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Few places in the world welcome LGBTQ visitors as readily as Puerto Vallarta. We’ve been visiting this seaside Mexican village for decades, and there has always been a large gay community of proud Mexican residents and visitors from abroad. Now as the LGBTQ community has moved even more into parenthood, same-sex parents and their kids are greeted with warm smiles and open arms in Puerto Vallarta.
Our family recently spent a long weekend at the Westin Puerto Vallarta (25,000 Marriott Rewards points per night), and fell even more in love with this city, its residents and all the wonderful ways to enjoy its beauty and fun personality.
You can easily get to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) from many US gateways. Look for paid or award seats on Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle; American Airlines from Dallas–Fort Worth; Delta from Salt Lake City, Atlanta and New York; Frontier Airlines from Chicago and Denver; United from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and Newark.
Once you get to Puerto Vallarta, here are six things that LGBTQ families will enjoy.
1. Beaches — Not Blue Chairs
If you’ve ever been to Puerto Vallarta as a member of the LGBTQ community and friends, you may well have heard of the beach club called Blue Chairs. This end of Playa Los Muertos beach is more than a little racy — fun as an adult without kids, but maybe not cool as a parent with kids along.
There are many gorgeous beaches besides this one, where LGTBQ families are welcomed with zero issues. Along the Malecon (waterfront boardwalk), there are several places to throw your towel in the sand and wade into the very calm, shallow waters. A little ways south of downtown, Mismaloya Beach is gorgeous and secluded with beach chairs for rent (for about a dollar) and table service for food and drinks. North of town, the beaches at Nuevo Vallarta are long, wide and unspoiled. Here you can take long walks, make sand castles, look for interesting shells and more.
Cost: Free to cheap, depending on what you rent/spend
If you go:
- Bring some money to rent chairs, purchase drinks, etc.
- Learn to say “no gracias” to all the vendors selling trinkets on the beach.
- Say “si gracias” to a nice foot massage (about $20 for 30 minutes of bliss)
2. Release Baby Turtles
Many years ago, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta worked with the local government to establish its own turtle conservancy. The wide beach in front of the hotel had long been a nesting ground for green sea turtles, which would crawl up on the sand and lay their eggs. With so many predators (and people) nearby, the hotel realized a need to protect this species and their hatchlings. Now, for free, anyone can visit the turtle conservancy at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to see the hatchery. If you are lucky like we were, you can participate in releasing the baby turtles in the ocean for their first taste of saltwater.
We arrived at sunset, the best time for hatchling releases. On the beach, each of our girls was given a baby turtle to hold and name. At the signal of our guide, the girls set the babies down at the edge of the surf and waited. A wave came up and took one, and then the other, out to sea for their first swims. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and surprisingly emotional.
If you go:
- Check the calendar; hatching season is from May to December.
- Call ahead to see if there are baby turtles to release that evening.
- Dress casually, your feet may get a little sandy and wet.
3. Downtown Food Tour
Puerto Vallarta is known for its fresh seafood and local cuisine, often served on the street from carts and stands. Back in the day when we visited Puerto Vallarta as a couple pre-kids, we would find fishermen on the beach with their daily catch. They would clean the freshly caught fish, put it on a skewer, and cook it over a grill located right on the sand! But which of these street and sand food purveyors to trust now, especially with kids in tow? That’s where Vallarta Food Tours comes in, leading food tours of downtown to the most reputable and delicious spots.
We visited nine stops in total, all uniquely serving their own specialties. For example, Mariscos Cisneros served up a fantastic jalapeño-stuffed taco, filled with seafood, crispy melted cheese and salsa. At Guerro Mariscos, we sampled their famous dorado ceviche, topping a crisp corn tostado with a slice of avocado on top. At a seemingly random street cart, we slurped delicious aguas frescas. I liked the traditional concoction made from barley milk and spices similar to horchata (which is made from rice milk). Our kids preferred the limeade and yerba buena (local mint) variety.
