We reached out to travel writer Andrew Collins to write some pieces for us about travelling the world as a member of the LGBTQIA2+ community. He is an incredibly accomplished writer and wrote Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA, which earned a 1996 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. So if you care to find out about the best destinations in Mexico for lgbtq+ travellers, rich history, and awesome travel tips, then read on! And view his last piece with us about LGBTQ+ road tripping through the USA here.
Mexico has no shortage of destinations with vibrant queer communities. As with the rest of North America, the country has become steadily more progressive on LGBTQ issues over the past several decades and is a generally quite accepting country today, and this is especially so in larger cities and touristy areas. Despite some opposition from the more conservative voices of this predominantly Catholic country, gay rights have moved steadily forward over the past half century.
Many of the country’s most prominent indigenous communities have embraced who identify as gay and transgender for generations. More recently, and with relatively little resistance, Mexico passed a federal law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2003, and marriage and adoption rights were extended to same-sex couples in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The national Visit México tourism office along with many regional tourist boards enthusiastically promote the country as LGBTQ welcoming, and the mountainous state of Jalisco is an especially welcoming and popular state in this regard. My partner and I, who are based in Mexico City, love traveling to Jalisco because it’s home to an affordable and richly historic city with a vibrant LGBTQ scene, Guadalajara, and in coastal Jalisco we can enjoy one of the top gay beach resort destinations in the world, Puerto Vallarta.
Together, these cities are perfect for a 7- to 10 days of travel. Both are served by major airports with plenty of flights to Mexico City as well as several US and Canadian cities, and it’s also easy to find inexpensive flights between the two. But I’m also partial to road-tripping between the two, either by car or bus. If you’re driving your own car, the windy and rugged six- to seven-hour drive via Highways 70 and 544 passes through some amazing mountain scenery and a handful of charming and historic towns, including—in order from east to west—Talpa de Allende (reached via a short side road), Mascota, and the colonial mining town of San Sebastián del Oeste. If you go this route, leave early in the morning and prepare for a leisurely experience—just be sure to time things so that you’re arriving in Puerto Vallarta before sundown, as this road is curvy and steep in places and not advisable in the dark.
There’s a faster alternate route, part of it along a partially completed toll highway that will save you at least a couple of hours—it passes through Jala and Compostela en route to the coast in Nayarit, from which you can continue along an easy stretch of road south and Bahia de Banderas into Puerto Vallarta. It’s more efficient but a bit less interesting. And if you don’t want to make this drive but up for saving some money and enjoying the scenery, you can also travel from Guadalajara by bus for about $25 to $30. In terms of weighing the pros and cons, keep in mind that you don’t need a car to get around Guadalajara, which has efficient and inexpensive Uber service and has a very pedestrian-friendly city center, but a car is handy in Puerto Vallarta, as it allows you the freedom to explore some other cool areas up and down the coast, such as Boca de Tomatlan and Sayulita. So however you decide to get to Puerto Vallarta, if you plan to explore a bit, consider renting a car there.
If Mexico City is often compared with New York City for its immensity and sheer variety of things to see and do, Guadalajara—especially in terms of its highly visible and outgoing queer scene—is sometimes referred to as Mexico’s San Francisco. Many of the city’s many gay bars, cafes, guest houses, and shops—including long-running LGBTQ nightspots like Caudillos, Babel, and California’s Bar—are in the historic Centro district, in and around Calle Prisciliano Sanchez, and just a 10-minute walk from the cultural heart of the city, Plaza de Armas. About 3 kilometers west of here, you’ll reach Zona Rosa, a second, newer and less-concentrated but somewhat more trendy cluster of LGBTQ-oriented or -friendly clubs and other businesses. Top hangouts here include Envy and La Terraza de Chapu. And if you visit in late June through early July, you can attend one of Latin America’s most dynamic LGBTQ festivals, Guadalajara Pride.
Situated in the mountains at about a mile above sea level, this rapidly growing city of about 1.4 million is a cultural hub known for tequila, amazing food, traditional arts and crafts, mariachi, and a wealth of beautifully restored Spanish colonial buildings. It’s also relatively affordable—I find it costs about half of what I might spend in Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta for the same caliber of food and lodgings.
Definitely spend some time in the Centro Historico, seeing stunning architectural landmarks like Teatro Degollado opera house, the 16th-century cathedral, and the outstanding Museo Regional de Guadalajara, and do not miss Hospicio Cabañas, an 18th-century former hospital that contains breathtaking ceiling and wall murals by renowned early 20th-century painter José Clemente Orozco. Other areas of the city well worth exploring include Zapopan, a trendy neighborhood filled with hip restaurants and fine galleries, and an easy 20-minute Uber ride away, the Spanish Colonial community of Tlaquepaque, which is rife with studios and shops selling fine pottery and crafts, and also a lovely place for a leisurely lunch on a sidewalk terrace.
A rather sleepy fishing town in the early 1960s when John Huston shot the adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, that memorable Richard Burton and Ava Gardner film is often credited with having turned Puerto Vallarta into one of Pacific Mexico’s top resort destinations. More than 280,000 people live here now, including a huge number of LGBTQ folks from around the world. PV’s gay heart is the historic, beachside Zona Romantica neighborhood, which is just a short stroll from the great restaurants of the colorful Centro district. Within just a few blocks you’ll find dozens of queer bars—many with attractive terraces or roof decks—along with several high-profile hotels and condos stretching along the beach.
Although Puerto Vallarta can definitely be a party destination, it’s also great for treating yourself to relaxed romantic getaway, simply lazing away at Playa de los Muertos gay beach overlooking the bay, or pursuing any number of recreational activities—numerous outfitters in town offer snorkeling and whale- and dolphin-watching cruises, as well as ziplining, horseback, and hiking treks in the lush mountains that form the city’s backdrop. Popular year-round, PV is especially popular—though more expensive—during the December to April high season. However, if it’s socializing with fellow queer folks that you’re up for, consider visiting during the last week in May, when the Puerto Vallarta Pride celebration takes place and features more than a week or parties, cultural events, movie screenings, art shows, and other—mostly open-air—gatherings.