Mexico's love hotel makeover: Find your favorite on the map.

You don't have to hide your love away in Mexico.
Credit: Alfredo Estrella

MEXICO CITY — Black-and-white photographs of kissing couples adorn the facade of the V Motel Boutique Suites & Villas. Guests access their rooms through private garages emblazoned with giant images of stick figures in what can only be a passionate embrace, and the words “Do Not Disturb.”

This love hotel, or hotel de paso as it’s known in Mexico, for “pass-through hotel,” is part of a longstanding tradition in this staunchly conservative culture. Roughly 84 percent of Mexicans are Catholic, and the belief that sex should be saved for marriage remains ingrained in the culture.

For young Mexicans, many of whom live with their parents until they’re married, that makes it difficult to bring home a date. Even those who aren’t stringently religious may feel awkward parading lovers around family.

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Sitting on main thoroughfares, these love hotels have long filled a niche. There’s no need to make a reservation. Rooms are available for a night or even just a few hours. Traditionally, these places have been discreet, with few amenities and no advertisements. Unless you were looking for a hotel de paso, you wouldn’t even notice it was there.

“You can tell that it's a hotel de paso if the word ‘hotel’ is a lot bigger than the actual name of the place on signs," said Odin Blanco, a 31-year-old Mexico City resident.

Now, however, love hotels are coming out of the shadows, with upscale furnishings, not-so-subtle names, and racy décor.

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The trend marks a slow but noticeable shift in Mexican cultural mores. Especially in the capital, tolerance regarding sexual rights and sexual diversity has expanded dramatically in recent years: Mexico City decided in 2007 to legalize abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, and last year it approved gay marriage.

While older hotels have occasionally been known to discriminate against gay couples, the new brand of hotels proudly maintain a come one, come all policy. The modern take appeals to younger Mexicans.

"The mentality has broadened a lot, and it's growing more and more open all the time," said Paris Bonilla, a 31-year-old, who said that she enjoys the new options.

At the same time, these hotels are learning to cater to more worldly, sophisticated customers.

As these new spots have shed their seedier reputations, Viviana Méndez, 39, said that they’ve also become romantic urban getaways for married and single people wanting to escape the city’s chaos.

“In some way, you need to sit down” and shed the stress of the day, said Méndez, a recent divorcee. "Obviously, it’s better to rest with someone that gives you a massage, and experiences pleasure with you.”

The V Motel Boutique offers costumes, toys and other amenities to put guests in the right mood. The outer wall of the Hotel Cuore is covered in giant red illuminated hearts. Its suites boast deep Jacuzzis and swings. And at the Hotel Pop Life, there are transparent showers in the middle of rooms and padded benches built into bed frames.

“It’s a motel boutique,” says José Maria Aliaga, the manager of the V Motel Boutique. “It has a type of status. We want to position ourselves there — in this segment of people that look for something special.”

With so many new options, fans have started reviewing hotels online instead of keeping them taboo. Mexico City couple Oscar Goldman and Sandra Poyato, both 35, launched a review site, WeLoveSex, in May. Goldman and Poyato say they’re not worried about criticism for writing about the subject.

“I think it’s cool, and if they judge me, I don’t care,” said Poyato.

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