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Top 5 Destinations for Gay and Lesbian Travelers in Latin America

Updated on June 30, 2011

When you think of gay travel destinations, the usual metropolises in North America and Europe come to mind: Los Angeles, London, Paris, Madrid, New York, and course, San Francisco. However, as you plan your next vacation with your beau or with your group of rowdy, single friends, consider of these less frequented locales in Latin America. With the favorable exchange rates and a distinct Latin flavor, one of the following top 5 places for LBGT travel might be a viable alternative to the mainstream gay hotspots.

The Obelisco on Avenida 9 de Julio
The Obelisco on Avenida 9 de Julio | Source

1. Buenos Aires, Argentina

At the top of the list is Buenos Aires, Argentina, which has established itself as the gay destination in Latin America. Popular for its distinct European vibe intertwined with its Latin American energy, Buenos Aires is perhaps one of the most open-minded cities in Latin America. While the majority of the Argentine population practices Catholicism, you find that in general, porteños are rather accepting of the LBGT community as a natural facet of the urban fabric. And even though you should be careful as you would in any large city for potential homophobic hatred that might be directed towards you (it is relatively liberal for Latin American standards, but it isn’t San Francisco), it is generally safe for gays and lesbians in the Argentine capital.

With a myriad of bars and club, the gay nightlife thrives in this city that parties well into the morning. As is typical of porteño party culture, the boliches (or nightclubs) don’t start until at least 2.00 pm and it usually lasts until the sun begins to rise.

And in recent years, the Argentine government and public has achieved huge strides in progress with gay rights legislation and anti-discrimination laws. In 1996, anti-hate measures, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, were passed, making Buenos Aires the first Spanish-speaking city in Latin America to do so. In 2002, same sex civil unions were approved in Buenos Aires. And in an astonishing move by Congress and the Presidency of Cristina Kirchner, gay marriage was approved nationwide in 2010, making it the first Latin America country to do so and the second nation in the Americas, after Canada. I mean, for a country whose presidential palace is called the Pink House, what do you expect?

In addition to the liberal political atmosphere, the prolific gay nightlife, and the welcoming population, another reason that Buenos Aires tops the list of top gay destinations in Latin America is its favorable exchange rate. The crisis of 2001 made Buenos Aires extremely affordable and while in recent years, inflation has tamed that currency exchange disparity, the city itself is still relatively cheap if you are visiting from North America or Europe.

Sunset on the gay beach in Puerto Vallarta
Sunset on the gay beach in Puerto Vallarta

2. Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Mexico

Dubbed the “San Francisco of Mexico,” and cited as the premier gay beach destination in Latin America, Puerto Vallarta has developed quite a reputation for itself in the gay travel industry. The charming city speckled with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets brings you an Old World vibe alongside the relaxed beach culture of this resort town—perfect for a romantic getaway from the busy office environment of your metropolitan home.

Whether you are partaking in the debauchery of the gay nightlife or whether you are sunbathing on the gay beach, Puerto Vallarta is an ideal gay vacation destination. The gay scene centers around the Zona Romántica, with a wide selection of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Similar to most Latin nations, the bustling nightlife doesn’t begin until much later than what you are accustomed to at home, so prepare yourself for a long night.

Mexicans are known for their friendliness and hospitality and the residents of Puerto Vallarta are a perfect example of this warmth. The handsome men, the sandy beaches, and stunning sunsets will definitely ensure an unforgettable trip to this beach paradise. World-class resorts and five-star hotels guarantee a comfortable stay and the multitude of boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries provide you with various daytime activities.

As is true with most port cities, Puerto Vallarta displays a general tolerance and open-minded disposition—and with its thriving LGBT tourism industry, it definitely is one of the top gay-friendly holiday hotspots in both Mexico and all of Latin America. It is, in fact, one of the main destinations for gay cruises on the Pacific!

View of Mexico City
View of Mexico City | Source

3. Mexico City, Distrito Federal (D.F.), Mexico

The allure of this city of paradoxes cannot be described as anything other than irresistible. Alongside Spanish colonial architecture sits excavated pyramids—a testament to the indigenous, Aztec among others, energy that pervades the entire city. It is a city of modern development, struggling to compete in the global market yet with strong undercurrents of very Latin American culture. There is world-class shopping juxtaposed with street vendors selling artisan crafts and tasty, authentic Mexican cuisine.

