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Why Colombia is One of the Hottest Destinations for LGBTQ Travelers

Billy McEntee READ TIME: 4 MIN.

While Colombia, often referred to as "the gateway to South America," may conjure thoughts of sandy beaches and mountain air, it has much more to offer, specifically for LGBTQ+ travelers.

"Colombia is walking out of this pandemic, making strong efforts to continue its positioning as 'the most welcoming country in the world,' " Felipe Cardenas, Board Chair of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), tells EDGE. "Medellín, Cartagena, Barranquilla, The Coffee Region, and, of course, our capital Bogotá have emerged as friendly destinations for LGBTQ+ individuals – facing 2022, Colombia is ready to welcome with pride and respect."

Pride flags wave outside city businesses, restaurants and rum tasting rooms are run by gregarious gays, and – in the metropolitan city of Medellín – everyone looks runway-ready, and, as such, is canonically queer. Almost three-quarters of the population is Roman Catholic, but don't let that statistic fool you: In urban and Andean communities alike, you'll find welcoming people, a more relaxed pace of life, and plenty to see, taste, and enjoy.

READ MORE: Meet Medellín, South America's Undersung Queer Mecca

In fact, Colombia is relatively liberal and has made impressive gains in civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ folks, including legalizing same-sex marriage, eligibility for retirement pensions, and legal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Published by the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, the 2020 national survey "Stress, Health, and Wellbeing of LGBT People in Colombia" found "that LGBT people felt a desire for and high affiliation to the LGBT community" in their country, with the vast majority, 63%, feeling Colombia "was a good place for LGB people to live." (Just 43% said it was a safe place for transgender people to live as Colombia, much like the United States, is still fighting for transgender representation, justice, and political equity.)

For so many nations, the road toward queer acceptance is an ever-evolving journey, but Colombia may offer a unique model for other tourism-dependent countries to imitate. The sustainable tourism company OUT in Colombia staffs queer (and bilingual) tour guides, curates travel packages geared toward LGBTQ+ visitors, and partners with queer-owned businesses to support their work and connect travelers with local LGBTQ+ communities.

"Colombia is a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ travelers. As gay travelers ourselves, and being part of the local community, we know that sexuality isn't the only thing that defines us, but it can impact the way LGBTQ+ people travel," says Sam Castañeda Holdren, who founded OUT in Colombia, winner of the IGLTA Foundation's inaugural Impact Award. "While our first priority is to create life-changing and entertaining experiences for our LGBT+ travelers, we also consider the well-being of the local community. For every positive experience enjoyed by a gay traveler, we hope to provide significant value for the local community as well."

Urban art in Medellín
Source: OUT in Colombia

As the birthplace to LGBTQ+ advocates like Shakira, Sofia Vergara, and J Balvin, it's easy to understand why so much of Colombian tourism revolves around queer culture: The contemporary restaurant Celele in Cartagena, owned by a pair of gay head chefs, is ranked on The World's 50 Best Restaurants for Latin American, and Teatron in the capital is "what I believe is the largest LGBTQ+ nightclub on the planet," Holdren said.

With colorful cities like Cartagena to visit, it's hard not to feel the pride: In that glorious ancient city on the Caribbean coast, vivid homes emulate the colors of the rainbow with their pastel greens, neon yellows, and periwinkle purples. Street art adorns brick facades, with some featuring interpretations of Latin American queer icon Frida Kahlo. From there, a one-hour flight takes you to Medellín, a shopping destination that's home to the world-renowned annual Festival of the Flowers and is replete with gay clubs every few blocks.

Two highlights include Chiquita, which offers more mellow vibes and plenty of seating areas to lounge in, and Club Oráculo, a sprawling nightclub with multiple levels, bars, dance floors, and a stage for drag performances.

Not that queers always need house music and strobe lights for a good time – tucked away from the cities and up in the Andes, tourism has boomed during COVID as city slickers seek a nearby open area to escape to. Luxury eco-lodges like BOSKO sit eye level with El Peñon de Guatape, one of the world's largest rocks, and Cannúa, thousands of feet above sea level, boasts stunning vistas of the Andes with rooms just above the herb gardens that supply ingredients for the kitchen's sumptuous meals.

"Colombia is a paradise of changing landscapes and diversity – there really is something for everyone here," Holdren adds. "By experiencing Colombia's rich cultures and biodiversity, gay travelers will return home with positive impressions of Colombians. Through authentic intercultural exchange, we can open hearts and minds, paving the way for a more sympathetic and unified world."

by Billy McEntee

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