Worldwide vacation ideas for the out and smart traveler.
As the days grow longer and the nights grow warmer, GLBT travelers start to make their plans for summer travel. In the past few years, the options for queer travelers have exploded as more and more hotels and event organizers are beginning to realize the need for gay-friendly destinations, and more cultures are becoming tolerant of people across the sexual spectrum.
But those aren’t the only cultural changes. While Pride festivals around the world continue to draw large crowds, some GLBT travelers are increasingly choosing more subdued experiences with a bit of culture thrown in. So when you’re considering where in the United States or even around the world you want to spend your hard-earned off time, consider some of the following locations.
San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Montréal
Paraty, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cuzco, Peru
Budapest, Ibiza, Venice, Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, & Sitges
Cape Town, Victoria Falls
Always a favorite with gay people from around the world, this most European of American cities offers the hospitality of a tried-and-true gay utopia with the sophistication of a cosmopolitan tourist mecca.
For those with a taste for the great outdoors, visit Russian River to the north. The rustic scenery is sprinkled with multicultural wildlife of all kinds, and every summer weekend sees a West Coast version of Fire Island along its ridged length. Although most of the accommodations are less slick than found in the city, all social strata will find someplace to nest. The River is also close to the heart of the urbane and stylish California wine country, which increases its appeal for those who are less at ease with nature.
Returning San Francisco to its hedonist roots, leather men and women pour into the Dore Alley Fair on July 29 and Folsom Street Fair on September 30.
This Florida city’s thriving gay community is giving San Francisco a run for its money, with more than 30 guesthouses catering to the community with amenities that appeal to both the no-frills and upscale travelers. The most upscale and consistently rated as one of the top guesthouses in the country is Pineapple Point.
From the sunny, sea-kissed beaches to gay-friendly Las Olas Boulevard, there’s plenty of excitement to soak up in Fort Lauderdale. Gay Days at Disney, held on the first weekend in May, is an equal-opportunity visit with the fantastic. The four-day Celebration of Friends scheduled June 21-24 gives mature beachcombers of all genders a chance to let it all hang out.
Although New Orleans still has a long way to go to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina, the world-famous French Quarter is back to its own self. The biggest weekends here are Halloween, Southern Decadence, and Mardi Gras.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Cradled in the wedge of Banderas Bay and straddling the Cuale River, this bustling city on the Mexican Riviera is a quick two-hour flight away, very convenient for GLBT travelers from here. Visit the Playa de los Muertos, the famous “blue chairs” gay beach to the south of Los Muertes Pier, for an electric experience.
Old Town Vallarta is the home of several gay hotels as well as gay-owned and -operated restaurants, shops, and bars. The recently renovated Abbey Hotel now boasts that it is the largest gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta, with over 45 rooms. One of the nicer places to stay, the Abbey is a very clean hotel with a friendly staff and a restaurant that serves a delicious breakfast and lunch. Although not located on the beach, it is just a few blocks from Blue Chairs, another gay hotel but better known for its gay beach.
The whirlwind Mexico Women’s Week in October and Latin Fever festival in November give fall visitors a chance to enjoy the sun when everyone else is cooling their heels.
Canada took the North American lead in equal rights when it legalized same-sex marriages two years ago, but that’s not the only cultural appeal. Nestled on a pair of islands in the St. Lawrence River, Montréal, with its narrow, winding streets, can make seasoned travelers think they have dropped into the heart of a European city. Enjoy the picturesque Old Montréal and Old Port areas on your way to gay-friendly Ste-Catherine Street East, Casino de Montréal, or the latest festival.
Montréal’s legendary Pride celebration, Divers/Cité, this year scheduled July 29 through August 5, offers a world-class cultural festival complete with concerts, art, theater, parties, and the best open-air drag show you’re likely to ever see.
In fact, the Pride celebrations in each of the three major Canadian cities of Montréal (July 29-August 5), Toronto (June 15-June 24), and Vancouver (July 28-August 5) compete with any U.S. Pride event in size, scope, acceptance, spirit, and parties. It is estimated that last year’s Pride Parade in Vancouver had over 300,000 in attendance, and that is the smallest of the three! Toronto Pride is estimated to have over 1 million attendees throughout the 10 days of festivities, which culminates with the Pride parade.
The two top destinations in South America for gay travelers are Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, but don’t limit yourself to those locations. Rio’s gay area is around Ipanema Beach. The Ipanema Plaza Hotel is located just a block off the beach and is a great location for a Rio adventure. Keep in mind that South America is in the southern hemisphere, so summers are the opposite of North American summers. This makes South America an ideal destination for those who want to escape to tropical breezes during the winter here. High season in Rio is Carnaval (February 2-5 in 2008) and New Year’s (the fireworks off Copacabana Beach are spectacular and usually pull 4-5 million spectators).
Atlantis Events has scheduled a cruise that will end in Rio for three nights of Carnaval in 2008. Zoom Vacations offers both a great New Year’s packages as well as Carnaval package to Rio, usually with extensions to Paraty. Zoom also offers a great package to Buenos Aires and Iguacu Falls.
