Woman holds up gay pride flag in urban area — Getty Images

5 surprisingly gay-friendly destinations

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If you’re queer, deciding where to go on vacation can require a little more careful consideration. You’re going to want to choose somewhere where your personal safety is as guaranteed as much as possible — at least to the same extent that it is at home, and especially if you’re traveling with your partner. Countries such as the US, Canada and Australia might spring to mind first when we think of LGBTQ+-friendly destinations. But if you’re looking for somewhere a bit different for your gay honeymoon, gay weekend away, or gay trip of a lifetime, here are five other places that are surprisingly safe and inclusive. Be out, get out, and explore the world!

São Paulo, Brazil

Despite the persistingly conservative attitudes towards homosexuality on the continent, South Americans organize some of the biggest and wildest Gay Pride celebrations on the planet.

São Paulo Pride saw its humble beginnings in 1997 with some 2000 participants and has since grown into the largest and supposedly, the best event of its kind. Lately, the number of visitors to the festival has consistently been around five million, making São Paulo an exemplary gay travel destination.

All over the world, Pride is not only a protest for equal rights and acceptance; it’s also a time for celebration. Even though the parade itself is the highlight of the festival, there are many accompanying events taking place in the weeks leading up to it, such as concerts, talks, performances and exhibitions.

Bangkok, Thailand

Two women with arms around each other looking across the river at sunset in Bangkok — Getty ImagesBangkok has a reputation for being accepting of queer people — Getty Images

Thailand is pretty well-known for being accepting of non-straight and non-cisgender people; the nation’s relatively liberal attitudes are a nod to its Buddhist heritage. And Bangkok, the capital, welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers very warmly. The country decriminalized homosexuality in 1956 — earlier than some other developed countries in the world, and it elected its first transgender MP in 2019.

Head to Silom, the center of Bangkok’s gay scene, brimming with queer-friendly entertainment and nightlife. It’s a seriously diverse, dynamic and exciting spot that will, for a while, envelop you in an alternate reality.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Colorful houses in Puerto Vallarta — ShutterstockAttractive, brightly-colored (pansexual…?) houses in downtown Puerto Vallarta — Shutterstock

Throughout its past, Mexico has never enforced strong anti-LGBTQ+ practices or laws. In fact, in Zapotec indigenous culture, the concept of third gender has been recognized for generations in muxes — people who are assigned male at birth, but typically present as female.

Fittingly, there are many gay-friendly destinations in the country. Puerto Vallarta, a lively and picturesque beach resort, is said to be the one most worth visiting; the city’s longstanding warm reputation is a reflection of the generally approachable and hospitable attitudes of its residents.

The aptly-named Zona Romántica is at the very core of Puerto Vallarta’s gay life. Whether you’re looking for art and culture, a boat tour, or a good-old fun-filled night out, this neighborhood has it all. Come just as you are.

Tokyo, Japan

Narrow street in Shinjuku at dusk with skyscraper in background — Getty ImagesShinjuku is home to the largest concentration of gay bars on the planet — Getty Images

Japan, as a conservative country, doesn’t encourage public displays of affection, no matter who’s displaying them. Nevertheless, the Japanese bear no significant history of hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community, and the rate of public acceptance is growing, so it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any aggressive or confrontational behavior.

As yet, being gay isn’t something that a lot of people in Japan would openly discuss. Luckily enough, queer culture has found its way into manga, literary comics. Manga has been portraying homosexual relationships since the 1970s, but its popularity really started booming in the 90s. The bara subgenre depicts same-sex male relationships, while yuri depicts same-sex female relationships.

Tokyo is the place of the possible. You’d be pushed to imagine something that you can’t do there — but for gay culture, hit Shinjuku Ni-chōme; Shinjuku being the noisiest and busiest ward of the metropolis, and its area of Ni-chōme being a queer person’s paradise. With its countless eateries, boutiques, saunas, and not to mention its highest concentration of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in the world, there’s something for everyone.

Malta

Colorful boats in Marsaxlokk harbor — ShutterstockMalta is officially the most queer-friendly country in Europe — Shutterstock

Last, but certainly not least, the small island nation of Malta might just be the perfect gay getaway.

Unlike most of the picks in this list, Malta doesn’t boast a particularly renowned queer party scene. But what makes it so special is that, for the seventh year running, it has topped ILGA Europe’s ranking of countries by safety for LGBTQ+ people, by a landslide at that. 

Among the parameters considered in awarding Malta first place, notably, same-sex marriage is legal, and gender-neutral passports have been introduced. Similar to the people of Puerto Vallarta, this level of tolerance from the Maltese can largely be attributed to their generally laid-back and welcoming attitude. It’s certainly refreshing to know that, whether you’re straight and cisgender or otherwise, you’re welcomed with open arms to explore the rich history and exotic beauty of this Mediterranean island.

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