In terms of tolerance, it would appear as if Mexico City is attempting to take the throne as most liberal city in Latin America. Same-sex marriage was approved in 2009 and implemented in 2010. On August 10, 2010, the Supreme Court also ruled that the same-sex marriages performed in D.F. needed to be recognized throughout the entire country. And through the legalization of same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption has now also become legal. Awarded by PlanetOut Travel Awards, which recognized gay-friendly tourist hotspots, Mexico City receive the accolade of Gay Destination of the Year. In fact, with the Secretary of Tourism joining the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, it appears the city is actively courting the gay travel dollar.

While it is not quite the hub of crime, drug violence and anarchy that the media hubbub portrays it to be, it is the world’s most populous metropolis and you should exercise the same precaution you would in any large, metropolitan area. Petty crime is prevalent and violent crime can occur; however, simply exercising common sense and awareness (not speaking loud English, not flashing your expensive electronic toys, and not sporting your most expensive jewelry) can largely reduce such problems and allow you to enjoy all that Mexico City has to offer.

Like San Francisco’s Castro District or Los Angeles's West Hollywood, the Zona Rosa is the gay district of Mexico City, where much of the gay nightlife is located. While the majority of the gay bars and anthros (nightclubs) are situated in the “Pink Zone,” there are a few in the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods well worth checking out as well.

View of Rio de Janeiro
View of Rio de Janeiro | Source

4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In terms of allure and mystique, perhaps no other city in the world can beat Rio de Janeiro—the South American paradise characterized by its stunning beaches, its beautiful people, and its carefree energy that seems to pulsate the minute you step off the plane. No wonder it has been bestowed the throne of best lesbian and gay international destination in 2009 as well as the sexiest gay place in the world in 2010. A top destination for gay and lesbian travelers from all over the country and world (in fact, an estimated 1 of every 4 foreign visitor is gay or lesbian), Rio de Janeiro boasts a thriving gay nightlife, a cosmopolitan quality, and a carefree beach culture.

In recent years, mention of this beach city generally invokes unflattering images of drug-related crime and violence. The source of much of this violence centers around the favelas (slums)—pockets of poverty alongside the mountain slopes of Rio de Janeiro. However, despite this negative image, tourism to Rio has yet to decline. Perhaps, it’s the gorgeous people or the happening parties. It might be the outstanding beaches. Whatever it is, people from all corners of the globe seem to flock towards the cultural capital of Brazil.

The Rua Farme de Amoeda is the closest thing to a Castro- or Zona Rosa-neighborhood you will find in Rio de Janeiro. It is a street with several gay or gay-friendly venues, including bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Situated merely a block away from Ipanema’s gay beach (one of the two main beaches in Rio; the other being the reknowned Copacabana), it is the ideal location for your gay vacation. Lounge on the beach during the day and get ready to party the night away just a few meters away.

Gay rights is relatively progressive in this largely Catholic country. The Supreme Federal Court voted in 2011 to bestow same-sex couples the same 112 legal financial and social rights enjoyed by married couples. And while it is a country that is generally tolerant and accepting of the LGBT community, the reason why gay and lesbian travelers flock to this beach city is not merely for that reason. It is also perhaps for that intoxication glamour and the sex appeal of the destination.

View of Sao Paulo
View of Sao Paulo | Source

5. São Paulo, Brazil

Another rising gay mecca south of the border, Sao Paulo boasts a thriving and growing gay and lesbian travel industry that seeks to rival its Brazilian counterpart, Rio de Janeiro. As the economic stronghold of Brazil, it is also the largest city in South America and the third-largest in the world, and thus, unsurprisingly also has a huge LGBT community.

Whereas Rio highlights the sex appeal of its beach-goers, Sao Paulo showcases a distinct, much more urban experience. It is very much a metropolitan city and its urban energy can be felt pulsating with a stylish cool—its swanky restaurants, artsy neighborhoods, and posh boutiques. Yet, despite the very metropolitan vibe of the city, the locals still exhibit the warmth that characterizes Brazilian culture.

Gay nightlife can be found interspersed throughout the entire city and you will find that there is definite no shortage of gay venues in this skyscraper-adorned super-city. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of this top gay hotspot is its annual Gay Pride parade, the largest in the world. Drawing over 3.5 million, this celebration of tolerance and open-mindedness usually occurs mid- to late-June.

While it may still cost less than a trip to Europe, travel to Brazil is no longer as affordable or cheap as it once was. However, if you can afford it, a trip to one of these hot Brazilian destinations is well worth the time, money, and effort.


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