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Dreamy tropical vibes prevail across the Caribbean, where the people are as warm as the waves. But when it comes to LGBT-friendly Caribbean destinations, some islands are keener to roll out the rainbow welcome mats.
As a region, the West Indies encompasses 13 independent nations; plus about a dozen more territories that are part of the United States, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It’s those latter islands where gay and lesbian travelers usually feel more at ease since local laws around homosexuality and same-sex marriage match those of their parent countries.
That’s not to say that gay and lesbian travelers won’t feel safe or welcome in less-progressive destinations. But rather than plan vacations to one of the dozen Caribbean islands where homosexuality is criminalized (surprising, but true), most travelers simply prefer to vacation where they’ll feel comfortable.
In fact, according to a 2019 survey, 86 percent of LGBT travelers admit that a destination’s policies toward the LGBT community are at least somewhat important when deciding where to travel. Conducted by the IGLTA Foundation and Airbnb, the survey also revealed that 51 percent of LGBT respondents are “very unlikely” to travel to a country where being LGBT is illegal. Still, the world is evolving when it comes to acceptance and equality—including in the Caribbean, where more and more cities are hosting Pride celebrations and flying rainbow flags.
LGBT-Friendly Caribbean Islands
Here’s a closer look at the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The fourth-largest Caribbean island is a gay-friendly U.S. territory that’s home to 3.1 million residents, with at least as many visitors every year. In the capital city of San Juan, LGBT visitors can enjoy Puerto Rican hospitality in its historic downtown, where the culinary and nightlife scenes are booming. In the beachfront neighborhood of Condado, the Atlantic Beach Hotel and Oasis Lounge are regular gay hotspots, both just steps away from the low-key gay-beach area. For a resort that’s lesbian-friendly too, the recently renovated San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a favorite for its central location on the beach, spacious balcony rooms, plus live salsa music on weekends.
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In the Santurce neighborhood, La Placita is a public market by day and busy social scene by night. Among its strip of bars is El Patio de Lila, a gay-friendly watering hole that’s especially happening on Friday nights. Nearby, head to the trendy restaurant Santaella or the more casual Jose Enrique for some of San Juan’s best dining. Or sample the city’s tastiest delights by joining one of Spoon Food Tours fabulous walkabouts, where knowledgeable guides can tip you off to LGBT goings-on.
Bonus: Puerto Rico is home to two of the Caribbean’s biggest LGBT Pride events. The Puerto Rico Pride march and festival takes place in San Juan each May, while Boqueron Pride (near Cabo Rojo) follows in early June for a splashy weekend beach celebration.
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True to its Dutch heritage, the Lesser Antilles’s island of Aruba is a proud Caribbean paradise ever eager to welcome LGBT travelers. The month of June is the island’s official Pride month, launching a series of events to celebrate diversity in and around the capital city Oranjestad. Resorts and hotels all over Aruba are welcoming but count on the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino for Pride season packages, plus adults-only pool and beach areas. Oranjestad also is home to District 7, an LGBT-centric nightclub, lounge, restaurant, and inn (which was once a simpler gay bar called Jimmy’s Place).
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Like Aruba, Curacao is a Dutch territory that’s progressive and inclusive, a trademark of the Netherlands. But to welcome gay and lesbian Caribbean visitors, this small island goes the extra mile by being an active member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Plus, the island offers queer travelers guidance with handy PinkCuracao, an online travel resource with recommended hotels, restaurants, tours, boutiques, and more. Floris Suite Hotel Spa and Beach Club Curaçao is the go-to gay hotel in Willemstad, where adult guests can enjoy luxury, privacy, and views of the island’s famously-blue waters. Among Curacao’s flirtier spots is MooMba Beach Club, perched on the island’s most gay-friendly beach and serving up cocktails, live music, fresh seafood, and weekend barbeques.
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This island loves to celebrate, and every September it hosts the five-day Curacao Pride festival with a slate of activities in towns, on beaches, and on the water. Come February (or March), Curacao Carnival becomes winter’s most colorful, all-welcoming celebration.
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St. Martin/St. Maarten
St. Martin/St. Maarten is one Caribbean island that’s doubly gay-friendly. As the world’s smallest territory shared by two nations, St. Martin enjoys all the liberties of the French Republic on its northern half, while the southerly St. Maarten is a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. No matter which side you visit, you can enjoy the island’s easygoing atmosphere.
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LGBT travelers can take their pick of gay-centric beaches to swim, sunbathe, and snorkel, especially Happy Bay Beach and the clothing-optional Orient Bay Beach (both on the French side), and Cupecoy Beach (Dutch side) where nude sunbathing is common. Visitors can discover lesbian- and gay-owned businesses with handy Gay Sint Maarten, which offers listings for the entire island. For fun in Dutch Philipsburg, don’t miss the long-running cabaret and drag show L’Escargot, and open-air dancing at Bliss on Maho Beach. Or head to Club Eros to dance at one of the island’s main late-night gay bars in the French town of Marigot. (Tip: Locals often refer to the island by its airport code “SXM.”)
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The French island territory Saint-Barthélemy, nicknamed St. Bart’s, enjoys the same marriage equality as France, as do its sister islands of Martinique, St. Martin, and Guadeloupe. But more than the others, St. Bart’s is among the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations overall—thanks in part to its ritzy reputation as a celebrity vacation hideaway. The wee island measures just 10 square miles, and LGBT travelers can enjoy relaxed attitudes, even without any official gay bars or Pride events. But at all-welcoming/gay-leaning Saline Beach, travelers relax with or without clothes. And you can patronize gay-owned businesses like colorful Le Pasha boutique and La Cantina bar in Gustavia; and saucy Le Ti cabaret and tavern in Pointe Milou.
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U.S. Virgin Islands
To the east and south of Puerto Rico are the U.S. Virgin Islands, comprised of St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and several minor islands. Their cluster anchors the northern Lesser Antilles, and together they’re among the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations. Each of the three main islands is blissfully welcoming to all travelers (some of whom take day trips from the neighboring British Virgin Islands), and rainbow stickers adorn many a local business.
St. Thomas has its share of both upscale and casual hotels, restaurants, and attractions, concentrated mainly in Frenchtown (near the cruise ship port). But St. Croix is more populous and has a fun, active LGBT community. Among a handful of gay guesthouses on St. Croix is Frederiksted’s Sand Castle on the Beach, a hit for same-sex weddings and honeymoon packages. Plus, each June St. Croix ushers in STX Pride, with a month full of LGBT events that continue year-round. The organization’s motto is “the most gay friendly island in the Caribbean,” and based on its long roster of local hosts and sponsors, it’s clear how inclusive the destination really is.
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