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Phil Villeneuve
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Fantasy island

Is Puerto Rico America's real Fire Island?


Locals say that Puerto Rico puts a spell on anyone who visits the island, that it’s a magical place that lures travellers to drop their bags and stay for good. One visit to the Caribbean paradise and you’ll understand exactly what they’re talking about.

Tucked between the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico boasts a long list of enticements. The nearly four million residents of the 9,104-square-kilometre commonwealth are gorgeous, for starters. The friendly boricuas, as they’re known, are mostly Spanish speaking, but many speak English as well.

Since Puerto Rico’s an American territory, there are Starbucks, Walgreens and even Costco stores on the island, yet just beneath the heavy American influence lies a charming Hispanic culture.

The many queer-friendly hotels, resorts, businesses, bars and locals will keep your roaming eyes and Grindr screens as busy as a rum-dispensing bartender’s arm.

Amazing seafood, a diverse music scene (cumbia is huge), and a laid-back attitude (be late — for everything) all collide with a gay-friendly environment to create a tropical destination unlike any other on Earth.

Getting there

Travelling to Puerto Rico is easy; WestJet and Air Canada both have direct flights. Planning your trip with companies like Toronto’s CanRico, which offers week-long gay-adventure packages and island cruise adventures, makes the experience even more accessible.

From Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, five kilometres southeast of the capital San Juan, reliable cab drivers will take you straight to the beach or your hotel — most are only 20 minutes away.

Getting around

Though there is a public transit system, locals will warn you to take a cab or find a ride. The buses run on a “schedule,” but like everything on the island, they’re often late and they take their time.

San Juan is a relatively safe city in which to bike, and there are several rental companies. If you’re up for the ride, it’s the best way to see the city, its lesser-known neighbourhoods and the coastline.


Condado JLo has a condo here, plus there’s a gay beach, a legendary bakery (Panaderia Kasalta), bike paths, some of the city’s best ceviche and the hottest cops you’ll ever set eyes on. I almost committed a crime just to hang out with them.

If you need an inexpensive hotel to use as a stopover between day trips to the beach and the rainforest, book a room at the Atlantic Beach Hotel. The rooms are basic, but the oceanside bar and gay beach in front make it a great place to hang out with local and travelling chicos.

If you’re into spoiling yourself, hit up La Concha Resort, where Ricky Martin celebrates his birthday. Built in 1958, it has a floating restaurant called La Perla that’ll make you feel like a 1960s movie starlet. The room views are spectacular, and the Grindr selection is as big as the waves hitting the shores below your window.

Old San Juan The oldest settlement on the island, Old San Juan is absolutely stunning. Visit the historical forts, then head to Barrachina — the bar-resto that claims to have invented the piña colada. Having had three, I can attest the bartenders are good at what they do. Walking or biking around the blue cobblestone streets, having a coffee at Café Cola’o or visiting the Don Q Rum factory (Don Q is distilled, manufactured, bottled and distributed in PR) all make for an easygoing, Old World kind of afternoon. Get a slushy ice cone from any corner; they really help with the heat.

El Yunque Just half an hour outside San Juan is El Yunque, a national forest reserve where you can swim under waterfalls, hike lush mountain trails and ride horses along winding rivers at the Carabali Rainforest Park. A roadside stop for some fresh coconut water will boost your energy levels. Bring your camera and bathing suit; that’s about all you need.

On the highway between El Yunque and San Juan, in the Piñones area, you’ll find a string of kioscos, an amazing variety of food stands specializing in ceviche, chicken and deep-fried everything.

Vieques Only eight kilometres off the mainland, and a $4 ferry ride, Vieques could also be called heaven on Earth, with its wild horses, some of the world’s best beaches (my fave was the deserted white sand of Caracas Beach), strong drinks and amazing seafood. There are many affordable houses to rent, but if you want to splurge, stay at the W. It’s the ultimate luxury stay, with infinity pools, underwater music, a nightly bonfire and gorgeous rooms. You’ll feel like you’re living in a GQ spread. It’s a hotspot for freshly wed American couples but also gays (I met two of them, and after some delicious cocktails we found the hidden outdoor hot tub and stumbled on a giant frog along our starlit path).

Vieques is also home to a world-famous bioluminescent bay. Let CanRico make arrangements and you’ll find yourself on a quiet, otherworldly kayak tour over glow-in-the-dark water. It’s real-life glitter right out of a fantasy novel.

How gay is it?

So, how gay is Puerto Rico? Very. And wonderfully so. As macho as the Latino culture is, people don’t seem to care if you’re gay. Same-sex couples hold hands in the streets, fierce drag queens roam free and ferociously (there’s a reason RuPaul’s Drag Race features so many natives of this hot little island!), and man-watching, gay or not, will raise your eyebrows and the fabric of your shorts, so be warned.

I was lucky enough to be in San Juan over Halloween, which the Puerto Ricans take very seriously. Lady Gaga also happened to be in town, so the camp was at an all-time high. San Juan closes its main gay drag (Calle Condado) on the night of the devil, just like we do on Church Street, for an epic night of costumes, dancing and drinking. Puerto Ricans drink — a lot. There’s never very much Coke in a rum and Coke, and $1 Medalla beers are hard to resist. I also recommend picking up a Gasolina at any corner shop. It’s the ultimate boozy energy elixir.

Big gay clubs like Circo, Scandalo and, my personal favourite, Splash (a local dive bar) are crawling with gorgeous guys, happy to show you around town and their apartments.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful place to visit and is still relatively untouched by tourists. The people, the food, the music, the locale: all truly cast a magic spell. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For prices, information and a very friendly leg up on your trip, contact For an inside look at the island’s cultural life, visit

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      2/20/2013 1:50:50 PM

      As probably one of the few Puerto Ricans living in Toronto - and most certainly one of the handful of gay ones here -, I want to thank you for the wonderfully positive and accurate "Fantasy Island" feature on my country. I came to Canada in 2007 to live with my partner after having lived my whole life in Puerto Rico, but we both went back to visit in 2011, and I definitely noticed quite a change in gay visibility and activism. Although not at the level of acceptance you see in Toronto, we saw gay couples being more open, at least in the capital and on the island of Culebra. (As for the rest of the main island, that's another story.) This was unheard of even when I left six years ago. Puerto Rico is really a beautiful place and it's getting gay-friendlier with time.

      Thank you once again!
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