Off-The-Beaten-Path LGBT Destinations
LGBT travel is one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry, with an estimated $200 million being spent across the globe every year. As more destinations become accepting of the LGBT community, there are far more options for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals to enjoy a vacation beyond major cities such as New York and London, or traditional LGBT hotspots like Key West and Provincetown.
For example, did you know that Taipei hosts Asia’s most-attended gay pride parade? Or that remote places like Alaska and Greenland boast thriving LGBT communities?
Around the world, lesser-known cities, towns and beach locales have distinguished themselves as places for safe and enjoyable LGBT vacations. From the colorful streets of Cartegena to small-town Indiana, let’s take a look at some of the world’s best off-the-beaten-path LGBT-friendly destinations.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The capital of Cambodia doesn’t have the world’s biggest gay scene, but there are a number of options for LGBT travelers looking to soak up art, culture and great food.
Blue Chili, celebrating its 11th year, is the longest-running gay bar in Cambodia, and welcomes all to enjoy its drag shows, dancing and cocktails. Numerous other bars and clubs, a gay pride parade, and LGBT-owned and operated hotels round out the queer-friendly scene.
Phnom Pen established its first LGBT magazine, “Q,” in 2015, and the government recently announced plans for a new course in schools to teach students about LGBT issues, sexuality and gender.
Of course, any visitor to Phnom Pen should take advantage of its spectacular sites, including the National Museum of Pagoda and the Silver Pagoda, home to a first-rate collection of Buddha statues.
Alaska’s most famous residents may be brown bears, but the gay community in Anchorage likes to joke that their city is home to a far more friendly kind of bear.
Kidding aside, Anchorage earns high marks for its inclusivity and progressive social views. It’s no surprise that two of the state’s largest LGBT support groups, Alaska Pride and Identify Alaska, are located here. The city’s annual pride parade draws over 10,000 people every year, while popular cabaret club Mad Myrna’s gets people on their feet with dance parties, drag shows and other events.
With its accepting attitude, Anchorage is the perfect spot to have a drink and chat with LGBT locals, while enjoying access to Alaska’s great outdoors.
With the nickname the "Art Coast of Lake Michigan,” it’s no surprise that Saugatuck is a welcoming LGBTQ destination. The area provides a plethora of cultural and creative activities and institutions, including — along with its neighbor, Douglas — over 35 fine-art and specialty galleries.
If you’re more into creating your own art, you can take classes at renowned Ox-Bow, am LGBTQ-friendly school formed by a collective of artists from the Art Institute of Chicago. This picturesque town also boasts miles of coastline, including the award-winning Oval Beach known for its astounding sand dunes, plus loads of opportunities for kayaking, fishing and sunbathing. After hitting the beach, you can stroll beside beautiful 19th-century architecture and check out over 140 LGBTQ-owned businesses.
With its dedication to the arts and welcoming personality, Saugatuck is the perfect place for same-sex couples to relax, unwind and enjoy the scenery.
Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia
Though it's earned a bad reputation, Colombia’s violence and civil unrest is becoming a thing of the past. Today, Colombia is working hard to shed misconceptions and welcome travelers from around the world, including the LGBT community.
Two of Colombia’s most LGBT-friendly destinations are Bogata, its capital city, and Cartegena, the jewel of the Caribbean. Bogota’s Chapinero section is one of the largest gay neighborhoods in South America, offering a vibrant bar, club and cafe scene. Bogota is also home to world-class dining, the impressive Gold Museum and beautiful views of the Andes. Its historic neighborhood, La Candelaria, boasts astounding murals, cobblestoned streets and baroque buildings.
Not to be outdone by the capital, Cartegana packs quite the punch. Its charming old-town provides a maze of streets you’ll actually want to get lost in, and trendy Getsamie has a number of outdoor cafes and bars that run all hours of the night (and welcome LGBT revelers). For a city escape, hop on a boat to swim, snorkel and sunbathe in the rustic Rosario Islands.
With its recent legalization of gay marriage, Colombia is an ideal destination that won’t remain off the beaten path for long.
Perhaps the most remote destination on this list, this ice-covered nation is a place with a small, but open, LGBT population, having legalized gay marriage in 2016.
The capital city of Nuuk is an inviting place to live in and visit, with colorful homes providing a lovely backdrop for the city’s annual gay pride parade. If you’re lucky, you can catch a performance of Nuku and Lulu, drag queens who love to perform all over Greenland.
Nuuk also offers an impressive art walk, shops and galleries — all worth a stop before or after you explore Greenland’s stunning glaciers and other natural beauty.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Arkansas isn’t known for being especially welcoming toward LGBT travelers. One exception is Eureka Springs, a spa town known as the “gay capital of the Ozarks.”
