Backed by the Sierra Madre mountain range and the tropical jungles surrounding the vast Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta exudes a welcoming and enchanting aura. The cobblestone streets evoke old Mexican villages. All-inclusive resorts offer all the amenities modern travelers could want.
Often considered a beach resort, and rightly so, there’s more to Puerto Vallarta than sand and sea. PV, as it is often called, is one of the two most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in Mexico. The other is Guadalajara. Both are in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
Puerto Vallarta has been a popular place for the LGBTQ community for over half a century. This story goes right back to the filming of the 1964 film The night of the iguana, filmed in Puerto Vallarta and starring Richard Burton. Although Elizabeth Taylor is not in the film, she was Burton’s fiancée at the time. (And like today, the paparazzi followed them everywhere.) The film crew was cited as one of the first gay visitors to Puerto Vallarta. The fact that it was a Hollywood production had the effect of putting Puerto Vallarta on the map.
Since then, the lesbian and gay community has been spending more of their vacations in PV. In the 1990s, authorities took notice and began actively promoting Puerto Vallarta as a gay-friendly destination. According to 2017 figures from the Jalisco Ministry of Tourism, 20% of visitors to Puerto Vallarta were from the LGBTQ community.
The Romantic Zone (The Zona Romantica), also known as Old Town or Viejo Vallarta, is located just south of downtown PV. It was intentionally designed to keep the feel of old Mexico. Even with its cobbled streets, this is the busiest section of PV. The Romantic Zone was named Gay District of the Year 2016 by Gay Travel. Most of the things listed in this article are in the romance zone.
Let’s take a look at some more reasons why Puerto Vallarta is the perfect destination for LGBTQ travelers.
Note: I was accommodated on this trip to Puerto Vallarta by Cross Border Xpress (CBX) and the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. All opinions are mine. The bar-hopping was also on its own.
1. Vallarta Pride Week
For the LGBTQ traveler, Vallarta Pride Week is a huge, can’t-miss event. The inaugural event took place in 2013 and paid tribute to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Months before the event, you’ll see banners and signs posted all over the Romantic Zone. Vallarta Pride Week 2022 will take place May 23-30. This year’s theme is “Out for Justice”.
Between downtown and Los Muertos Beach, you’ll find myriad places celebrating Vallarta Pride Week with special events. If you’re staying in the Romantic Zone, chances are your hotel is hosting some sort of activity. Otherwise, you won’t be far from the action.
2. Los Muertos Beach
Just past Los Muertos Pier, at the southern end of Los Muertos Beach (Los Muertos Beach), is a section commonly referred to as Puerto Vallarta’s Gay Beach. Look for the blue chairs and umbrellas arranged along the shore.
The area is home to four popular beach clubs: Ritmos, Sapphire, Blue Chairs, and Mantamar Beach Club Bar & Sushi (yes, sushi on the beach). The latter three offer a day pass that you can purchase to enjoy amenities such as pools, lounge chairs and umbrellas, palapas or cabanas, food and beverages, towel service and showers.
If you are near Los Muertos Pier after sunset, watch the light show.
Pro tip: Some amenities like chairs and umbrellas are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s a good idea to arrive early, especially during high season or Pride week.
There are countless bars and clubs in PV to choose from. Each has its own atmosphere and vibe. We visited three of them.
It was packed at Mr. Flamingo’s, even on a Wednesday, with many more revelers waiting to enter. The music, which you can hear a few blocks away, and the constant dancing kept the party going until well after midnight.
CC Slaughters has a bar and nightclub opposite, which overlooks Lázaro Cárdenas. A darker, quieter club and bar sits out the back.
La Noche is a three-level club. The artists have fun on the three stages of the first level. The second and third levels (on the roof) each have different music and different crowds. Bars are at all levels.
We found them all on Lázaro Cárdenas right next to Ignacio L. Vallarta. Check out Gay Guide Vallarta and Out & About Puerto Vallarta for more hotspots. These clubs have a mix of clientele and amenities – some even allow pets – so you’re sure to find a couple that suit you.
Pro tip: Puerto Vallarta is quite safe day and night. Still, common sense should be your constant companion whenever you go to bars or clubs at night. Gay Guide Vallarta has more tips in the welcome section of their guide.
The fame of RuPaul’s Drag Race is not limited to the United States. Two of the most popular venues include dozens of variety and music shows, as well as drag shows.
Act2PV offers nearly 30 weekly shows on several stages. On tap are acts like It’s raining Men, Hedda lettuce, Mama Mia!and country queens.
The Palm Cabaret and Bar features music by Kim Kuzma, comedy by Miss Conception, tribute shows like Tina Turner and I want all (a tribute to Freddie Mercury), drag shows like Duel Drag Divas, and an extremely popular show whose name cannot be printed here. The Palm has been entertaining PV audiences for 22 years now.
While staying in your hotel and relaxing by the pool is nice, I think it’s more fun to get out and see what Puerto Vallarta has to offer. Here are just a few of the many tours that will help you do just that:
Diana’s Tours has been in PV for 20 years. His cruise is world famous and often sells out in advance.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a nature reserve that showcases the diversity of Mexican flora. Spread over more than 60 acres, it has become a very popular place to see a different side of Puerto Vallarta.
Estigo Tours offers a surprising range of land, water and sightseeing activities in PV.
Puerto Vallarta Tours offers tours for everyone, but also offers a collection of tours specifically aimed at the gay community.
Ocean Friendly Whale Watching and Photography offers small group whale watching tours during the whale watching season from December 8 to March 23. Outside these dates, a photo safari in the bay is offered.
With hundreds of great restaurants available in Puerto Vallarta, how do you choose? It’s not easy, but here are some suggestions:
La Cappella’s Italian and international cuisine is high on many lists. Its famous Bottomless Gay Brunch, currently hosted by Louis Whitaker, is offered on Saturdays.
I visited Hamburger Mary’s in Ontario, CA and was surprised to learn that there is one in PV. Their motto is “Come for the food, stay for the shows”.
Other alternatives are Archie’s Wok, Café Bohemio, Gaby’s Restaurant and Bar, Hacienda Alemana, Red Cabbage, River Café and Salud Super Food.
7. Tailor-made accommodation
The places to stay in PV are as plentiful and varied as its dining options. The Hotel Zone further north is where you will find chain hotels and resorts. The following properties are straight-friendly and are located in the Romantic Zone:
Blue Chairs Resort is right on the beach, just behind their popular beach club. When you reach Los Muertos beach, you will immediately understand why the resort bears this name.
The Mercurio Hotel is only a few blocks from the beach. This is a budget but comfortable hotel that has been in PV for 18 years. They even have their own line of beachwear.
Casa Cupula is an award-winning resort that has been in PV for 19 years. Casa Cupula is actually nestled in the hills above the Romantic Zone but still close to everything.
Almar Resort opened in January 2016. The property promises a “luxury beachfront LGBT experience.” The stay at the Almar includes access to the Mantamar Beach Club. In addition to the resort, there is Almar Vacation Club, which is affiliated with the RCI exchange program.
Most of the Romantic Zone is within walking distance. But if you want to venture further afield, there is a public bus system that operates from 6am until shortly before midnight. The cost is 10 MXN pesos (less than 50 cents USD).
Pro tip: Your ticket allows you to board the bus, but you might end up standing. Gay Guide Vallarta says drivers don’t speak English and don’t take USD.
Taxis are available everywhere. Fares are based on the distance traveled instead of one meter. Ask the driver how much your trip will cost before you take off. We took a cab after our bar adventure. It worked well for our party of four.
Uber is also available. Having only served PV for a little over a year, they are the new kid on the block.
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