Two men standing together in a street.

As a white, cisgender gay travel writer, the Caribbean is one of my favorite travel destinations.Dan Koday

  • As a white, cisgender gay travel writer, the Caribbean is one of my favorite travel destinations.

  • However, local laws make some islands less friendly to the queer community than others.

  • The following Caribbean destinations are where I’ve felt the most welcome as an LGBTQIA+ traveler, plus local tips for each.

I’m a white, cisgender gay travel writer. And while my experience could never reflect that of all queer people, I have found the Caribbean to be among the safest and friendliest places for LGBTQIA+ travelers.

A colorful sign spelling out the name of the name of the town of San Pedro.

The writer considers many places in the Caribbean to be friendly to LGBTQIA+ travelers.Dan Koday for Insider

As travelers become more judicious with their cash and PTO, I regularly find myself assessing how truly queer-friendly and safe a destination is before recommending it to others, or planning a trip myself.

The Caribbean is one region I return again and again. I have visited many of the destinations there on multiple occasions and found the following to be the safest and friendliest places for travelers in the LGBTQIA+ community.

My recommendations are based on my own personal travels, professional reporting, the stories of queer friends and colleagues, and research on each of the island’s attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people.

I’ve been to St. Barth a few times, and feel just as safe and comfortable there as I would in a queer-friendly city like New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

A man in an outdoor pool.

The writer on vacation in St. Barth.Dan Koday

St. Barth’s is a territory of France, which means travelers benefit from the country’s progressive protections for LGBTQIA+ folks.

Gay marriage is, therefore, legal in St. Barth, widely celebrated, and you will find lots of queer locals and ex-pats alike overtly integrated into society — this is a place where queerness doesn’t have to hide.

Where to go: The island draws LGBTQIA+ travelers for its beauty, sophistication, and party atmosphere — even if it lacks a dedicated gay bar. Le. Ti, the island’s popular party spot, does have some gay energy, though, which increases as the night goes on. The night I was there, for instance, my friend and I danced on stage to ABBA and other pop favorites.

Saline Beach is arguably one of the island’s most beautiful, and while it’s not exclusively queer, it acts as a de facto gay beach and tends to draw a more colorful crowd as well as nudists.

Where to stay: Thanks to the island’s inclusivity, you’ll find LGBTQIA+ folks staying at virtually every hotel, but I usually book Le Toiny for its massive rooms that come with their own private pool. The beach club, located on a cliff-hugging road, has a fun, chill atmosphere with a daytime DJ and a fabulous beach hut-style shop with gender-inclusive clothing.

Le Toiny also manages the stunning Villa Nureyev, which was originally the vacation home of the notably gay Russian ballet dancer. Nureyev lived alone in the house most of the time but had many notable queer icon guests stay with him, including Madame Marie Helène de Rothschild, Jackie Kennedy, and Grace Kelly.

Other tips: Two of my favorite queer-owned boutiques include clothing stores, Pascha St. Barth and Caravan. Form Fitness is a multi-level gym with nice views that offers travelers daily rates and is also queer-owned.

I traveled to San Pedro, Belize with my (also gay) best friend, where many people assumed we were a couple and greeted us with huge smiles. This is par for the course in Belize, where service always feels welcoming, genuine, and personal no matter who you are or who you love.

Side by side image of a man on a beach on a swing and two men on a boat in snorkeling geat.

Belize is a top pick for its outstanding beaches and excellent snorkeling and water activities.Dan Koday

It’s important to note that Belize is actually more culturally conservative than it appears and LGBTQIA+ individuals don’t have all the same protections that they might in the US.

While same-sex activity was decriminalized in 2016, there’s technically no recognition of same-sex couples; recognition of non-binary people and trans rights are virtually non-existent.

However, the attitude I experienced — especially in tourist-centric San Pedro — did not reflect that. I felt comfortable and it seemed that both LGBTQIA+ locals and visitors could be themselves.

Where to go: First and foremost, the beaches — Isla Bonita, after all, was made famous by Madonna in a song of the same name. The stretches of tropical white sand lined with palm trees are an allure, regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity.

I also recommend Belize for excellent day sailing, jet skiing, parasailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. During my week-long dive trip, my friend and I met other queer divers looking to experience some of the most coveted sites on earth, including Hol Chan, a marine reserve bursting with aquatic life and activity that’s easily accessible from San Pedro.

Everything about my time here felt very inclusive and I noticed quite a few queer folks partying at Secret Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand dotted with beach bars that are isolated on the West side of the island and reached by partially paved roads.

