Why Riviera Nayarit May Be The Best Destination For An Introduction To Mexico

Confession: I am a Mexico virgin.

After living in Southern California for 11 years, a mere few hours away from the border, I have never set foot on the vast territory known for its exotic locales, delicious cuisine and gorgeous beaches. Everything I learned about Mexico I learned from film and TV (just like any good pop culture junkie). Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic taught me to never attempt to smuggle party favors over the border. Babel demonstrated what would happen if I tried to smuggle Brad Pitt’s kids across the border. And then there was the first Sex And The City movie, which educated me on the dangers of opening your mouth while taking a shower (no Poughkeepsie-ing in my pants, thank you very much).

But that’s Hollywood for you. I knew the exotic country would have other wondrous features waiting for me when I journeyed down to Puerto Vallarta and visited Riviera Nayarit, but just how LGBT-friendly are these places? 

First off, the welcome sign on the side of the highway near the airport is decked out in rainbow letters. Check out Puerto Vallarta’s official website, and you’ll also be treated to a delightful display of color. And then there’s the all-inclusive resort at Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, my luxurious accommodations in Riviera Nayarit (right outside PV). Known for their fabulous amenities, each room comes with a two-person Jacuzzi and a minibar that’s far from mini: They’ve got whiskey, vodka and other top-shelf liquid goodies  stored away underneath the HDTV.

With a penchant for rock-’n’-roll puns (a “Champagne Supernova” cocktail mixer and a “Start Me Up” breakfast, anyone?), the HRH Vallarta is just one of the many all-inclusive getaways that are popping up on travelers’ radars. For more than 20 years, Hard Rock has excelled in service. And now, in these fast-paced 2010s, it’s catering to a diverse group of vacationseekers, including couples of all kinds—all blended together under one festive sky. With properties opening up in the Caribbean, like the one at Riviera Maya,  Hard Rock is aiming to stand out and redefine luxury.

Taking elements from its own exotic location and fusing them with some Hard Rock aesthetics and an upscale ambience, HRH Vallarta comes loaded with plenty to see, eat and do. In short, it’s a destination within a destination. 

Upon checking in, I was greeted with a glass of champagne at the front desk, and above me hung a collection of 2,800 album covers that formed a mosaic of legendary Mexican-born rocker Carlos Santana. It’s just one of the many art installations and pieces of authentic music memorabilia found throughout the hotel. My faves: Katy Perry’s candy-themed dress from the MTV Video Music Awards and, of course, a framed portrait of Gaga.

From there, I was more than happy to receive some “rock star” treatment.

 

EAT LIKE A ROCK STAR

We got to sample all the mouthwatering cuisine the resort had to offer. First, there’s Frida, the poolside eatery that serves up traditional Mexican dishes (try the foodgasmic fried cheese balls). For dessert, there’s homemade ice cream (lavender, anyone?), but if you don’t want to feel like a bloated whale on the beach, try the lighter and just-as-refreshing cucumber-watermelon juice.

Zen delivers freshly prepared Asian-inspired meals in a peaceful yet tastefully decorated atmosphere. Ipanema is a Brazilian grill that will leave you stuffed—meat eaters, you’ll have a field day with their choice selections. And Ciao, right on the beach, offers Italian cuisine fused with Mediterranean flavors.

On our last night in Mexico, we were treated to an exquisite short rib dinner on the beach, courtesy of the chef from Ipanema, while an 11-man mariachi band serenaded us. With several shots of the smoothest artisanal tequila I’ve ever had (also made on the premises), it turned out to be a decadent night we’ll never forget.

 

RELAX LIKE A ROCK STAR

If the warm water and smooth sands of Banderas Beach (no, it isn’t named after Antonio) aren’t enough, the Rock Spa is a soothing and relaxing spot for a morning massage. I treated myself to the full-body package. Needless to say, I was in heaven for a full hour while listening to the crashing waves outside and saying goodbye to the tension in my back.

I followed that up with some suntanning near one of the hotel’s lavish pools. Armed with a paperback novel and some lotion, I poached a lounge chair, took a dip and even indulged in the waterslide at the end of the pool (who cares if I was the only thirtysomething making a splash?). Then, it only made sense to try out the swim-up bar and order a frozen daiquiri before the water aerobics class started.

 

EXPLORE LIKE A ROCK STAR

HRH Vallarta follows a philosophy of, “All day, all night long, all included.” Therefore, there’s never a dull moment. Live entertainment is available in the resort’s amphitheater (we lucked out with a killer Michael Jackson impersonator and dance troupe), and after-hours festivities can be found inside Sun Bar, where nightcaps were in full effect…and a possible booty shake to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” may have occurred. 

For a quick day trip, we went on a “cultural excursion” to Sayulita (courtesy of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau), a little beach town 30 minutes north of the resort and a great getaway within a getaway. Known for its gorgeous beaches, fresh seafood, quaint shops and cobblestoned streets, it’s got a rustic and welcoming feel, populated by natives and a number of American and Canadian retirees. After an hour-long walk around the town center and purchasing a few souvenirs from street vendors, we finished with a couple of cervezas and a plate of ceviche and chips while taking in the easy-breezy scenery at Don Pedro’s.

If you’re still feeling adventurous, back in Vallarta there’s the charming colonial fishing village, the Sierra Madre range, golf courses and plenty of scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding or kayaking in Banderas Bay. You can even get a bird’s-eye view of your neighbors while parasailing across the sky.

 

GET MARRIED LIKE A ROCK STAR

Imagine our delight when we learned about the increasing number of same-sex weddings that are being hosted at the Hard Rock. After all, who wouldn’t want to declare their undying love against a picture-perfect backdrop like this?

LGBT weddings are eligible for some great all-inclusive savings here. Based on room types and durations, guests are entitled to resort credit that can be used toward room upgrades, massages at the Rock Spa and other amenities, including a Colin Cowie Wedding Collection package.

And if that isn’t enough reassurance, there are always customizable and affordable travel insurance policies from groups like RoamRight to protect you from a number of unforeseen circumstances. And that could definitely come in handy when planning your special trip to a dream destination like this one.

For more on Riviera Nayarit, pick up the August/September issue of Instinct—on sale now!

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