A reveler in drag at Puerto Rico’s Pride Parade. (Photo: Norbert Figueroa)
Puerto Rico, often called the “Island of Enchantment,” is among the most gay-friendly destinations in the Caribbean. As an American territory, the island adopts much the same openness and rights experienced in the United States — even legalizing gay marriage, making it a welcoming destination for LGBTQ travelers from all over the world. Without a doubt, this small island manages to enchant visitors with its white sand beaches, traditional foods, vibrant culture and welcoming environment.
San Juan: The LGBTQ Center
As the capital city, there’s little surprise San Juan has a well-developed gay scene that caters to all tastes in the LGBTQ community. Curious where to find the hottest spots? These are some of the must-see places at the heart of San Juan’s gay scene.
This beach, located next to the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in the Condado District of San Juan, is a prime spot for same-sex couples and gay singles to hang. This gay-friendly beach environment has evolved organically throughout the years thanks to a series of gay-friendly hotels, restaurants and bars located along this stretch of sand. Among them is Oceano, a trendy beachfront restaurant and venue, serving a blend of Caribbean and international foods.
In the city’s artsy Santurce neighborhood, you’ll find most locals congregate in La Placita (or Little Market) every Friday night. More than two dozen bars and clubs line the streets around this produce market, their massive crowds spilling onto the streets to create a blend of people from all lifestyles. From salsa dancing to reggaeton beats and live music, there’s something to please almost everyone. While a few of the venues are LGBTQ oriented, El Patio de Lila is a favorite thanks to its cheap drinks, karaoke, food and prime location. Should you fancy a more sophisticated bite without leaving the street party, Santaella offers elegant and authentic local dishes in a quieter environment.
While there are more than a dozen LGBTQ-oriented bars and clubs in Santurce, Circo Bar is the “it” place for gay men who want to dance ’til dawn. Circo is split into four areas, each with a different vibe and music, including a dance floor, an indoor bar with drag shows, an outdoor bar and a bar with pool tables.
While Circo is the “it” place for gay men, El Cojo Bar in the Hato Rey District is the go-to spot for lesbians. This small, rundown bar might have seen better days, but if drinking cheap beer and cocktails while listening to local salsa, bachata, and merengue music with the ladies is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place.
Naturally, Puerto Rico’s LGBTQ center would not be complete without its own Pride Parade. Since 1990, in early summer, San Juan’s Pride Parade has waved its rainbow flags along Ashford Avenue in the Condado district, as streets fill with ornate floats, people in extravagant costumes and a sense of activism.
Around the Island
San Juan might have the most varied LGTBQ environment, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the island falls behind. Here are some gay-friendly sports also worth visiting.
This city in southwest Puerto Rico is well-known for its gorgeous beaches, but since 2003 it’s been home to the island’s second Pride Parade. During the first or second week of June, the small beach village of Boquerón becomes the epicenter of pride and welcomes both gay and straight participants to its beautiful shores. Even though it’s a newer parade, it has quickly grown as popular as San Juan’s.
In the past few years, Vieques has slowly evolved into a prime LGBTQ-friendly hideaway for expats and travelers. While there are no “official” gay bars and clubs on the island, the overall vibe is gay-friendly and welcoming to all visitors. Most beaches on the island are quite secluded, so it’s easy just to drive around, find a spot and feel like there’s no one around you for miles. Among favorites are Green Beach, Blue Beach, Black Sand Beach and the most famous, Caracas Beach.
Famous for being the island’s second-largest college town after San Juan, Mayagüez residents have no reason to envy the capital city when it comes to nightlife. Among the dozens of bars and clubs there, restaurant and bar Café Nova Ley offers a gay-friendly environment with drag queen shows, karaoke nights, pop music and flavorful shots. For excellent modern Puerto Rican cuisine, you can’t go wrong at Costa Tio Mon. The restaurant offers a laid-back environment, a varied menu with international influences and gorgeous sea views.