Life’s a beach for Keph Senett as she celebrates pride in Puerto Vallarta, the gay-friendliest place in Mexico
Prior to your arrival in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll hear two things about the place.
First, that before it served as the setting of the 1962 release The Night of the Iguana and a torrid affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, it was a sleepy fishing village. Second, that it is the most gay-friendly place in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta has only just celebrated its second annual LGBT Pride, but don’t let that discourage you – it’s been welcoming gay visitors and residents for decades.
Indeed, it was the Iguana promotional photographs that first caught the attention of Old Hollywood VIPs, many of whom were gay men. Word spread about this enclave on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, and soon there was a steady clientele of visitors looking to experience Vallarta’s natural beauty, relaxed lifestyle, and inclusive vibe.
Fifty years later, the fishing village has grown into a small city. With international restaurants, a vibrant nightclub scene, and loads of local businesses, Puerto Vallarta has grown into more than a simple beach town. In the words of Pride Committee Vice-President Bill Hevener, “The only thing you can’t get enough of in Vallarta is sleep!”
With a such strong ties to the rhythms of Banderas Bay it’s no surprise that in 2014, Vallarta Pride was presented under the banner of Todos al Mar (Pride by the Sea). The theme perfectly captured the connection of Vallartenses to the sea, highlighting the best of local food, culture, and costuming. Think sailors, and lots of them.
The first event of the festival was hosted by the newly-reopened beach club Mantamar (Malecon 169, en.mantamarvallarta.com) where bartenders served frosty cocktails to revellers lounging on the gracious terrace, on the beach front sofas, or in the dipping pool. Local drag queens provided photo ops and entertainment, while a DJ spun house beats under a setting sun. When everyone had had their fill, they retired to rest up for the next full day of celebrations.
Most tourists stay in Old Town. Also known as the Romantic Zone, this gay-friendly colonia is close to the beach and is packed with tiendas, nightclubs, farmacias, restaurants, and hotels, many of which sport inviting rainbow stickers on their storefronts. The Zone is super convenient and walkable. In the space of a few blocks, you can as easily buy beer or tacos as a massage or bespoke swim trunks (try Alphonse Swimwear at Pino Suarez 373 for the latter).
On Los Muertos beach, the Blue Chairs resort (Malecon 4, bluechairsresort.com) has long been acknowledged as the hub of gay activity. Seaside, waiters serve food and drinks to a parade of fit and well-groomed men while a DJ serves up beats, and upstairs in the hotel, gogo dancers and drag queens entertain.
If you’re looking for a mellower, elegant alternative, try the Lido Beach Club two spots north (Malecon 1). Peaceful and welcoming, Lido is close enough to the action to people-watch, and far enough away to relax. Bonus points for a quality menu, excellent service, and a sophisticated atmosphere. Lido is also the venue where Pride organisers hold their annual group same-sex commitment ceremony (this year, five couples took part).
One of the most exciting developments in this year’s programme was the inaugural women’s party. Powered in large part by Pride Committee member and local restaurateur Carmen Porras, the Pink and Proud women’s event at El Arrayan (Allende 344, elarrayan.com.mx) drew in hundreds of women. With drag kings, gogo dancers, and tag-team DJanes keeping a packed house happy, you can count on this party sticking around. Porras and her partner Claudia Victoria own and run the venue, an award-winning Mexican restaurant serving creative takes on classic dishes. The tacos chapulines (cricket tacos) are perennial favourites.
While the women were sweating it out in el Centro, Casa Cupula (Callejon de Igualdad 129, casacupula.com) was hosting a men’s party with drag performances, music, and dancing. This extraordinary multi-level boutique hotel is LGBT-owned (and “straight-friendly”), and is also the site of Taste Restaurant which serves a regular Sunday brunch and pool party. Open to guests and visitors, it’s an afternoon of food and flirting in one of Vallarta’s most impressive and gracious venues.
In between siestas and fiestas you’ll want to grab quick bites. At the beach, you can flag vendors selling fresh mangoes, watermelon, and cucumbers, and spit-roasted mahi-mahi on a stick. Vallarta’s main pedestrian thoroughfare is the recently-renovated Malecon — seek out a vendor selling refreshing paletas (popsicles) or tuba (a drink made from palm sap, fruit, honey, and nuts) while you stroll the sculpture walk. Free-style it with any of the taco stands around the city (try birria, barbacoa, and tacos al pastor), or if you prefer, book with Vallarta Food Tours (vallartafoodtours.com). Their friendly local guides bring insider knowledge to help you get the most out of your mealtime.
Vallarta’s Pride parade is lively and local. Check the route information and station yourself streetside while the floats and walkers go by, or grab a spot at the end-point in Parque Lazaro Cardenas and let the party come to you. Pop-up shops from local restaurants sell food and drinks, and the coliseum seating fills up fast for the entertainment.
Once the sun goes down, follow the crowd to the dance area behind the gazebo to light up your night with a DJ. Or, hit the showers and head back out to the nightclubs. Many bars are along Lazaro Cardenas, making club-hopping easy.
Reinas (361 Lazaro Cardenas) is an intimate space catering to an older crowd, while younger men flock to martini bar-turned-disco La Noche (Lázaro Cárdenas 257) or dance club CC Slaughters
(Lázaro Cárdenas #254, ccslaughterspv.com). Bar Frida (301A Insurgentes barfrida.com), on the second floor of a building on nearby Insurgentes is lesbian-friendly, and those seeking out a cabaret should try The Palms (Olas Altas 508, thepalmpv.com. No matter where you choose, most places stay open late (as do the taco stands), encouraging impromptu street parties into the wee hours.