Thursday, 18 August 2011


The catch of the day at the Four Seasons Punta Mita -- and the fish was pretty good too! (All photos by Richard Burnett)

"I’ll snort a line of coke off his ass!" an American reporter cracked about the lithe, hot men in Puerto Vallarta as a bunch of shvitzing international travel journalists – including myself – enjoyed ice-cold Pacificos atop the mountainous Haramara Retreat on the Riviera Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

"How about champagne and Valium?" someone else piped up.

One journalist (and doctor from Mexico City) rated Cialis and Viagra-fuelled hard-ons four out of four. "[But] I didn’t bring my prescription pad!"

The Ali McGraw room at Haramara
All this fabulous unholiness took place in the middle of a holistic retreat made famous by owner Sajeela Delaborbolle, her staff (including Liliane, the back-pain specialist hired by Russia’s Vladimir Putin) and her famous guests, including regulars like Hollywood star Ali McGraw.

"Is there anybody there now?" McGraw asked Sajeela before she flew in to Puerto Vallarta last year. "No? Then I’m coming!"

Puerto Vallarta has long been one of the world’s Top Ten choice gay destinations. Now, with its international airport, it is also the southern entry point to Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, which tourism officials here have steadily been developing since 2002 with their long-term Tourism Corridor program for Puerto Vallarta and the state of Nayarit.

The Riviera Nayarit is all about "sustainable tourism." In other words, green ecotourism. And the hotels, spas and retreats are all moving in.

Yarn painter Cilan Valadez in Sayulita
At the Haramara Retreat – one stop on this first gay press trip in the history of Mexico – Sajeela told me, "You have to go to Africa or Bora Bora to find unspoiled beauty like this. [Many] people no longer want to go to places that are destroying nature."

So we found ourselves in the small town of San Blas ("Sandblast!" one journalist quipped) where the local La Tovara National Park boasts over 600 different species of birds (including hawks, pelicans, blue herons and papa jays) living in mangroves filled with giant crocodiles. Though the meanest creatures in the mangroves are by far the black mosquitoes!

January is the most recommended time of year to visit La Tovara National Park, and whale watching season (notably humpback whales) in the huge Banderas Bay – which stretches the length of the Riviera Nayarit – is from Dec. 15 to April 15.

El Delfin in San Blas
San Blas is also home to renowned Mexican chef Betty Vazquez Gonzalez’s awesome restaurant El Delfin (part of the Hotel Garza Canola) that is a regular featured guest in Puerto Vallarta’s upcoming 17th annual International Gourmet Festival  in November.

"We have to remind people that Mexican food is not as spicy as they think," Betty explains, whose side dish of chile de arbol peppers on orange slices is to die for. "Too much spice ruins the flavour and your tongue."
About her hometown – population 3,000 – Betty points out San Blas was a big gay tourism destination in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "San Blas is like an old boyfriend that you never stop loving," Betty says.

Clearly, Mexico has come a long way. This press trip was the country’s first-ever gay press trip. I met and hung out with Alejandro Reyes Esparza, the 20-something editor-in-chief of Mexico’s first-ever gay publication, the glossy monthly OHM magazine. And last December, Mexico City legalized gay marriage – marriages now recognized in every other jurisdiction in Mexico. (Mexico City marked its 1,000th gay marriage on August 14, 2011.)

"You don’t [even] have this in America!" Alejandro said.

Taheima Wellness Resorts and Spa
But just like in Canada and America, Mexico still has its fair share of homophobes, like the governor of Jalisco (the state is also home to Puerto Vallarta), Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, who opened his big fat mouth the week I was there and told a forum on family in Guadalajara, "Marriage is [between] a man and a woman. The other [gay marriage], as they say, grosses me out."

El Informador now reports Marquez has apologized in a letter addressed to Mexico’s Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, further south, we stopped in the classic ex-pat-filled beach town of Sayulita (great surfing here) where you will have no trouble finding the art gallery of yarn painter Cilan Valadez, son of the Mexican legend Mariano Valadez, both of whom are preserving Huichol culture (they are decendents of the Aztecs who built Mexcaltitán, a small man-made island-city off the Pacific coast, accessible by boat from La Batanza).

Four Seasons Punta Mita 
has old colonial feel
I also stayed at the Taheima Wellness Resorts and Spa where my suite was three times the size of my Montreal apartment. General manager Oliver Coupat – who has been in the hotel business for almost three decades – told me about my $1,500 per night suite: "When you’re paying $40,000 per night, then something’s wrong! But celebrities are hard to work with. One of the hardest is Jennifer Lopez, who wants everything white."

The worst he’s ever worked with over the years? Coupat reveals Johnny Hallyday had a huge hotel bill after trashing his suite. "But," Coupat notes, "the house always wins."

Four Seasons Punta Mita 
bar has old colonial feel

My fave hotel on this trip was hands-down the very exclusive five-diamond, beach-front Four Seasons Hotel in Punta Mita, with one of the most gorgeous colonial-style bars I’ve ever seen. They pour a mean double-vodka too. And they perform same-sex commitment ceremonies here as well.

Like chef Betty Vazquez Gonzalez told me one evening, "Gay people brought their culture to our towns [along the Riviera Nayarit], they have showed us another way to live, and we respect them."

Visit Riviera Nayarit online at

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