Puerto Vallarta was founded the same year as Seattle, in 1851. The small fishing village soon became a local vacation destination, but access was limited to sea routes and mule trails, until airplanes first arrived in 1932. A road connection was built in 1942, the same year that vacation ads of the Air Transport Company of Jalisco began to appear in a New York magazine. By 1945 their DC-3s were bringing 21 passengers per flight for fun in the sun. But it was the 1963 John Huston film, The Night of the Iguana, with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and their media-grabbing love affair and marriage, that really put Puerto Vallarta on the US tourist map.
The city's gay evolution began just two decades ago. That's when Paco Ruiz opened his namesake gay nightclub, Club Paco Paco in this seaside getaway on the west coast of Mexico. At the time, there was only one other gay bar in town. Despite being arrested three times, Ruiz refused to be intimidated by the police harassment. Eventually the media attention and public sympathy that followed created a friendlier environment for his and other gay businesses.
Now Mexico's most popular gay destination, bar none, this is a magnet for gay tourists from all over North America, a short flight away. Today there are around thirty gay bars and nightclubs at any given time, many gay-friendly cafes and restaurants, and over a dozen gay hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. There are also lively and eclectic local arts, crafts and live music scenes, along with chefs who trained in some of the world's finest restaurants at work here.
The smaller than usual pre-Lent celebrations of Carnaval took place this year with a masquerade party on the new Los Muertos Pier. Previously a very popular parade with big crowds and lots of gay participation, the event got mired in a recent dispute with the mayor's office - stay tuned for 2014 updates. Vallarta Pride is set for the May 24-26, 2013 weekend, with a parade, park festival, and dance parties.
Zona Romantica. Almost all the gay businesses are located in the south end of the city in the historic district of Emiliano Zapata. Everything is easily walkable in this quaint, cobblestoned part of town. The gay section of the beach at Playa de los Muertos is here too, long associated with Blue Chairs hotel/restaurant and nightclub.
El Centro. This is the city's downtown, located just north of the Zona Romantica on the other side of the Cuale River. Although some refer to the Zona Romantica as the "Old Town," El Centro is older. This side of the river now has only two gay bars and just one gay men-only B&B, but a number of good restaurants, the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish church, and the Malecon boardwalk remain of interest.
The Hotel Zone. This is the area north of downtown where you'll find most of the modern high-rise hotels. Unless you are desperate to redeem points at a chain hotel, you'll be better off staying in Zona Romantica or El Centro.
The Puerto Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Airport is just north of the hotel zone. A cab ride from the airport to the Zona Romantica is usually $20 to $25, but you can save about $5 or $10 by walking across the pedestrian bridge and taking one of the cabs lined up on the other side of the road. Diana's Tours offers a pickup service. For $20, a driver will whisk a group of up to three travelers to their hotel.
Puerto Vallarta is in the same state of Jalisco as Guadalajara, just over five hours away by car or coach. ETN (website in English), one of several companies offering modern inter-city coach service, some with WiFi access, with eleven daily round-trips between the two cities.
Unless you plan to do a lot of driving outside of the city, don't rent a car. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, although you should agree on a fare before you get inside. Pay in Mexican pesos for a better rate. Although it's not customary to tip taxi drivers, locals will often round up the fare. Most North Americans do tip, one reason why drivers seem so eager to pick them up.
Buses run north and south for those who want to explore further out, and renting a Jeep or Volkswagen convertible is easy and affordable. Most hotels have excellent concierge service and can point you in the right direction. Looking for a day on a secluded beach? There are many local fishing boats you can charter to take you across the bay. Ask your concierge to recommend one.
Some parts of town have steep steps-only streets, inaccessible by taxi except from the top or bottom ends of the road. Those with potential problems should plan ahead and consult their hotels about getting around when venturing beyond the flat beach front areas - help can always be at hand.
What to see & do
It's always warm enough to swim in Puerto Vallarta, so, not surprisingly, the beach is the city's most popular attraction. Puerto Vallarta's unofficial gay beach is the Blue Chairs Beach. It's on the southern end of Los Muertos beach, directly in front of the Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea. A second, smaller gay beach resort was established a few years ago, a short walk to the north, and the sands in front of other more traditional beachside restaurants have become more gay-friendly in recent years. Staff will soon welcome you like old friend to a shaded chair overlooking the shimmering water, with disarming smiles and a bucket of ice chilled beers - or whatever you fancy.
