Love Motels

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 10.46.02 PMBy Deborah Van Hoewyk

What’s Love Got to Do with Them?

Everyone I know who drives to Huatulco has been in one. Ours was on the road heading out of San Luis Potosí, a confusing city to drive in, so when we saw the entrance to a motel (as opposed to a hotel), we thought it might be our last chance and we rolled right on in. We thought it a little strange when a disembodied voice seemed to be talking to us, and our Spanish wasn’t great, so soon a guy came out to talk to us in the very nice parking lot, where most of the cars seemed to be in garages. Yes, we wanted a room. He asked, “How long?” “Just one night,” we replied. Wrong answer. We didn’t get one of the cute garages.

We soon discovered we were in what’s variously called a “love motel,” a hotel de paso, a hotel garaje, etc. It was the wrong thing to bring luggage. It was definitely the wrong thing to ask if the cats could come to the room—that seemed to be a horrifying prospect. And it was interesting that the room locked from the outside but not the inside.

The room was spiffy clean, still scented with disinfectant, but the obligatory show-how-the-tv-works episode was the dead giveaway—all stations played porn of various genres. Not to mention the exaggerated Kama Sutra/tantra chair (sillón de posiciones, potro del amor [“love pony”]), about 18” higher/steeper than the ones on Amazon; it came with a one-page, full-color, laminated (easy-to-wipe-down) photo guide to the sexual positions it facilitated. Not your beginning yoga class.

Room-service cheeseburgers arrived via a Lazy Susan contraption in the wall; we did have to yell at someone who arrived at midnight to clean the room (remember the door doesn’t lock from the inside?). Apparently “one night” doesn’t necessarily mean “ALL” night. And, we’ve learned, a sign saying “motel” means “love motel,” not “hotel,” as does a large sign saying “HOTEL” or “AUTOHOTEL” with no, or a very small, name.

The Love Motel/Hotel Business

Such establishments are big business in Asia’s eastern countries, a $40 billion industry in Japan—twice as much as the anime cartoon market, and their primary purpose is providing an often high-tech setting for extramarital sex. They’ve been around in Latin America for a long time, apparently getting a big boost with entrepreneurial immigration from the Galicia area of Spain after the Spanish Civil War—many are still run by the kids and grandkids. But Latin love hotels aren’t quite the same as the ones in Asia. Latin America comprises primarily Catholic countries, and hoteles de paso testify to a certain double moral standard; whatever you want to do is okay, so long as your sexual sins are conducted with discretion. Travel + Leisure points out that the third Wednesday in July, the Day of the Secretary in Mexico, is one of the busiest days of the year in “all classes of love hotels.”

Latin love motels serve the intra-marital market as well. Think about it—how do you suppose multi-generational families crammed into small houses get any larger, when privacy is so hard to come by? What about the modern young professional, who wants to sleep with her boyfriend without rubbing it in her grandmother’s face? Or same-sex relationships? (Note that a few places still won’t serve the LBGT community, or groups.)

The basic principles are no identification—your car (and its license plate) gets hidden ASAP. There is usually no face-to-face contact with anyone (unless you’re a wandering, Spanish-deficient gringo). And, you get a space for sex. The assets are privacy, of course, and the ability to hide your car (those wandering gringos are often overpacked, and having a secure garage means you don’t have to unpack). A good number do allow you to bring your pets, or at least when you get the cute garage, who knows where the cats go? In general, love motels are less expensive than hotels.

At the low end, especially in poorer, rural areas, you might get a canvas curtain to hide the car, and a mattress on the floor in front of the car. Clean sheets, though. Usually. From there, enterprises move on up a scale. A midrange love motel might offer a sparkling clean bathroom, comfy beds and lots of fluffy towels, the TV with porn stations, multiple mirrors, and sex toys from a menu or dispensing machine.

The New Model—Very Chic, Very Lujo!

What’s more interesting is the emergence of the luxury upscale love hotel, particularly in and around Mexico City; according to Chilango, the CDMX life-style magazine, 84% of their readers have been to a love hotel. And Mexico City is home to Aurelio Vasquez, director of the design firm DIN Interiorismo. DIN and Vasquez have done traditional hotels—according to the DIN website, they’re now working on creating a new image for Howard Johnson—but they specialize in renovating traditional hotels into centers of sensuality with an emphasis on young, fun, bright colors, and geometric design. (BTW, if you’re interested in the language of design rationales, visit their site:

Take the Pyrámides del Valle, in Colonia del Valle. Rooms come in standard, suites, and master suites. A master suite includes a sinuous pool that ends with a cascade-and-cave setup, complete with TV and seating behind the waterfall. It also includes all the appropriate appurtenances: swinging chairs and platforms for en aire activities, pole-dance with slotted cushions, fajódromo (series of padded steps or seats, can be fastened to the wall, can also be set in a corner and equipped with handcuffs—that would be a rincon del sacrificio, according to, Kama Sutra/tantra chair or potro del amor, jacuzzis, pools with slides, and rotating beds.

And . . . these more upscale enterprises do up Valentine’s Day in style, with specials for February 14 that put to shame the heart-shaped beds covered in rose petals so popular in the Poconos in the U.S. According to the website Share It Maybe ( Mexico’s Dia del Amor y Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship) is transforming itself into a day for couples to “give gusto” to their bodies; those who say “no, never,” well, how do they explain the long lines outside the love hotels (no reservations are taken)?

The site ranks the top five “Valentine hotels,” with Pyrámides del Valle coming in at 5 (the pole-dance is in the shower). Hotel Cuore (Santa Úrsula Coapa, Coyoacán) is number 4, another DIN Interiorismo design, although there’s a warning that hotels in this area are fond of taping their guests. Number 3 is the Hotel Santa Fe (on the Mexico-Toluca highway), where rooms come with erotic dice (one die has different verbs on each side, and the other has nouns/body parts), and are “impeccably clean.” Coming in second is Roma Amor (Colonia Roma Norte), and its winning features are that it has conventional hotel attributes like air conditioning and Wifi in addition to the regular “love-and-friendship aids.” The best of the best is the V Motel Boutique (Colonia Tacubaya), with a Sky Suite that has a “spectacular vista of the city” seen from a rotating bed, a lingerie menu, erotic games, gourmet menu, and molecular drinks (another time, people!).

Should you happen to be looking for one of these places in the CDMX area, there’s a list. You can choose from “economical,” “cheap,” and “romantic” hotels. The guide shows photos, provides descriptions, lists the pros and cons of the establishment, and offers a his-and-her assessment section.

Then there’s the Hotel Doux in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Might be a little downscale, but it nonetheless has a steady stream of customers registering for Room 51, which is done up in shades of pink, purple, and beige, and has a laminated menu of sex toys (dildos, $380 MXN).   It’s the very room where the Mexican marines took Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera after he and his lieutenant crawled through the sewers, hijacked a little red car, and drove into the arms of the waiting federales. Where better to hide him out until he could be transferred to secure custody? They sat him right down, still sporting sewer sludge, on the mauve satin bedspread. No word on whether they paid the $300 MXN for six hours.