This year LGBTQ+ travelers want destinations that offer something special, whether that is cultural immersion, historical or culinary tours, out-of-this world adventure, gorgeous beaches, or just the biggest queer parties on the planet. With that in mind we chose our top seven countries, including destinations in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa. Join us as we count down to number one.
Cenote in Mexico by LRC Imagery/Getty Images
Mexico continues to be a top destination for queer travelers. The country’s tourism department (SECTUR) reports 3.5 million LGBTQ+ visitors annually.
The beachside resort town of Acapulco first gained an international queer contingent in the mid-20th century as a magnet for Hollywood celebs. It has recently experienced a resurgence and now its LGBTQ+ scene and businesses are luring more queers back to the region. It’s gaining a reputation as a gay party town with Las Vegas-style drag shows, techno nightclubs, and beachside dancing.
The capital of Jalisco, Guadalajara, is often called the “Gay Capital of Mexico” due to its embrace of the queer community. It is among the most LGBTQ-accepting in Latin America (Mexico City also ranks in the top five). Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and offers diversity in food, cultural, and entertainment options. Its gayborhood is located in the historic center of the city, where parties spill into the streets most nights. Come during February to experience the local Carnival.
The Riviera Maya destination of Playa del Carmen features white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. There are three gay beaches here: Mamitas Beach, Coco Beach, and Xangrila Beach.
Becoming known as the “Mexican San Francisco,” Puerto Vallarta features some of the most beautiful beaches in the LGBTQ-embracing state of Jalisco. The city’s Romantic Zone is a popular spot during the day and locals and tourists mingle at buzzy queer clubs nearly every night of the week. During Pride (celebrated here in May), the neighborhood becomes one big block party. Puerto Vallarta offers many activities for those who want to have more adventurous experiences, including day trips to Punta de Mita and nearby Marietas Islands, where the diversity of birds and sea life has earned it the nickname of “the Mexican Galapagos.”
Australia by Louise Denton Photography/Getty Images.
Australia is a dream destination for adventurers, albeit a distant one. The nation’s Great Barrier Reef just off the coast of Queensland is rightfully on many travelers’ bucket lists — and Sydney is undeniably a gay hot spot. But with abundant natural beauty, outdoor adventures, historical sites, and a rich Indigenous peoples’ culture, the island continent has much more to see.
In Sydney, New South Wales, the world-famous Harbor Bridge and Opera House are must-sees, with the more daring climbing the bridge itself. Also worth a visit is the Royal Botanical Gardens, the gay Oxford Street LGBTQ+ district, and the Sea Life Aquarium to observe Sphen and Magic (aka Sphengic), the world-famous gay penguin couple. You can also learn about Australia’s history as a penal colony with visits to Cockatoo Island and the Hyde Park Barracks. Walk the cliffs outside Bondi Beach and Manley, where at least 80 gay men were killed in the latter portion of the last century.
In Queensland the Great Barrier Reef may be the most famous tourist destination, but the state is also home to Daintree Rainforest.
At Adelaide in southern Australia, you can cage-dive with great white sharks. The area is also renowned for its wine regions, including McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, and Coonawarra. To truly get off the beaten path, head north to Darwin, famous for its 86 degree waters. The Tiwi Islands, home to a large Indigenous population, are renowned for fishing and isolated resorts. The waters here are crystal clear and invitingly warm, but patrolled by deadly crocs.
Retrace the route of the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, starting at the Imperial Hotel in Sydney, Proudly LGBTQ+ since 1983, the hotel features Priscillas, Drag N Dine, and Carlotta's Rooftop. Follow Imperial with visits to Broken Hill and its Queenslander-styled Palace Hotel, the mining community of Coober Pedy (BYO ping pong balls), and finishing at the Lasseters Hotel Casino in Alice Springs.
In late February and early March, Sydney will be hosting its annual Mardi Gras as well as Sydney WorldPride. It’s the first time WorldPride will be held in the southern hemisphere.
Malta by Trabantos/Getty Images
Malta is a small archipelago of islands, just off the southern coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. The country has been continuously occupied for almost 8,000 years as an important port and trading hub connecting Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Its culture reflects these intersectional roots and Maltese food is a nuanced blend of many worlds.
Malta is known for gorgeous views and perfect year-round weather. Peak season is both crowded and pricey, but in spring or fall, fewer tourists compete for space on its beaches and in its restaurants.
