to catch up on what exactly happened last night. Plus, they even offer a free five-minute phone call to the U.S. and Canada! (Lazaro Cardenas #261, more info)
P.V. offers numerous upscale resorts where LGBT travelers are accepted without a second thought, as well as smaller properties that specifically cater to same-sex couples and single gay travelers. Here are some options that give off the home-away-from-home feeling.
CASA CUPULA: This property describes itself as “one of the world’s finest gay luxury boutique hotels.” Don’t expect the smell of bleach and weenie roasts on the patio; this property may cater to gay tourists, but it offers professional massages, not “massages” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). The rooms are spacious and modern and the gym will help you burn off those margaritas. (129 Callejon de la Igualdad Colonia Amapas, more info)
WESTIN RESORT AND SPA PUERTO VALLARTA: Reviews are glowing for this family-friendly, yet romantic, hotel. Massive in size and with all the amenities you can desire, this will provide all the creature comforts for those who expect nothing less than immaculate rooms, tidy pools, and excellent service. The pool is amazing. (Paseo De La Marina Sur 205, more info)
HOTEL MERCURIO: Another boutique hotel that caters to the LGBT crowd, Hotel Mercurio is centrally-located in Zona Romantica. Very close to the beach, and pretty much everything, Mercurio is a perfect pick if you’re not high-maintenance and really want to experience P.V. Happy hour, from 3-6 p.m., shouldn’t be missed. (Francisca Rodríguez #168 Colonia Emiliano Zapata, C.P, more info)
MARRIOTT CASAMAGNA PUERTO VALLARTA RESORT & SPA ROOM: This hotel is an upscale choice (right on Banderas Bay), and offers a bit of seclusion. It’s large, with over 400 rooms, but with top-notch service and business amenities like fast WiFi if you need to get work done. Check out the botanical gardens and the Japanese and Mexican restaurants. (Avenue Paseo de la Marina Norte 435, Marina Vallarta, more info)
EXPERIENCE: During the Day...
You can stroll around Zona Romantica and discover central P.V. yourself, but here are some activities and places you need to find some time to enjoy.
PLAYA LOS MUERTOS: Puerto Vallarta's most famous beach is a mile of yellow sand stretching sound of the Cuale River. Thronged, but not uncomfortably crowded, with vacationers, fishers, and strollers, the beach is classic P.V. Beach clubs and restaurants line the playa. Check out the Blue Chairs Beach Resort, a gay-friendly beach club that doubles as a hotel option. (more info on the playa)
THE MALECON: The grand boardwalk of Puerto Vallarta. Strolling through this grand walkway, rebuilt after a devastating 2002 storm, is a wonderful way to get a handle on the city. You'll hit the main town square, the Plaza de Armas, as well as amphitheaters, street art, and historic churches. Food stalls, trinkets, artists, and musicians also make the Malecon an unforgettable highlight of P.V. (more info)
EL PITILLAL: A suburban pueblo about three miles, or 10 minutes by cab, from the center of P.V., this is a great place for finding authentic, discounted fare, like clothes, jewelry, and non-cheesy souvenirs. It's also a good spot to eat on the cheap, with tamales, corn, and tacos made by locals, for locals (except you). (more info)
PLAY: Mexican Nights
Puerto Vallarta doesn't have the party reputation of, say, Cancun, but it does have spots to let your hair down. If there's any place to do tequila shots, it's Mexico.
ANONIMO: This good-time cantina is a friendly place to stop for a Corona or evening cocktail. It's small and a bit hard-to-find, but when you get there, keep your eye out for drag shows and some seriously sexy bartenders. (Corner of Rodolfo Gomez and Olas Altas, Colonia Emiliano Zapata, more info)
CC SLAUGHTERS: This nightclub is relatively new, opening in 2011, but has already become a P.V. institution. Billing itself as the "premier club in Puerto Vallarta," this gay venue is an off-shoot of the Portland, Ore. club. There's a martini lounge on one side and a wild, multi-level dance club on the other. (Lazaro Cardenas 254, more info)
PACO'S RANCH: Don't let the humble name fool you, this is a big ol' discotheque, akin to something in Ibiza. The music is loud, the lights pulsating, and the dancing doesn't stop until 3 a.m. It's not the most sophisticated place in the world, but after a few rounds of tequila shots, you'll be dancing to "Y.M.C.A." with everyone else. Great drag shows, too. (Vallarta 237, more info)