A LGBTQ Journey to Puerto Rico
Viewed as the gateway to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico’s rich heritage blending Spanish, Taino and African cultures gives the island a unique rhythm and personality. This U.S. territory continues to entice travelers into staying longer to soak up more of the island’s white-sand beaches and thriving food scene, whose claim to fame includes founding the piña colada. While the destination is a year-round one, you can skip the heat (and crowds) by taking your winter getaway to this tiny island no larger than the state of Connecticut. It’s teeming with everything from rainforests with waterfalls to beaches boasting perfect surf sites. Here are a few reasons to jet off to Puerto Rico for the holidays–no passport required.
An array of options for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Puerto Rico is probably the most LGBTQ+ friendly island in the Caribbean. San Juan has a well-developed gay scene with restaurants, bars and nightclubs, especially in the Condado and Santurce districts, for Puerto Ricans and visitors. Vieques and Culebra have become popular destinations for an international mix of gay and lesbian expatriates and travelers. Rincón, whilst some way behind these other destinations in specifically gay venues, is a LGBTQ+ friendly destination too. Ponce and Mayagüez, as sizeable university cities, are also liberal places.
In the cities and in major resort areas, it is easier for gay men and women to live their lives with a certain amount of openness. As you travel into the middle of the island, it is more difficult to be out, as people are not used to seeing same-sex couples holding hands or displaying affection publicly.
As of 2015, same-sex couples can legally marry and apply to adopt.
For the active, Puerto Rico offers amazing outdoor experiences. For those looking for a good time, locals and tourists alike pour from the beach into the clubs in the evenings for a long night of dancing that usually includes salsa music. Check out Condado beach, where the gay sun-worshippers tend to gather. Puerto Rico might seem like an exotic paradise, but don’t forget: it is a U.S. territory so the dollar is the currency and the locals are English speaking and tolerant.
While Puerto Rico’s weather is warm year-round, you’ll skip a lot of the rain and humidity during the winter months from November through April. Temperatures aren’t as high, but the sun is still out so a tan is guaranteed. Caribbean nights also get a bit cooler, dropping into the 70s on the coast and 50s in the mountains, making al fresco dining much more appealing. The beaches to not miss are Condado Beach by the Atlantic Beach Hotel, Ocean Park, Isla Verde, Luquillo and of course, Flamenco.
Longest Christmas celebrations in the world
Brace yourself for a holiday season that starts after Thanksgiving and continues through January, three weeks past New Year’s Day. Puerto Rican holiday festivities blend traditions from Spain and Africa, with customs like parrandas, a Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling and the eight-day octavitas celebration, which follows the Epiphany on January 6.
Puerto Rican Mardi Gras
Christmas officially ends with the San Sebastián Street Festival on the third weekend of January. Essentially Puerto Rico’s version of Mardi Gras, San Sebastián Street in Old San Juan shuts down for four days of music, parades and religious processions for the ultimate street party that originally began over 40 years ago to honor Saint Sebastian.
If you happen to be in Puerto Rico around Christmas, you’ll have the chance to sample local specialties like lechón asado (roasted pork), pollo guisado (chicken stew with potatoes and green olives) and pasteles (mashed green bananas stuffed with meat and wrapped in banana leaves). You can also try the coconut-based coquito, the Puerto Rican version of eggnog, at almost any bar you visit.
Best time for bio bays
There are only five bioluminescent bays on the globe and Puerto Rico is home to three of them. One of the easiest to reach from San Juan is Laguna Grande in Las Croabas, Fajardo, about an hour away by car. Lit up by large amounts of dinoflagellates each time you paddle or touch the water, the bay glows brighter on moonless nights, especially if it hasn’t rained in a while.
Hike the El Yunque Rain Forest
Since the sun isn’t blaring quite as strong as in summer, it’s the perfect time to take nature hikes through El Yunque. The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque is home to 26 animal species you won’t find anywhere else in the world, as well as the picture-perfect La Mina waterfalls, easily accessible by a light 30-minute hike on paved paths.
Easy island hopping
While winter may be high season, you can escape the crowds island hopping off the east coast of Puerto Rico to the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Vieques. Catch a ferry and visit Flamenco Beach on Culebra or head to Mosquito Bay on Vieques where you can kayak through the brightest bio bay on the globe. In Vieques, do not miss out on Green Beach, Blue Beach, Black Sand Beach and the most famous, Caracas Beach.
More direct flights
Since snowbirds are fleeing the cold, direct flights to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport more than double in winter. You can find affordable last-minute daily flights on over 12 airlines from destinations like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., with flight times under four hours.
GayStay is proud to partner with the LGBTQ-owned Coqui Del Mar Guesthouse in San Juan’s Ocean Park, a prominent LGBTQ+ friendly neighborhood. We also have listings in Condado, Old San Juan, and Bayamon.