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Casa Cupula, A Puerto Vallarta Diamond 20-Years within the Making

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Don Pickens is a visionary and serial entrepreneur having based a number of companies. He knew there was one thing particular about Puerto Vallarta since he began visiting and purchased a condominium right here in 1998. He knew it wanted one thing upscale that may cater to the LGBTQ+ group, reflecting the tastes of his fellow vacationers.

It has been 20 years since Pickens opened the posh boutique resort Casa Cupula. On the time there was no luxurious resort possibility in Puerto Vallarta for the LGBTQ+ group. Though it had a powerful homosexual following, Puerto Vallarta was not as well-known amongst all homosexual North American vacationers, extra amongst West Coasters.

“Once we opened there have been no homosexual lodges besides Blue Chairs, and none gay-owned,” Pickens mentioned. “For those who wished a pleasant place you needed to hire a villa for every week and play ‘Julie Cruise’ to arrange your group of mates. That is like herding cats. I got here from San Francisco and my mates had been upscale skilled gays with fabulous designer properties who stayed in luxurious lodges. So I made a decision to cater to that market.”

Over the previous 20 years Pickens has not solely seen however pushed adjustments within the boutique resort scene, in addition to in the area people. Whereas Puerto Vallarta had a repute for welcoming guests of all stripes because the Sixties, perceptions of the native homosexual group have modified dramatically since then.

Pickens based Milagro Properties LLC and put to work his Wharton MBA to launch Casa Cupula. Though he had managed main excessive tech companies together with at Microsoft, taking trip to launch an upscale homosexual guesthouse was purported to be a mid-career break. As an alternative it was a 20 yr occupation and labor of affection. He’s now a Spanish-speaking everlasting resident and pleased with the truth that Casa Cupula gives high quality employment to over 40 crew members who in flip assist households with dozens of kids.

Casa Cupula opened in November 2002 nevertheless it wasn’t till 2007 that Pickens made the everlasting transfer to Puerto Vallarta. He bought what had been often known as Casa Mandolina, with 4 bedrooms and a set. It was constructed within the 80s with solely two bedrooms. A lot has modified since these early days.

“At the moment we provide 19 rooms and suites in three buildings plus the Pool Membership, Pump Fitness center & Spa and the Bistro,” Pickens mentioned as he mirrored on the expansion and adjustments. “This yr we’re making a document funding in additional enhancements.”

Over the previous 20 years Pickens has not solely seen however pushed adjustments within the boutique resort scene, in addition to in the area people. Whereas Puerto Vallarta had a repute for welcoming guests of all stripes because the Sixties, perceptions of the native homosexual group have modified dramatically since then.

“I marched within the first Homosexual Pleasure parade in Guadalajara within the early 2000s. It was about 5 blocks lengthy and lasted about 20 minutes,” he mentioned. “At the moment it takes a full afternoon to go by and closes town as a result of tens of hundreds of revelers,” Pickens mentioned. “Within the 90s the PV police had been closing and shaking us down INSIDE homosexual bars, right now they march in our parade.”

Dome House PV View 2011
A view of Puerto Vallarta from Casa Cupula in 2011. Discover that Not one of the tall buildings but in Emiliano Zapata. Photograph supplied by Don Pickens, Dome Home

Pickens performed a serious position in that transformation by working immediately with a number of PV Police Chiefs as a part of a bunch referred to as “TaxiSafe” which endeavored to cease police shakedowns of homosexual vacationers.

“We had dozens of police fired or reassigned,” he defined. “Sadly there’ll at all times be unhealthy cops in addition to corruption in all cities, however we had been profitable in shining a lightweight on the issue of that specializing in our very vocal homosexual group. The police not noticed us as simple targets.”

Over the previous 20 years Pickens has not solely seen however pushed adjustments within the boutique resort scene, in addition to in the area people. Whereas Puerto Vallarta had a repute for welcoming guests of all stripes because the Sixties, perceptions of the native homosexual group have modified dramatically since then.