Visit the fortified cities of Mdina and Birgu, the former established by Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C.E. Gozo should still be high on your list, even without the Azure Window, a limestone arch that once reached into the sea before collapsing in 2017. Visit the world-renowned Blue Lagoon on the island of Camino. The breathtaking natural pool features deep azure-colored waters.
Malta is gaining a reputation as one of the most queer-inclusive spots in Europe, with festive annual Pride celebrations every September. It would be difficult to name every gay bar and LGBTQ-welcoming establishment in Malta, but there are a few that top our list. We love club Lollipop, located in the coastal capital city of Valetta. The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat has a fun mixed crowd and karaoke. Though not an exclusively LGBTQ+ space, lesbian-owned Maori is popular due to its monthly parties for queer women. The Phoenicia in Valletta offers 1920s elegance and 5-star luxury while the Marco Polo Party Hostel in St Julian’s provides a lively mixed crowd.
Thailand by Thatree Thitivongvaroon/Getty Images
Thailand has a rich culture and long embrace of gender and sexual diversity, and outlaws LGBTQ+ discrimination. In the most LGBTQ-welcoming country in South East Asia, Bangkok is considered the region’s queer capital. On the city’s pedestrian-only streets in the gayborhood Silom, you’ll find gay bars including Circus, Balcony, and Stranger Bar (considered the epicenter of Bangkok drag culture). The neighborhood features many other LGBTQ+ establishments including hotels, massage parlors, clubs, saunas, and restaurants. After partying all night refresh by checking in for an advanced wellness experience at luxury spa Sindhorn Wellness by Resense.
Bangkok is enough to captivate any traveler for weeks on end, but you’ll want to visit other areas as well. Taking a train is a great way to travel through Thailand, but some areas can only be reached by boat. Gay tours are abundant, for example, Out Of Office offers numerous options from island hopping to culinary tours to a New Year’s celebration on a gay beach.
Phuket is another common queer destination. There the Patong neighborhood plays home to gay bar and cabaret club Zig Bar/Zag Club and the Patong beach where Phuket Pride is held each year.
Visit Koh Samui in southern Thailand, where the queer-run Samui Elephant Sanctuary allows elephants to retire from giving rides or entertaining tourists. Enjoy your own refuge at gay-owned Six Senses Samui Thailand which features an infinity pool overlooking the gulf of Thailand — and your own tree house. Party at Pride Bar Samui which features drag queens and karaoke.
#3 South Africa
South Africa by Pierre-Yves Babelon/Getty Images
South Africa is a land of amazing natural and cultural contrasts and is a much sought-after destination for adventurous LGBTQ+ travelers.
No visit to South Africa is complete without an extended stay in Cape Town. This cosmopolitan city has a vibrant food and arts scene with plenty of opportunities for exploring, and iconic Table Mountain looms over it all. To sample the city’s eclectic art scene try a walking tour of the Woodstock Street Art District. The Cape Town region also offers hiking, swimming, surfing, sport fishing, and golf. You can also try your hand at lawn bowling or take in a match of cricket. Day trips to nearby wine regions are highly recommended, with many tour operators providing outings.
Another must-see destination is Robben Island northwest of the city. Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years in prison here. The island penal colony had a reputation for harsh conditions and prisoner abuse. Closed for good in 1996, it is now a South African National Heritage Site as well as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is no hiding the nation’s ugly history of apartheid, the institutional system of racial segregation that plagued South Africa for decades. And yet the people persevered and overcame the oppressive system and continue to address the injustices that it wrought. Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum enumerates those errors, while offering hope for the country’s future by highlighting the nation’s constitutional pillars enshrining freedom and equality (including for LGBTQ+ people). Consider also exploring the city with a walking tour, which can include spots important to both Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader who lived in South Africa for over two decades.
An hour-long flight south takes you to Durban, famed for its Golden Mile of shoreline on the Indian Ocean. The city is home to the largest concentration of Indian nationals outside of India, and their cultural influences are reflected in the area’s diverse foodie scene. A visit to the nearby Valley of 1000 Hills provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Zulus, the country’s largest Indigenous tribe.
North of the city, a wind-blown, nondescript location is home to the Nelson Mandela Capture Site memorial and museum documenting not just Mandela’s 1962 arrest and 27-year imprisonment, but also the Nobel Prize winner’s subsequent political contributions.
