Discover the 5 best gay-friendly Caribbean islands

The stuff of desert island dreams, the Caribbean is where you go to forget all your worldly worries. Served by reggae beats and bottomless rum cocktails in the Antilles with added carnival vibes found on the Venezuelan coast, a visit to the Caribbean is never twice the same. But wherever you decide, one thing is certain; laidback, open-hearted attitudes prevail across this region and as a member of the gay community you’re likely to be welcomed with open arms. So shine up your boat shoes and embark on a cruise among the best gay Caribbean islands, captained by yours truly.

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1. Curaçao

With oceans as blue as its namesake liqueur and temperatures rarely dipping below 26°C, this Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela is our definition of paradise. What could be better than dipping our toes in azure waters off the edge of pristine sand beaches before joining the lively and gay-friendly bar scene of Willemstad nearby. Gay Curaçao is a melting pot of Dutch, Papiamento, English and Spanish cultures, peppered with Asian and Middle Eastern flavours, where locals are largely of Afro-Caribbean and European descent. And though there isn’t a big gay scene besides the one gay club in town, the accepting locals will make you feel as if you’re are family. For further beachside fun, consider the neighbouring gay-friendly islands of Aruba and Bonaire, both popular among the international gay community for their diversity and openness. Gay Aruba in particular, with its rugged landscape and submarine adventures, is also known to host gay weddings.

Curaçao | Photo: Jorgen Hendriksen

Willemstad, Curaçao | Photo: Matthew T. Rader

2. St. Barth

Its holy name precedes it but there’s no overestimating the beauty of St. Barth. Popular among celebrities and luxury vacationers alike, French-speaking St. Barth is a Caribbean island where exclusivity and sophistication reign supreme. If you’re lucky enough to nab a booking at one of the glamorous gay Caribbean resorts, make sure to nail down your excursions and transport at the same time. Arrive on gay St. Barth by yacht and travel across the island in just 30 minutes by Jeep, whatever makes the grandest entrance! Once here, try bathing on Saline Beach by day, an LGBTQ-friendly, clothing-optional affair, close by to the string of bars and restaurants that line the entire shoreline. Though the population is too small to harbour a strong gay scene, progressive St. Barth officially supports marriage equality (as do the sister islands of Martinique, St. Martin and Guadeloupe) and is welcoming to all, so long as you dress the part.

3. Puerto Rico

Bigger and arguably better for its more defined gay scene is the fourth largest Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. US territory and home to a population of 3.1 million, Puerto Rico is sure to bring vacationers the most epic Caribbean vacation yet, featuring all manner of natural attractions, urban entanglements and Spanish colonial history. Within the capital city of San Juan is where Puerto Rico wins its gay credentials, thanks to its lively gay nightlife scene centred on the Condado neighbourhood and stretching out into hipster Santurce nearby. Enjoy a selection of exclusively gay bars, dance clubs and drag venues, partying into the early morning on most nights or aligning your trip with the annual gay pride celebration in June for the party of the year. Outside of the clubs, Sun Juan can offer fabulous beaches (such as on Condado Beach and Ocean Park) as well as historic sites lying just across the Dos Hermanos Bridge in ‘old San Juan’. Read up on all the best places to stay in Costa Rica, according to Mr Hudson.

Photo: Jakob Owens

4. St. Martin/St. Maarten

Found among the Leeward Islands at the union of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, lies the paradisiacal outcrop of St. Martin (or St. Maarten to go by the Dutch spelling). However you say it, gay St. Maarten is a true gem of the Caribbean, shared by the French and the Dutch as one of the most easy-going and open islands in the region. St Maarten may be itty-bitty, at less than 100 square kilometres, but the cultural fusion means that there is always something new to discover. There’s the main city of Philipsburg on the Dutch side and the main French city of Marigot, both offering their own take on island lifestyle with a wide selection of restaurants and bars and exactly one gay dance club between them. Beach trips are a key part of island life here, with Orient Bay Beach, Happy Bay Beach and Cupecoy Beach vying for the title of best gay meeting point (where clothing is also optional). For ideas on the best points of interest, our article on the top things to do in St Maarten is sure to keep you amused.

St. Maarten | Photo: Neufal 54

5. U.S. Virgin Islands

Another US territory is the small cluster of pure white islets in the volcanic arc of Lesser Antilles, known as the Virgin Islands. Comprised of St. John, St. Thomas, St Croix and several smaller atolls, the US Virgin Islands are among the most gay-friendly of all Caribbean destinations, populated by carefree locals and blissful beach landscapes for days. Base yourself on any of the islands or even on the British Virgin Islands nearby, day cruising out to cover all the best spots. Though gay St. John is the smallest of the three main islands if offers astounding natural beauty within utmost isolation. The majority of St John is covered by national park allowing for hiking and escapism at large; try the Reef Bay Trail or an exploration of the sugarmill ruins, with Rams Head best to enjoy the full moon. Cruz Bay is the island’s main city and can introduce you to the island’s cultural heart; as well as boutiques and art galleries, the town also boasts colonial churches, calypso music bars and fine local cuisine to sink your teeth into.

Moving on to gay St Thomas, find more idyllic beaches and playful island rhythms, centred on the main settlements of Charlotte Amalie (downtown) and Red Hook (the East End). While Charlotte has the best shopping, both areas are equal rivals for night-time adventures, filled with a whole host of dining and mixed party options, as well as the daytime gay meetup spot of Little Magens Bay (clothing optional!). Siphoning off all the best gay nightlife meanwhile is greedy and gay St Croix, bragging the most gay-specific bars and clubs, amid evermore tropical beaches and windswept palm scenery.

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