Mexico Don Pickens is owner of Casa Cupula, a luxury gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Published on April 27th, 2013 | by admin

Don Pickens is owner of Casa Cupula, a luxury gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

My Puerto Vallarta: Travel Tips from Don Pickens, Owner of Casa Cupula

Making the move to Puerto Vallarta was a gradual process for Don Pickens, who was born in Philadelphia, grew up in New Jersey and lived for several years in San Francisco. “There was never one day I moved to Puerto Vallarta,” he said, “rather it was less and less time in San Francisco and more and more in Puerto Vallarta, since we opened Casa Cupula in November 2002 until I sold my house in San Francisco in 2007.” Casa Cupula, in case you haven’t heard, is an upscale gay Puerto Vallarta hotel with a restaurant called Taste that’s open to the public.

Running his business has given Pickens the opportunity to get to know this Mexico beach destination quite well. Here, he shares some of his favorite findings and Puerto Vallarta travel tips.

What do you personally like best about living in Puerto Vallarta?
I think there is something primal about living near the ocean. I have always lived within a few miles of the sea, from the Delaware Bay in Philly to Elliot Bay in Seattle, to the San Francisco Bay to the Bay of Banderas. Perhaps it’s the feeling of freedom- that you are not cooped up on land but always have the ability to sail away at any time! Or maybe it’s just the beautiful Pacific sunsets.

The amazing thing about Vallarta is that in addition to the Bay, we have the mountains and jungle, among which Casa Cupula is nestled. I think it is incredible to wake up to breakfast watching the iguanas in the trees and walk four blocks to the beach. You can spend the day on the ocean, at the beach, in the mountains, or visiting one of our nearby towns — Sayulita, San Pancho, Yelapa, etc. — so you’re never bored for scenery. Of course if we didn’t have our marvelous climate, you can’t enjoy all this beauty. When I return to New Jersey to visit my Mom and family, it always seems too hot or too cold.

Puerto Vallarta has a lot of sophisticated dining options. Aside from your own hotel’s restaurant, what are some of your own personal favorite places places to eat, and what dishes do you recommend?
PV’s restaurant scene is always changing. Old favorites reinvent themselves and new places open. My personal favorites include Trio and their sister restaurant Vitea, which is on the Malecon [the recently expanded waterfront promenade; check out LatinFlyer’s video and photos here], so it affords the opportunity for people- and sunset-watching while dining outside. Trio’s gourmet food and high-end service is consistently excellent and has been one of the top restaurants in PV for over 10 years. As for a new location, as a local I enjoy India Gate, just one block off the Malecon, which serves genuine Indian food and has the best Naan! It’s nice to have access to different cuisines when you live here, so I enjoy ethnic options.

What is your own favorite way to spend a free day in the city?
If it’s in the city it’s either a day at Los Muertos Beach [which includes the gay beach], or a long walk with the dogs along the Malecon, possibly squeezing in a lunch or dinner at Vitea. Or a getaway to San Pancho, where the beach is wide and there are very few people, to watch the birds in the lagoon and enjoy the ocean breezes. On a day off, I find the need to seek some solitude, since we are attending to guests every day!

A living area in one of the guest suites at Casa Cupula in Puerto Vallarta.

A living area in one of the guest suites at Casa Cupula in Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta is known as Mexico’s gay-friendliest destination for international vacationers. Why do you think that is?
What are some of the most gay-friendly getaways in the world? PV. San Francisco. Sydney. Mykonos. Provincetown, Key West. What do we all have in common? We are all port cities with thriving tourism, where the people of the area are used to people of all walks of life, nationalities, and backgrounds who come to relax, unwind and be themselves. In the 60s they were often called artists’ communities, representing the fact that people who were somewhat out of the mainstream could thrive in such an open-minded environment.

The people of PV have grown up in a town that thrives on welcoming visitors, and when you’re making your living off of welcoming strangers, you get used to seeing some things that might otherwise be unusual for your culture. So whether you’re gay, black, white, Asian, old, young, fat, slim, or from any country, you’ll find a warm welcome here. I think that explains the history.

What “must-do” and “must-see” activities do you recommend for first-time LGBT visitors?
There is such a huge gay infrastructure — not only including bars and nightclubs, but also including quirky and unique businesses started by gay ex-pats, which make PV uniquely exciting. We say that PV is “Beyond Gay Friendly,” since being just “gay friendly” is very old hat here. Some of those businesses include the ChocoDiva’s chocolate shops, the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Trattoria Michel restaurant, Ocean Friendly Whale Watching, Diana’s Boat Tours and even our own Puerto Vallarta Men’s Chorus. All of these are great things to see and do while here.

 More Puerto Vallarta Travel Inspiration:
VIDEO: Mexican Music & Art on the New Malecón in Puerto Vallarta
VIDEO: Hotel Catedral in Puerto Vallarta (hotel review)
VIDEO: Sheraton Buganvilias Resort, Puerto Vallarta (hotel review)

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