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Swept Away By Puerto Vallarta’s Inclusive Spirit

“Orgullo feliz!” That’s “Happy Pride” in Spanish…

By Nelson Branco

Apparently, you can go home-away-from-home again: it has been at least 15 years since I visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and this past May, I asked myself what was wrong with me for eschewing one of the most welcoming and most beautiful gay vacay spots in the world?

The inclusive beach getaway—first made famous when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor relocated and filmed projects there to escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi—used to be an annual tradition I shared with friends every February, as we attempted to brainwash ourselves into believing (for at least a week) that winter doesn’t exist. I’m not sure why I stopped travelling to Puerto Vallarta—but as I was aging into my 30s, I was became more focused on exploring the vast world on my rare time off.

I decided to spend my 43rd birthday in Puerto Vallarta for a few reasons. I never do anything for my birthday, so I decided to treat myself and escape the hectic urban vortex; plus, given the divisive decision by Pride Toronto to not invite the Toronto Police Service to march or participate in this past year’s parade, I wanted to check out how Mexicans were throwing their annual LGBT celebrations.

And I’m glad I did, because those ‘bad hombres’ sure know how to throw a Pride parade. (Take that, Trump!)

It was surreal to witness all the first responders—fire, police, medical, and even military—march in the parade. Oh, and Mayor Arturo Dávalos Peña sashayed down the streets during a weekday sunset.

Witnessing Puerto Vallarta’s grassroots Pride event warmed my heart for a variety of reasons: there were no corporate floats—just small gay or gay-friendly businesses/organizations that support the community; it lasted an hour…not a five-hour endurance competition; the parade started and ended on time; it was relatively small with 7,000 people, doubling last year’s attendance and allowing you to watch the festivities from a patio; the parade kicked off 10 days of festivities and parties for 10 days sunset before all the weekend parties; and everyone was invited.

As Toronto’s Pride gets more and more commercial, and even more politicized in rainbow brouhaha, I encourage Canadians to visit Puerto Vallarta during its off-but-still-hot season in May—even if it’s just to mix it up to try something different ( There aren’t as many tourists, the weather is still gorgeous, and the whole town comes alive to celebrate Pride.

Even the Vancouver Pride Society (which disagreed with Toronto Pride’s cop ban) was in attendance; they brought along the original Pride flag, designed by recently deceased artist Gilbert Baker, for the parade. Pretty cool, huh?

Along with feeling a renewed sense of pride and community in Puerto Vallarta, here is a cheat sheet to the moments and places I cherished—and recommend you dive into on your next trip:

Getting there
Tired of the lack of service and amenities (plus the myriad fees for everything under the sun) while flying some Canadian and vacation airlines? I suggest taking Aeromexico to Mexico City and grabbing a connecting flight, because the service is excellent. Flight attendants are dressed to the nines, old school-style, and your meal and drinks are free of charge—as they should be. You also get a video screen with maps and top entertainment choices, pilot interaction and lots of leg room, and their connecting air fleet uses the same modern planes Porter Airlines uses. (I recently flew to Peru on a major airline and it didn’t even have a screen available for entertainment or maps.) You’ll think you’re flying in the ’70s with Aeromexico. I’ve learned that to get the best ride, it’s a good idea to always fly the airline of the country you’re visiting (if possible), because they are the experts in getting in and out of their country, especially given that they get first-landing and takeoff privileges.

Costa Sur Hotel and Spa
I travel a lot and stay in some pretty posh pads, but this resort hotel—one of the first hotels built on the South Shore—has to be one of my favourites. In fact, the modern yet classic and wood-designed bachelor/condo suite enveloped me—especially when I lay in bed with the ocean breeze lulling me to a sweet siesta. I could have easily seen myself living there as a permanent residence. It had everything I needed: a full working kitchen and ware, a den, a luxurious bathroom and, oh, an unbelievable view of Banderas Bay, which is perfect to swim in as it’s enclosed, which keeps the waters calm from the usually aggressive, choppy Pacific Ocean. Its private beach and secluded location are why myriad couples, whether gay or straight, throw their destination weddings there. With more than 30 years of unparalleled service, Costa Sur is only seven minutes away from the Romantic Area, a.k.a. The Gay Hood, and it’s worth it.

Café des Artistes
For my off the hook birthday dinner, we feasted at Café des Artistes, which also has a location in Los Angeles. The exclusivity, elegance and comfort of its many gourmet-chic environments distinguish this international elite restaurant, which for 25 years has been crowned as the icon restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. If you define yourself by where you eat or if you’re a serious foodie, this is the place you want to be seen at.

Deux Mec
After nine years of successful operation, Michel’s restaurant in the Romantic Zone has been flipped by Michel Ferrari, who has partnered with Swedish chef Andreas Fischer to bring a new and unique dining experience to Puerto Vallarta. The consistent theme among all of Ferrari’s hospitality offerings is “casual sophistication,” which is evident at Deux Mec in the use of the finest domestic and imported ingredients to create traditional offerings and new twists on old favourites.

Bay of Banderas
The Canuwa Luxury Catamaran is the best way to discover Puerto Vallarta and Bahía de Banderas. The 62-foot Luxury catamaran has a 100-passenger capacity and a crew of six sailors plus captain, making it easy for you to enjoy the bay (not to mention the delicious snacks, food and drinks).

Sapphire Ocean Club
Enjoy the finest amenities, including a swimming pool, comfortable lounge chairs and cabañas, towel service, national and international drinks, and fabulous breakfast and lunch menus from an internationally experienced chef.

Casa Cupula
Puerto Vallarta’s legendary boutique resort hotel is set to celebrate its 15th birthday with a three-month celebration of the property’s past, present and future, culminating in a grand Mexican-style quinceañera party. Casa Cupula gained notoriety in 2002 when it became Mexico’s first high-end LGBTQ property. In the years since, the then-five-bedroom guesthouse and oasis for gay travellers has grown into an 18-room full resort complex and an integral part of elevating the reputation of Puerto Vallarta as Mexico’s gay vacation mecca. This year, the new “Frida Suite” will honour iconic Mexican LGBT artist Frida Kahlo. And a special bonus: guests can enjoy a fourth night free on stays from November 27 to December 19.

Travel tip
Puerto Vallarta is a relaxing oasis, with just enough partying to make you forget all your troubles—but make sure you are prepared to navigate the stressful hell that is known as the Puerto Vallarta International Airport. While it has been redesigned since I was last there, it’s still a chaotic zoo when you leave baggage and customs. Gaggles of con people will bombard you with transportation and real estate scams, so be strong and wade through the crap, and either grab a regular city taxi outside or have your hotel arrange pickup; it’ll be worth it.

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NELSON BRANCO is the editor of 24 Hours Toronto and Vancouver. As a contributing editor, he’s penned pieces for magazines like Hello Canada, People and TV Guide, and online sites like Huffington Post. He’s also worked as a TV producer for Breakfast TV and The Marilyn Denis Show. You can follow him at @nelliebranco.

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