Visiting a country deemed by the U.S. State Department to be a "Don't say we didn't warn you" destination usually doesn't portend a gay-friendly vacation. Mexico received such a government travel warning in September.
Unfortunately, the alert may keep potential visitors from experiencing Mexico City's exuberant gay and lesbian life. To be sure, the city remains a sprawling spectacle--its air is filthy, the streets are often chaotic, and one's safety can never be taken lightly. But visiting Mexico City is a completely different experience from vacationing in, say, a Sonoran Desert border town. Strolling past throngs of attractive young gay couples unabashedly holding hands in the city's beautiful Zona Rosa neighborhood is a stark reminder of that. "Uh, yeah. There's no narco-violence here," one American living in the capital city tells a reporter on a recent visit. "Relax." Aida Flores, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, says there are no specific travel warnings for the capital. "It's a big city like any other. Robbery is the most common crime." Thus, common sense rules the day: don't flaunt Cartier watches and call for city cabs directly from hotels or restaurants. Hailing one on the street at 1 a.m. may not be a good idea (Flores once did that, she recalls--and was robbed as a result).
Only one day after Washington, D.C., began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples last spring, Mexico City's own law legalizing gay nuptials went into effect. Subsequent rulings by the Mexican supreme court have not only upheld the law but also ordered all 31 states to recognize gay marriages performed in the capital. Tourism officials are pushing for the city to be canonized as one of the world's great gay destinations. And it deserves to be one.
Finding sanctuary at a hotel following raucous nights in the Zona Rosa and other grittier but emerging gay hotspots like Calle Republica de Cuba is crucial, though. The sleek new St. Regis, located on the historic Paseo de la Reforma, is a few blocks away from the city's more au courant gay nightclubs, bars, and restaurants--as well as a multitude of street food vendors serving incomparable tacos al pastor. Should you pass on the open-air gastronomy, the hotel has its own haute cuisine take (the beef with huitlacoche is a must). Wherever you stay, you'll likely pay less than half of what you would for a comparable room in New York City; luxury hotels are begging for your business here.
A concierge may admonish you not to venture out on foot at dusk, nor take the subway and subsequent one-hour bus trip to Teotihuacan, the stunning archaeological site that's home to the Pyramid of the Sun. On a recent trip, neither trek turned into a harrowing ordeal.
Best place to stay: A second night stay in a suite is free at the St. Regis Mexico City (Paseo de La Reforma 439, Cuauhtemoc; StRegisHotelMexicoCity.com) with rates at $360 per night. Rack rates for 2011 are $235. Ask for the Macho Metrosexual package at Remede, the hotel spa.
Don't miss this: La Casa Azul (Londres 247, Del Carmen, MuseoFridaKahlo.org.mx), the former residence of art legends Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.