Puerto Vallarta was a small agriculture and fishing town until 1963 when Hollywood director John Huston chose the nearby small fishing village of Mismaloya, ten miles south of Vallarta, for the filming of Tennessee Williams’ brilliant 1961 play The Night of the Iguana. Its main star was Richard Burton who was dating Elizabeth Taylor at the time and were later married on location. Die-hard fans will want to visit, or stay, at the luxurious boutique Casa Kimberly, a former residence of the two love-struck stars that’s been fully renovated complete with a restaurant and tequila tasting bar.

Often attributed to that film shoot, Puerto Vallarta morphed into one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations, and one its most gay-friendly as well, attracting upwards of two and a half million tourists annually. The city now combines the Old World charm of its cobblestone streets and white stucco houses with the modern amenities world class resorts, luxury boutiques, high-class restaurants, and a vibrant art scene.

A gay oasis of art, food, nightlife, and so much more

Most gay nightlife is located within the Zona Romantica (South Side or Old Town), concentrated around Los Muertos Beach and Olas Altas. Ease into the evening with a visit to Garbo piano bar or La Noche martini bar, before checking out one of many lively cantina bars, such as Mr Flamingos, Anonimo, Diva’s, Frida’s, Los Amigos, Reinas, and La Cantina Margarita. For those revved up to keep the party going, make your way to CC Slaughters or Paco’s Ranch dance clubs, or Enter, the all-night after hours club.

Barefoot Dining and Three Dimensional Illusions

Mar y Vino (Sea and Wine) is one of the newest additions to the boardwalk, offering guests a unique barefoot dining experience where all tables and chairs sit within the water-filled terrace overlooking the ocean. It’s the perfect spot for a sunset dinner, with menu items that include delicious local fresh seafood, with an amazing wine selection and artisan cocktails.

The legendary Daiquiri Dick’s on the Beach has been a dining destination for some 50 years, and recently it was reinvented by Chris Diamond and Chef Wayne Elias, who have been restaurateurs and celebrity caterers in Los Angeles for the past three decades. Creative Director and local business entrepreneur Javier Jimenez, and Chef de Cuisine Martin Gonzalez, round out the executive team giving this well-known restaurant a revitalized atmosphere, complete with live entertainment. The menu has also been upgraded, with a few of the standard classics remaining, and of course the daiquiris.

Vallarta Food Tours highlights off-the-beaten-path cultural excursions guided by local experts. The Original Downtown Tour offers the opportunity to sample the perfect mole, eat regional dishes like street tacos, sample t tuba water, enjoy fresh ceviche, succulent sweets, and much more. Not only will you discover hidden gems, you’ll learn about the history of the area and the entrepreneurs behind each establishment. Be sure not to eat before joining this tummy filling experience.

TiLT A Tracy Lee Stum Museum PV is a recently opened new experience in Old Town, offering an opportunity for visitors to enter into a mesmerizing, interactive world of 3D anamorphic art mural. The artwork is created to be explored and experienced, where one can step through surreal scenarios and revive their sense of wonder within a magical world. There’s also an intimate lobby lounge that offers creative cocktails that are also presented as artwork libations. As well, every Wednesday from October to May, there’s a scheduled group Art Walk allowing visitors the opportunity to visit several participating galleries exhibiting various works by both national and international artists. The Art Map also allows individuals to explore these creative works of paintings, sculptures, fine ceramics, and jewelry at their own leisure as well.

Marina Vallarta

While there are plenty of accommodation options located within Old Town and Downtown, another overlooked option for visitors is to stay around Marina Vallarta. Located less than 10 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown, this emerging enclave offers an abundance of shopping and dining options, from casual to upscale. A must visit is the famous El Faro Lighthouse that has a quaint lounge at the top with incredible panoramic views that’s the perfect setting for sunset. Be sure to check out the mosaic art works along the length of a long stretch of wall on Paseo de Bocanegra. This colourful masterpiece was created by Natasha Moraga and her team of volunteers, following the completion of a similar project in Zona Romantica at Pino Suarez and Basilio Badillo.

Velas Resorts are Thrice As Nice

Casa Velas is an exclusive upscale adults only all-inclusive boutique property offering an unprecedented luxury experience located adjacent to an 18-hole world championship golf course, with a top-level onsite fitness centre, spa, and salon. Reminiscent of a Spanish hacienda, the hotel features 80 spacious suites, some with private pools and Jacuzzi. Daily activities include everything from yoga lessons and cooking classes to art and jewelry making workshops, tequila tastings, and special dining events. Onsite dining at Emiliano serves both Mexican and international cuisine, and guests also have access to the nearby Velas Vallartas resort, and Táu Beach Club.

For those looking to take time out to focus on their career aspirations, perhaps the transformational retreat with career counsellor and life coach Ruth Beltran is just what’s needed. The retreat takes place April 24-28, 2023, and is offered complimentary for guests staying at Casa Velas. If it’s a more meditative retreat you’re looking for, then the ABJA Spa is your calling. It features spa treatments and therapies inspired by local Mexican traditions and international wellness trends, all designed to revitalize and relax your body and soul. Before leaving this magical oasis, indulge and book yourself in for a treatment, such as Facial Diamond Energy Experience. Casa Velas is part of World Rainbow Hotels.

Velas Vallarta is the much-larger family focused all-inclusive resort that’s located ocean-side and features several onsite dining options for made-from-scratch fare that reflects both the local, traditional seasonal harvest, as well as exotic fusions from around the globe. When not relaxing at the beach or one of the multiple pools, there’s plenty of daytime activities, along with evening entertainment in the lobby lounge, and a new program allowing guests an opportunity to learn about and immerse themselves in the local Huichol indigenous culture through their equinox and solstice ceremonies, also known as peyote ritual or hikuri. Participants also enjoy traditional Mexican music, dancing, and cuisine. Ceremony dates for 2023 are March 20, June 21, September 23, and December 22.

Tau Beach Club is a private ocean-side dining venue/beach club that Casa Velas guests have complimentary access to. Unwind in a casual, relaxed atmosphere with a jacuzzi, pool, and delectable cuisine, from sushi during the day and an inspired local flavoured menu in the evening, accompanied by handcrafted cocktails and a premium selection of wines.

Beyond Puerto Vallarta

Jorullo Paradise is an Eco-Tourism development less than a two hour drive from PVR that offers lodging in rustic and warm cabins or within a traditional style Mexican hotel. Onsite experiences include wildlife hiking, nature observation, nine natural hot springs pools and Bike Flight, which is basically zip line biking from one mountain to another along 384 metres, 80 metres above the ground.

Plan Your Visit

If you’re wanting to make your vacation even more special, why not plan your visit around one of the many special events taking place throughout the year, from Halloween parties and Day of the Dead commemorations, to Pride festivities or the religious Our Lady of Guadalupe festival. 

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About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.