The Ultimate Guide to Gay Central America
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Gay Marriage (nor civil unions or domestic partnership) is not recognized in Guatemala. It has been hotly debated and legislation was introduced last year to legalize gay marriage and swiftly failed. However, Guatemala also elected its first openly gay person to the Senate this year and Guatemala City hosts an annual, well-attended gay-pride parade. Attitudes towards homosexuality vary widely in different parts of Guatemala. Generally, it’s a don’t ask don’t tell type of atmosphere but there is a stronghold of deeply rooted religion and tradition dictating politics, laws and culture, particularly where men are concerned. However, change, is clearly, on the horizon.
Guatemala is beautiful and amazing, not to be missed. You could spend forever exploring this country. There are 33 volcanoes, endless take-your-breath-away landscapes, exciting ruins, colonial cities, deep history and beautiful culture. In fact, after spending six months there, Antigua is one of the places we have gone that we would absolutely consider living longer-term. So that is where we will begin:
Antigua is different than most of Guatemala, equal parts traditional and progressive. Antigua is generally gay-accepting but not very gay “open” – it’s a low-key acceptance. There is a strong and friendly community but you have to seek them out and find them. Women would have no problem walking down the street holding hands (its part of the culture for women to do so) but for men, I would not recommend it - though, there are TONS of gay men in Antigua. A beautiful city and the heart of Guatemalan culture and art, you could spend a lifetime exploring its corridors, mountains, volcanoes, restaurants and art galleries. But those are different blog posts – this is about gay things so here we go:
Gay Bar/Club Scene:
Frida’s Atico Upstairs Bar: Frida’s is a well-located, touristy restaurant (with incredible margaritas and a Sunday brunch to die for) but UPSTAIRS, at night, the restaurant turns locals dance club!
Frida’s is Lesbian-owned, not exclusively gay but has very gay monthly events and weekly dance parties featuring techno, electronic and house music with an always open and welcoming atmosphere. The regular DJ is an incredibly talented (and hot, if I might add) chick. When we were in Antigua the first time, the Atico Bar was hosting a party featuring DJ Gunn and Daniela Sea (Max from the L Word).
Whether man, woman, transgender, straight, gay, single or coupled, at Frida’s you can truly be yourself. And say hi to Maggie, the owner, for us – she is awesome!
The Backyard Bar and Restaurant : When we first got to Antigua, I asked around the expat pages for recommendations on gay places and several people said to me, go to the back porch of Backyard Bar – sounded super sketchy to me. When we actually went there, we realized there was a little lost in translation. There is nothing sketchy about Backyard Bar and the entire bar is a porch. It is a casual, outdoor bar with round tables where you can enjoy a beer and hang out with your friends.
Red's Bar : we did not go to this bar and it is a little odd to me because on the surface it seems like a straight sport's bar but we noticed they often advertise VERY gay events, hosted the Miss Gay Guatemala pageant and are listed as a gay men's bar on a few Guatemala info pages.
Vudú Bar: this bar is straight-owned but very gay with their signature drink called Unicorn Puke and rainbow-themed everything. When we were there they had a hot lesbian working the bar and a cute AF twink clearing tables.
Antigua is full of great restaurants and a bunch of mediocre ones, too but here are a few fantastic restaurants where you can also feel comfortable being yourself
– Frida’s, Angie Angie, Cactus Grill, Osteria de Francesco, Caoba Farms Café, Samsara, Rainbow Café (don’t let the name fool you, this is not a gay establishment but it’s a very chill, progressive environment)
Superior Tattoos – Miguel owner, artist
If you would be interested in a Week-Long (LGBT) Group Travel event with us in Antigua, where we arrange everything but your flight, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep you in the loop!
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Guatemala City because well, frankly, it’s a little nuts, but we were there for a few nights. Most people direct tourists to Zona 1 or Zona 10 but for us, the place to be is Zona 4. Its hipster, artsy and young, reminding me of East Nashville or Brooklyn with street art, cute cafes, restaurants and shops. Guatemala City itself has a thriving gay scene with several bars and clubs, a few mixed but mainly catering to the boys. Here is what we have been told :
Black and White Lounge: Disco Bar in Centro Historico, mostly men.
Genetic Majestic Club: Two story dance club, mostly men but the ladies are welcome and often seen. Drag shows.
G Lounge – small dance club, pickup bar, entirely men.
Guatemala City pride was a great party!!
*Drag is sometimes referred to as “Transformistas”.
*There are several bathhouses in Guatemala City but we don't know much about them.
