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Mrs McRae’s Travel Diary

Monday, 01 Feb 2010

Location: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

MapOur Beloved Puerto Vallarta

Now that I am seeing more of Mexico I agree that Puerto Vallarta (affectionately referred to as PV by many) isn’t the cream of the crop, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. We first visited this gay friendly beach town in Feb. 2008, where we were taken back by its charm and feel good vibe. Unlike Cancun or Acapulco, PV has pretty much kept its old town community feel. Although you will see many OXO stations and a Hard rock café within the neighborhoods of these windy cobbled streets you will find tons of authentic stores and restaurants.

I was brought back to PV this year to get married. Yes, to a woman and no, gay marriage isn’t legal there yet. Although it has just passed in MC, we wanted it to be destination wedding and thought PV would be the perfect place. Without boring those who don’t have any interest and still giving those who may want a big fat gay wedding of their own some advice, I will just say. It was perfect!! We used the best and cutest of them all as our wedding planner- none other than Zach Campbell with Eventful Moments PV. I couldn’t have been happier! He impressed me in ways no man has before, and by that I mean he made my dream wedding come true. I will include more details in my “what I recommend” section for location and planning.

Puerto Vallarta is broken down into what I see as four main zones, although you can cross through them without even knowing it. There is the Marina, which is about 5 minutes cab ride from the airport. It is on the highway which is overcrowded with “mega American” hotels that take up whole blocks and sky lines. This is what I would say was more of the spring break side of PV, although I really never stayed out so far so it may be fabulous?

Then there is Downtown- this is getting more into the beach town feel. A beautiful boardwalk runs along side downtown which you can walk from start to finish within about a hour and find the best private beach spots away from venders and people in general. This area is very “touristy” in parts, but if you walk down on the beach you can forget anyone is even there. The board walk is lined with amazing sculptures and art work. Lots of fancy bars and restaurants, as well as some more expensive souvenir shops. In the heart of downtown there is the town square where you will find a Starbucks (the friendliest I’ve ever been into),a community center, and a beautiful church.

Next to downtown is Old Town- this is where we rented an apt for a month (see “Hotels I Recommend“). As you turn away from the sea and start making your way down the stony streets you will see many smaller shops, cheaper and more authentic restaurants, taco carts and our beloved gay flags raised from corners of bars and clubs. I loved this area!! It felt safe as a woman and as a dyke. Although you won’t see many sisters you will see the support for the guys. There are a handful of trendy clothing stores filled with Diesel shirts and super short shorts. Old Town also has a neighborhood feeling to it as it doesn’t house many big hotels. Just foot steps away is the Romantic Zone (and remember these are my own interpretations of the zoning., I am sure some will disagree on which is where and that’s the fun of it. Even some of the maps disagree). Romantic Zone or “Zona Romantica’ is adorable and is the true “gay area” of PV. The streets are filled with cute restaurants, martini bars and hot guys. Now I don’t want people to get it wrong:: PV is not the gay destination of the world, nor of Mexico as a whole. However, they definitely have areas that feel very Gay friendly. They have salons, spas and strip clubs that are all marketed to the gay community. . There’s a lot more gays in this area than straight so it felt comfortable for me.. However ,PV has yet to catch the eye of the lesbians so if you’re looking for hot dykes in bikinis, you won’t find them in PV. To give you an idea, Mary and I probably met no more than six lesbians in the entire month (that was until we had a wedding and brought in a busload). But gay men are in mass production and all shapes, age, and sizes so have fun boys!!

The other 50% of tourists who are taking over PV is the middle- aged retirees. I noticed this a lot more this trip than our last. They are everywhere, aged from about 55-75 in groups of four to eight and here for months on end. Some have time shares and others have been renting the same hotel every winter for the past eight years. They don’t seem to mind us and we don’t seem to mind them, but I definitely felt at times like PV might turn into the next Florida if the gays aren’t careful.


So, regrettably I didn’t check out a lot of things I could have in PV (remember I was planning a wedding) but I definitely found my favorites and wanted to share with fellow visitors to the area who might be interested in my opinion. As a late twenties, openly gay woman all of my recommendations are “gay friendly”. As I am also very “straight friendly”, these places are also “straight enough” you could take your mother to (well may be a couple aren’t but they are obvious enough to pick out from 100 feet away).

MY RECOMMENDATIONS

WHERE TO STAY:

SAN CARLOS HOTEL- Old Town
We stayed for a month for about $900 US. This included a bedroom with air con, balcony, TV, en suite bathroom, living room, and small kitchen with fridge and oven (you can request a microwave). There is a free daily maid service and wifi throughout the hotel. Another impressive entity is the gallon bottle of water you get for free, every time you run out you get another one.. fabulous!! This hotel is basic, but in a amazing location. It is just off Constitution street (which is a good one to know), 3 blocks from the beach and bus stops are within two blocks or so. There are tons of restaurants within a couple of blocks, as well as gay bars/clubs and the best taco stands in PV.