A few hours south of Rio is Paraty, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an increasingly popular destination for gay travelers seeking to avoid the hustle and bustle of the big city.
This quaint fishing village was a major shipping port for gold in the 1700s. Today, the real gold can be found in the hearts of its residents and in its picturesque sunsets. The old part of town, with its whitewashed walls, cast iron balconies, and colorful shutters and doors, is a world away from the gray and steel of modern life while still maintaining all of the modern amenities. The area is also blocked to automotive traffic, with all deliveries and pick-ups done by mules and carriages.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Argentine capital is another destination that is becoming increasingly popular in the community. Civil unions have been legal in the Buenos Aires and Rio Negro provinces since 2003, and this has created a gay-friendly atmosphere in this unique city.
Buenos Aires has a distinct European flavor and architecture, and the people are some of the most beautiful in the world. Gay Pride is celebrated here the first Saturday of November and is an ideal time to visit this lively city. The Alvear Palace or the Starwood Properties Park Tower are ideal for some visitors to this vibrant city.
Famous for both unrivaled natural beauty and fascinating archeological ruins, Cuzco lures gay travelers looking for a historical experience. While it lacks a significant gay nightlife scene, this former capital of the Inca empire is a very progressive, fun, and funky city by South American standards, and gay couples are fairly common (at least in touristy places). Visitors may be surprised to see the oft-shown rainbow Incan flag.
Two ever-welcoming establishments, both in the San Blas neighborhood, are The Witches’ Garden, owned by three gay men from New York, and the hip cafe Macondo. Take time to see the religious Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy woman”) Fortress site and the nearby ruins of Machu Picchu, as well as the luminous waters of Lake Titicaca farther to the southeast.
The city known as “The Paris of the East” is actually two cities separated by the Danube River: Buda, the western hilly side, and Pest, the flatter and more energetic side. Stroll along the historic Danube, take a day trip to nearby Lake Balaton for the golden beaches, or visit the imposing, 203-room Buda Castle on the west bank.
Whatever form of exercise you use them for, the famous Turkish baths are a very old and respected tradition, and the gay-friendly fifth district gives you access to such venues as Chaos Bar at Dohány and Nagydiófa or Darling Bar on Szep. Pride Week is held in the first week of July.
The idyllic beaches and frenetic nightlife on this tiny Mediterranean island off of the Spanish coast never fails to amaze visitors, and more than one jaded partier has had his fires stoked at this exotic retreat. Most of the gay bars are situated on or near the Calle de la Virgen in the eastern end of Ibiza Town, and Anfora serves up a great dance mix. During the day, visit Playa Es Cavallet. This beach is almost 100 percent gay, with nude sunbathing a common occurrence. A small rock beach, Los Molinas, is a well-hidden retreat.
On the lighter side, be sure to rent a car and drive north to enjoy the island’s secluded coves and splendid isolation. Santa Gertrudis, in the very heart of Ibiza, and Santa Ines, an area famous for its buttery almonds, are among the island’s many picturesque villages.
There is no question that the “City of Canals” is the quintessential place for romance, whether that romance is just budding or in full bloom. The placid waters allow the famous gondoliers to quietly paddle their way around the city, past the Doges Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.
When you tire of the waterways, Venice’s famous glass factories, airy cafes, and quaint shops are always open to visitors. Enjoy the Venice Gay Film Festival in late June, or dance the night away at Movida Disco on via Belgio. Casa de Uscoli on San Marco or the Hotel Basilea on the Rio Marin offer gay-friendly accommodations.
Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, & Sitges
Europe can be a pricey choice at this time, given the weaker American dollar. However, in the winter, cheap weekend escapes to Europe can be quite exciting and fun. London is currently the bigger party city with big circuit-type venues. Amsterdam has its share of smaller clubs with backrooms and saunas. Barcelona has beautiful architecture and its own share of big parties. For those beginning or ending a Mediterranean cruise in Barcelona, a few days extension in Sitges is recommended. Sitges ranks as one of the top European gay destinations in the summer. However, it has its season, and once the summer is over, the city becomes deserted and the parties and clubs have sparse attendance but with the locals.
Thailand is considered to have one of the most open gay and lesbian cultures in the world with Bangkok, its capital, considered its epicenter. From its after-hours party streets to its sublime Buddhist temples, the city is guaranteed to satisfy anyone with a taste for the exotic. The best time to visit is November through February. A time not to go is September and October during the rainy season.
The eclectic Soi 2 and Soi 4 streets are conveniently close to the BTS (Sala Daeng) and MRT (Silom) transit stations. Short day trips can be had at nearby Phuket, an island destination with sandy beaches and Portuguese architecture, and Pattaya, a true beach resort with many gay venues as well. The diving here is splendid and will satisfy even the most avid divers. Wherever you go in Thailand, no visit will be complete without getting a traditional Thai massages.
With the recent recognition of gay marriages, South Africa’s jewel is increasing its visibility as the gay mecca on the continent. Spreading out in a semi-circle next to the sea and dominated by the flat-topped Table Mountain, Cape Town’s attractions include beguiling scenery and wildlife. Enjoy a day trip to the wine country or indulge in the beach-covered Garden Route along the southeastern coast. You can also schedule a safari through the region’s game preserves.
