Why Puerto Vallarta is such a great LGBT destination

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The jello shots keep coming.

I have declined a few times already, because it’s not even 11 am yet. I’m already holding a very strong mixed drink, and we’re only about an hour into an all-day cruise around Banderas Bay. I don’t want to drink too much and become sick, especially not while traveling on a boat. Also, I need to document the experience, so I must remain at least somewhat coherent until we return to land after 5 pm.

jello-shots

But the servers keep offering, forcing me to awkwardly send them away. Fortunately, I can out-stubborn anyone when I put my mind to it, so I will enjoy no jello shots on this voyage.

I will, however, consume something in the neighborhood of seven or eight fruity cocktails before the day is over, although because of my many denials throughout the day in an attempt to pace myself, those around me will believe I’ve only had two or three.

It’s hard to turn down free drinks, and it’s even harder amid the festive atmosphere of Diana’s gay and lesbian cruise, where the spirits are high and the bathing suits are small.

diana's gay cruise

Diana’s Tour is one of the most popular gay activities in Puerto Vallarta. In fact, it might be one of the most popular gay activities anywhere.

An astounding 97.2% of the Trip Advisor reviews (141 out of 145) rate Diana’s as a 5-star experience, which has to be one of the highest percentages in existence. For comparison’s sake, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon only gets an 85.2% five-star rate. There you have it – empirical proof that Diana’s Tour is 12% more enjoyable than one of the great wonders of the natural world.

Diana’s is just one of the reasons Puerto Vallarta is a first-class LGBT destination. From the beaches to the businesses to the bars, here’s more proof that PV is a great gay getaway.

1. Nightlife

The most surprising thing about Puerto Vallarta might be its number of gay bars and clubs. There are probably between one and two dozen of them, depending on how you classify certain establishments – some places are more “gay-friendly” than specifically “gay.”

They have everything here, from friendly lounges with sidewalk seating to upscale rooftop martini bars to dingy holes-in-the-wall to strip clubs and bathhouses. Most are found in the Zona Romantica, the “Old Town” neighborhood which is especially welcoming to the LGBT community. If you’re staying in that area, virtually all of the gay bars will be within walking distance.

The hub of the gay bar experience is centered around two bars across the street from each other – Paco’s Ranch and CC Slaughters. Paco’s is the go-to place for a friendly drink and a drag show, while CC Slaughters (run by the same folks who operate the hugely popular CC Slaughters in Portland) is a good place to dance all night.

cc-slaughters-puerto-vallar

One easy to take in the nightlife is by hooking up with the Gay Vallarta Bar Hopping Tour, which runs a few times a week during tourist season. Generally, bar-hopping tours don’t appeal to me, because I figure that I can find all the bars on my own with a little bit of research.

But there’s a reason why this particular tour is so highly regarded. For one price (starting at $75 USD), all drinks, cover charges, tips, photos, and a full dinner are included. Tour owner Christian and his team have relationships with the bars, so they can whisk you past the lines straight inside, where your drinks will already be waiting since they send someone ahead of time to place the orders. The operation is a model of efficiency.

reinas puerto vallarta

The tour takes the legwork out of finding places to go. You might be able to figure out on your own that Paco’s and CC Slaughters are worth visiting, but without the tour, you may miss other fun spots like Reinas, an awesomely divey red-walled neighborhood joint that provides hats and wigs to try on, and Act II, a classy piano bar.

The bar hopping tour typically takes the less-touristy months off (July-September) but runs year-round otherwise.

2. Beaches

puerto-vallarta-beach

Puerto Vallarta’s beaches are spectacular, and there’s a popular gay beach section not far from Los Muertos Pier.

To find the gay section, look for the blue chairs of the beachfront bar/restaurant called, um, Blue Chairs. To confuse things a bit, not far from the blue chairs beach is another bunch of blue chairs belonging to the Mantamar Beach Club, another spot popular with the gay crowd. On the other side are the green chairs of Ritmos Beach Café, which also has a sizable gay clientele since it scoops up the overflow from Blue Chairs.

green-chairs-beach

I spent an afternoon at the green chairs sipping cocktails and taking in the sights – the waves, the parasailers, the local vendors, the speedo-clad beach-goers. Good times!

3. LGBT-specific tours and events

The aforementioned Diana’s is one tour that LGBT visitors should definitely try to schedule. The all-day journey costs less than $90 USD and runs from October through July, drawing guests from around the world, plus a few locals.

Diana has been operating the tours for 14 years, and they often sell out in advance, so don’t wait until the last minute to book. The cruise includes booze, appetizers, a stop at a private beach, lunch at a beachfront restaurant, and a snorkeling excursion at Los Arcos National Marine Park, a group of natural rock formations just off the coast.

Lots of tourists pay for separate snorkeling tours at Los Arcos; Diana’s guests get to have that experience as part of a much more exciting day.

los-arcos-park

Food tours, horseback rides, sunset party cruises, and other gay tours and parties can be found in the city, especially around special events like Pride Week, which takes place in late May. Though gay marriage is not yet legal in Puerto Vallarta, a commitment ceremony was held at this year’s Vallarta Pride.

4. Shops and businesses

Walking around the Zona Romantica, it’s easy to spot gay-friendly businesses everywhere. Massage parlors are abundant. Retail clothing stores have names like “Tops & Bottoms.”

tops & bottoms puerto vallarta

I scored a sweet tank top from RX Supplement & Buen Flex clothing. Buen Flex manufactures its products locally, and the shirts are made from a very lightweight cotton ideal for the climate, as opposed to the heavier cotton tees normally seen in America.

buen flex clothing

For the scoop on more local gay businesses, check out Gay PV Magazine, one of the best resources for LGBT Puerto Vallarta info.

5. Spas, resorts, luxury activities

Virtually all the resorts and spas in PV are gay-friendly, so travelers with some cash to drop may want to look into luxury experiences. (If that’s not you, stay tuned for an article next week on how to visit PV on a budget.)

Hotel Mercurio and Casa Cupula are two highly-rated hotels specifically aimed at the gay crowd. The latter also features a restaurant called Taste that offers a popular brunch.

Other luxury options in Puerto Vallarta include Casa Velas, an all-inclusive resort which has its own spa, pool, and beach.

casa-velas-resort

Tequila was born right here in the state of Jalisco in the 1500s, so tequila tastings are common throughout the PV area. I enjoyed a tasting at the Marriott, which makes its own Casa Magna brand. I couldn’t quite make out the subtle differences between the blanco, repasado, and anejo varities. I’ll just take a shot of any of those, thank you.

tequila-tasting

Even the ATV tour I took in the mountains had a tequila tasting at the end.

So when you’re on your big gay Puerto Vallarta vacation, don’t pass up any tequila opportunities that come your way. And remember, since it’s a local product, drinking tequila counts as a legitimate cultural experience.

Note: During my visit to Puerto Vallarta, I was a guest of the local tourism board, meaning that most of my expenses were covered. As always, all reviews and recommendations are my own honest opinions.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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