I absolutely loved this place for what it was. There are only two guest levels and I’m guessing a max of about 50 rooms/ mini apartments. There is a small pool and lounging area that gets taken up quickly, so grab a spot early. The staff are very attentive and welcoming but get ready to pull out that Spanish dictionary if you are rusty because they don’t speak English. This was something I liked, because my wife speaks it well enough, but I’m not sure how far I would have got even checking in if she wasn’t there.

The only real “con” that I have to mention is the noise-it’s loud! With the hustle and bustle of the taxi stand outside and the night clubs on the weekend, you may need ear plugs on occasions. Nothing unbearable but definitely noisy if you are used to the quiet and still streets of suburbia. Myself only knowing city life, it was no issue.

Note: Be cautious and gentle with the plumbing. Like with Mexico in general, avoid flushing anything in the toilet aside from what should be in there. No toilet paper or feminine products should be deposited; otherwise expect some embarrassment!

HOTEL YASMIN-Old Town
A friend of ours flew in from SF for the wedding and stayed here. The location is perfect and even closer to Romantic Zone and the beach area than ours. It is very basic and less of an apartment style and more like a hotel. It’s only a block from the beach and around the corner from Romantic Zone. The price is good and will run you about $46 USD per night. The best thing of all is it is directly next door to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in town-Café de Olla. Not surprisingly, she did report the only “con” was the noise as this is a buzzing block and area.

HOTEL PRESIDENTE INTERCONTINENTAL- Up the hill
I’m not too sure what “zone” this is in, but it is only a $10 cab ride or a 20minute, $7 peso bus ride from Old Town. We booked our room block here for about 20 of our closest friends and family for the wedding. The grounds of PIC are breathe taking. It has a giant pool with two smaller kid’s pools attached to either end. A completely private beach with some of the clearest water I’ve seen, however, I would warn novice swimmers about the rather big waves and undercurrent. Be sure to be a confident swimmer before embracing these waters! I, who thought of myself as a pro, was quickly wiped out on my first day, spat out onto the beach with minor bumps and scratches, a ton of salt water in my ears and nose, and sand everywhere. It was just by luck that I caught the top half of my bikini in time to surface.

PIC has many amenities to speak of: there is a fitness room along with a tennis court, a spa and conference room (really, a computer room). The rooms are nice, and are all ocean front with balconies. There is a buffet style restaurant and also a pool food bar that serves up lunch and drinks. The hotel staff are very friendly and speak English, which was great. The sad part is the running of the establishment, which is the most important. I was on many occasions embarrassed for my guests. This hotel has the ability to be a four or even five star hotel but unfortunately, even the master suit that I stayed in had its fall backs-like the room phone not working, leaking roof, and incomplete room service.

On the lobby level, they have the main restaurant for the hotel called “Alfredo”, which looks like it was or could be a very upscale Italian restaurant, however much like the many down falls of this hotel it is neither managed, staffed or catered to a high standard. They were clearly not prepared for my party of eight one evening, to put it politely. From the little things like forgetting someone’s order to the actual quality of food, this restaurant is a little bit of a joke.

I must add that the last two days of our stay I could tell an effort was being made to leave a good impression. I appreciated them writing in the sand recognizing our honeymoon and the rose petals on the bed on the wedding night, but maybe it was just a little too late.

WHERE TO EAT:

CAFÉ DE OLLA-Old Town/Romantic Zone

This was by far one of our favorites and if you see the hour long line that trails down the road to a skinny side walk, you will see that everyone love Café de Olla as well. It is very traditional, well priced and everything is home made. It is no exaggeration when I say that if you turn up any time after 6pm you will be waiting in line for at least an hour. That is, unless you have a party of five or six, in which case they will be able to accommodate you quicker. Unfortunately the couples are the last to be seated as there are few two-seaters. You can cut your wait time in half if you make reservations in advance, but don’t expect to walk straight in as you will see a similar sized line for the reservations.

I have tried many of the dishes and have devoured each one. The seafood platter special is incredible and more than enough for two. The drinks are also made to perfection. I became obsessed with their strawberry daiquiris, as they are the perfect combination of sweetness and real fruit

Café de Olla is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all meals are amazing! Note: They are closed Tuesday.

I recommend Café de Olla to everyone who visits PV!

BACALAO- Old Town

This unique fish bar won our hearts and stomachs with their “panko” breaded fish and garlic shrimp combo during Super Ball. The staff are made up of the three owners, who are welcoming, engaging and great fun! Amazing energy here, and their margaritas and pina colandas will not disappoint. They are also known for the “dynamite” which is a mixture of fish, sea food, rice and cheese. My wife, Mary, who is known to judge a restaurant on their chips & salsa rates Bacalao as having the best! Also the “crunchy” salad is a delightful appetizer, which has a killer dressing to go with it.

We love Bacalao and I recommend it to everyone who wants to meet some cool people in PV. Also a great spot to catch a sports game because they have several big screen TVs. Also worth mentioning- Fernando is the man!! Extremely handsome and the sweetest of guys, he even gave us his parents phone # in case we needed anything whilst traveling through Mexico City. He is a true gentleman- love him!

