Where the Boys Are
When the perma-tan starts to fade, the gay crowd not only flies south, it migrates in style
By Doug Wallace
What sandy spot will your hard-earned Pink Dollar take you to this winter? Will you research how gay-friendly your next tropical destination is before you bolster its economy?
As a card-carrying member of the Pink Chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, my quest was to seek out quiet comfort, and I found it in spades in Riviera Nayarit, the province on the Pacific side of Mexico just north of Jalisco, one of only a handful of regions with tourism boards actually on the hunt for more gay tourists.
Although Mexico suffers from a continuing spate of unfortunate news, Riviera Nayarit remains relatively unruffled and, to be honest, a little sleepy. Eco-friendliness top of mind, the area is slowly building on it’s level of creature comforts, with new condos, retreats and hotels offering everything nearby Puerto Vallarta can (except the drag queens), but in a much more understated, relaxed and rejuvenating way.
One thing you’ll notice is that eating healthy isn’t the first thing to fly out the window at the drop of a suitcase. No buckets of beer around the pool at 11 in the morning, no hot-and-cold-running hamburgers. This region knows how to treat it’s collective stomach.
HIGH LUXURY, LOW IMPACT
At the Four Seasons Punta Mita, part of a 1,500-acre gated peninsula of cool condos, white sand and golf carts, they say it with ceviche. Gorgeous octopus and shimp ceviche, generous and delicious, served with such amazing salsa you almost want to crawl into the bowl.
Just 45 minutes north of PV, the peaceful hotel has all those little touches the Four Seasons brand is known for the world over: a sunglass cleaner trolling the pools, an iced cappucino when you least expect it, a tequila sommelier, Le Crueset pots at breakfast—you get the picture.
A biologist on site works to find ways to conserve and preserve the surroundings on an ongoing basis. And if you’re not dodging baby turtles on the beach, basking at the Apuane Spa or letting the infinity pool blend into the Pacific, you can opt for the casual, “wild” relaxation ideas, including horseback riding in the jungle or big game fishing. One of the golf courses comes with an amphibious golf cart for hole 3B, the only natural island in the world that is a golf hole.
CARRY ON UP THE COAST
A pit-stop at Hotel Des Artistes Del Mar, also on the Punta Mita peninsula, will also yield culinary fun in the shape of Theirry Blouet’s Café des Artistes, a companion to the super-top-notch spot of the same name in PV. There’s also a new rooftop bar/restaurant there if you’re not yet tired of the view of Banderas Bay. As if.
On the north side of the peninsula, the 250-acre Imanta Resort is also eco-sensitive in it’s attention to the delicate mix of forest, mountains, jungle and coastline. And when you’re not in the forest, make sure to hit the lookout Observatory that bills itself as “the most romantic bar in the world.”
“Discovered” in the 60s as a surfing haven, the little town of Sayulita is a calm and collected enclave for a little boarding and authentic Mexican cooking, even if it’s something as simple as a fish taco. Lots of little bed and breakfasts to choose from here, and you may just spot local Kyan Douglas, former salon wizard of Queer Eye, walking the dog.
Authentic adventuring and maybe a little bird-watching can be found two hours north in the famous mangroves at La Tovara National Park near San Blas. Find more than 600 different species of birds, seasonal baby crocodiles, pellicans, terns, egrets, blue heron, ocelots, the works. A quick boat tour through the watery maze of vegetation and wildlife will remind you of every prison escape movie ever made. If you do venture north this far, a truly fine meal awaits you at El Delfin Restaurant, a gem hidden in the back of the Garza Canela Hotel. Betty VÃ¡zquez, truly the Nayarit region’s unsung hero of Mexican cuisine, exhibits her magic; a subtlety of flavour manipulation that’s more than inspiring.
STRIKE A POSE
If your idea of bliss is to fall asleep in your very own open-air treehouse after a day of yoga on the beach and a Thai massage, the Haramara Retreat may be just the ticket. “My guests do not want to stay in big hotels,” says owner Sajeela de la Borbolla, who has woven together a stunning but simple health hideaway right near Sayulita. “We have 12 acres here. That’s plenty big enough.” A total back-to-nature and self-awareness experience from start to finish, Haramara (meaning “mother sea”) boasts yoga rooms with 360-degree vistas, a team of creative chefs, plus visiting yoga instructors from around the world.
“My idea is to integrate the resort into nature in an intelligent way,” says de la Borbolla, whose previous resort near Tulum was destroyed by a hurricaine. Open-air cabanas have a distinct air of romance, appointed in rustic furniture and oil-burning lamps. This is the way to relax.
Further harmony and health-conscious holiday fun can be had at the opulent Taheima Resort & Spa, which opened in May 2010. Quickly becoming a Trip Advisor favourite, this gated retreat in Nuevo Vallarta hosts up to 350 guests in one- to three-bedroom suites.
Once again, this is not a swim-up-bar place, especially if you’re spending the afternoon meditating or doing Pilates. In addition to yoga, dance, painting and pottery, there’s a full list of holistic practises as well, including Tai Chi and Chi Gong. An authentic Temazcal sweat lodge sits nearby to help cleanse mind, body and spirit. Finishing touches are currently going on a new 2,000 square-metre spa with 18 treatment rooms.
Simple Mexican cuisine goes back to its roots here, but in a healthier incarnation, thanks to Chef Laurent Delorme, who tailors the menus to include “anti-cancer” elements, particularly the absense of sugar. “Get rid of all processed food and processed sugar,” says Delorme, who is big on the agave nectar, avocado oil (“full of all the Omegas!”) and fresh ingredients. A three-hour Chef’s Table cooking demonstration for up to 12 people is both tantalizing and fun.
After that, you’re guaranteed to be in bed early, exhausted from the fresh air, clean living and exercise. But if not, Puerto Vallarta isn’t that far away in a cab if you need to get your gay on.
WHEN TO GO
Things are really low key in October if you need your space, but ideally November to April is the best time to go. September is shoot-a-cannon quiet, with hotel workers referring to “Septiembre” as “Septi-hambre,” “hambre” meaning “hunger.” Skip summertime completely, as it’s so humid, people sweat in the shower. Seriously.