After nearly two years where LGBTQ travelers made peace with expecting the unexpected, it’s time to change the narrative by queering the adage. What if expecting the unexpected means discovering places far from gay travel destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Mykonos, or NYC and leaning into the unknown?
What if travel in 2022 is about becoming a modern Magellan by steering clear of the well-trod path?
LGBTQ travelers tend to stick to LGBTQ-friendly locations — and for good reasons. Visiting destinations known for queer inclusivity can be safe, relaxing, and liberating. But this year, consider breaking with tradition. Many parts of the world are becoming increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ community. Opting to visit some of these less-frequented locales often means lower prices, fewer tourists, more opportunities for authentic local experiences, and the chance of becoming a true LGBTQ trendsetter.
As countries continue opening borders to visitors, consider the world your rainbow-colored oyster. Take advantage of its spoils by putting one of these seven surprising gay travel destinations on your gaydar for 2022.
1. Zipolite, Mexico
The bohemian beach destination no one told you about
Sail south of Puerto Vallarta’s resort-packed streets, and you’ll eventually land on the banks of Zipolite — Oaxaca’s best-kept LGBTQ secret. This beachfront bohemia is a far cry from the bustling resorts that colonize the country’s most famous destinations. It’s also a literal beach-bum oasis: Playa Zipolite is Mexico’s only legal nude beach — a mile-long expanse where gray-haired hippies bake their precious jewels on the glitter-gold shoreline.
The town’s anything-goes attitude toward swimwear extends to LGBTQ life. Playa del Amor, the gay beach, attracts a diversity of visitors; it’s not uncommon to see groups of gay men and older straight couples sharing the shade under thatched-roof palapas. ChiZme, Zipolite’s inaugural gay bar (which opened in 2018), is an all-are-welcome watering hole. Even Demetria, a gay beach bar, enjoys the company of a mixed crowd. It’s easy to see why – the outdoor seating knows no prejudice when it’s time to soak up the sunset.
A trip to Zipolite is a non-stop siesta – a way of life supported by the region’s spotty cell service. Be it clothes or connectivity, a vacation to this haven is about shedding the world’s worries and enjoying what this untouched coastline offers in abundance: sun, sand, and a chance to unwind.
Where to stay
No shirt, no shoes, no problem — that’s what you’ll find at “hetero-friendly” Casa Nudista, an LGBTQ hotel where guests can toss their pants off upon stepping inside. Guests stay in refreshingly bare-bones bungalows and have access to an on-site pool and cafe. Even if you don’t stay here, stop by for a visit — it’s only a two-minute stroll from the beach. A day pass gives guests access to the hotel’s shared amenities. On Saturdays, a nude pool party kicks off in the late afternoon.
2. Park City, Utah
The adventurous gay ski getaway
If cities were drag artists, Park City would be a Drag Race winner. This tiny Utah town tucked into the dramatic Wasatch Mountains is the ultimate shape-shifter. In January, it dolls up like Hollywood-in-miniature for the Sundance Film Festival. In February, it transforms into a queer circuit club for the annual gay ski week Elevation Utah. The city dresses in rainbows to celebrate in June, and though the rest of the year isn’t decidedly queer, Park City always welcomes a colorful mix of visitors who inject this rural enclave with progressive values.
Park City’s proximity to Salt Lake City is an added bonus. Located thirty minutes away by car, SLC boasts more LGBTQ residents per capita than uber-queer Los Angeles; LGBTQ politicians in city council outnumber straight officials by six to four. Of course, visitors will still find conservative pockets in other parts of Utah, but even those seem to be slowly changing their attitude toward queer life: in 2021, the state voted to recognize June as LGBTQ month.
For the quintessential Park City experience, visit in winter, when the snow-covered acropolis attracts a global roster of LGBTQ skiers. After last year’s hiatus, Elevation Utah will come roaring back to the mountains from February 23-27 with outdoor adventures and indoor dance parties to celebrate the gay-led organization’s 20th anniversary.
If hitting the slopes sounds unappealing, consider a trip in summer or fall. Park City is an ideal home base for outdoor enthusiasts interested in hiking craggy peaks and wild woodlands just outside of town.
Where to stay
Park City Peaks Hotel, the official host hotel for Elevation Utah, is a midcentury-modern boutique retreat with easy access to the town’s top sites. A free local bus stops in front of the hotel and shuttles guests to the ski resorts and downtown.
3. Belgrade, Serbia
The Pride celebration that serves a greater purpose
In September 2022, Belgrade will host EuroPride — an exciting development for a city with a tumultuous queer history.
“The first Pride was a protest” may be a slogan honoring Marsha P. Johnson-era America, but it’s a modern memory in Belgrade. When the Serbian city held its first Pride march in 2001, it ended in violent clashes incited by right-wing extremists. The march returned in 2010 and was met with extremists who threw Molotov cocktails and shot rubber bullets. But in the past decade, LGBTQ life has improved significantly, and this year’s Pride gathering is a sign of the city’s growth.