We only spent a couple of days in Xela but mention it because we noticed on several businesses – rainbow stickers that said, in Spanish, we do not discriminate against LGBT.
Here is what we did find out - but we arent sure about the current-ness of this info so if you have more or better, please comment below and we'll make the corrections!:
DIVINE LOUNGE: 7th Street 13-20 Zone 1. (On one side of the family pantry of the central park)
PALA LIFE KLICHÉ: 4 Street and 15 Avenue, Zone 1. Front of post office, XELA.
IDSO: Initiative for Sexual Diversity, IDSO, an organization that promotes human rights, sexual diversity and inclusive legislation. Phone Numbers: 4831.1691, 4646.1929
GAX: Xela Support Group, basically a community group that offers connections and information. E-mail: email@example.com Telephone: 5466-8676
Nicaragua has a long, strange history with gay rights, bouncing back and forth between complete illegality to complete legality. Currently, Nicaragua does not have anti-gay laws on the books but it is still not a totally accepting country and has a long way to go before gay marriage or recognition of our relationships.
Filled with expats, restaurants, happy hour specials and an unreal art scene, Granada is a pretty okay place to be gay. Like Antigua, there is a thriving gay community, you just have to find it. When we were in Granada, we saw a gaggle of drag queens walking down the street together followed by a band of gay boys – clearly off to a party. We also heard of a bar called Mi Terra, that is not “gay” but where the gays congregate.
While we didn't find a ton of bars, we did find a ton of gay-owned or gay-friendly hotels, though we only stayed in one of them ourselves.
Casa San Francisco : We stayed at this gorgeous boutique hotel in Granada. Its owned by adventure traveler and documentarian, Terry Leary. It has a pool, a garden, breakfast is included, there is hot water and air conditioning in every room. Our room had a terrace overlooking the pool and we just, really, had no complaints. Rooms run between 40 and 80 dollars depending on the season and occupancy. Planning on only one night, we extended our stay twice for a total of 3 nights. Also, there is a great little bar/restaurant next door called Bocadillo's that is owned by incredibly friendly expats that went out of their way to help us out in a jam. And while we are not affiliated with this company in any way, nor did we try it, word on the street is that if you mention "Purple Roofs" you get 10% off of your stay.
Kekoldi Hotel : located in the historic area of downtown, not exclusively gay but regularly advertises on gay travel websites. Reasonably priced at 30-55 per night. Every room is air-conditioned, they have a private bar, wifi and to be noted, their website says they are not pet-friendly.
Tribal Hotel: gay-owned, exceptionally nice boutique hotel only two blocks from the main square . All rooms have terraces, wifi and air-conditioning. Breakfast is included. OH! There is a pool which is really important in the sweltering Nicaraguan heat. The price range is between 135-220 USD which is typical for this level of amenities in Granada. We are sad we didn't stay at this place - its truly gorgeous!
I'm not going to lie, Managua was not our favorite city. We didn't feel particularly safe going out at night (and we are city girls - we always go out at night!) We know there are two gay bars – we did not visit either of them but here they are:
Tabu - gets really good reviews, has weekly drag shows and events, dance bar
Bar Q – i can't find a website for this bar but we were told its a nice neighborhood bar with excellent dj's on the weekends.
San Juan Del Sur
San Juan Del Sur does not have a gay bar but there are often gay “events” going on at various hotels and bars by promoters. And with all of the surfers around, male and female, combined with endless breathtaking beaches, there is no shortage of scenery.
Okay, I know what you are thinking – El Salvador? Listed by the State Department as one of the most dangerous places on the planet? Don’t believe the hype. We spent a total of 7 weeks in El Salvador, 3 of which were in San Salvador. It’s a shockingly progressive and cool town. Yes, there is violence – gang and drug violence – but if you’re a tourist, not in a gang and not buying drugs, you are extremely unlikely to be affected by any of it. And come on, they have two Olive Gardens, a Benihana's, a huge mall, a food truck court and hipster barbershops - how bad can it be?
El Salvador is rightfully known for its beautiful beaches – in particular, El Tunco and El Zonte. The reputation is deserved – dark, soft sand, great waves, unbelievable sunsets.
For gay nightlife, however, (and also yoga, healthy restaurants, malls and hipster cafes) the place to be is San Salvador. Shockingly progressive, San Salvador is, by and large, a clean, well-organized city, full of coffee shops, boutique hotels and a rising restaurant scene. With that said, as with anywhere in Central America or the Southern United States, I would still exercise great caution with public displays of affection. These are catholic countries and though progress is happening quickly, there is a long way to go.
