Merida, Mexico: The Yucatan Capital of Gay & Day Drinking

Cathedral in Merida
Merida Cathedral

The new buzzy destination topping everybody’s lists these days is Merida.  Mexico’s new IT girl is enjoying quite a moment, with accolades and coverage in major travel publications, including Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Award for “World’s Best Small City.”

IQ’s Merida Gay Travel Guide

Though it is the capital and largest city of Mexico’s Yucatan State, Merida is pedestrian-friendly and compact, with most tourism centered around the Centro Historico (historic center). It is accessible by direct flights from Miami, Houston and Tijuana/San Diego; and only a three-hour drive from the Cancun airport, with flight options from major cities all over the world. And you’ll feel comfortable here. After all, Merida was voted the second safest city in all of North America by CEOWorld Magazine—ranked above any city in the United States. 

Merida Centro Historico is a pedestrian friendly city
Pedestrian-friendly Merida

Also, Merida has potential to evolve into Mexico’s newest LGBTQ+ destination. Earlier this year, Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Miguel Torruco Marques, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) and Queer Destinations signed a “Letter of Intent” to further promote LGBTQ+ tourism to Mexico. The first action in this new effort, engaging and instructing the tourism private sector in Yucatan, was held in Merida. 

DAYS FOR DRINKING

La Negrita Cantina is Merida's most popular cantina
La Negrita Cantina

Liver be damned: Merida is a day drinking city! The parties center around its cantina culture, starting at noon and closing at 10pm. Though many locals have their favorite neighborhood spot, the most popular cantina in Merida is La Negrita. Literally, every single person I asked for a recommendation mentioned La Negrita. Expect fantastic live Cuban music, dancing and a very friendly crowd. It’s the type of place where, if you are fortunate to get a table (and for that, you should arrive early), you’ll instantly spark a conversation with your neighbor. The musical vibe of Merida has a strong Caribbean influence and salsa dancing reigns supreme, so this Cuban boy felt quite at home. 

For day-drinking with a side of man muscle visit Cantina Bullpen, Merida’s gay cantina featuring go-go boys throughout the day. In keeping with traditional cantina hours, Bullpen closes at 10pm, so it’s a great place to start the party. 

NIGHTS FOR GO-GOS

Strippers in Merida Mexico
Papis Dancer Struts

Nighttime is Papi time. The stripper bar Papis does its name juicy justice, with a plentiful selection of muscular muchachos strutting on the bar and leaving little to the imagination. The cheesiness of their costumes is part of the charm. During my visit, I saw a cowboy, fireman, cop and construction worker—all started fully dressed and ended with a fully erect lasso, firehose, billy-club and hammer. Yes, you will see penis. And though the audience was mainly gay men, the crowd had a nice mix of adoring ladies enjoying the show as well. Apparently straight women like hot, naked men too.  

The largest LGBTQ+ club in Merida is Blue Gay Club, about a ten-minute drive from the Centro. Ubers are inexpensive and plentiful in Merida, so travel within the city is very easy to navigate. My night started with a drag performance that was challenging to follow even though I speak Spanish. I’d suggest arriving closer to midnight, when the focus shifts to a more traditional club night, with go-go boys and dancing. You should know the crowd was also pretty mixed, so all will feel welcome. For a change of scene, Deseo is next door and also owned by Blue. The bar feels more intimate and has an outdoor patio (and also go-go boys). And though I did not partake of their company, it was clear that private dances were available from the fellas at both bars. 

MERIDA GAY TOURS

Once you recover from your evening, you’ll be quite busy. Merida is a perfect base from which to explore the Yucatan State’s most unique and revered sights, including 19 Mayan archeological sites and countless cenotes: fresh-water sinkholes and underground rivers. 

Cute and sweet gay tour guide of Merida, Mexico. Ricardo of Merida Gay Tours
Ricardo of Merida Gay Tours

You’ll need some wheels to explore beyond the city. Why not add an adorable, knowledgeable gay guide? The boys of Merida Gay Tours can help plan your entire trip and customize an adventure suited just for you. Created by a gay couple interested in growing the city’s LGBTQ+  tourism, David and Ricardo can arrange sightseeing tours of Merida, recommend specific gay-friendly nightlife spots or create a multi-day itinerary throughout the state. Their packaged experiences include days at the beach, Mayan archeological sites and visits to nearby “Magical Towns.” They are accommodating, sweet and will instantly make you feel like you’ve reconnected with a long-lost friend. Have I mentioned they’re adorable? They can also help orient you toward roving nightlife events that aren’t held in large clubs. The weekend I visited we ended up at a “house ball” hosted by La Fantasía Salón, complete with voguing battles and plentiful cheap tequila. Category was Merida Friendliness and these kids slayed.

