Beach clubs, drag shows and tranquil relaxation: Why Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta is the perfect queer winter sun getaway
I went to Mexico – specifically, Puerto Vallarta – and ended up being the sole lesbian in a gay male strip club. Yes, that’s right. Here’s how, and why you should visit (even if you’re a lesbian)…
Puerto Vallarta and its sister town of Riviera Nayarit, just over the Jalisco border, together make a great winter sun getaway for gay and lesbian couples of all ages as well as young, gay men looking to party in a gaybourhood that’s warmly welcomed by local Mexicans.
If you only have a week, split your time so that you can have a weekend in Vallarta partying and exploring the mountains, then a few days recovering in Riviera Nayarit.
Gay bars in Puerto Vallarta’s La Zona Romántica.
Puerto Vallarta’s has a gay district called La Zona Romántica. Many people return year after year but there’s also a growing number of young people trying Vallarta for their first time. I even bumped into a gay Glaswegian couple who had flown to the gay strip after being recommended by fellow travellers to try it for the first time. They’d previously never heard of Vallarta but were leaving pleasantly surprised that there’s long been a welcomed gay community here.
In low season (May-November), the strip is heaving on a Saturday night but it’s fairly dead mid-week. We returned on a Tuesday evening unsure if holiday goers would be continuing the party but the strip was mostly empty except for a small crowd in CC Slaughters (see below) that were still going strong at 3am.
Mantamar Beach Club: The go-to place for gay men.
In Puerto de Vallarta, Mantamar Beach Club is the go-to place for – mostly – gay men. Although I spotted one small group of lesbians and they do occasionally throw lesbian parties in low season, it’s definitely geared towards gay men looking to party.
Mantamar Beach Club and its accompanying hotel and Top Sky Bar, linked by a small road, are owned by Vidal Meza and Javier Jiménez. The bar itself opened just over five years ago. Just a few days after it was first built the whole place was burnt down in a suspected arson attack, which the owners believe may have been due to the noisy parties they threw when it first opened.
“We’ve learnt to keep the noise down since then,” explains co-owner Meza, who had to rebuild the entire bar. It was worth it though, he says, as the fire brought them masses of press and business soon bounced back. They’re now planning to develop the site into an even larger hotel, adding a gym and botox centre on-site.
The pair took me, and several other journalists, on a tequila-fuelled tour of the nearby gay strip, including several bars own by Jiménez.
Mr. Flamingo: This is where you’ll make new friends.
Imagine Heaven’s cheese room was a beach bar and you’ve got Mr Flamingo. Sadly, yes, it is Mr Flamingo and there’s certainly no Ms or Mx equivalent here – we’re far from east London or the likes of Lick.
Mr. Flamingo is located on the corner of the main strip of the gaybourhood. It’s small but very friendly and a seriously popular choice attracting the most mixed crowd I saw in Vallarta.
The great thing about the Zona Romántica is that everything is so close together and the bars and clubs don’t charge entry, so you can pop next door for a margarita as soon as you fancy a change.
Wet Dreams: Great for cruising, not so great for lesbians.
Wet Dreams is pretty much what it says on the tin – a strip club/cruising space for gay men. Complete with dancers, a shower and pole dancing, it’s usually strictly men only but the owners made an exception to give us a tour and, less surprisingly, more tequila.
Needless to say, being a butch lesbian surrounded by horny gay men massaging themselves was not what I’d flown 12 hours to Mexico for but as one of the strippers and I accidentally locked eyes we couldn’t help but laugh. I made a speedy exit before the pants came off in search of a more-lesbian friendly space.
Club Paco Paco: The best place for drag shows.
Round the corner you have Club Paco Paco, also known as Paco’s Ranch, which many locals would tell you no gay night in Vallarta is complete without.
Paco’s is a medium-sized club with two floors that is known for its drag shows. Maybe it was hard to tell after all the mezcal but the crowd seemed a little too serious for young gays watching queens lip sync to Britney. Mostly popular with gay men and trans women, it wins the award for what has to be one of the most niche drag references to be made in Jalisco history – who knew Fleur East had a Mexican fan base?
La Cantina Margarita: A great meeting point.
La Cantina Margarita is probably the most relaxed and grown-up gay bar of the Zona Romántica. It’s a good starting point for a night out – although not too early as Mexicans save most of the partying until the early hours – and also a more chilled conversation if you’re catching up with friends.
In fact, if you really want a quiet night and are looking for an older scene, then the Piano Bar is one of Vallarta’s oldest gay bars and will happily take your Celine Dion requests.
La Noche: The gay bar with a view.
Next door to Cantina, La Noche also has regular drag shows and male dancers on podiums – although it isn’t exclusively for men like Wet Dreams is. Its terrace bar is more relaxed than downstairs and you’ll have a view of the strip but you’ll miss the aircon.
CC Slaughters: Head here for low season partying.
Directly opposite is CC Slaughters which tends to be quite mixed. If you’re going out mid-week this is likely to be the busiest (although its nightclub at the back of the bar will be painfully empty). Playing pop and Latino dance, the bar is quite friendly and, after you’ve had enough tequila, it has a nightclub at the back. Thankfully, there’s also a taco takeaway next door if it all gets too much.
Industry: Vallarta’s biggest gay club.
Next door is Industry – probably the best place to end your night as it stays open until 7am. The vibe is more techno and laser lights and, of course, no nightclub is complete without a sex swing in the entrance.
What else is there to do in Puerto de Vallarta?
Take a walk along the town’s malecón and spot artwork by the indigenous Wixáritari community, try raicilla – a drink similar to tequila that’s fast becoming Mexico’s equivalent to craft beer – at La Lulú, and go snorkelling with Vallarta Adventures.
Where to stay: Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa.
The Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is a 20-minute drive from the Zona Romántica. You won’t find the younger gay scene here but an Uber to the strip doesn’t cost more than a fiver. The resort is very close to the Marina where you can take a range of Vallarta Adventures to a truly beautiful beach and to the surrounding mountains.
The hotel’s pool is the biggest in Vallarta and has to be the resort’s best feature. The outdoor bar is built into the pool so you can even swim right up and sip on your Corona while sat in the water.
It also prides itself on being gay and lesbian friendly – their cat Mitzy even took part in this year’s Pride parade.
Cure your hangover in Riviera Nayarit.
When you need a slower pace after partying in Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit is just a 30-minute drive away. There’s plenty to do here, from making your own organic, vegan chocolate from cacao beans at Planet Cacao, to boutique shopping and iguana-spotting in Sayulita, as well as surfing classes for the more adventurous.