BANANA CANTINA- Romantic Zone
This hidden gem caught our eye two years ago and we haven’t stopped thinking of it since. We even had our rehearsal dinner there and couldn’t have been happier. The restaurant is uniquely decorated with deep red walls and over sized roosters. Once you meet Debbie, the owner, you will appreciate the interior design even more as it is a true reflection of her.

We first became obsessed with BC because of their mouth watering cocktails-they still hold the crown for the best banana margarita, not to mention their espresso martinis … awwwwww!!!! I have tried almost everything on the menu and have never been disappointed. I would recommend trying whatever special they have for the evening. We were lucky to the pasta and shrimp special, along with a few others and they were always the best.

If you eat here for dinner, you will meet Debbie who is always circling around each table introducing herself and making sure you are having the best evening ever. I can’t get enough of Debbie- she is addictive. It was a honor having her meet all our closets friends and family.

Oh, and top off your night with a CHOCO BANANA-a frozen banana on a stick, dipped in chocolate and rolled in toppings of your choice.. omg, to die for!

PALOMAR DE LOS GONZELEZ-above Old Town/Romantic Zone-on the mountain
This is the only restaurant we have been to that is a little off the beaten path of old town or downtown and it is well worth the $5 cab ride up the hill. The view is spectacular! Cut out of the hill side is this traditional style restaurant. This is the perfect spot for a romantic date as the setting is just incredible.
This place is fighting with Café de Olla for the best sea food platter in PV; we just couldn’t choose. It also has “flaming coffee” for desert which will impress any party or significant other. Get your camera ready and make sure you sit back in your chair because the flames can get pretty close..=)

BURRO’S BAR- Old Town/Romantic Zone- beach front
Happy hour is from 1-2pm and 7-8pm, enormous margaritas in plastic flute looking glasses are perfect for the feel good drink or two. However this place does come with a warning, if you choice a table near the water be ready for the vendors. This miniature strip of sand must have the most beach vendors in PV. You will be bugged every second with offerings of everything from nuts to pipes- it’s like sitting in the middle of a freakin flea market. If it didn’t house the best drink ever I would properly not have the patience but this drink is that good.

My favorite drink of all, and the one I discovered here is the MIAMI VICE!! Ladies, and those guys with a sweet tooth, you gotta try this drink!! Half pina colada and half strawberry daiquiri- it is like sex in a glass! Whose had the strawberry and cream frappacino from starbucks? Well, imagine a giant one of those with alcohol in it… omg!!!OMG!!

DEE”S COFFEE COMPANY-Romantic Zone
Gay coffee house whooo hooo! Dee;s has the best caramel latte in town, and it’s gay owned so show some love for Dee.

SMOOTHIE CYBER CAFÉ_ Romantic Zone
Omg..Jamba Juice has NOTHING on Smoothie Cyber Café!! They have, by far, the best smoothies I have EVER tried- awwww I would kill for one right now. They have an assortment of fruit combos- the yogurt ones are better in my opinion but who made me the smoothie queen? I did I did!.=) They are all mouth watering good. try every fruit combo, and remember they’re good for you!

Also important to mention is that this café has the best internet deal in town so sip on your smoothie while you’re reading my blog… perfect!

PIE IN THE SKY-Old Town
Love this place! It became my morning “must have” within about two visits, and anyone who knows me knows I’m a “venti, skimmed, extra hot caramel macchiato” kinda girl. Pie in the sky delighted my morning sweet tooth with their “mocha con leche light“, just over half the price of star bucks. We also indulged on one of there Valentine’s Day cake and it blow my mind!! Best chocolate sponge I have had since my childhood when I would get the Death by Chocolate cake at Pizza Express (the fellow Brits out there will KNOW what I’m talking about). This cake was the bomb!!

VIVA BAR-Romantic Zone
Let’s hear it for the gay martini bar, woooo hooooo! And 2-4-1 martini’s everyday- What?.. even better. Viva has a super cute, lounge feeling cabana outside which is perfect for a small group to completely take over, because we all know fun is gonna happen with martini’s, fluffy pillows, and over sized sofa’s…=)
They have a MASSIVE dance floor inside, although I’ve never seen it in action as I have tried to avoid the performance nights and relied on Viva as more of the chill out zone.

MANANA-Old Town
Ok, so Manana is the BIGGEST GAY CLUB in PV, and anyone who is anyone will be there on Saturday nights. But I still have a sour taste in my month from the first time we went when a delightful, smiley door man guaranteed us that it was a M & F gay club, I quote “Oh yeah, there’s about 50/50”. Pllleeesseee!! I saw maybe five woman all night and they were fag hags, not dykes. Again my lesbian sisters you will not be finding your future wife in this club, unless we hold a party there….=) I do like the club though, and the 20 plus flammin hotties who came in for our wedding spent every night there and had a blast. There are at least three rooms, including a roof top bar and a ‘blackout room’( don’t even get me started). It will make you feel like you are paying NY prices rather than Mexican fare as the entry fee will set you back $15 and a red bull and vodka can bankrupt you, but that’s the price we pay for a nice venue, good music and gorgeous, half naked guys dancing around us all night.