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TRAVEL Hot times in Puerto Vallarta
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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You may have noticed Chicagoans flocking to Mexico to fight the harsh winters to soak up the sun in Puerto Vallarta, the fifth largest city in the state of Jalisco. With temperatures on an average of 86 degrees as a high it is no wonder why.

American Airlines and Aeromexico provide travel from the Windy City to Vallarta. The airlines are spacious enough to not feel cramped during the flight in domestic. Alaska Airlines should also be noted as a continued sponsor of Vallarta Pride over the years, so think about supporting them in return.

There are many hotels to choose from such as CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful property with a huge pool that includes a swim up bar and waterfalls. The sandy beach is nearby and the attentive staff is available at every turn making this a perfect destination.

While a bit out of the way, Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta is a luxury resort that includes everything a traveler needs. A relaxing spa, oven pizza by the pool, and even free guitar rentals are all part of the experience. On property restaurants like Frida really bring the spices and good cooking that one would expect. Breakfast in the hotel takes the cake and a made to order crepe station pushed things over the top.

Villa Savana not only provides multilevel lodging but has a breathtaking view to escape and have a same-sex wedding.

The quaint little hotel Villa Mercedes hosts 116 Pulpito Gastro Pup as part of the hotel's dining space complete with a separate entrance. The chef makes casual cuisine for visitors to feel right at home.

For a beachfront place to stay Hotel Cinco in Punta de Mita has the perfect infinity pool and luxury accommodations to satisfy any traveler.

This Pacific Ocean destination has some of the best beaches in the world. Here are a few places worth visiting:

Mantamar is an adults-only beach club and bar that is located in the Romantic Zone. The young, fun vibe and excellent service adds to the experience. Check out the private pool and intimate jacuzzi tubs.

Next door is Blue Chairs Resort by the Sea that hosts drag shows and bar that overlooks the scene. This venue is a staple in Vallarta and after some renovations could be returned to its former glory. The Almar Resort is a more upscale option just behind it.

The walkway Malecon is in the center of Puerto Vallarta and makes an easy to find landmark on the huge boardwalk of shops and bars.

There are some incredible places to dine while in Puerto Vallarta with seafood of course being a staple.

El Arrayan is a lesbian-owned restaurant that sports such treats as duck carnitas and enchiladas ( the latter in a delicious mole sauce ).

The owner of Barcelona Tapas hails from Chicago and is an expert on tapas. The aioli potato salad and paella will hit the spot.

Cafe des Artistes is one of the most upscale restaurants in the city with many different environments to dine in. Where else will you get a confit suckling pig taco?

Located on Playa Los Muertos, Sapphire Beach Club not only has a great lunch menu but is the perfect place to relax in the pool and drink margaritas. Honestly, our group did not want to leave this place and we stayed for hours plus our server Dani was adorable, which didn't hurt.

To test out the bars Vallarta Gay Bar Hopping Tour that lasts more than five hours. The VIP treatment is the only way to go at Blondies with a spectacular view and shots to top it off.

Wander over to Wet Dreams for go go dancers or Open Night Club for packed crowds. Mr. Flamingo is one of the newer venues but is astounding in popularity thanks to groovy tunes from the '90s and open air drinking.

There is one sauna to relax in after a long day called Spartacus open seven days a week but if you return home empty handed the iPhone app Grindr is an easy way to meet locals.

Rise and shine because there are plenty of excursions to try while in Vallarta. Diana's Tour takes guests out on the ocean to cocktail and snorkel with a now famous LGBT cruise. The Wet & Wild Gay Cruise, leaves from Los Muertos Pier, includes a clothing optional beach and lunch.

Marine Safari offers a Marieta Islands excursion where tourists are taken by boat to see wildlife, such as sea turtles and blue-footed boobies. There is a beach created by the explosion of a bomb that caused caves to form. Pollution from tourism has limited some areas so visit this spot while still permitted.

The Colectika Art Gallery is a contemporary Mexican folk art gallery that includes ceramics, paintings, and wood carvings. The gallery is curated to include outdoor spaces. The owner is incredibly knowledgeable and full of stories to tell shoppers.

Sayulita Nayarit is a community located 25 miles north of downtown Vallarta with tons of souvenirs and surfing. Tourism is growing so rapidly here that locals are having a hard time keeping up to demands of trinkets and treasures. There is a website dedicated to helping visitors navigate it at . Don't miss Revolution del Sueno with limited edition art products.

This resort city welcomes the LGBT community in droves. Recently, honored Vallarta as the first city in Mexico to be gay travel approved. Vallarta Pride grows in numbers each year in the month June with a parade and major events all over the city spanning 12 days.

Plan a trip this year and find out why Puerto Vallarta has turned from a small fishing town into a major hot destination.

For more on Vallarta, try .

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