Isn?t it about time you went (or, as the case may be, went back) to Mexico City? After all, it?s a perfect place to spend a few days before or after going to one of the country?s beach resorts?or to check out on its own terms. Stuffed with 700 years of history and culture, it also happens to be something of a gay mecca. With over 20 million people in the metropolitan area, it has a sizable LGBT community, and hosts one of the biggest Pride parades in the Americas. The city also legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. Being so gigantic, the city can be overwhelming to visitors, especially those who speak little or no Spanish. But gay travelers can ease into it by focusing on the neighboring districts of Condesa (gorgeous and relaxed), Roma (trendy and artsy), and Zona Rosa (where there?s a gay strip), and taking jaunts into the Centro Histórico and other areas. You?ll find it an invigorating little adventure.
SHACK UPWhere to stay? In Condesa, the gay-owned B&B The Red Tree House (US$74 and up) has a helpful staff that cultivates a friendly environment for and among guests. If you're looking to blend in more at a larger hotel, then try out CondesaDF (US$261 and up), which has a sleek white décor, a rooftop terrace, and a bar and restaurant that turns into a local nightspot (you won't hear a thing from your room). Looking to go gay all the way? In the Zona Rosa, there's a gay men's guest house called 6M9 (US$80 and up) with a small spa, pool, and gym, all just a short walk from gay nightlife on Amberes Street. All three hotels have fully bilingual staff.
STEP OUTThe Centro Histórico (historic center) is an excellent introduction for the newbie, and is worth at least a full day. Start at the Zócalo, the city?s main plaza, and tour the cathedral, the Palacio Nacional, and the ruins of the Templo Mayor.
If you happen to be at the Zócalo any day at 6am or 6pm, stick around for the flag-raising or flag-lowering ceremonies, respectively. Afterwards, refuel at the always-open Café El Popular, or shell out a few more pesos for the old-school charms of Café de Tacuba. Continue west on any of the streets toward the Alameda. En route, pop in for a free visit to the quirky little shoe museum Museo del Calzado (Bolivar 27, Centro Histórico, 5512-1311 x35, Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, with break 2-3pm during the week).
At the Alameda, wander around the park, and enjoy the fine arts and performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Other neighborhoods offer days of fun, too. In Condesa, wander on the streets surrounding Parque Mexico and Parque España. And when in Roma, take a stroll on the main commercial drag, Avenida Álvaro Obregón (between Jalapa and Orizba streets), and two blocks north on Calle Colima; both are crowded with galleries, cafes, and boutique shops. In the last category, try Condesa's NaCo Miscelánea, cofounded by actor Diego Luna, and in Roma there?s Chic by Accident, Sicaro, and Dime (pronounced DEE-may).
DIVE INShould you find yourself in a fighting mood, go to "Lucha Libre," the ultra-popular costumed and masked free wrestling form -- like WWF only goofier and older, as it's been around since the 1930s. Attended in large part by kids and families, these events don?t have the aggressive atmosphere of, say, a boxing match. There have been several gay-ish Lucha characters, and word has it that more than a few of the wrestlers are homos. (There was even a Lucha-themed gay porn film made in 2005 called "La Verganza," by Gerardo Delgado.)
Not far from one of the Lucha venues, Arena Mexico, you?ll find Plaza Garibaldi (metro to Garibaldi station), where dozens of mariachi bands play music before going out to restaurants or private parties; show up at 7 or 8pm to wander around, get a michelada (beer with salt, lime, and Tabasco), and casually listen to the music all around you. Bands will ask if you want a song played for you personally. You can always say "No, gracias," but if you decide to say "Sí, por favor," note that the cost is typically is 40-50 pesos per song for smaller bands, or even 100 pesos or more for the larger and/or more talented groups, identifiable by their flashy outfits. Don?t hesitate to ask "¿Cuánto cuesta?"
The gay scene includes dozens of bars, and starts late -- midnight at earliest. In the Zona Rosa district, go to Calle Amberes, a short street that is home to numerous gay bars and discos (many with a young crowd), likeLipstick,Lolli Pop, or the enormous dance palace Living, which has plenty of go-go boys.
Or you may find your sweet spot in the Centro Histórico, at the justly popularButterflies (aka Buttergold, at Izazaga 9, Centro Histórico 5761-1351, 5761-1861), a multi-bar space that draws crowds of various ages for its drag shows and dancing. In any of these places, you?re bound to meet people so long as you?re open and affable, and even if you don?t speak Spanish; besides, many Mexicans speak some English.
GET AROUNDLike other countries, Mexico has its dangers for gay people, and for others. This is a cosmopolitan city that is used to tourists, and, to an extent, queer people, including some well-known Mexican personalities. That said, take care as in any city, and be aware that same-sex PDAs may provoke some unfriendly reactions.
Big as Mexico City is, it?s a blast to walk around, such as in the beautiful Condesa neighborhood, which is quite safe even at night.
Take the metro not just for transportation, but also to see the historical displays, mosaics and other ornamentations that grace many stations. Be forewarned, the subway closes at midnight.
As for taxis, stick to the cabs at official sitio stands, or at hotels or clubs you trust, or that are called for you. Hailing an unlicensed taxi on the street, can, alas, be a bad idea, as you might get ripped off or assaulted. With some common sense and a traveler?s open-heartedness, you?ll get around, get down, get into it, and want to go back to Mexico City in no time.