Be sure to walk along the Malecon: that's the boardwalk on Banderas Bay that runs from the north end of Zona Romantica, over the Cuale River and into downtown Puerto Vallarta. Interesting sculptures (including incredible sand sculptures) dot the Malecon once you reach downtown. Sculptures of the famous dolphin and the arches that are symbolic of Puerto Vallarta are across from the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the city's best-known landmark, home to with several important religious festivals that take over local streets each year.
If you take a stroll up the hill behind the church, you will find the famous pink Puente del Amor. The "love bridge" connected the mansions once occupied by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The address is 445 Calle Zaragoza.
Dance the night away: Nightlife starts late here, so don't expect to see anyone in the city's big gay dance clubs before midnight.
Mix it up: Mexicans love Americans and Canadians, and vice versa, and gay people in Puerto Vallarta speak enough English to get by, so don't worry if you only speak the international language of love.
Shop on water: An island in the middle of the Cuale River includes a long stretch of shops where you can buy souvenirs and more artsy-fartsy stuff from local artisans.
Eat outside: It's almost never cold, so dine at one of the many sidewalk, beachfront and rooftop restaurants, and don't be afraid to eat like the locals at sidewalk taco stands.
Organize your day
Area gay nightlife offers a wide variety of restaurants, clubs, bars, and martini lounges, most in the Zona Romantica. The scene starts relatively late, then continues at some locations until 8am. To follow local custom, take an afternoon siesta before heading out for a busy night of dinner, drinks, shows and dancing. Among the many shows are comedy routines, and drag and stripper shows. The Olvas Altas sidewalk cafes and bars, close by the beach, provide a particularly pleasant place to stroll in late afternoons and early evenings. Later, the scene moves to the late-night spots further in. Take care when leaving the clubs late -- travel in groups or have the club call a cab.
Media and Resources
Be sure to pick up Gay Guide Vallarta when you get into town. It's easy to follow, written mostly in English and includes a handy gay map.
GayPV gay magazine and directory, in partnership with the PV Convention & Visitors Bureau, has a print guide and website promoting gay Vallarta, in both English and Spanish.
Discovery Vallarta is another good source for up to date local gay information, from people who really know and love this town. In particular they list over 50 art galleries and museums in town. Foodies will want to pick up Beck's Best, Puerto Vallarta's Restaurant Guide, written by a gay guy, Gary Beck.
First time here? The bi-lingual tour guides of Gay Vallarta Bar Hopping will make you feel at home, touring the night life scene and getting into the clubs without waiting in line. Vallarta Eats offers tours to get you past the tourist traps, to sample authentic Mexican food with English-speaking guides. Vallarta Food Tours offers another, similar culinary adventure.
Act II Stages (Insurgentes 300 at Basillio Badillo), is a new entertainment venue with Main Stage musicals and plays, concert series, late night shows, Red Room cabaret shows and Encore Piano Bar.
Speaking in tongues
Most locals speak some English, so getting along without Spanish is possible. But it's always appreciated when the effort is made to speak the local language and a few phrases can go a long way.
Ed Walsh In focus:
Cruising, Puerto Vallarta style
For 10 years and counting, Diana DeCoste has led gays and lesbians on tours of Puerto Vallarta's Banderas Bay. Her boat trips attract a mix of men and women, but the vast majority of the cruisers are gay men.
"I like to go to bed with women, but I can't make money off them," says DeCoste with her trademark cackling laugh that punctuates her tours.
Diana's Tours runs daylong catamaran excursions that depart every Thursday morning from Los Muertos Pier, two blocks north of the Blue Chairs Beach. Look for the boat flying the rainbow flag.
The first stop on the tour is usually Los Arcos, a local landmark just south of Puerto Vallarta. Los Arcos, which means "the arches" in Spanish, refers to three giant hollowed-out rock formations large enough for some small boats to navigate. (When you see arches used to symbolize Puerto Vallarta, they refer to these natural wonders.)
