Puerto Vallarta: The Perfect Beach Awaits

Photos by Lydia W. Pruett
Photos by Lydia W. Pruett

If life’s a beach, then live it on the best one. That would be the sandy shores of Puerto Vallarta—the gay capitol of North America (if not the universe). The only order of business is to don your Speedo and sunscreen and head for a stroll along the Malecón—the wondrous, mile-plus boardwalk, where people-watching serves as an Olympic sport. The promenade is punctuated by a changing cast of families joining dog-walkers and tourists for a leisurely stroll in the balmy breeze. Pelicans patrol below a sky that’s perpetually cloudless, dressed in robin egg blue. Palms reach for the sky and offer blessed shade while ogling the menus of the clubs and cafes that line the sand. Yes, the margaritas are chilled to perfection. Plenty of cerveza, too. Stick around to watch the sky light up with nightly fireworks.

Midway along the boulevard, you’ll spot Puerto Vallarta’s iconic city symbol: the charming little church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, all sparkling white and gleaming gold, rising to a steeple topped with a silver crown. Her western wall flanks the fringes of the city’s gallery district—always good for a gander, but at its best on the Wednesday evening art crawls November to June (maps available). Best of the bunch: Colectika, with a collection that honors traditional Indigenous works seldom seen amid the plentiful dreamy nudes. On a side street, we were thrilled to come upon a mural dedicated to George Floyd.

Stroll the sands in the opposite direction to embrace the more lively sidewalk hustle in Old Town (also called the Zona Romántica, and home to Boys’ Town). Craftworks here—home accessories, jewelry, hats and clothing—are more likely to be the kind you’ll treasure—peppered, of course, with shops for punchline t-shirts and ever-present farmacias (which, should Montezuma exact his revenge, you’re welcome). Ask directions to the musty antiques store, where you can lose yourself among primitive masks, rusting ironwork, art of the Conquistadors, and more. Credit cards are not universally accepted, so inquire before you shop or dine.

Photo by Lydia W. Pruett

Trace your steps to Tile Park, a nearby square bordered in public benches, which local artists have ingeniously glammed up with sparkling tiles. Saturdays, the square hosts a Farmers Market. On its border, you’ll spot an English bookstore/coffeehouse. Nearby, Twisted Palms—a second-floor open-air bar in Plaza Romy—lures gringos with its happy hour specials. 

Happy hour also reigns at the top of the Pinnacle building—reached by a creaky funicular—where Sky Bar offers postcard-ready sunset panoramas of the city. Back below it in Old Town, Taco Revolution provides dozens of variations of its namesake. (Go for the mushroom version. Or the stuffed poblanos.) Oh, you seek sunset watching right on the sands of the beach? El Barracuda to the rescue, where dinner segues from seafood tacos to seviche, a whole snapper or hearty tuna steak. Okay, hamburguesas too.

If, like me, you harbor a taco fetish, sign on for a Signature Taco Tour ($55; vallartaeats.com) with nine offbeat, curated stops in Old Town. We began our feast at Birria Ricky with beef tacos and a cup of consommé, then on to Marisma’s fish tacos. We devoured tortillas fresh off the press in the municipal market, followed by an overflow of tasty variations along the route, climaxing in a tasty seafood chile relleno.  Stops for fruity ice pops and caramelized candies completed the four-hour gastro-trek. 

And that’s just a few of the offbeat treasures unearthed in the well-traveled Old Town. To explore beyond its continually crowded, jubilantly noisy streets, I bedded down northwest of the main drag in a residential neighborhood called Versalles. It’s a long-ish walk, half-hour bus or Uber ride from the Malecón, dotted with low-rise condos, local businesses and small, alluring cafes—cafes like Noah’s, where breakfast offerings starred all the usual suspects, from chilaquiles to huevos rancheros enjoyed open-air. As we sipped our fresh-squeezed orange juice, we spied a vendor pushing his wheelbarrow of bright strawberries down the sidewalk. Breakfast at nearby Cha was savored in a small, bright, contempo setting; you’ll spot it by the line out the door. Or head to a family-run, two-table operation like Deli Patricia for more of the same.

Versalles sports plenty of dinner options too, ranging from cheesy quesadillas at Sandra’s and a comfort bowl of tortilla soup at Natureza to the elegant creative Nuevo Mexican fare at Barrio Bistro, in a gardenlike setting with Frida-type murals framing its walls. Make this your splurge meal, starting, perhaps, with a cool beet and avocado soup; deep-fried flauta flutes filled with Peking duck; or scallops lounging on chicharrón gorditas and lashed with peanut pesto. On to main dishes that gallop from chicken stuffed with blue cheese and berries, mushrooms and essence of fois gras, to lamb shank stewed with seven chilies or garlic shrimp with guajillo peppers, ashes (!) and lemon. Mucho gusto, indeed!

Puerto Vallarta is a four-hour nonstop flight from MSP. You need no Covid vaccination proof to leave our country, but to re-enter, a Covid test the day ahead is mandatory ($25, with same-day results). 

Top Gay Bars in the Old Town

One Six One: newest; living-room lounge, live music, a two-level rooftop

Industry: largest club, with go-go dancers, huge dance floor and catwalk

Paco’s Ranch: liveliest hangout; happy hour 10 PM-12 AM

La Noche: drag queens, go-go boys, three bars, rooftop views

CC Slaughter: open until early morning; happy hour 6-11 PM

Spartacus: sauna, bathhouse, four floors, pool and palapa

Rhino: dedicated to British Royal Family fans

Mr. Flamingo: ideal for mingling

Gay Beach: south of Los Muertos Pier

Vallarta Pride: May 23 – 30, 2022. For info: GAYPV.com

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