Fighting against some of the South’s more conservative views, residents of Eureka Springs formed a domestic partnerships registry long before gay marriage was legal in the United States, and created various anti-discrimination measures to protect gender expression.
Putting politics aside, visitors from all backgrounds enjoy visiting Eureka Springs for its pristine and historic Victorian homes and the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks statue, which many perceive as a symbol of inclusiveness. Additionally, you can look for big cats and bears at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, take in a spooky ghost tour and, of course, enjoy the natural springs.
The most overall gay-friendly country in South America, and the ninth friendliest in the world (according to the Spartacus International Gay Guide), Uruguay has long been a trailblazer in equality. The country has several anti-discrimination laws, allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children and openly serve in the military. And Montevideo, the capital city, was one of the first cities in the world to legalize gay marriage.
In Montevideo, you can take in a show at the historic Teatro Solis or walk along the La Rambla, a seaside promenade that stretches for 10 miles. If you get tired, relax on a number of beautiful beaches or have a cup of Yerba Mate tea in one of the city’s many colorful cafes.
At night, you’ll be spoiled for choice with over a dozen LGBT hotspots, including Il Tempo, the city’s most popular gay nightclub. Just don’t show up before midnight, because the party doesn’t start until then!
A trip to Montevideo can easily be combined with Argentina, another excellent South American LGBT destination, via a two-hour ferry ride.
Though it’s home to Asia’s most-attended gay pride parade (which takes place in October), many westerners still don’t think of Taipei as a major LGBT destination. Yet the metropolis, which is home to almost 3 million people, has an open and thriving gay community.
Many LGBT businesses are located in Tapei’s gay village, a subset of the city’s Red House district. Here you’ll find over 25 LGBT bars catering to various tastes. As an added bonus, many bars and cafes offer outdoor spaces, so you can sip a cocktail and enjoy the subtropical air.
Taipei offers many other attractions, including soaring skyscrapers, night markets, historic temples and Yangmingshan National Park, a scenic destination where you can hike, soak in hot springs and check out the country’s largest dormant volcano.
A progressive college town, Bloomington prides itself on being welcoming to everyone. In fact, the city is so welcoming to the LGBT community that “The Advocate” ranked it the fourth gayest city in America.
LGBT visitors will enjoy a plethora of gay-friendly restaurants, bars, coffee houses and stores among picturesque tree-lined streets. Bloomington also hosts a three-day Pride Film Festival, which has run for over 15 years.
The city is additionally home to the Kinsey Institute, which showcases the work of Dr. Alfred Kinsey and strives to follow in his footsteps by promoting a greater understanding of human sexuality and relationships through research, outreach, education and historical preservation.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
A four-hour drive or short plane ride from the capital city of San Jose is Manuel Antonio, which is often called the “gay beach area” by San Jose locals. The area’s beaches are rated among the best in Central America, and LGBT bars and hotels can be found in abundance nearby.
Playa Espadilla is the city's largest and most crowded beach, where you can enjoy surfing, cafes and a lively scene. Those looking for a quieter vibe can head to Playa Manchas, a secluded beach where you can shed your swimsuit and lose your tan lines. Lodging options include several LGBT-owned guesthouses. For a truly unique experience, you can even stay in a converted 747 fuselage.
While in the area, be sure to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can hike through lush greenery, relax on the beach, and come face-to-face with monkeys and sloths.
Featuring a stunning mountain landscape and the otherworldly Lake Bled, Slovenia’s natural beauty is reason enough to visit. Throw in recent strides in LGBT rights, and it’s easy to see why this is a must-visit location for queer travelers.
Though the small alpine nation has some ways to go to achieve full equality (adoption for gay couples isn’t yet legal, for example), Ljubljana provides a number of welcoming spaces. LGBT travelers can dance the night away at venues such as Klub Tiffany, the country’s premier gay hotspot that’s been around since 1993. For those into quieter nights, the club also hosts exhibitions and cultural events.
Or, you can simply wander the museums, galleries and streets in a setting straight out of a fairytale. Be sure to set aside at least a day to take-in Lake Bled, only an hour away by car.
Did you know that Malta, which has only 42,000 inhabitants, touts some of the most progressive LGBT rights in Europe?
In 2016, the small island made history by becoming the first European country to criminalize “deceptive and harmful” conversion therapy, making it illegal to try to change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This acceptance and inclusivity — combined with top-ranked beaches, delicious Mediterranean food, an exotic atmosphere and historic sites — make Malta an ideal getaway for LGBT travelers.
History lovers will enjoy temples older than Stonehenge, underground labyrinths and tombs, and the capital city of Valetta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site many describe as an open-air museum.
Malta’s LGBT community is known to be especially friendly, and there are a variety of gay-friendly hotels, bars and cafes to choose from.