July 4, 2022

Go beyond gay cruises in two LGBTQ-friendly Caribbean cultural hotspots—the island of Curacao and the Mexican Caribbean coast

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BY : HOLLY V. KAPHERR From Watermark Online
You might think the Caribbean is all Irie Times and liquid sunshine, but for LGBTQ travelers, the landscape can be surprisingly unwelcoming. Because the Caribbean culture is super relaxed about other cultural mores like marijuana use, many might also assume they feel the same about sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, on many islands, this isn’t the case. The Caribbean islands still maintain a highly traditional society, especially when it comes to gender roles and religion. Gay men and women may still experience some level of discrimination on many of these tiny nations. In fact, just this year, Bermuda rescinded its previous law allowing same-sex marriage.

But there are exceptions to the rule. Curacao, an island about 40 miles north of Venezuela’s coast, is highly welcoming and accepting of a variety of lifestyles, including sexual orientation. Likewise, Mexico’s unwavering dedication to hospitality no matter who requires it, makes it an ideal destination for living out loud while on vacation.

Opt for either of these two gay-friendly destinations for your summer vacay and you’ll find yourself in gorgeous surroundings full of art, culture, nightlife and history. There are plenty of Insta-worthy moments to be had, whether you’re traveling solo, with a group or with your partner.


Scuba divers, art aficionados and adventure seekers alike should flock to this southern Caribbean isle. Part of the “ABC” islands and Dutch Antilles, which also includes Aruba and Bonaire, Curacao flies under the radar for most American travelers, but it shouldn’t. You’ll find exquisite art and architecture, top-class snorkeling and scuba diving, and, of course, the electric blue water and pearly white beaches for which the matching liqueur is named.

The island has always been a melting pot, mainly because it’s changed hands so many times over the centuries. Curacao was originally inhabited only by the Arawak native people, but soon Europeans arrived. Between the 1600s and 1800s, the island was colonized by the British, French and, finally, Dutch settlers. It was a slave-trading hub, so peoples from all over the world passed through the island. Once slavery was abolished by the Dutch in 1863, the melting pot remained.

Now, with a population of about 70,000, the people of Curacao pretty much all speak four languages: English, Dutch, Portuguese and the local dialect Papiamentu. The ethnicities are even more diverse (over 55 at last estimate), with African, Dutch, Latin American, French, south Asian, Portuguese and other ethnicities and nationalities represented.

Because of this diversity, sexual orientation isn’t a big deal. Curacaoans make it a point to show everyone love, no matter where you’re from or who you love.

Getting there
Whether you take a cruise with Curacao as a stop, or fly into Hato International Airport, you’ll immediately find Curacao welcoming. The airport is getting a multi-million dollar facelift and boasts a cool online platform for taking care of customs forms in advance, making long lines a thing of the past here. The flight from Miami to the island is about two-and-a-half hours, so it’s an easy jump for a long weekend or a longer stay.

Once you’ve landed, it’s your best bet to make a bee line for the rental car counter. The island is easy to drive in and driving rules remain the same as in the United States, so an international driver’s license isn’t required. Why not just take public transportation or a taxi? You can, of course, but taxis are extremely expensive and hard to come by. Public transportation is widely used only by locals.

Staying there
Between charming guest houses, beach resorts and rows of vacation condos, you won’t have a problem finding a place to stay. New properties are opening all the time, but there are a few stand-outs.

If you’re planning on spending most of your time underwater, either with a snorkel or regulator in your mouth, Scuba Lodge & Ocean Suites, in trendy downtown Pietermaai, is a budget-friendly and convenient spot to drop your bags and head into the waves. Each one of the 28 rooms and 11 apartments is different. If you come back again, chances are you’ll find yourself in different surroundings. There’s a PADI dive center on-property, and the hotel offers packages for divers with accommodations included. Rooms start at $124 per night.

Avila Beach Hotel is a more traditional beach resort, also flaunting status as the oldest running hotel on the island. Don’t be confused, though: the modern rooms are more than spacious, and the overwater Octagon rooms are true stunners. There’s a free airport shuttle, too, making transportation to the property a breeze if you’re squeamish about renting a car. The resort’s three restaurants dish out Caribbean favorites with an Indo-Chinese flair, and there’s live Jazz several nights per week. Rooms start at $209 per night.

LGBTQ travelers will probably feel most at home at Floris Suite Hotel Curacao, home of Pride during the last week of September each year. The 71-room hotel plays host to guests from all over the world, 50 percent of whom identify as gay. If you’re looking for a party, this is the hotel to visit. Friday nights, the Rainbow Lounge lights up with music, dancing and free-flowing cocktails. While the hotel isn’t directly on the beach (the stunning pool and cabanas make up for this), guests of Floris have access to the Hilton’s Moomba beach club, just a short shuttle ride across the street. Rooms start at $109 per night.

Having a ball
You’ll probably spend much of your time in Pietermaai, where Technicolor buildings just beg to be photographed. Keep your camera out, because there’s street art and picturesque landscapes around every corner. See the best of the islands major street art on a tour of the Scarloo neighborhood, which you can arrange through the Curacao tourism board.

Downtown Willemstad’s art galleries and winding shopping streets are perfect for a lazy afternoon. Make a reservation to paint your own chichi doll, one of Curacao’s most famous mascots, at Serena’s Art Factory.

Downtown nightlife is easy to find when the sun goes down. Head to Zanzibar, a toes-in-the-sand beach club on Jan Thiel beach for live music, and then stuff yourself silly with Argentinean steak and seafood at Tinto. Predictably, the wine list is impressive, so oenophiles don’t have to resort to brightly-hued cocktails unless they want to (we suggest it!).