Clifton Beach in Cape Town was recently named one of the world’s best beaches by the Travel Channel. The best time to travel here is October through March when the foliage in the national parks is less dense and the sighting of big game is the best. While over here you want to make sure to visit South Africa’s wine region on the Western Cape.
Be sure to stay in (or at least visit) the De Waterkant Village section of Cape Town, where rainbow flags hang from shops in abundance and the area lights up with festive men and women at night. Pick up a copy or browse the free biannual Cape Gay Guide (www.capegayguide.co.za) while you’re there.
Coda International Tours, Zoom Vacations, and David Tours, as well as Gay2Africa, offer packages and safaris and visits to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Appropriately labeled one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World,” Zambia’s Victoria Falls is more of a regional hub than the site of Africa’s number-one tourist attraction. In fact, this juncture of four African countries—Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—gives gay travelers more than enough to do in one trip. The thundering cacophony and misty air filled with rainbows (even more visible during a full moon) created by the Great Zambezi River is unforgettable. Gay-friendly hotels like the Royal Livingstone bring a welcome addition to safaris and trips through nearby jungles, the Kalahari, and Luangwa Valley.
Stewart Cole (www.stewart-cole.com/gay) offers a mid-July trip to the falls that includes a safari.
Sydney & Melbourne
Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney is still hailed as one of the biggest gay parties in the world. It was recently named one of the top 10 international costume parties by Conde Naste Traveler magazine and the best gay event in the world by PlanetOut. The event actually kicks off with the Sleaze Ball in September. But Mardi Gras itself arrives in February or March. The week of Mardi Gras has over 100 different venues and activities, and 2008 will be the 30th-anniversary celebration. The Midsumma Festival and celebration in Melbourne will be in its 20th year in 2008. The festival runs three full weeks and four weekends and generally draws about 100,000 visitors. Melbourne is also home of the first gay and lesbian chorus, founded in 1990.
One of the most reputable tour operators for this market is Above and Beyond Tours, although there are several new operators even in this market.
GAY & LESBIAN CRUISES
Atlantis Events, RSVP Vacations, and Olivia are still the big three when it comes to gay and lesbian cruises. However, there are several smaller new tour operators in the cruise market. One of these, Travel Pride & Romance Voyages, is currently offering all-gay cruise charters to exciting and exotic destinations including the Baltic, Egypt, the Galapagos, and the Caribbean cruise for New Year’s.
The biggest cruise of 2008 is Atlantis Events’ Liberty of the Seas in January, with 3,700 passengers sailing the Caribbean departing from Miami.
The newest addition to the high gay seas is RSVP’s Tahiti cruise, scheduled for Thanksgiving 2008 on the Star Flyer, with a capacity of only 170 guests. Expect this cruise to sell out quickly.
At press time, there was limited availability remaining for the RSVP transatlantic crossing on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, leaving from New York on May 29.
The final big North American cruise in 2007 is Atlantis’ Mexican Riviera cruise, in October.
Both Atlantis and RSVP still have availability for their end-of-summer 2007 Mediterranean cruises. Both will offer Mediterranean cruises in 2008.
Olivia Cruises’ Alaskan Frontiers excursion, setting sail September 9, will lure women with Indigo Girls and Meg Christian as its headliners. The main attraction of the weeklong tour, however, is Alaska’s marvelous coastline and culturally rich port towns.
There are also several operators that book gay groups on regular cruises. These trips can always be found at lower rates than any of the all-gay charters. Some are more reputable than others, and some pull many more clients than others. The unfortunate aspect with these gay groups is that you have no guarantee regarding the number of cabins that will actually be part of your group.
GLBT Vacation Events Around the World
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Here are just a few of the GLBT vacation destinations and events around the world:
June 15-24. Toronto Pride Week Toronto, Canada www.pridetoronto.com
July 28-Aug. 5 . Vancouver Pride Week Vancouver, Canada www.vancouverpride.ca
Aug. 29-Sept. 3. Southern Decadence New Orleans, Louisiana www.southerndecadence.net
Oct. 26-28. New Orleans Halloween New Orleans www.halloweenneworleans.com
Nov. 3. Buenos Aires Gay Pride Buenos Aires, Argentina www.turismo.gov.ar
Jan. 13-20, 2008. Gay Ski Week Aspen, Colorado www.stayaspensnowmass.com/p-gay-ski-week.php
Jan. 18-21, 2008. Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend Washington, D.C. www.leatherweekend.com
Feb. 2-5, 2008. Rio Carnival 2008 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil www.rio-carnival.net
Feb. 3-12, 2008. Winter Pride Whistler, Vancouver, Canada www.gaywhistler.com
Feb. 5, 2008. Mardi Gras New Orleans www.mardigrasneworleans.com
Feb. 26-March 8, 2008. Gay Mardi Gras Sidney, Australia www.mardigras.org.au
March 21-23, 2008. The White Party Palm Springs, California www.jeffreysanker.com
March 22, 2008. The Black Party New York, New York www.saintatlarge.com
March 27-31, 2008. Dinah Shore Weekend Palm Springs, California www.dinahshoreweekend.com