Considering Serbia’s tenuous relationship with the rainbow flag, there are a surprising amount of LGBTQ haunts in Belgrade. Smiley, a cozy queer bar, serves coffee by day and cocktails by night. Musk Machine is a swanky gay nightclub open on weekends. Many of the bars around the Cetinjska district cater to queer-friendly crowds, and the nudist section of Savka Lake Beach attracts an LGBTQ crew.
What makes Belgrade a worthy LGBTQ destination isn’t its all-are-welcome energy but its gritty mash-up of old and new. There’s Hapsburg-era architecture next door to post-war modernist structures. Orthodox grandmothers from communist Yugoslavia share dinner tables with a generation raised with a lesbian Prime Minister. Like the Danube and Sava Rivers, culture here clashes head first and at the city’s heart. In this turning tide, Belgrade is finding its queer footing in a manner both messy and mesmerizing.
Where to stay
Don’t let the humorless Bauhaus facade fool you — Square Nine’s Scandi-style interior feels like a warm hug. It might be hard to leave the embrace of the gezellig suites, but getting stuck inside would be a shame. The hotel is only a short stroll away from Belgrade’s trendiest pedestrian strip and some of the best LGBTQ bars in the Balkans.
4. Baltimore, Maryland
America’s queerest up-and-coming city
Baltimore often gets overlooked as elegant Washington DC’s scrappy little sister, but it’s not called Charm City for lack of appeal. Quirky, artsy, and seriously stylish — this once-trusted industrial town is polished to become one the coolest destinations on America’s East Coast.
The city’s wonders might be news for many travelers, but they’re old hat for LGBTQ residents. Baltimore is where gay filmmaker John Waters and drag diva Divine got their start in the 1960s. Leon’s — a gay leather bar — started slinging drinks in 1957 and never stopped. Mount Vernon, a historic district adorned with 19th-century architecture, has been the town’s de facto gayborhood for decades, and queer locals have been celebrating the art of drag since at least the 1930s. According to data from the American Community Survey released in 2021, Baltimore currently has a higher percentage of same-sex married households than LGBTQ hotspots like NYC, Los Angeles, and its next-door neighbor, DC.
The divey Drinkery, recently-opened Central Bar, and friendly Rowan Tree are a few of Baltimore’s best local gay bars. Gertrude’s, a gay-run eatery renowned for their Chesapeake Bay crab, is a must for local cuisine. An annual Pride parade takes place every June, and Black Pride takes place in September. But a trip to Maryland’s biggest metropole shouldn’t only be focused on queer fun. Nosh on artisanal treats at Mount Vernon Marketplace, check out out-of-the-box art at the American Visionary Art Museum, and step inside the opulent Evergreen House to ogle Gilded Age artifacts. Baltimore is chockablock with treasures waiting to be uncovered.
Where to Stay
The recently-renovated Hotel Revival, located in Baltimore’s LGBTQ-friendly Mount Vernon, offers colorful accommodations in a former private mansion built in 1929. Head to Topside, the hotel’s rooftop bar, for unmatched views of the nearby Washington Monument.
5. Quito, Ecuador
A South American capital at the forefront of LGBTQ rights
Ecuador’s heavenly capital, perched 9,350 feet above sea level, is a city close to God. Church spires shoot into the sky like the nearby Pichincha Volcano. A reliable fog blankets the city around bedtime and flies away on angel wings in the morning. It’s hard not to consider the Catholic religion’s pivotal role in culture while walking through Old Town — the UNESCO World Heritage Site is filled with Spanish Colonial facades and dozens of places to worship. But this celestial metropolis isn’t stuck in old-school ideology. Quito boasts one of the most liberated LGBTQ communities in Latin America.
In 2019, Ecuador legalized same-sex marriage. As of 2016, Ecuadorians have the right to self-declare their gender identity on legal documents. The country is one of a handful in the world that outlaws conversion therapy, and the constitution grants equal rights to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Quito is the country’s queer capital, and the Mariscal district, also known as the Zona Rosa, is its beating heart. This is where you’ll find El Hueco, a gay dance club that welcomes a mixed crowd. Further afield lies Kika, a slick gay spot that turns into an up-all-night Discoteca at 11:00 PM. La Disco Bitch is where queer 20-somethings groove to Latin pop. The city’s Pride festival takes place every June, and in November, Quito’s LGBT film festival celebrates the latest in queer cinema.