The Willemstad nightspot Bar 27 is dedicated to major stars who passed away at that tender age, including Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, among others. Pay tribute to them with bar burgers and live music until the wee hours.

That car is going to come in handy when you want to view some of the island’s most stunning shorelines. First, have lunch at Williburger, where the goat burgers (you read that correctly) are tops, especially slathered with a healthy slab of fresh, tangy goat cheese. Then, head to Playa Porto Mari, a hidden gem on the west coast of Curacao. Just how picturesque is it? The beach was one of the backdrops for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Make sure to catch a selfie with resident beach pigs Willy and Woody.

Dinner at Kokomo beach club is a must for toasting the sunset with champagne or, even better, a snifter of Blue Curacao. Dine in your bathing suit, because you won’t want to miss a perfect shot on the new in-water swing set with the sun setting behind you.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Only two hours away on a direct flight from MCO, and if you’re not spending time in the Mexican Caribbean then you’re missing out on the world’s easiest international vacation for Floridians. Not only is Mexico tops for hospitality, the food, history and nightlife can’t be beat.

Riviera Maya is about 40 minutes south of its sister resort area, Cancun, and provides a more serene, romantic and nature-centric place to hang your hat on vacation. Whether you’re into Mayan ruins, nature theme parks or spending time on the water snorkeling the world’s second largest natural barrier reef, Riviera Maya is both beautiful and bold.

LGBTQ travelers will feel right at home here. Tourism is the area’s No. 1 industry, and that encourages the largely Catholic country to make everyone feel welcome. Many of the tourism and hospitality workers are younger, as well, meaning more open to people from all walks of life.

Getting there
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Riviera Maya are situated, is home to 1.3 million people, many of whom work in tourism, travel and hospitality. What this means for you: Your vacation is going to be super easy. Starting from your nonstop flight on one of MCO’s major airlines (JetBlue flies out twice daily from Orlando to Cancun) and continuing with a transfer to your hotel, there’s no stress required.

The trip to Riviera Maya takes less than an hour, on a straight-shot road where you can watch the signs for the myriad hotels and resorts pass you by on the left until you reach your destination. Unless you plan on venturing out to Playa del Carmen and the ruins at Tulum or Chitzen Itza, you won’t need a rental car, and taxis are relatively inexpensive here. Generally, your hotel will be able to arrange any transportation you might need to the area’s attractions.

Staying there
At last count, there were 378 hotels with a total of 38,477 hotel rooms in the Riviera Maya area. There are more going up all the time, as this area is far less dense than Cancun. Developers want to keep it that way, too. The area is home to more than 5,000 species of birds, as well as some exotic wildlife, like adorable coatis, that need preservation. Eco-minded travelers will find themselves in a naturalist’s heaven.

Stay at the Fairmont Mayakoba if you can swing it. You won’t be disappointed. The luxury resort oozes “rainforest chic” as part of a resort complex connected by canals, where guests can take a tour of the mangroves and spot native species of birds, reptiles and mammals. The 240-acre tropical property is a showstopper, flanked by sister properties the sleek Andaz Mayakoba and uber-romantic Rosewood Mayakoba. The starting room rate is $286 per night.

The Fairmont is certainly the most chill of the three, while still maintaining an elegant atmosphere welcoming to all. It’s a AAA five-diamond property, so you should expect the best in service, cuisine and accommodations. The Fairmont is 240 total acres, so it’s best to get from one end to the other on the complimentary bicycles provided at stations throughout the resort. Couples should take the opportunity to plant a coral in the offshore reef as a symbol of their devotion.

Having a ball
Strap on your sexiest “adventure sandals” and pull on the jorts because the Riviera Maya is an adventure-seeker’s playland. First, you’ll want to head to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, and wear your bathing suit. You won’t want to miss playing in the waves at the hidden beach.

The hidden ruins, tucked away in the rainforest, were originally built between the 13th and 15th centuries and were able to survive the Spanish occupation and settlement of the area. While smaller than other Maya sites, it’s one of the best preserved. Head down the rickety stairwell to one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful hidden coves. Vendors outside the park sell plenty of refreshing treats, too, including traditional Mexican paletas (ice pops) made with two ingredients—fruit and sugar—and cups of sliced fruit sprinkled with the chili-lime seasoning Tajin.

On your way back from the ruins, stop in the cruise town of Playa del Carmen. Stroll the streets and pop into boutiques for some of the best shopping in the area. If you want to eat, though, veer off a little bit onto a narrower side street. On the main drag, you’ll find mostly large chain restaurants and Guy Fieri outposts. Smaller restaurants, serving truly authentic eats, can be found off the beaten path, and they’re all good.

For a more relaxing way to see the Riviera Maya’s eco-tourism goldmine, head to Xcaret or Xel-Ha, theme parks dedicated to the preservation of the area’s natural beauty. Swim in a freshwater cenote, a sinkhole filled with crystal clear water; or go cave tubing through natural tunnels crusted with stalagmite and stalactites. Ziplining, snorkeling and cultural performances are also on tap at these all-in-one attractions.

After the sun goes down, Playa del Carmen has plenty of gay-friendly nightlife. Favorite hotspots include Club 69, which is most popular on Friday and Saturday nights until 4 a.m. Other must-visit lounges include La Cueva del Maya-T, a gay strip bar, and Santanera Night Club, where the sexy outdoor terrace is home to international DJs spinning house and dance music all night.

For more on this story go to; http://www.watermarkonline.com/2018/04/26/go-beyond-gay-cruises-in-two-lgbtq-friendly-caribbean-cultural-hotspots-the-island-of-curacao-and-the-mexican-caribbean-coast/

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