Romantic Puerto Vallarta
Discover the lesbian side of this Mexican beach town.
Photo Courtesy of: Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board
There are so many other things to do on a romantic getaway to Puerto Vallarta, you may be surprised at how little time you spend on the beach. The coastline is beautiful, but so is the patio of El Arrayán (elarrayan.com.mx), where I start by sampling plantain empanadas with chipotle and garlic sauce. Lush plants and brightly colored native Huichol art fill the dining area—and in the middle is El Arrayán himself, an aromatic tree that produces small fruits like the one in my drink. Carmen Porras, the owner, introduces me to her wife, the co-owner, Claudia Victoria Rodriguez. They got married in Mexico City in 2010. “I am the face,” says Carmen, “but she runs the restaurant.” Their goal is to provide authentic Mexican cuisine, bringing old family recipes up to date with local ingredients. I move on to slow-cooked Beef Barbacoa, served on a freshly milled corn tortilla, and topped with cactus salad and cilantro.
Down the street, nine art galleries are full of tourists participating in the Art Walk (vallartaartwalk.com), which runs till 10 p.m. on Wednesday nights during the winter months (October–May). The participating galleries show contemporary paintings, sculpture and textiles. The city is full of galleries—across town, in the Zona Romántica, Basilio Badillo has a few, including Patti Gallardo Eclectic Art and Interior Design (pattigallardo.com). A jewelry artist named Sonia Ruiz is on duty when I drop in. “Patti opened a path for women artists in this town,” she says. On display are pieces by eight artists, and I’m especially drawn to the paintings of winged women. Sonia explains that Patti used to exhibit only women artists, but now also works with men.
Pictured: Arcos del Malecon, Photo Courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board
A romantic stroll down the newly rebuilt seaside Malecón (pedestrian walkway), which lines the west side of the city, brings more art into view. Public art on the Malecón includes La Rotonda del Mar, a circle of fanciful creatures with mismatched shoes. It has a bench where two can sit and gaze upon the ocean, leaning against giant ears.
The whole city center is pleasant for strolling—more picturesque than the newer resort towns and less traffic-choked than the larger cities. However, visitors may come away with a somewhat diminished enthusiasm for Vallarta’s charming cobblestones after an ankle-twisting walk or a bone-jarring taxi ride.
The main plaza, or zocalo, right off the Malecón, provides good people-watching opportunities. Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas, in the Zona Romántica, is best viewed from A Page in the Sun (facebook.com/apageinthesun), a café that sells books, beverages and light meals. On Saturday mornings, next to the plaza, the Old Town Farmers Market (oldtownfm.com) sells local fruit, baked goods, crafts and more. While you’re there, you may run into Sylvie Scopazzo, a friendly dyke expat who sometimes provides musical entertainment. Sylvie leads the Ladies Outdoor Club Adventures and is the power behind Power Walk the Hidden Streets of Puerto Vallarta (toursdujourmexico.com). She also gigs around town with her classic rock band, the Zippers. Fourteen years ago, Sylvie was living in Vancouver and longing for the sun. A co-worker suggested Vallarta, which Sylvie had never visited. “After another bike ride in the rain, I said, ‘I’m done with this!’ ” So she sold her possessions and headed south. “Three days later, I realized that this was where I wanted to be.” Sylvie worked as a restaurant host, timeshare promoter, scuba instructor, and hot air balloon ticket seller. Then she enjoyed a successful stint running canopy tours, where she met the zip line workers who are now in her band. Like most expat women here, she is busy working at all her various enterprises.
Where the girls are in Puerto Vallarta: at work. Diana DeCoste—nicknamed the Mayor—runs a legendary gay and lesbian day cruise (dianastours.com). Charlotte Semple founder of the Old Town Farmers Market and Carole Fast make Xocodiva artisan chocolates and sell them at their café, in the Zona Romántica (xocodiva.com). Anne Bryant and Lydia Damato run the Uncommon Grounds Chill Out Lounge (uncommon-grounds.com), several blocks inland near the banks of the Cuale River. A mixed crowd attends their live music, dances and workshops.
Pictured: Anne Bryant (L) and Lydia Damato at Uncommon Grounds Chill Out Lounge, Photo By: Julie Steinecke
Another mixed nightlife option popular with lesbians is Apaches, a cocktail bar not far from Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas. The women overflow next door to Café San Angel. If you’re planning a getaway to Puerto Vallarta, check ahead, because both of these places may have to close temporarily due to construction on Olas Altas Street.
As I’m chatting with the owner of San Angel, a woman comes up to me and says, “Please come and see my place. I want you to send the lesbians.” She leads me around the corner to the Metamorfosis Day Spa (metamorfosisdayspa.com), a small establishment with cozy treatment rooms. She introduces herself as Angelica López and presents the ever-smiling staff, most of whom appear to be related to her.
From here, a few city beaches are within walking distance, including the gay beach known as Blue Chairs, at the south end of Playa de los Muertos. A sign for Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea (bluechairsresort.com) welcomes everyone, though the great majority of the beachcombers are gay men. From there I could go farther afield, to the hotel zone north of downtown, to the resort beaches farther south, or to the seaside village of Yelapa, with its own romantic cabañas for women (casarosayelapa.com). So many beaches, so little time, and so many other things to do! (visitpuertovallarta.com)
Photo Courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board
IF YOU GO
Locally recommended accommodations include Casa Andrea (casa-andrea.com) in the Zona Romantica and Hotel Emperador (hotelemperadorpv.com), a mixed place near the gay beach. Garza Blanca (garzablancaresort.com) is a high-end resort south of the city with an infinity pool and a talented chef. Room technology was not in the best state of repair during my stay, but the staff tried hard to fix it. They offer weddings and they’ve done two same-sex ceremonies. GayGuideVallarta.com offers a handy printable calendar and interactive map.