Cinco Hotel: hands down. I don’t even have another recommendation because we liked this one so much. Its just where you should stay. Trust Us. You can be yourself, you can take a yoga class if you want to, you will have complimentary coffee and breakfast delivered to your room, there is a garden, the rooms are clean and gorgeous, it’s a great location – what more do you want?
El Closet: Facebook has this bar listed as a women’s clothing store. It isn’t. It is a neighborhood bar with indoor/outdoor space – as far as how the bar...presents itself – its rough, not well-funded and under the radar but as far as atmosphere and fun, you can’t go wrong – this is the bar where everyone knows your name or wants to know your name.
Coliseo: is a solid mix of women and men, a dance bar with drag shows. They have all of your typical gay event parties and some really, really random local live entertainment – but a good time will be had, damn it.
Club Scandinavia is a bath house – word on the street is that this one is as much a club and bar as it is a bathhouse.
Misters Bar: okay, this one- well….its a primarily men’s bar, and a drag bar for sure – but really, it is a show-bar with hilariously theatrical and elaborate productions . Look, it’s a good time – you should check it out.
San Salvador has a vibrant gay community and they have had a gay pride parade for several years:
Super, duper, gay Costa Rica!
Where to begin….
Most of Costa Rica is really gay-friendly. There is very much a live and let live attitude there, more than in any other Central American country we spent time in even though gay marriage is still illegal. The president of the country raised the rainbow flag on the official residence for the first time in history this year during Pride. This year's parade grand marshall was one of two of the country's vice-presidents, Ana Helena Chacón, who is a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage.
Sometimes, because the music everywhere is so good in Costa Rica (and so, so gay) you wont know whether you are in a gay bar, a straight bar, a restaurant or a walmart. You should just check out the entire country and feel pretty comfortable being yourself – but for focus – lets talk about the two big gay hotspots and a couple of honorable mentions:
Manuel Antonio is the original Costa Rican gay mecca. The number of specifically gay bars fluctuates – the first time we went, there were 5 and more recently, 3. Doesn’t sound like much? You have to take into account that Manuel Antonio is TEENY TINY. 3 bars in such a tiny place says a lot about the place and those are only the exclusively designated gay bars. There are several other bars and restaurants that are gay hangouts and at one time, there was even a gay beach. That beach has since been purchased by a resort and is no longer accessible but you’ll find plenty of gays on any of the beaches being their happy, openly gay selves.
Mogambo: This small neighborhood bar is part of and sits on top of Raphael Terraza’s restaurant. Thursdays and Saturdays are the big nights here, with weekly drag shows that are stupidly fun and an outdoor seating area in the trees. Ask for a Malibu and Pineapple and watch the bartender GRAB AN ACTUAL PINEAPPLE, cut it and blend it right before your eyes. Always a good place to start your night before heading off to Liquid or a house party but it is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We think the restaurant is seriously overpriced but we LOVE this bar. They have EXTREMELY excellent DJ's on the weekends.
Club Karma: Currently, this is THE gay bar of Manuel Antonio with fire-lit outdoor areas, slightly campy indoor dance floor and bar. During the week, this is more of a late, drinks with friends kind of place where you might find one or two sad souls on the dance floor, by themselves, but on the weekend, this is THE PLACE TO BE. DJ’s spinning like Tico Tasmanian devils, working every beat. I guarantee you wont be able to resist the urge to dance. Do be careful, though – that young stud you just can’t believe is hitting on you very well could be a prostitute, which is legal in CR - but don't let that deter you from coming to this bar - everyone is friendly, there is a great mix of foreigners and locals, and its just a really good time.
Selina Hostel: yes, you saw that right – a hostel. But not just any hostel, a Selina Hostel – an upscale hostel chain with an eclectic, high end beach bar and events like “Cher Night.” The locals tell me this is the before-club bar of the moment. We didn't drink there but we stopped in to check it out and despite it being a hostel, it felt pretty bougie.
Hotel Villa Roca: I just can't say enough good things about this Hotel. Is it a little campy? yes. Is there a sign up that says clothing optional after breakfast? yes. Is it marketed primarily to the boys? yes. Did we love it? YES Did we make amazing friends that we will keep for a lifetime? YES. As two women, did we feel welcome and comfortable? SO MUCH YES! We were the bells of the ball. The location of this hotel is unbeatable, there is parking out front shadowed by the multiple rainbow flags. There is an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, happy hour drink specials, toucans flying around, monkeys squealing, nice, clean and comfortable rooms, a huge, filling breakfast included - the CUTEST staff and you can be, exactly who you are.
