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Mexico’s biggest tourism hotspot is making a play for the LGBT market

Sunset over the Hotel Zone — Zona Hotelera — in Cancun. Credit: Feliks

With shining Caribbean seas lapping at its silky shores, as well as dozens of hotels in every price range and lots of flights from around the world, it’s no wonder that Cancun is Mexico’s most-visited tourist destination. Now, if local tourism officials have their way, this shimmering city by the sea will have a higher profile with gay travellers, as the destination ramps up a new effort to attract the LGBT market.

This year, the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) signed a contract with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), proclaiming it the first time that a Mexican beach destination’s tourism office has signed such an agreement to target the gay market.

The agreement was signed by IGLTA representative Ron Kuijpers, who is vice-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Tourist Association (GLAT), a new LGBT association in Cancun, and Jesús Almaguer Salazar, the director general of the Cancun CVB. Almaguer told reporters that “it’s an honour to be the first CVB in the country to establish this type of agreement, and we invite the other tourism promotion organizations to join this effort to maximize the potential of the market and make service providers more aware.”

The city is more than ready to become an even hotter vacation choice for gay travellers, according to Kuijpers. “Cancun has always been a favourite LGBT destination — [it’s the] fourth [largest] Latin American LGBT destination — but never had a specific LGBT plan as such,” he said. “Now, since several LGBT businesses in Cancun founded the GLAT, the OVC [the initials in Spanish for the CVB] decided to partner with GLAT in their promotion toward the LGBT segment, and they will use GLAT as their LGBT portal for this segment.”

What makes this destination a gay hotspot? “Cancun has everything the different interest groups within the LGBT market are looking for,” Kuijpers says. “We have great beaches and water sports if you just want to relax, high-class shopping malls and restaurants if you like shopping and eating outdoors, a superb nightlife if you like clubbing and dancing, [and] great Mayan culture a short distance from Cancun if you have more cultural interests.”

Increased offerings
Local tour operators are stepping up their offerings for gay travellers. Kuijpers is also director of Gaytoursmexico, which began offering a seven-hour gay catamaran trip to Isla Mujeres in November 2013, complete with open bar on board, a buffet lunch, snorkel tour and free time on the island. The company also operates a division called Cancun Gay Weddings. Tropical Wedding Experts offers same-sex wedding ceremonies in Cancun and throughout the region, while Cancun Playa Tours provides gay-friendly tour services. Both companies are IGLTA members.

One of the liveliest ways to tap into Cancun’s gay scene is to go out after dark. Hetero nightlife may focus largely in the Zona Hotelera — the Hotel Zone, which is lined with beaches, hotels, bars and restaurants — but gay travellers and locals are more likely to head downtown for dancing and imbibing. Gay nightlife starts late and runs late, and — perhaps because of the bars’ downtown location — tends to attract a heavily local crowd.

Most of the gay bars and clubs are conveniently close together, on and around Avenida Tulum, a commercial strip that, depending on where you’re staying, is a relatively quick taxi ride from the Hotel Zone. Their proximity makes it easy to bar hop, so if you don’t like one place, you can go somewhere else. An ideal place to start the evening is Taboo, a mixed gay-straight lounge that opens at 9pm and attracts a pre-club crowd. All the other gay clubs tend to get crowded at about midnight; among the longest-running venues is Karamba, which is open Tuesday through Sunday nights. Wednesday through Sunday, Karamba usually hosts some combination of live DJs, drag shows and go-go boys, with a cover usually in the $5 to $8 range, but on Tuesday, the drag show is free.

Also popular is 11:11, open Wednesday through Sunday from 10pm until 6am, with drag shows, go-go boys and a dark room; the cover charge here generally includes an open bar. The newest gay nightclub, Sexy’s Club, features such specials as a Friday night open bar, with a cover charge of less than $10 that includes a variety of unlimited alcoholic drinks. One other gay club, Pikante, normally features go-go boys and drag shows; it’s temporarily closed but expected to reopen soon.

Where to stay
Cancun is home to an increasing number of gay-friendly hotels, several of which are members of the IGLTA. The all-inclusive concept has become especially popular in recent years, and since several upscale hotels now offer this option, it’s easy to combine value prices with extensive amenities.

Gay-friendly upscale hotels include the Oasis Sens, a member of Summit Hotels & Resorts as well as the IGLTA. This adults-only, all-inclusive property has 332 rooms and suites, as well as nine restaurants, nine bars and three swimming pools. Guests opting for the Sian Ka’an Club Rooms enjoy private terraces with personal plunge pools, as well as the use of a Smart Car and free access to the Sian Ka’an Reserve, an ecological attraction with beaches.

Other all-inclusive members of the IGLTA include the couples-only Le Blanc Spa Resort, a AAA Five Diamond property; the couples-only Sun Palace, part of the Palace Resorts family; the adults-only Golden Parnassus Resort & Spa; the adults-only Temptation Resort & Spa; and the Omni Cancun Hotel and Villas. Travellers looking for gay-friendly accommodations that aren’t all-inclusive might consider the Hyatt Regency Cancun.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Cancun, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.

For more information about Cancun, visit the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau wesbite.