With its fun-in-the-sun destinations, carefree attitude, and myriad couples-oriented resorts, the Caribbean seems an ideal vacation spot for gay and lesbian couples. But not all Caribbean islands are created equal: some (notably the French, Dutch, and U.S. islands) roll out the welcome mat for same-sex couples, while others, like Jamaica, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands, have a reputation for homophobia. With the help of the travel experts at LGBT News, here are our picks for the top Caribbean destinations for gay travelers:
The tiny island of Saba is known mostly for its diving, hiking, and other outdoor activities, but is quickly gaining a reputation as a bastion of tolerance in the Caribbean, too. Saba was the first place in the Caribbean where same-sex couples could legally wed, has a significant gay and lesbian population of its own, and several dive operators on the island run special outings for gay and lesbian travelers.
With its laissez-faire French culture and a myriad of private villas to choose from, St. Barts is has been called the most gay-friendly island in the Caribbean. This is the place to get lost in the Caribbean for a few days, far from the cruise-ship crowds. By any measure, with its mix of celebrities, yachties, high-end shopping, and vibrant nightlife, St. Barts is fabulous.
Both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin have long had a gay-friendly reputation, with many private villas for rent and beaches and bars where gay and straight couples peacefully coexist. St. Maarten's reputation was sullied somewhat by a 2004 incident where a gay couple was assaulted near a popular beach bar, but island tourism officials were quick to apologize, and the island remains near the top of the list for many gay Caribbean travelers. Clothing-optional beaches and resorts on the French side of the island earn bonus points. Same-sex marriage is legal here.
Gay travelers in Puerto Rico will find the Caribbean's only real gay nightlife scene: San Juan highlights include the Atlantic Beach Hotel and Bar (set on a gay beach and with a weekly drag show) and clubs like Eros. On both the mainland and the island of Vieques you can find gay-friendly resorts, and gay travelers in Puerto Rico have the benefit of protection by U.S. antidiscrimination laws, including the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix, in particular, has become a mecca for gay travelers, many of whom wind up at the welcoming Sand Castle on the Beach Resort in Frederiksted. Gay travelers can expect a friendly and tolerant attitude throughout the U.S.V.I., and if public displays of affection are not exactly embraced, the reaction is not likely to be more than a second glance. As with Puerto Rico, U.S. law makes same-sex marriages legal here.
While some Caribbean island privately welcome gay travelers, Curacao has been the most public in its embrace: "With exceptional gay friendly hotels and attractions, [Curacao] encourages gay and lesbian travelers to visit the island and experience its 'live and let live' atmosphere for themselves," says the Curacao Tourist Board, which has a marketing campaign aimed at gays and lesbians and includes information on gay-friendly hotels and clubs on its website. Same-sex couples can get married here, too!
Like its Dutch Caribbean neighbors, Curacao and Saba, the oh-so-popular tourist destination of Aruba is one of the gay-friendliest places to travel in the islands. The Bucuti and Tara Beach Resorts are among several hotels and resorts that bill themselves as welcoming to LGBT visitors; the gay-ownedLittle David Guesthouse is another option. District 7 in Oranjestad is the island's premier gay bar. All in all, this is a destination that celebrates its diversity openly and fully.
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Cozumel, Tulum, and the Mexican Caribbean coastline (a.k.a. the Riviera Maya) recognizes same-sex marriages performed in Mexico City, and Cancun has been building a reputation as a gay-friendly destination. The city has gay nightclubs downtown and an unofficial gay beach in the Hotel Zone (Playa Delfines), and hosts the annual Cancún International Gay Festival in May and the Cancún Riviera Maya Gay Fall Festival.
Cuba's gay community has increasingly stepped out of the closet and into the limelight as the island nation has increased its interaction with the world, Fidel Castro's daughter, Mariela, heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and has advocated for LGBT rights. Vedado is Havana's de facto gay neighborhood, Mi Cayito the unofficial gay beach, and many of the island's casas particulares (B&Bs) are gay-friendly. Discrimination still lingers, but Cuba has come a long way since the days where gays were imprisoned and officially persecuted.
Ten formerly British West Indies nations still have "buggery" laws on the books and have displayed various levels of intolerance (ranging from mild disdain to outright hostility and criminal prosecution) toward gay and lesbian residents and travelers.
These include Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.