Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Based on the sensational headlines, some might imagine Mexico is a destitute country where every citizen is either a member of drug cartel or racing to get across the border to the U.S. God forbid you actually consider visiting, considering the fear that an evil Latino is waiting around every corner to kidnap you, and, as a predominately Catholic country, there is no love for the gays. More outlaw wasteland than autumn getaway.
The truth, however, is that Mexico is an amazing country with a rich history and culture. Headlines that are often overlooked are the ones about the country's many World Heritage sites, award-winning chefs and internationally recognized museums.
While it has its poverty and drug problems, it also has a rapidly growing middle class and a GDP that ranks Mexico among the Top 15 countries worldwide, just below Canada and Australia.
Crime in Mexico, especially the country's high murder rate, gets a lot of deserved attention, but it's fairly isolated. Rarely do serious crimes involve tourists. Popular destinations such as Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands actually have higher murder rates per capita.
As for gay-friendliness – as the saying goes – we are everywhere, and Mexico is no exception. Certainly there are parts of the country where gay travelers might feel unwelcome or uncomfortable being out. But any country in the world might claim that sad reality.
A little navigation will direct the gay traveler to the beach resort cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen on the east coast and Puerto Vallarta on the west coast, where gay men and women have been enjoying beautiful shores for decades. Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, and Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city and the capital of the state of Jalisco, are also popular destinations for tourists and have large LGBT communities.
Notably, a significant sign of Mexico's progression on gay-rights occurred in March when Mexico City, the nation's capital and largest city, approved marriage equality. Mexico's Supreme Court backed the law in August, requiring that Mexico City's same-sex marriages be recognized in all 31 states.
(Photo by Stan Shebs)
Home to a very visible gay community, Mexico City actually operates a government-sponsored initiative to market the city as a gay-friendly destination.
''I often have guests who are shocked by the amount of culture, history and hospitality in Mexico,'' says Francisco Aguiler, of Gay Tours Mexico. ''From our beautiful beaches and natural attractions, to Aztec and Mayan ruins, to colonial villages and modern urban cities, Mexico has so much to discover.''
Aguiler, who has more than 10 years of experience in the travel industry, believes that visitors who have never been to Mexico or who have concerns about visiting should consider a gay tour. His company, for example, was founded in 1998, making it one of the first LGBT travel agencies in Mexico. Gay Tours Mexico offers group travel to all parts of the country.
Olivia, the world's largest travel company catering to lesbians, has also been offering Mexico for many years. Next up for autumn is a six-night Puerto Vallarta vacation, Oct. 27 to Nov. 8, renting out the beach resort's Hard Rock Hotel. The all-inclusive week starts at $2,299 per person.
Already planning for fall of 2013, Olivia has scheduled a seven-night escape to Club Med Ixtapa. Located on Mexico's Pacific coast, the resort recently underwent a $20 million upgrade that includes refurbished rooms, three resort-exclusive restaurants and a new spa. The all-inclusive, early bird starting price is $1,229 per person.
For the beach boys, Atlantis Events offers Club Atlantis Vallarta Nov. 3 to 10 at Vallarta Palace. Already sold out, however, the best chance to join the fellas is a waitlist. The all-inclusive stay starts at about $1,400.
While these particular trips don't include airfare, getting to Mexico is pretty easy. Connections can get a sun-seeker to Puerto Vallarta, while nonstop flights from Washington Dulles International Airport hit Mexico City via Aeromexico or United Airlines. AirTran Airways offers nonstop service to Cancun from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. And while American Airlines won't take you from the D.C. area to Mexico nonstop, the airline is offering discounted flights on tickets to Mexico to celebrate 70 years of service to the country.