#2 The Dutch Caribbean
Curaçao by Justin Lewis/Getty Images
The Caribbean islands represent a range of communities whose diversity has been intensified by their colonial pasts. The Dutch Caribbean (once known as the Dutch West Indies) are islands once claimed by the Netherlands, specifically: Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten.
The Dutch are some of the most accepting of LGBTQ+ rights and these islands embrace queer travelers, (though some admittedly haven’t extended true equality to all their own citizens).
Sint Maarten is half an island (the other half is Saint Martin, which follows French laws, including marriage equality). On the Dutch side, homosexuality was never a crime, but the government hasn’t embraced same-sex marriage rights. You’ll find plenty to do here when you can pull yourself away from the gorgeous beaches. The restaurant L’Escargot is known for its French cooking, and La Cage Aux Folles- style cabarets. Bliss is the island’s best gay-friendly nightclub. The open-air space has a pool, dance floor, and two bars that specialize in creative mixology, plus plenty of space for lounging.
Aruba hasn’t codified LGBTQ+ equality in law, but queer travelers will find themselves warmly welcomed to the “One happy island” that prides itself on embracing diversity. Those seeking adventure should turn to De Palm Tours for dune tours and off-road safaris; as well as SNUBA, snorkeling, and semi-submersible exploration of the underwater world. Pamper yourself with a visit to the spas at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, or Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. Outside the hurricane belt, Aruba offers year-round sunshine, vibrant art and culinary scenes, and ambitious sustainability efforts. At last report, 7 Club Lounge Bar (@7), once known as Jimmy’s Place, remains closed.
Curaçao is one of the Caribbean’s smaller islands, with a population of 160,000, off the coast of Venezuela. The island never criminalized homosexual relations and in 2011, passed anti-discrimination protections for gay and bisexual people. Lyric’s Café was once the island’s only regular queer venue, but many locals now drink and dance at Wet and Wild Beach Club. Floris Suite Hotel’s LGBTQ+ Rainbow Lounge holds quarterly parties and events. Nearby Moomba Beach is an adults-only gay-friendly beach where the boys hang out.
Toronto, Canada by Rudy Sulgan-Getty Images.tif
Canada is one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive countries in the world. In fact, it topped the 2022 LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index, an annual ranking of the 203 safest (and worst) countries for queer travel. America’s neighbor to the north also has stunningly beautiful wilderness, leading ski resorts, vibrant Indigenous communities, and culturally diverse cities.
In the predominately French-speaking province of Quebec, Montréal has old-world European charm in neighborhoods with cobblestoned streets. The annual Fierté Montréal Pride Festival is one of Canada’s most colorful. The Gay Village’s Rue Sainte-Catherine, becomes a walking promenade during most summer months and the queers have busted out of the neighborhood, spilling into the surrounding historic district with additional LGBTQ-owned shops, spas, and restaurants.
On the banks of the Great Lakes, Toronto is said to hold the title for the most diverse metropolis in the world, where 230 nationalities are represented and the residents speak over 140 languages. The largest city in Canada’s kaleidoscope of cultures has helped spice up the vibrant culinary scene and neighborhoods. Toronto’s celebration of diversity extends to its LGBTQ+ citizens. The Village at Church and Wellesley remains a queer institution and the trendy Queen Street West is sprinkled with new LGBTQ+ hangouts.
Calgary is in the Alberta prairie but perfectly located to explore the Canadian Rockies and the country’s most stunning national parks. Nearby Jasper Basin holds one of the top gay ski weeks. Calgary is also known for its cowboys, and the city hosts the world’s largest gay rodeo association, so visitors may be surprised at its metropolitan neighborhoods and shocked it’s home to the biggest queer Canadian nightclub west of Montreal, Twisted Element.
Between the Pacific Ocean and the base of North Shore Mountains, Vancouver is a beautiful city that draws LGBTQ+ visitors year-round. Its location provides a great starting point for outdoor adventure whether it’s hiking the local trails, kayaking to Vancouver Island, or hitting the nearby slopes at Whistler, Canada’s top ski resort. As the country’s biggest port, the city has attracted a diverse population, which has helped fuel its bourgeoning foodie and art scenes. There are two gayborhoods: Davie Village, with a wide variety of gay bars, restaurants, and stores; and Commercial Drive (also locally known as The Drive), home to a thriving lesbian community. The largest Pride celebration in western Canada is held in Vancouver every August.