The swim-through rock formations rank as Puerto Vallarta's most popular snorkeling stop. Tropical fish, including angelfish and damselfish, dart in and out of the crevices, making for a colorful show. No need to bring your own snorkeling gear, as Diana's Tours takes care of that.
After Los Arcos, the tour makes another stop at a private beach complete with a walking trail and waterfall. That's followed by lunch at a restaurant onshore.
"Now that you are all here," DeCoste often says, as her guests take their seats, "please listen very closely to this 90-
minute time-share presentation."
She laughs, and everyone instantly gets the inside joke. Travelers are besieged by people selling time-share properties in Puerto Vallarta, starting when they arrive at the airport.
After the cruise, DeCoste invites all her guests to enjoy a free drink and some male strippers at an after-party at the Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea's rooftop bar. The total charge for the day is $80 per person.
If you're interested in whale watching, openly gay oceanographer Oscar Frey runs one of the most respected whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta, Ocean Friendly Tours. While his clients are mostly straight, his tours are very gay-friendly. The four-to-five-hour excursion costs $95 per person, including beverages, snacks and lunch. Whale watching season runs from early December to mid-March.
The legendary Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea (Malecon 4, Playa Los Muertos; US/Canada 888-302-3662), one of the world's best known gay hotels, wildly popular beachside restaurant at gay beach. Their popular rooftop patio/bar has nightly shows, and their staff will book local tours and day trips.
Boana-Torre Malibu Hotel (Amapas 325, 52-322-222- 0999), gay resort hotel, short walk from beach; bedrooms, two baths, kitchen & salon, water-facing balconies, romantic pool. Tours can be booked here. Budget rooms at Boana 2 and at Casa Benito B&B where rates include access to pool and other main hotel facilities.
Casa 567 (Venustiano Carranza 567; 52-322-123-8707), quiet east end of street, restored townhouse, four 1-bedroom suites, one 2-bedroom suite, rooftop pool, patio mountain vistas, just 8 blocks from the beach.
Casa Cupula (Callejon de la Igualdad 129; 52-322-223-2484), gay boutique resort hotel, close to beach, restaurants, cafes, luxurious, stylish and intimate, with gourmet food, tempting cocktails, two pools, spa and gym.
Casa Enigma (Paseo de las Madre Perlas 154, Conchas Chinas; 52 322 221-5168), high-end gay guesthouse, two villa B&B with heated infinity pool, hot jacuzzi and steam spa. Fills up fast.
Casa Fantasia (Pino Suarez 203), three old-style haciendas, patio and pool, furnished with antiques and artwork; gay owned, straight-friendly, but no unregistered guests allowed. Full breakfast daily, hors d'oeurves and champagne some evenings.
Gay-owned and staffed, Hotel Mercurio (Francisca Rodriguez 168; 52-322-222-4793), 28 rooms, some with kichenette, good location, outstanding service and value, gourmet breakfast, romantic indoor pool with popular happy hour for drinks attracting guests, visitors and locals, mid-afternoons until after 10pm daily.
Hotel Torre de Oro (Pulpito 138; 52-322-222-4488), former Abbey Hotel, 13 one-bedroom suites/ kitchenetts, 42 up-to-4-person rooms, gay district, near beach, available year around; restaurant, pool, Jacuzzi, cable TV.
La Terraza Inn (Amapas 299; 52-322-223-5431), gay owned apartments and guesthouse, 10 cabana-style rooms, many with private patios, some with partial ocean view, all with free WiFi; near gay beach, restaurants and gay nightlife.
San Franciscan Resort & Gym (Pilitas 213; 52-322-222-6473), boutique luxury residence hotel, affordable prices, very private, convenient to beach and businesses; studios, 1-4 bedroom apartments, kitchens, free-weights gym, pool, WiFi, comedy club shows in season.
Vallarta Cora (Pilitas 174; 52-322-222-6234), gay men-only hotel where the socializing is easy at their busy bar, or at the Jacuzzi. This attitude-free haven has a backroom, bar, clothing-optional area and a private sun terrace.
Vallarta Shores (Malecon 400; US/Canada 800-228-4552), general-public boutique hotel in heart of Zona Romantica gay area, directly overlooking the beach. Three-levels, 10 suites, 1 to 3 bedrooms, all with balconies and ocean views, living areas, and bedrooms.