The Metropolis of Puerto Vallarta has spent quite a lot of money and time in selling itself as an LGBTQ+ vacation spot, however that is no accident. Homosexual tourism has turn into one of many largest sectors of the area’s tourism-based economic system. “Now it’s inconceivable to disclaim the significance of our market and nonetheless stay in actuality.”

“There was a time when Cancun went after our market however LGBT enterprise house owners redoubled our efforts and we received the primary city-sponsored PR tourism marketing campaign directed to the homosexual group going,” he mentioned. “Casa Cupula sponsored the primary advert selling the vacation spot in Out Journal. Earlier than that, official PV tourism by no means talked about the phrase ‘homosexual’.”

Pickens’ aim was to create not among the finest “PV homosexual lodges” however among the finest boutique lodges in Mexico. And so it has been acknowledged with quite a few awards through the years together with one of many prime 25 Mexican boutique lodges by TripAdvisor, together with awards from CNN, Frommer’s, ABC, Conde Nast and Out Journal amongst many others. However the repute Casa Cupula developed was at all times for its pleasant, competent and attentive crew.

“I wished Casa Cupula to be a spot you would be proud to convey your Mother, and I did many instances!” he mentioned. “Casa Cupula’s mission assertion is to “welcome each visitor as a pal, irrespective of who you’re or the place you come from”.”

Each room at Casa Cupula has a singular design. 5 years in the past at Cupula’s 15-year anniversary, Pickens introduced the Frida Suite – an homage to the enduring early twentieth century Mexican LGBTQ+ artist Frida Kahlo. Décor ranges from eclectic to mid-century trendy to Asian Zen to Mexican rustic (to call a couple of).

Pool Club renovation 2022 1
A drawing of the pool membership growth.

To have a good time the resort’s twentieth anniversary, all year long Casa Cupula might be saying a sequence of record-breaking investments in 20 enhancements together with the renovation of three suites, and the acquisition of considered one of Vallarta’s first electrical automobiles for visitor transportation.

“We simply concluded our greatest season ever and anticipate a greater one in 2022-23,” he mentioned. “However the huge story is our Pool Membership, which has turn into an enormous success. With so many LGBT of us shopping for or retiring in all these new condos, they quickly understand their fairly rooftop condominium swimming pools don’t have any service, however do have screaming children and guidelines limiting outdoors friends. They like to hold in an LGBT pleasant, inclusive place the place they will make new mates and really feel a way of group that is not a bar. We’re proud to serve that want. And we stress inclusivity: Each Physique is Lovely!”

“In 2019 there have been no clothes elective pool golf equipment for the LGBT group in Vallarta,” he added. “As homosexual havens like Palm Springs and Key West had been well-known for this, we thought we would give it a attempt. Then got here two years of COVID hell. However as soon as we re-opened after COVID we noticed that individuals’s life had been altering – they had been retiring early or turning into digital nomads right here. Many are earlier friends we launched to Vallarta.”

And so the Pool Membership was reborn, and successful. It helped new PV LGBTQ+ residents to discover a new connection to our group that that they had missed throughout COVID. Events like “Adam & Steve” on Fridays, “NKD Pool Social gathering” Saturdays and the “Church” get together Sundays now routinely promote out.

Enhancements to the Pool Membership embody a brand new VIP terrace with non-public cabanas and a ending kitchen. The brand new kitchen will permit us to maneuver our fashionable (and now-much-copied) Drag Brunch to the Pool Membership. A brand new built-in Jacuzzi connects to the pool. The bar will even double in measurement plus new loos and showers.

“We nonetheless have a couple of surprises up our sleeves together with new leisure and events that individuals will hear about once we re-open in November,” Pickens defined.

An enormous twentieth anniversary get together might be held on Friday, November 25. And the weekend of January 13, 2023, a particular 4 day pageant might be deliberate.

“We’re proud to be part of the rising and dynamic LGBTQ+ group in Puerto Vallarta,” Pickens mentioned. “And so excited to have a good time our 20 years with everybody.”

Photographs from Puerto Vallarta Pleasure 2022

Casa Cupula has been part of PV Pleasure because it began and are proud to indicate their colours.

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