Most LGBTQ-centric offerings take place at night, leaving visitors time to explore Quito’s surrounding wilds during the day. Taking the Teleférico aerial tram up to Cruz Loma is a must: the viewing platform, located roughly 13,000 feet above sea level, overlooks Quito and its surrounding mountains. Cotopaxi National Park, home to the snow-capped Volcán Cotopaxi, is only an hour away and makes for a refreshing day trip. Travelers to the Galápagos Islands will likely fly through Quito on their way toward the Pacific Coast, and tacking on a few days to see the Ecuadorian Andes is a worthwhile detour before hitting the high seas.
Where to stay
Book one of the kitschy-themed rooms at Ikala Quito Hotel, located in Zona Rosa, for its dash of local flavor. The decor in each suite draws parallels to what you’ll find in Ecuador – Ancient Incan history, colonial grandeur, tropical climes, and rugged mountains. Breakfast is included, so you can grab a meal before you hit the ground running.
The world’s most progressive country for queer folks
Malta might be one of Europe’s tiniest nations, but when it comes to LGBTQ rights, no country has taken bigger strides toward equality. According to the Spartacus Gay Travel Index from 2021, the only nation more queer-friendly than Malta is perpetually-kind Canada. Malta is a place where same-sex couples stroll hand-in-hand without worry and where gender identity is a non-issue.
The country’s inclusive attitude is a reflection of its hodge-podge culture. This pearl of an archipelago, located south of Sicily and surrounded by the cerulean Mediterranean, has attracted a lengthy list of conquerors who have all left their mark. Roman, Arab, Spanish, French, and British influences can be found in local architecture, language, art, cuisine, and customs. Valletta, the capital, welcomes visitors with its modern Renzo Piano-designed gate and pampers them inside Baroque sandstone townhouses and sun-drenched Italian palazzos. It takes only a few minutes to leave the big-city buzz for a countryside swept with wildflowers and scrubby pines. Deep-sea adventures and secret swimming holes await on the coastline, and the next great experience is always a short drive away.
The queer scene isn’t as large as a Meditteranean magnet like Mykonos, but it’s still mighty. Pembroke Beach, the unofficial gay seaside hang, is a fifteen-minute drive from Valletta, as is Michelangelo, Malta’s gay nightclub. Maori, a lesbian-owned bar adorned with quirky art, peers over the HMS Maori shipwreck off the Valletta coast. The Birdcage Lounge, a queer-friendly cocktail bar, hosts drag shows and kooky cabarets in the nearby village of Rabat. Lollipop, a house-and-disco dance party, throws queer-centric pop-up events once or twice a month.
Where to stay
The super-swanky Rosselli AX Privilege is a lux boutique hotel that pairs Valletta history with sleek modern amenities. Between the stylish suites, outdoor pool with panoramic views, and on-site Michelin-starred restaurant, a stay here will make you feel like Maltese nobility. The truth isn’t far off — this Baroque palazzo was originally the 17th-century home of a Knights of Malta member.
7. Winnipeg, Canada
The LGBTQ enclave at Canada’s geographic center
Canada regularly ranks among the safest countries for LGBTQ travelers thanks to its liberal laws and friendly population. Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver are its obvious centerpieces, with vibrant gayborhoods that support diverse LGBTQ communities. But these aren’t the only Canadian metropoles with lavender likability. Winnipeg, the prairie capital of the Great White North, is home to an exciting queer scene worth international praise.
In 1998, Winnipeg made headlines by electing Glen Murray, the first openly gay mayor to serve a major North American city. Pride Winnipeg, an annual ten-day festival, started painting the town in rainbows in 1987. Reel Pride Film Festival, a non-profit that shares queer stories in cinema, started turning local silver screens kaleidoscopic in 1985. When the Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in Winnipeg in 2008, it became the world’s first museum dedicated solely to exploring human rights. Queer life is as much a part of Winnipeg as the Red River running through it.
LGBTQ culture centers around artsy Osborne Village – home to indie theaters, crafty boutiques, and trendy eateries that serve international fare. For after-hours fun, locals head to Club 200 — a decades-old gay disco — and Fame Nightclub, known for its top-tier drag shows and themed parties.
‘Winterpeg,’ an apt nickname, is located due North of Minnesota and smack-dab in the middle of Canada, which translates to temperate summers and beer-freezing winters. In warmer months, the city hums with farmers’ markets and outdoor concerts. When the Red River ices over, locals head to Arctic Winter Glacier Park for skating and tobogganing. If the cold becomes too much to bear, gay men heat up at the Adonis Men’s Spa. But no one worries about winter in the ‘Peg – it’s the kind of city where folks don’t fuss about frigid temperatures. Instead, they dress in layers, strap on some snowshoes, and make the most of their city’s frosted spectacle.
Where to stay
The Alt Hotel Winnipeg, located near the city’s artsy center, is a colorful fortress with ultramodern rooms. Osborne Village is a five-minute drive away, and Club 200 is within walking distance.