In 1964, a gay man inadvertently helped turn a tiny Mexican fishing village called Puerta Vallarta into one of the world’s premier vacation destinations for gay and straight people alike.
His name was Tennessee Williams, the famed playwright behind The Night of the Iguana. As cameras rolled on the film version in 1964, director John Huston instructed his leading man, Richard Burton, to send for his girlfriend, Elizabeth Taylor, to join the production as a guest. Huston hoped that the ongoing fascination with Burton and Taylor’s affair would generate attention for the tiny village. It worked.
As I stepped off the plane in 2018, I had come to do the same thing. I’d arrived to profile the LGBTQ interests in the popular tourist destination, with my trip coinciding with Puerto Vallarta Pride, which attracted other travelers from all over the world.
Though only sporting a population of about 200,000, Puerto Vallarta has a marvelous neighborhood known as La Zona Romantica (that is, the Romance Zone), aimed specifically at LGBTQ residents and tourists, rife with nightlife, dining and plenty of hot hombres. Even better, a couple of locals offer a pub tour called Gay Bar Hopping, which took me to some of the gayborhood’s hottest venues.
The popular club La Noche enticed me with the promise of a famous mojito, as well as a drag show and three levels of men and women mingling in the night air. Between watching a drag queen recreate Beyonce’s Superbowl halftime show and knocking back fizzy, minty gulps of my cocktail, I found plenty of eye candy to keep me occupied. I also did something I almost never do—I took my shirt off. It made me a bit self-conscious to do it, but given the thick humidity, it did add to my comfort level. Besides, unlike a lot of American cities, the patrons at La Noche didn’t seem to judge anyone for their body shape. Everyone just seemed to have a great time.
For a more chill vibe, Blondie’s made for a great place to sit and enjoy a drink, some great music, and some cool air. Decorated in a pop art style that made the walls look like giant comic strip, the bar won me over with their signature frozen cocktails, handsome waiters and colorful lighting. Sitting around the bar I noticed groups of friends who didn’t shout to hear each other over the music, as well as happy couples snuggled up in booths. That Queen’s “Radio Gaga” played over the speakers just added to the cheerful atmosphere. Strolling over the cobblestone streets of the Romantic Zone also had another draw: shopping. The Zone had plenty of great spots to find sexy underwear from designers like Andrew Christian and Moschino, as well as a fine mix of dress and casual clothes.
Mexico has a long repute for causing tourists to need drugs for digestive issues. Lucky for me, I never needed any, even after accidentally drinking local water and enjoying mountains of the scrumptious food. Just off the Romantic Zone, Medregal, located within the Villa Mercedes Hotel, features a menu of local favorites and made-to-order craft cocktails. Dining in the outdoor plaza of the hotel just along the swimming pool made for a charming, quiet evening under the stars. The bar staff there also prepares mixology cocktails to order, using a special in-house process that seasons Mexican favorites like tequila and mescal to taste.
Whether looking to spend some time alone with a hot bar pickup, sleeping off a food coma or stash away some fine new merchandise, every self-respecting gay needs a place to rest. Fortunately, Puerto Vallarta has plenty of gay-friendly hotel venues, including many that cater specifically to an LGBTQ crowd. In my travels, I visited the Mantamar Beach Club, an LGBTQ hotel located right on the sand. Beautiful pool and beach facilities made for a fine place to spend the morning watching the waves. Mantamar also plays host to Puerto Vallarta’s White Party, held every year during Pride festivities. Attracting more tourists than a local crowd, it nonetheless makes for a wild time with some great beats and no shortage of hot, sweaty men. The nearby Sapphire Ocean Club specializes in hosting the LGBTQ crowd too, though with a much more low-key feel. More intimate than the Mantamar, Sapphire also features a private beach, boutique rooms, and an outdoor bar that makes a hell of a good pina colada. A number of nearby all-inclusive resorts also make gay tourists feel at home, albeit with a high-end luxury style. The Costa Sur, about two miles from the Romantic Zone, or the W in nearby Punta de Mita, welcome a mixed crowd with a gay-friendly—and often out-queer—staff on hand to make paradise even more idyllic.
Laying on the beach and sipping cocktails doesn’t turn everyone on, of course, even at a great gay hotel. Fortunately, Puerto Vallarta has far more to do off the sand. The nearby village of Sayulita attracts surfers from all over the world to catch some great waves…and plenty of nearby observers who just want to catch a glimpse of some hot surfers. Likewise, the Pacific waters offer ample opportunity for snorkeling, wakeboarding, kayaking or setting sail aboard a luxury yacht. If nothing else, the outdoor sports offer a great opportunity to snap a few sexy photos that will look great on Facebook or Grindr, as the case may be. Getting paired with a local guide also makes for some very fine eye candy, and in some cases, can even add to the romantic feel of the trip. Ask me how I know.
After a week in Puerto Vallarta, I had grown accustomed to the mix of delicious food, delicious cocktails and delicious men for which the city has gained its well-earned reputation as an LGBTQ destination. Still, the time had come for me to return to my homeland (via the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, complete with rude staff, no less) and bid the gayness of Puerto Vallarta—and the handsome people I’d met there.