San Jose!! Again, much like San Salvador, I know what you're thinking - that you have heard San Jose is not worth visiting - that its ugly and dangerous. Ignore those things you have heard! If you know where to go and what to do, San Jose is RAD! Barrio Escalante is my favorite neighborhood, full of restaurants, bars, hipsters, gay people, pretty tree-lined streets and liquor-filled ice cream. Centro Historico is also not to be missed with incredible architecture, art museums ,street vendors and parks. We enjoyed Chinatown (Barrio de Chino) as well - there are a few small gay bars here but we didn't check any of them out.
There is a gay resort in San Jose named Colours but we didn't stay there, it has gotten mixed reviews (in fairness, nothing bad, just ranging from good to mediocre) and they ignored our request to come check it out so all i can tell you is that it exists and may be a good night's stop on your way to Manuel Antonio.
I could go on and on and on about the San Jose gay bars and community but this would take years. In our search, we found 21 LGBT bars. There are SO MANY. And they are easy to find so I’m only going to talk about a couple of them.
There is also a restaurant that deserves an honorable mention here:
Arbol De Seda: Its owned by a Peruvian lesbian chef who also happens to be the first gay person to get legally married in the country (though, it is still not legal - funny story that you can check out here . The entire menu is vegetarian, healthy and FANTASTIC - please, please, if you do nothing else in your life, try the maracuya pie - the fluffy one, not the cheesecake (although, that is also amazing). She has a big rainbow flag painted on the side of the building and a rainbow mobile over the door, a rainbow flag inside, a rainbow on their brunch menu - you get the idea. Its in Barrio Escalante which is the Restaurant district and unmistakably gay/hipsterlandia.
For a neighborhood bar, check out Neon Ice: The name is weird, I know, but don't let it put you off because they literally serve NEON ICE - you can get regular drinks but their speciality is frozen alcoholic wonderfulness. This bar is gaylandia, with a nice mix of men and women, centrally located in Barrio Escalanté. The bartenders are friendly and make you feel right at home - say hi to Jose for us!
La Avispa: unbelievably fun dance club – great DJ events - As are most dance clubs, it is geared towards the men but they have weekly ladies nights, a VERY well-mixed crowd and host regular events aimed at the lesbos. We love this club!
Pucho's Men's Club: We didn't go here (obviously) but from what we were told, it is mainly a pick-up/sex-focused bar with strippers and go-go boys.
El Teatro: Remember Babylon from Queer as Folk - this is the Costa Rican version. Impressive light and sound systems. Mixed men and women, substantial stage for drag shows and regular theme parties - they just did a party called "Hogwarts" so of course, we love it. Don't go to San Jose and fail to stop by this place on a Friday or Saturday night
We'll keep adding to this list - there are just so many!
If you would be interested in a Week-Long (LGBT) Group Travel event with us in San Jose or Manuel Antonio, where we arrange everything but your flight, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep you in the loop!
Mar Y Sol Ecotel - Tambor. We really loved this place - its a five minute walk to a low-key, mostly empty beach. Mark and Holly, the owners, are the BEST hosts and fun to hang out with around the bar. If you're into yoga, this place has you covered. They have installed the most beautiful yoga studio I've ever seen and they have classes onsite. If you're into wildlife, you wont be disappointed - there are toucans, howler monkeys, iguanas an coatis roaming around and red macaws flying overhead. You can absolutely feel free to be yourself here. The rooms are pretty, clean and simple, with air conditioning and decent internet. Mark is a great tour guide and endlessly knowledgeable about the surrounding areas and sights to see - and there are so many sights to see!! This hotel is located in our favorite part of the Nicoya Peninsula, the southern end - with waterfalls, endless beaches and jungle trails to discover. Tell them Sunny and Karin sent you and that we said they should buy you a beer! (just kidding).
Casitas LasDivaz - Playa Samsara, 65-110 - Oh, how we wish we had stayed here for at least one night but we didn't find out about it until long after we were gone. With cabins dawning names like "Tina Turner" and "Marlene Dietrich" this place is unapologetically queer. Its also an adults only, steps from the beach, unlimited coffee and wifi included property.
EL DORADO, Panama
Xscape Disco Bar: Entirely for the boys, drag and disco.
XS Club - Dance Club in the city. Huge, two floors. Mostly men but plenty of women come here to play as well.
BOCAS DEL TORO
Nomad Tree Lodge - This place lies somewhere between a hostel and hotel. LGBT owned, this has been one of our favorite stays during our travels. Unique, friendly, a refuge in busy Bocas. And try the fry-jack nachos! You're welcome!