The Municipal Palace in Merida in Yucatan State in Mexico
Municipal Palace in Merida

Merida is a contemporary city with reverence to its Mayan and Spanish colonial history. It’s a great home base for your explorations and it’s the LGBTQ+ center of the Yucatan State. Merida is also fun, beautiful and exploding in popularity. Get thee there pronto and witness this jewel of a city evolving into Mexico’s newest queer destination.

For travel info on Merida, visit the websites of Yucatan Tourism and Merida Gay Tours.

And to learn more, read my article on Mexico’s Yucatan State.

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BOUNCE: New Luggage Storage App

Man with too much luggage

You have enough baggage. You don’t necessarily want to drag it around while exploring a new city.

Luckily, now you don’t have to. Bounce is a new mobile app and website that connects you with local businesses that will store your luggage and bags.

Just imagine making the most of long layovers or unexpected flight changes, without being weighed down by a suitcase…

Read more on Travel Squire.

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It’s White Truffle Season!

Vineyard in Piedmont region in Italy
Photo: Davide Dutto/Ente Turismo Langhe Monferrato Roero

Each year, culinary connoisseurs convene in Northern Italy’s Piedmont region to honor the white truffle. This rare and very expensive type of mushroom is only available in this region a few months out of the year. From townies to top chefs, autumn is the season to celebrate the gastronomic treasure whose shavings transform any dish into a luxury item. 

Ongoing through November 24, the International Alba White Truffle Fair is one of Italy’s longest-running festivals, celebrating its 89th birthday this year. Held in the old town of Alba, a UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy, the Fair initially focused on the food and wine of the region but has now expanded to include immersive experiences and cultural events.

White Truffle from Alba, Italy
Photo: Stefania Spadoni/Ente Turismo Langhe Monferrato Roero

Every Saturday and Sunday, the White Truffle World Market buzzes with exhibitors, purveyors, chefs and local wineries. Within the 2,000-square-yard market, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase truffles certified by the National Truffle Study Centre and hobnob with likeminded foodies, all gathered in praise of the seasonal favorite with the distinct scent and delicious flavor. 

A version of this article was first published in Travel Squire.

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Yucatan Reveres Its Mayan Ancestry While Focusing on Mexico’s Future

Horse riding in Hacienda Uxmal, Yucatan State, Mexico
Hacienda Uxmal–Photo courtesy of Mayaland Group

About an hour drive from the Cancun International Airport, the State of Yucatan countryside is a gateway to ancient Mayan culture and a study in how ancestral traditions are kept alive by the current generation. It also may be one of Mexico’s best kept tourism secrets, though that is soon about to change.

The State of Yucatan is one of three states that occupy the Yucatan Peninsula. Though American visitors are most familiar with the Mexican Caribbean stretch between Cancun and Tulum (which is in the State of Quintana Roo), the neighboring State of Yucatan is readying for its prime-time debut.

The new President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, largely campaigned on creating the Mayan Train that would transport visitors from the tourist-saturated areas (the aforementioned Cancun, Tulum, etc.) to less-discovered gems. The proposed 913 miles of track are scheduled to be functioning by 2023. Though the ambitious project is not without its controversies, one thing is certain: it will alter tourism in the region. 

Don’t wait. Currently, the best way to explore the Yucatan State is on a road trip that can include archeological wonders, complex cultures and unspoiled natural habitats. As Mexico’s second busiest airport (after Mexico City), Cancun is an easy direct flight from many U.S. cities; then drive inland…

Read more about my travels through the Yucatan State of Mexico in Travel Squire.

Photo courtesy of Los 7 Cenotes

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D.C. Hotel Barks for Im-pooch-ment

Cute puppy welcomes guest to hotel
Photo courtesy of St. Gregory Hotel

Washington D.C. is going to the dogs. Whether you are politically liberal, conservative or moderate, it’s time to see D.C. from a new perspective.

