Head South :: Top Gay Destinations in S. America

by Richard Frisbie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday May 1, 2008

At the recent NY Times Travel Show I spent some time at the LGBT Pavilion interviewing the "experts" to find out what's what in the world of gay travel. I could have spent both days just falling into the beautiful blue eyes of . . . well, nevermind. I was working hard (hear that boss?), so I could bring back info on some of the top gay destinations to help in planning your next vacation. More Bang for Your Buck - Top Domestic Gay Destinations brought you the hottest places in the US to show off your Gay Pride while stretching your travel dollar at home. This time I'll take you to South America, where the purchase power of the dollar has declined less against local currencies than it did against the Euro.

You won't have to spare much expense to partake of this Southern (Hemisphere) Hospitality.

Latin America’s Gay Captial - Buenos Aires

Bradley Nehring, President of Vice (he says Vice President) of South America Travel, a tour company specializing in Latin American destinations, told me "we’re gay owned, and we glaadly customize to our travelers desires." What could be better than that? According to him, "the hot destinations for gay nightlife are Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Rio de Janeiro & S?o Paulo" (Brazil). Of the three, he raved about Buenos Aires and the latest Axel Hotel there.

"It has a great pool with a glass bottom that you can see into from the lobby. You have to see it!" Barcelona is home to the first Axel Hotel, but the Buenos Aires location opened last Fall as Latin America’s first gay hotel. From all reports, the pure hedonism of the 48 room luxury hotel makes it "the" happening place to be in Buenos Aires. Be sure to plan your stay over Sunday to enjoy the hottest pool party in town.

If you can tear yourself away from the Axel Hotel, head for San Telmo with its Sunday flea market, Palermo with its gardens and parks, and Puerto Modero with its clubs, discos and gay venues to suit every taste. In 2002 Buenos Aires was the first city in Latin America to recognize same-sex unions. Today the city even sponsors a Gay Map! Beautifully diverse, Buenos Aires is rapidly earning the title of "Gay Capital" of Latin America.

Rio - Hot Beaches, Hotter Nightlife

&sc2When it comes to Brazil, it’s a toss up as to whether Rio or S?o Paulo is the best gay destination. I’ve been to both and, while each has it’s own unique feel, I’m leaning towards Rio. When you go, definitely plan to stay at a beachfront hotel. As a rule of thumb, Ipanema Beach has the best nightlife, while Copacabana Beach has the best restaurants. After seeing a great drag act on Copacabana Beach, however, it’s safe to say, "keep your options open."

The beach cruising is great, but new "hot" clubs open almost every week in some of the less trendy neighborhoods, so before you leave check the web for the latest. If you’re making those rounds, be sure to have the bartender call you a cab, or travel in groups to party safely.

For a bit more on specific destinations, check out this article, and you’re sure to have a good time: Rio de Janeiro Is A Party Town. For information on food I suggest the restaurants I reviewed in: Eating Rio.
Bradley recommended the Sofitel Rio Palace Hotel, one of the top hotels on Copacabana Beach, yet near to Ipanema for the best of both worlds. To top it off, the Le Pre Catalan restaurant is the best in town: FOOD BITES :: Le Pre Catalan and the Sunday market is just a few blocks away.

S?o Paulo’s Gay Pride - 2 Million Strong

One of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world, S?o Paulo has so much to offer that it could be too much. Or, as one cross-dresser told me, "Didn’t you learn in kindergarten what size hole your peg fits in? Anything that doesn’t fit in the hole is just wasted, honey."

Well, S?o Paulo is so big that you’ll just have to make sure none of it goes to waste! Visit in June for the largest Gay Pride parade on the planet. An estimated 2.5 million people lined the Avenida Paulista on the 10th anniversary in 2006, but it easily has 2 million on an off year!

The two biggest gay areas in Sao Paulo are Centro, the downtown area with bars and plenty of people watching, and Jardins, with a bit more exclusivity, is a real high rent district. Both have virtually hundreds of gay-owned and gay friendly places in which to eat, see and/or stay. Here the fair is on Saturday at the Benedito Calixto Park, but the antique show is on Sunday at the Sao Paulo Art Museum.

The Sofitel S?o Paulo is on the edge of the beautiful Parque Do Ibirapuera, where gorgeous shirtless men playing all kinds of sports compete with the plants and architecture for your attention.

Bradley, ever the tour guide, offered these tips on the 3 destinations: "Buenos Aires and S?o Paulo get going late night: 2 or 3 am is not an unusual time to get to the club; many arrive even later. As Rio de Janeiro is a beach culture, however, many clubs start already around 11 pm or midnight, so that everyone can be home to catch enough sleep to be ready for the beach the next day. A excellent guide to Rio’s gay life is www.RioGayLife.com composed by Pedro de Senna."

Safe Sex in Santiago

Ed Salvato, editor-in-chief of OutTraveler (PlanetOut) one of the LGBT Pavillion hosts at the NY Times Travel Show had his own suggestions for me to add to this list. He likes Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru.

Santiago is one of the safest cities in South America. It sprawls along the valley of the Rio Mapacho, climbing up into the foothills of the Andes, and has plenty of the incredible hospitality Chileans are famous for. The Merced neighborhood, in downtown Santiago, proclaimed itself "Gay-Friendly’ in 2006. It hosts a growing gay community. Also check out the Barrio Bellavista at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal. According to Queer City Santiago things start to heat up there after 1:30 in the morning.

Lima Brings Up the Rear

The first Gay Pride parade in Peru was in Lima in 2002. There is a popular gay district called Miraflores, where gay and gay friendly venues are prolific and the streets fill with the throbbing music of the many clubs each night. Miraflores is a beach community with four beaches on the Pacific Ocean. Remember, though, their Summer is our Winter, so a July visit will be foggy and chilly. According to Queer City Lima Parque Kennedy is a centrally located park in Miraflores that is very cruisy late evenings.

A word of caution: The ancient Incan flag known as "wiphala" is confusing with its gay rainbow colors. So much so, that authorities in several regions of South America are considering changing the flag’s colors or restricting its use. While traveling in Inca country remember these similarities and use caution when being less-than-discreet outside of gay-friendly urban centers.

More Bang For Your Buck

You can expect to pay about half of what you’d pay in the US for food and drinks, more in the major cities than in the countryside. As of early March ’08 the money situation was this:

  • Argentina’s currency is the Peso, with an exchange rate of about 3.15 to the US dollar.
  • Chile’s currency is the Peso, with an exchange rate of about 450 to the US dollar.
  • Peru’s currency is the Nuevo Sol, with an exchange rate of about 2.91 to the US dollar.
  • Brazil’s currency is the Real, with an exchange rate of about 1.68 to the US Dollar.

  • Safe Journeys!

    Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at Gather.com, Globalfoodie.com and GoNomad.com. He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]

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