Spoiler: SO MUCH.
Everybody knows the LGBTQ+ community loves to celebrate life. After all, the Pride flag is a symbol of our right to live in truth, dignity, and joy. Double-vaxxed, my husband and I were finally ready to vay-gay-tion, but ongoing international travel restrictions left us with few viable options
Ding ding! Puerto Rico to the rescue. As an official U.S. territory, Americans don’t need a passport to enter this Caribbean island. Just follow the simple Travel Safe Portal protocols and you’re good to go. There is no currency exchange, no data roaming; just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami and you’re there. Easy-peasy.
Puerto Rico is hailed as one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly islands in the Caribbean, embracing the queer community that’s granted the same rights and protection as on the mainland. More importantly, San Juan is home to the king. No, I’m not talking about Elvis, I’m talking about RICKY MARTIN. As someone who has been transfixed by his bon-bon ever since I was a closeted teenager, this was a dream come true.
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Thinking of saying Bienvenidos down south, but not sure how much fun you’ll get for your buck? Visit Puerto Rico to taste its rainbow of delights.
Nothing says celebration better than spiked fruity water, least not in San Juan. The capital has the biggest LGBTQ+ community, although inclusivity shines throughout the island. We kicked off our time in Old San Juan, stumbling upon a dive bar called La Sombrilla Rosa for lime juice (*cough* margaritas). The luminous gay bar had a wonderfully mixed crowd who were happy to dance outside on the cobblestone streets. Living in Brooklyn, I’m used to having my guard up, but here, queer revelers live and love carefree beyond the security of gay establishment walls. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of America were like that?
Afterward, we dashed hand-in-hand to the Caribe Hilton where the national cocktail, the Piña Colada, was born. Sampling one at its birthplace is on every visitor’s to-do list. “Nine out of ten people that visit us for drinks at the bar, order the Piña Colada,” explained the handsome mixologist, Joel Iglesias. I told him that his was the best damn Piña Colada I’d ever tasted, not because I secretly hoped he was related to Enrique and could get me backstage tickets to Ricky versus Enrique in concert (call me, please?), but because it was actually amazing. And no, I was not hammered. How dare you.
Good news, beach bums! The weather in Puerto Rico is a constant 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and there are 270 miles of coastline and nearly 300 beaches to frolic on. Condado Beach is the most popular option among the LGBTQ+ crowd thanks to nearby queer bars, while Dorado Beach is Ricky Martin’s personal Speedo playground. In my opinion, the white sands and turquoise seas of Icacos Island are where it’s at. Only reachable by boat, I joined the Kayaking Puerto Rico mini boat tour, which included snorkeling at the La Cordillera Nature Reserve. The island only had a handful of patrons when I visited, giving my stay a secluded honeymoon vibe with uninterrupted opportunities for Speedo thirst trap photography.
The perk of being flexitarian is that when traveling, I allow myself to eat like a Texan truck driver. Puerto Rico’s most famous dish is the mofongo, a smashed plantain-based meal served with meat and lots of gooey sauce. The family restaurant, Terruño Restaurante Artesanal, was my pick of all the mofongo makers, but there’s good mofongo to be found pretty much everywhere in Puerto Rico. Other local delicacies include tostones (double deep-fried plantain wheels), lechón (slowly roasted pork), alcapurrias and pastelillos (street food fritters), and bacalaítos (open face codfish fritter). If, like me, the only Spanish you know is “Un, dos, tres. Un pasito pa’lante, María,” and the above is too much to get your tongue around, let a food expert from The Spoon Experience walk you through Old San Juan and order for you. Mine let me stuff my face in less than three hours and now I can sleep without the FOMO.
Pro Tip: Do the Speedo photoshoots before this food tour.
For gays who’ve long deleted the app, Grindr, San Juan offers many spots to cozy up with your beau. I took mine to the Champagne Floating Deck on the Condado Lagoon, a two-hour sunset float where we laid back on blue aptly-named “Fatboy” beanbag chairs and consumed a charcuterie box and bubbles (the bubbles were prosecco, not champagne, but who can tell the difference?). “This is so romantic, isn’t it?” I said dreamily to my husband. “Yes. But could you STOP eating everything? You had lunch and I didn’t,” he retorted. We then mouthed “I love you” at each other whilst I watched him devour the charcuterie like an RV-er outside a Sonic drive-thru. #marriedlife.
Days of indulging left us desperate for some wellness. Coamo, nestled in the center of a prehistoric volcano, is famous for its healing hot springs. We took the one-hour drive down south because who doesn’t want to be healed, right? Though it’s not the most glam facility, Baños de Coamo’s thermal waters most definitely soothed my sunburn. After an hour of hot water in the blistering heat, I suggested heading back for more traditional pampering at the Zen Spa Océano in the Caribe Hilton (no Piña Coladas this time, I swear!). We treated ourselves to a couple’s massage with glorious AC, lavender oils, and soft therapist hands. Just the remedy post Livin’ La Vida Loca. Ahhh.
That brings us to sleep. We checked out three hotels during our stay, all welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers, but geared towards a slightly different clientele. El Convento, an enchanting and HER-storic former convent, is best for couples. Located in the heart of Old San Juan, the rooms are decked out with handcrafted furniture and Andalusian tile floors. Think of a Puerto Rican version of Meryl Streep’s home in the movie, Mamma Mia.
The following night we checked into Palacio Provincial, a brand new hotel in an impressive early 19th-century building off the main square. Here, rooms are deceivingly bright and modern, and social spaces are huge (two courtyards, a rooftop pool, and so many terraces). I’d recommend Palacio Provincial for those traveling with a bestie or family. Finally, Condado Ocean Club is one for singles or a gaggle of squirrel friends. It’s Fire Island fun but in a way better location. The adult-only hotel pool, bar, and restaurant are buzzing all day and within walking distance to a gay beach. Also, the rooms are sexy AF, thanks to dramatic floor-to-ceiling views of the Atlantic Ocean. This is the place to crank up Ricky Martin’s She Bangs and bag a lover.
The jabbin’ doesn’t have to end at the clinic, lambs!