The St. Gregory Hotel is inviting you to experience Washington D.C., doggy style. Bridging political divisions by encouraging travelers to seek a more grounded view of our nation’s capital, the St. Gregory will loan guests a GoPro and GoPro harness for their dog. Yes, your Maltese is now making movies.

Starting at $155 per night, the “Pawlitical Landscape” package includes luxury accommodations in the Dupont Circle-area boutique hotel, the use of a comfy embroidered doggy bed, personalized dog bowl, locally sourced treats from Doggy Style Bakery, Boutique and Pet Spa and their canine concierge’s list of pup-loving neighborhood spots. And, of course, the GoPro camera and dog harness to document your spaniel’s Spielberg experience…

Read my full article on Travel Squire

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VACAYA Includes the Kink Community.

Dane de Bruin in leather. Sexy man in leather on gay cruise
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Goldberg and VACAYA

As I crossed the gangway to board the Celebrity Cruises’ Summit for VACAYA’s maiden voyage this summer, the Scissor Sisters serenading over the speakers reassured me that “a kiki is a party for calming all your nerves.” I took it as welcome foreshadowing that the first large-scale LGBTQ+ travel company to launch in decades had taken the initiative to musically score my journey from the moment I boarded. Yes, h-h-honey, they were serving and working and turning out VACAYA’s inaugural kiki.

I instantly became giddy with anticipation. This was my first gay cruise. Somehow, I’d made it this long — a seasoned gay man in his 40s — without ever specifically sailing with my community. 

What was different now? VACAYA is setting out to change the existing model of queer travel. From its inception, it set the lofty goal of serving the entire LGBTQIAPK community. On its website it clearly explains and creates an alphabet soup utopia that welcomes (in its words): “Lesbian, Gay, Transgender/Transsexual, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally, Pansexual/Polyamorous and Kink.”

As VACAYA co-founder Patrick Gunn said, “If you believe love is love, you belong on our vacations.” And we did. Though the largest percentage of guests was men, they were men of all ages, shapes and sizes — another coup for inclusivity. And from my conversations with the topless ladies splashing in the pool and my new friends from East Lansing, Michigan, Jennifer and Johanna, who I met at the ship’s ice cream parlor, all shared in the joyous excitement.

On the first day, VACAYA organized meetups for every flavor and proclivity of our inclusive spectrum. From pansexual to trans to straight ally guests, everyone had the opportunity to meet their like-minded neighbors for the next seven days. However, to make friends all one had to do was step out of the stateroom. In my many years attending gay events, I can’t remember being surrounded by a more engaging, welcoming crowd. 

And, truly, it was a run-your-own-race kind of experience…

Read my full article on the Bay Area Reporter

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IQ on National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day in Stonewall in New York City. Ivan Quintanilla-Traveling IQ at Stonewall. Gay Pride at Stonewall.

Today is National Coming Out Day. And yes, I know you know. 

I want to first thank all my loved ones (and even my new friends who I may only know through social media) for tuning in to my zany, gay travel adventures. I have now been an out gay man longer than I was a closeted boy and young person. And yes, that means I’m old. 

I believe it is essential that I continue to be visible. I believe it is essential that we continue to be vigilant.  

As I share this happy picture of me—a very out and proud gay man—at Stonewall during this summer’s World Pride celebration in New York City, I am both elated by my privilege of living my life so openly in this amazing city (there are still 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal) and devastated by the state of current affairs in the United States.  

Just this week, the Supreme Court heard three cases that can ultimately decide if LGBTQ+ employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or religion. 

Does that include sexual orientation or gender identity according to the federal laws of the United States? The Supreme Court decision is expected by June 2020. 

The Trump Administration argued that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation or gender identify. It has also stacked federal courts throughout the country and appointed two judges to the Supreme Court to shift our nation’s Judicial Branch toward a conservative, potentially discriminatory power dynamic.  

If it hasn’t sunk in, this affects me. This affects my boyfriend of 13 years. This affects my best friends. This affects the diverse members of my LGBTQ+ community. 

And unless you’ve managed to live a sad, gray life without ever interacting with an LGBTQ+ person, this will affect a person you love. 

So, if you have voted for socially conservative candidates in local, state and national races, I want you to know that you have voted against me, a person you may even love and “support.” 