Villa David (Galeana 348; 52-322-223-0315), gay men-only B&B guesthouse, downtown area, old-world hacienda style, nine rooms, some with balconies; common area living room and kitchen, courtyard patio garden, clothing-optional heated pool, rooftop sun deck, Jacuzzi with a view.
PVRPV lists real-time vacation rental properties online; condos, homes, villas and accommodations for vacation, or long-term needs.
Restaurants and Cafes
This town has plenty of places to eat, with a variety of cuisines to reflect the cosmopolitan nature of the people who live and visit here. Several places are run by classically trained chefs from the finest kitchens of Europe and North America, alongside talented and imaginative local and regional maestros of the culinary arts. All listed below are in Emiliano Zapata/Zona Romantica, unless otherwise noted. See locations, website links, and more restaurants at our maps & listings page. Many places close during the summer low season, to open again in early October.
Archie's Wok (Francisca Rodriguez 130) blends Thai, Chinese and Filipino cuisines, with subtle sauces and reasonable prices; eat in or take-out.
Barcelona Tapas (Matamoros at 31 de Octubre, Downtown), Spanish-style tasting menu and small plates, great vistas of surrounding streets around and below.
Bistro Balsamar (Basilio Badillo 223), regional Mexican cuisine in Zona Romantica, dinner served nightly, full bar, wine selections, star chef Alejandro Cordero Garcia.
Cafe Bohemio (Rodolfo Gomez 127), patio bar and bistro, romantic outdoor dining, friendly host Sol and staff keep it casual. Mexican and International menu, nightly two-for-one happy hours drinks; fish, chicken, steaks, ribs, meatloaf and liver 'n onions, plus veggie meal options too.
Cafe des Artistes (Guadalupe Sanchez 740), Mexican and French bistro menu, formal and elegant setting, art works and lush gardens, piano music, over 350 fine wines, gourmet aperitifs; celebrity chef Thierry Blouet.
Cafe Oro Verde (Colombia 1373), often rated the best coffee in town, casual Bohemian vibe, deli sandwiches.
Casa Naranjo (Naranjo 263) small hidden-away restaurant, kitchen at center stage, classic Mexican and European cuisines, international crowd.
Chez Elena at Hotel Los Cuatro Vientos (Guadalupe Sanchez 740, Centro), on hill above Malacon in old colonial building, part of the old Vallarta of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton days; small restaurant, big reputation and fine cuisine.
Coco's Kitchen (Pulpito 122), good daily breakfast, lunch; European and Mexican foods, shady garden seating.
Coffee Cup (Rodolfo Gomez 146), for first or last coffee of the day (try their soy chi latte), breakfast. Easy-to-make-friends, locals and travelers, internet access.
Daiquiri Dick’s (Olas Altas 314), beachfront restaurant, Asian influenced Mediterranean & Mexican cuisine, nice view, good food and service, popular Sunday brunch; deli take-out food and drinks for picnic lunch.
El Arrayán (Allende 344), regional Mexican specialties; black bean empanadas, shredded duck tostadas, seafood, local style no-egg quiche, pork, chicken mole, veggie options. Many-time local readers' choice winner.
El Rio BBQ (Felipe Angeles 245, Paso Ancho), Portland OR natives combine their own barbecue skills with local technique, Mexican-style hardwood fires and distinctive spices to achieve that special flavor; outdoors in upriver Rio Cuale area.
Hacienda Alemana (Basilio Badilio 378), resort hotel and restaurant, German and Bavarian fine dining, garden seatings, large Oktoberfest-style buffets, German beers.
Los Mercados (Aquiles Serdan 265), under-one-roof variety, beach picnics or back-at-hotel intimate-time provisions: Mikey's fine foods & delicatessen, K'rico pastries coffees & cakes, Don Fresco fresh fruit and produce, and Cork & Bottle with fine wines & spirits.
Mama Rosa (Leona Vicario 269, Centro), large Mexican breakfast buffets, traditional Mexican recipes; also lunch, dinner, terrace seating, views from hillside perch.