Blue Bayou is an ideal place to sit submerged in shallow water at a picnic table and enjoy a cocktail under a thatched umbrella, play drinking games, or enjoy lobsters or elevated bar food.

San Pedro also surprised me with its culinary scene, which has a “sand in toes” mentality. Try Elvi’s Kitchen, where the warm (and complimentary!) banana bread is a must alongside delectable seafood dishes; Hidden Treasure, a romantic restaurant for date night; The French Touch, which is run by a French ex-pat and serves tasty classics; or The Truck Stop, an outdoor eatery with live entertainment.

Where to stay: The rooms and villas at Alaia Belize, Autograph Collection will likely speak to gay men like myself who are inspired by design. The accommodations are blanketed in soothing cream colors and sunbleached wood, outfitted with hanging pendants. Clean and minimalist, the rooms have gigantic, spa-like bathrooms, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that lead to private terraces.

There are also two pools, a private beach, a bar, a small but worthy spa, a piano bar, and a cocktail lounge.

Other tips: First-time visitors should know that you must land in Belize City and take a ferry (roughly 90 minutes) or a pedal jumper plane (which runs throughout the day and takes about 15 mins) to reach San Pedro.

On the island, rent a golf cart to explore the seaside town and greater Ambergris Caye.

Brightly-hued in color, I was initially drawn to vibrant Cartagena thanks to recommendations from queer friends and I’m glad I did. With a small-town-meets-big-city feel, it was easy to navigate and felt safe.

A side by side of a man posing with street art wings and a man standing next to a colorful door and flowers.

The walled city of Cartagena’s “centro” is a beautiful area to explore, with cobblestone streets and richly painted Colonial-era homes.Dan Koday

Colombia is ahead of the pack in Latin America when it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights, affording its citizens many similar protections that we benefit from in the US.

Culturally, there is still some discrimination and taboo attitudes towards queer individuals, but the tide is slowly shifting on social acceptance, too. I thought Cartagena felt safe, and it is regularly regarded as one of the safest places to visit in Colombia.

Where to go: The walled city of Cartagena’s “centro” is a UNESCO World Heritage site and where you’ll want to spend most of your time. Explore cobblestone streets, richly painted Colonial-era homes, and a vibrancy that inspired me greatly.

In August, Cartagena is home to some of the largest pride celebrations in the Caribbean, with a parade and march, drag events, and plenty of rainbows flooding the streets. The Rumors Festival, a circuit party, and events, also happens in conjunction with Pride.

Year-round, Playa Hollywood acts as the city’s gay beach, where queer residents and visitors go for fun and sun.

There are also a few gay watering holes and clubs with LGBTQIA+ parties in Cartagena; in my experience, they are fun but do not offer what travelers from bigger cities might expect from queer culture. Some of my favorite cocktail experiences were actually away from the queer scene, in places like the mesmerizing courtyard at Sofitel Santa Clara, at Townhouse‘s rooftop, or at Alquimico.

For a day trip or an overnight stay, board a speed boat to Blue Apple Beach, which hosts a beach club and small hotel on Tierra Bomba Island. Apart from great food, a pool, and a prime spot on the ocean, Blue Apple is an incredibly inclusive community. A quote from their website reads: “We are straight, gay, black, white, and all the things in between.”

Where to stay: Built surrounding a Republican-style mansion steps from the walled city, Ermita, Tribute Portfolio Hotel faces the Caribbean Sea and has comfortable, contemporary rooms with patterned wallpapers and rich textures. My favorite part of this hotel was its rooftop pool and bar with ocean views, as well as the lovely courtyard for breakfast, and the Middle Eastern restaurant, Senora Ayda, for lunch.

For other intimate gay-friendly accommodations in Cartagena, consider the gay-operated Hotel Casa Lola or the charming Hotel Quadrifolio.

Other tips: Plan a picturesque day trip to the Rosario Islands, which are roughly a one-hour boat ride from Cartagena, with plenty of marine life for snorkeling or scuba diving.

Cartagena is also a hidden gem for shopping. I like to contribute business to trendy St. Dom, Portomar, Cubavera, and Jon Sonen for linen; Velez and Sabandija for leather goods. Casa Chiquis, a hybrid home decor and clothing shop featuring beautiful treasures in both categories, should not be missed.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, has the ideal mix of things to do and see. It’s clear why LGBTQIA+ travelers like me flock to the island time and time again.

A man standing in front of an old fort.

Puerto Rico is a place the writer returns to time and again.Dan Koday

As a territory of the US, LGBTQIA+ people in Puerto Rico benefit from the same protections afforded to LGBTQIA+ American citizens.