I am happy to be the smiley, rainbow-clad image in your mind when you weigh making these life-changing decisions at the ballot box. Or you can choose some other brother, sister, son, daughter, cousin, Pilates instructor, colorist or beloved cater waiter. But I am coming out to let you know that I—we—need your support and need that support to be stronger than niceties at our next social gathering. 

I hope I can count on you. Happy National Coming Out Day. 

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San Antonio Celebrates Day of the Dead

San Antonio Day of the Dead celebrations
(Photo courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com)

Few U.S. cities embrace their diversity like San Antonio, Texas. At the intersection of American, Texan and Mexican culture, the seventh-largest city in the United States knows how to celebrate traditions while making everyone feel welcome. (Can we all please take a cue from San Antonio!?)

This season, though tricky Halloween festivities still abound, it is the Mexican holiday of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that treats visitors most in San Antonio.

The traditional Mexican holiday, dating to pre-Columbian time, professes that during November 1, the distance between living and dead is at its closest point, creating the perfect opportunity to honor our dearly departed loved ones.

Considered the largest Día de los Muertos celebration in the United States, San Antonio builds traditional altars, throws parades and delivers delicious Mexican food offerings that remind you it’s tastier on this side of the divide.

To see some of IQ’s favorites, visit TravelSquire.com

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Stay Fab While Traveling

Gay pillow fight

Traveling while fabulous has unique challenges. We all want to feel welcome. Now, a new hosting platform is removing all “coming out” awkwardness from short-term rental bookings.

FabStayz.com guarantees LGBTQ+ travelers a hospitable host. 

“Travel is about fun and exploration, coming out to a stranger is no way to kick-off a vacation,” says Robert Geller, Founder and CEO of FabStayz. “Be your ‘FabSelf’ wherever your travels take you. No more scouring listings for clues if the host is LGBT+ welcoming, an ally or member of our community. FabStayz wants to take away all the guesswork for the LGBT+ traveler.”

According to Geller, property owners listed on FabStayz must meet the platform’s criteria of seven months minimum hosting on another major platform (like Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and HomeAway), with at least 10 great to excellent reviews. Additionally, all FabStayz hosts agree to FabStayz diversity and inclusion statement.

Within weeks of launching, FabStayz had quintupled its hosts and featured a castle in France, tiny homes in Portland, a vintage RV in Los Angeles, and rental listings throughout the United States, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands and the U.K., among others. 

Fab your stay at FabStayz.com

Rv on hillside on FabStayz.com

Photos courtesy of FabStayz.com

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True Colours Cava: LGBTQ+ Activism with a Colorful Sparkle

True Colours Cava bottles

Don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow

Owning our true colors has been a theme of self-acceptance in the LGBTQ+ community for nearly half a century. 

In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker unveiled the original rainbow flag in San Francisco, as a new symbol to celebrate the love, beauty and diversity of our community. 

In 1986, Cyndi Lauper’s song became an anthem for people struggling to be true to themselves. 

Today, the celebration of our true colors continues with a toast. 

Highland Imports introduced European favorite True Colours Cava to the U.S. last year, inviting the Spanish sparkling wine to celebrate love on our shores. 

In keeping with Altia’s (its original distributor) commitment to support LGBTQ+ rights with every True Colours Cava bottle, Highland Imports pledged to donate at least $100,000 to GLAAD in its first year of U.S. distribution. As True Colours Cava expands its availability in more states this year, it is also expanding its promise by planning to support additional LGBTQ+ organizations from the sale of every bottle.   

True Colours Cava rainbow bottles
(Courtesy of True Colours Cava Instagram)

Challenging other beer and wine brands that only unveil LGBTQ-themed products during Pride season, True Colours Cava’s commitment is year-round and unwavering. “Highland Imports is boldly displaying their support for LGBTQ people at a time when the community needs brands to stand up proudly and loudly,” says Zeke Stokes, GLAAD Vice President of Programs. 

It is also just damn delicious. And beautifully presented.

With a bright, crisp flavor and a rainbow colored bottle, True Colours Cava sparkles with activism at any event. It’s Estate bottled, 100% sustainably farmed and sold in select wine stores throughout the country in both the standard 750 ML bottle and the mini quarter-sized bottle. 

Visit the “Find Us” tab at TrueColoursCava.com to learn where it is available near you. And propose a more accepting, truthful and colorful LGBTQ+ world with your next toast. 

Ivan Quintanilla (Traveling IQ) and Matthew Montelongo enjoy True Colours Cava in the park

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