With its fun-in-the-sun destinations, carefree attitude, and myriad couples-oriented resorts, the Caribbean seems an ideal vacation spot for gay and lesbian couples. But not all Caribbean islands are created equal: some (notably the French, Dutch, and U.S. islands) roll out the welcome mat for same-sex couples, while others, like Jamaica, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands, have a reputation for homophobia. With the help of the travel experts at Gay.com, here's my picks for the top Caribbean destinations for gay travelers:
The tiny island of Saba is known mostly for its diving, hiking, and other outdoors activities, but is quickly gaining a reputation as a bastion of tolerance in the Caribbean, too. Saba is currently the only place in the Caribbean where same-sex couples can legally wed, has a significant gay and lesbian population of its own, and several dive operators on the island run special outings for gay and lesbian travelers.
Both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin have long had a gay-friendly reputation, with many private villas for rent and beaches and bars where gay and straight couples peacefully coexist. St. Maarten's reputation was sullied somewhat by a 2004 incident where a gay couple was assaulted near a popular beach bar, but island tourism officials were quick to apologize, and the island remains near the top of the list for many gay Caribbean travelers.
Gay travelers in Puerto Rico will find the Caribbean's only real gay nightlife scene: San Juan highlights include the Atlantic Beach Hotel and Bar (set on a gay beach and with a weekly drag show) and clubs like Eros. On both the mainland and the island of Vieques you can find gay-friendly resorts, and gay travelers in Puerto Rico have the benefit of protection by U.S. antidiscrimination laws.
The U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Croix, in particular -- has become a mecca for gay travelers, many of whom wind up at the welcoming Sand Castle on the Beach Resort in Fredericksted. Gay travelers can expect a friendly and tolerant attitude throughout the U.S.V.I., and if public displays of affection are not exactly embraced, the reaction is not likely to be more than a second glance.
While some Caribbean island privately welcome gay travelers, Curacao has been the most public in its embrace: "With exceptional gay friendly hotels and attractions, [Curacao] encourages gay and lesbian travelers to visit the island and experience its 'live and let live' atmosphere for themselves," says the Curacao Tourist Board, which has a marketing campaign aimed at gays and lesbians and includes information on gay-friendly hotels and clubs on its website.