Miel (Madero 291 at Constitucion), Italian chef, eclectic fusion; seafood, pastas, poultry, varied tastes of Lebanon, Peru, Mexico and Italy.
No Way José! (5 de Febrero 260) unique and diverse Mexican fare, seafood to vegetarian, music events, friendly staff, "warmth of a happy home."
Page in the Sun Cafe (Lázaro Cárdenas 179), cafe and coffee shop, sandwiches, pastries, bagels, baguettes, pies; English-language used books, sidewalk tables.
Pie in the Sky (Aquiles Serdán 242), cool, air-conditioned café, pastries, cakes and chocolates, coffee specialties, ice cream, brownies with molten center specialities, sugar-free options, WiFi access.
Planeta Vegetariano (Iturbide 270), central, inexpensive all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunch buffet, also breakfast and dinner.
Red Cabbage (Rivera del Rio, Remance), small, colorful, out-of-the-way café serves food of many regions of Mexico; arts, music scene, mural inspired by wedding feast of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
River Cafe (Isla Río Cuale 4) exotic tropical terrace by the Rio Cuale, soft music, bird song, insect buzz, sounds of babbling brook compliment International cuisine, fine dining experience.
Si, Señor (Guadalupe Sánchez 274, Centro), home-made tortillas, the genuine article Mexican dining, choice of garden outdoor or cool AC indoor seating.
The Swedes Bar & Bistro (Pulpito 154), breakfast, lunch, dinner bistro menu, cuisines of Scandinavia, Europe and Norh America; upstairs Crows Nest Bar.
The Sweet Desire Cake Studio (Lazaro Cardenas 234) sells really good, high quality cakes and pastries for special occasions, or just for treats.
Taste (Callejon de la Igualdad 129), Casa Cupula luxury gay resort restaurant, open to all; gourmet fine dining, light lunch, robust Sunday brunch. Chef Jose Luis Ponce.
Teatro Limon (del Limón 1, Hotelera Norte) celebrity Chef Bruce works in open kitchen, small dinner party-style, preparing unique multi-course meals for guests.
Trattoria Michel (Olas Altas 507) owner/chef Michel Ferrari uses only freshest fish, game and meat in traditional Italian cuisine; fine wines, beautiful sunsets.
Trio (Guerrero 264), downtown Mediterranean gourmet dining, highly-trained European chefs use fresh local ingredients and fine herbs; cosmopolitan, casual elegance, open courtyard with fountain.
After the beach becomes dark and the restaurants wrap up the night, the clubs begin to get busy. Influenced by habits of visitors, this town runs on both Mexican/Mediterranean and North American/European schedules, so there's always somewhere to go to be sociable. As in most gay scenes, there are early warm-up pubs, cantinas, and lounges, many of which serve food, and late-night clubs to dance or to admire the naked male strippers.
Anonimo (Rodolfo Gomez 157), small bar off Olas Altas, good drinks prices, easy conversations.
Antropology (Morelos 101, Plaza Rio, Zona Centro), north across the bridge, men-only "gentlemen's club," the study of man, non-stop nude male dancers, 9pm to 4am, good-looking staff.
Apaches (Olas Altas 439) restaurant and bar, gay, straight, lesbian, and artist types congregate at sidewalk tables chatting.
Blue Sunset Rooftop (Malecon 4, Playa Los Muertos), on Blue Chairs Resort roof. Popular nightly events include Sunday & Wednesday "Dirty Bitches, and Thursday & Saturday male strippers.
CC Slaughters (Lazaro Cardenas 254), new remodeled nightclub and cocktail lounge from the guys of Portland OR, dancing, drag shows, old Mariachi Loco site.
Diva's (Francisco Madero 388), intimate cantina neighborhood bar, popular with local gay expats and Mexicans, especially for happy hours.
Encuentros (Lazaro Cardenas 308), bar/lounge, pizza, pasta, live music, piano, friendly gay mix; also now with breakfast from 7am, plus lunch. Next to Wet Dreams.
Enter Club (Venustiano Carranza 212), Thursday through Sunday electronic/house music gay dance club, Sunday underwear/jockstrap T-dance with contests, special events, guest DJs.
Frida (Insurgentes 301) cozy "only authentic alternative cantina," inexpensive drinks, meals include Wednesday spaghetti specials. Opens from 1pm downstairs; balcony from 7pm for cocktails and people watching.