Cost: $49.99 for adults, $33 for kids
If you go:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes, it’s a good hike.
- These places are totally kid-friendly, and will often supply other fare if your kids don’t like the selection.
- No need to bring drinking water. The guide will supply bottles for all.
- Probably not best for stroller-age kids.
4. Las Caletas Beach Hideaway
Each morning and afternoon, a boat from Vallarta Adventures leaves the marina for the private beach paradise of Las Caletas. We experienced the morning tour, which left the dock at 8:30am and traveled south along the picturesque coastline. When the boat arrived about 40 minutes later at Las Caletas, we could not believe our eyes. It’s a tropical paradise outfitted specifically for families.
There are areas for parents to chill in hammocks, kids to enjoy their own water playground and teens to hang out on a waterslide or zipline. All sorts of cool animals reside here, including a flock of green parrots that fly overhead and then land on the beach, much to the delight of nearby guests. Even the restaurants are great, and everything is included in the ticket price — even cocktails.
Cost: From $139 per person
If you go:
- Bring towels; they aren’t supplied.
- Sit up front on the boat; the crew performs a fun show on the return voyage.
- Tips are appropriate for the boat crew and servers at the beach.
5. Dinner With Elizabeth Taylor
OK, not really, but sort of. Casa Kimberly is a luxury boutique hotel that is located in the Puerto Vallarta home of the late Elizabeth Taylor. As you might expect, it’s luxurious and elegant, and Iguana Restaurant there serves delicious food with impeccable service. If you have small kids, this may not be for you — our teen girls loved it, and so did we.
You might want to dress up a little bit for a very nice meal. We were there for more than two hours and in addition to the cuisine, the mariachi band at Casa Kimberly is incredible. They are like nothing we have in Southern California, and were honestly the best we have ever seen or heard. With at least six violinists joining the usual trumpet and others, these mariachis had golden voices. When they serenaded the table, all of us nearly swooned.
Cost: Entrees from $20
If you go:
- Check the dress code. This is not the place for swim trunks and flip-flops.
- Get the house special cocktail: a mango margarita with a spicy rim.
- Tip the mariachis because, well, they are really worth it.
6. Swim With Dolphins
Several places around the world invite visitors to “swim with the dolphins,” but that is typically done with captive dolphins in an enclosure and we’d prefer to not go that route. Swimming with dolphins in Puerto Vallarta means the real deal. Our captain and guide from Wildlife Adventures motored our little boat north into a pod of 60+ dolphins, all living comfortably in the open bay off the coast of Nuevo Vallarta. Careful not to disturb, we slipped into the warm waters with snorkel gear, flippers and a GoPro underwater camera.
All around us, groups of wild dolphins were curious enough to venture close. Without touching us, they swam over to see what we were up to, getting so near we could look them in the eyes. We could even hear their squeaky voices as they vocalized to each other underwater. Our kids were almost in tears they were so happy!
Cost: $68 for adults, $43 for kids
If you go:
- Bring towels and sunscreen; the tour operator doesn’t supply them.
- It’s a small boat, so if anyone is prone to getting seasick, prepare with Bonine or Dramamine in advance.
- If you don’t have an underwater camera, get a waterproof protective case for your phone. The photo ops are great below the surface.
Yes, it is safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta, but just as you would not wander into a bad neighborhood in your own hometown, use normal common sense here. Almost everyone speaks English, so don’t fret if your Spanish is not up to par. We don’t recommend renting a car as taxis are very inexpensive. However, do negotiate the fare before getting into the car as haggling often results in not paying the first price quoted.
Want to know more about Puerto Vallarta? Here are some resources:
- Beachfront Basic: A Review of the Sheraton Buganvilias Puerto Vallarta
- Aiming for Average: Hyatt Ziva All-Inclusive Resort in Puerto Vallarta
- Hotel Review: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
Know before you go.
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