That said, I’d be remiss not to mention that even in one of the most queer-friendly places in the Caribbean, there is still some prejudice, with a notable recent wave of worrying discrimination, violence, and even killings of trans people.

However, there is a multitude of reasons why I return again and again, namely, the places listed below.

Where to go: Almost a right of passage, any queer visitor to Puerto Rico should make a trip to Condado Beach, with its gay stretch of sand filled with Speedo-clad hunks that congregate here. Though, it’s important to note that all queer people regardless of gender (or body type!) are welcome and encouraged to visit.

Always filled with good vibes, JungleBird Bar is a restaurant and bar headed up by queer chef Paxx Caraballo Moll. It offers some of the best bites and beverages in the trendy neighborhood of Santurce, right near La Placita, which also happens to be one of the most queer-forward neighborhoods in the city.

For LGBTQIA+ nightlife, Tia Maria Liquor Store may seem like a place you’d expect to stock up, but it’s actually one of San Juan’s most popular bars for locals and curious visitors and is equally welcoming to all genders. It attracts a slightly older crowd, whereas Oasis and Loverboy attract younger crowds and the latter has occasional drag shows.

Where to stay: Colorful and slightly kitschy, Coqui del Mar is San Juan’s dedicated LGBTQIA+ hotel that’s adults-only, with a grown-up, flirtatious vibe. Rooms have a simplistic Airbnb beach cottage feel, but the community outshines the design. There’s also a lovely outdoor garden, two pools, and a hot tub.

The island is also home to Caribe Hilton, the site where the first Piña Colada was ever made.

Other tips: With such a strong and unique queer culture, there’s plenty of LGBTQIA+-friendly shopping in San Juan, including hat shops, art galleries, bookstores, and gender-inclusive clothing boutiques focused on sustainability.

Curaçao’s breezy spirit makes LGBTQIA+ travelers like me feel welcome, thanks to a friendly and welcoming culture, catered nightlife, events and accommodations, and a Pride celebration.

Colorful houses at waterfront promenade in the evening.

Willemstad is a trendy neighborhood that attracts queer visitors and is filled with murals and popular places to eat.Westend61

Though its neighbor and sister island Aruba often steals the spotlight, Curaçao is a hidden gem known for its saying “Biba i laga Biba” which translates to “Live and let live.”

LGBTQIA+ travelers that descend upon Curaçao are welcomed by this attitude and surrounded by plenty of natural beauty, pristine waters, and coral reefs, not to mention 70 dive sites, 35 alluring beaches, and adorable Dutch Caribbean architecture throughout.

Curaçao’s record on rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ travelers isn’t as strong as some of the other options on this list, but the tiny island is making progress, and attitudes are already friendlier to queer travelers than most other places in the Caribbean.

Discrimination laws are in place for queer people and same-sex sexual activity is legal, but same-sex marriage itself is not legal yet despite there being an ongoing debate and movement for that to change soon. Rights for trans people are currently nonexistent.

Where to go: Though I haven’t been during the festival itself, Curaçao hosts a Pride parade and other year-round events catered at queer individuals, and there are several LGBTIA+ associations on the island.

The annual Carnival celebrations — filled with costumes, floats, dancing, and a celebratory mood — happen in February and have long drawn queer travelers like myself. Meanwhile, Mambo Beach is a gay-friendly beach with multiple trendy beach clubs.

Despite its smaller size, Curaçao also has good nightlife options for LGBTQIA+ travelers, including the dedicated Rainbow Lounge and Bar. Cabana Beach has a mixed, friendly crowd, as does Wet & Wild Beach Club, which hosts a popular Sunday Funday-style day party.

On the island, take ATV rides through Shete Boka National Park, hike the highest peak on the island at Christoffel National Park, or opt for underwater aqua safari tours, snorkeling, and diving.

For a bucket list experience, book a private boat charter to the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao, “Little Curaçao,” where you’ll enjoy secluded and pristine beaches, a jaw-dropping shipwreck, and a lighthouse.

Where to stay: The majority of hotels are gay-friendly and the island has seen a surge of new openings in the past two years, including Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort, Dreams Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino, and soon, couples will enjoy the first Sandals on the island — Sandals Royal Curaçao.

My suggestion is the gay-friendly Bario Hotel, which has reasonable rates on studio, suite, and apartment-style accommodations.

Baoase Luxury Resort is another queer-friendly favorite and has an island-chic, welcoming atmosphere, and villa-style rooms, many of which contain private plunge pools.

Other tips: In the main port town of Willemstad, Pietermaai is a trendy neighborhood that attracts queer visitors and is similar to Miami’s Wynwood, filled with murals and trendy places to eat and have a night out.

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