Garbo (Pulpito 142), gay piano bar, live jazz, regulars meet for cocktails before the clubs.
La Noche (Lozaro Cardenas 257-263), quiet conversational lounge club subdued atmosphere lighting/music, usually packed to overflowing early and upscale crowd, locals and tourists spill into the street.
Los Amigos (Venustiano Carranza 237), gay cantina, terrace, bears, cowboys, cheap drinks, Vaquero Sexy contests.
Los Equipales (Lazaro Cardenas 315 ), new gay cantina in wood and leather, draft beers, karaoke, sing-alongs, contests, drag shows, food specials.
Paco's Ranch (Ignacio L Vallarta 237), new evolution of Paco Paco, one of Puerto Vallarta's first gay clubs, new location between Roxy's and Liquid, dancing and drag shows, open nightly until 6am.
Palm Cabaret & Bar (Olas Altas 508), gay bar, international talent caberet, burlesque and comedy shows, street patio seating on popular stip.
P’yote Lounge (Guadalupe Sanchez 740), plush vanguard-design martini lounge at Café des Artistes. Inspired by life and the art huichol, tapas and bocadillo menu, mezcalinis, copas.
Reinas (510 Olas Altas), gay bar, cheap drinks, juke box music, videos, films, conversation; Dutch hospitality and friendly staff.
Sama (Olas Altas 510), chic, elegant martini and video lounge, white leather seating, sidewalk patio. Famous for appletini and chocolate martinis by owner Jose.
Uncommon Grounds (Lazaro Cardenas 625), bar/lounge, restaurant/coffeehouse, art/performance space, boutique with aroma therapist advisor. Two women, one English (lived in America), one from NJ. Chill-out space, sensual comforts, all kindred spirits welcome.
Wet Dreams (Lazaro Cardenas 312), men-only stripper club, guys in the showers, or doing pole in the backroom, small VIP lounge for intimacy, open 'til 4am.
CLOSED: Club Mañana (Venustiano Carranza 290), large gay bar/ techno/house dance complex with strippers, pool.
Bathhouse & spas
Acqua Gym & Spa (Constitución 450; 322 223-5270), work out gym facility near main gay business district, certified trainers, steam room, therapeutic massage services and body treatments.
Blue Massage Spa (Olas Altas 411; 322 222-6034), the place for "total relaxation" on site in Zona Romantica, at home or hotel services (check ahead on their guest policy).
Metamorfosis Spa (Francisca Rodriguez 159; 322 222-6162), Swedish, deep tissue, hot stone therapy, reflexology, integrated therapies, facials, and manicures/pedicures.
Pump Gym (Callejon de la Igualdad 129; 322 223-2484 x121), at Casa Cupula gay resort but open to non-guests, for cardio, weight machines and free-weight workouts; with Jacuzzi, pool, tanning deck and restaurant.
Spartacus Spa (Ignacio Vallarta 264), new gay sauna at the center of the Zona Romantica scene, dry and steam heat, Jacuzzi, video lounge, smokers' area, snack bar; open daily 3pm-midnight.
Vallarta Cora (Pilitas 174), hotel club, heated pool, bar, patio, gay porn videos, men-only clothing-optional pool, Jacuzzi and steam room, popular with younger gay Mexicans.
Shopping & services
Cassandra Shaw Jewelry (Basilio Badillio 276), elegant store, original and unique handcrafted designs in the art of bijoux.
PVRPV (Francisca Rodriguez 152), a vacation rental and concierge service. Book for gay cruises aboard comfortable, classic sailboats for a day of music and good food.
Tropicasa Realty (Pulpito 145-A; 52-322-222-6505), superb service for those who crave their own little piece of paradise.
God and Toltec king Quetzalcoatl brought chocolate to the Aztec people. Xocodiva Artisan Chocolates (Rodolfo Gomez 111) will send you to heaven with divine hand-crafted confections.
The beaches along Banderas Bay are warm and inviting, even at night. But it is not recommended to be on the beach past sunset, and be cautious with drug use or pickups, too. Accepting a solicitation for drugs or sex on the street could land you in a tight spot.