Gay San Juan: The GLBT Center of the Caribbean

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

In my humble opinion, San Juan, Puerto Rico is the perfect “Gay-Sun-Destination”. I really do love Puerto Rico and San Juan in particular on several different   levels, some very personal. (Another column) And, as I explained before, when I look at destinations for an incentive travel program, I look at them as “product”. What will “sell” and motivate the best. As an “independent contractor” my job is to identify this product and decide what application would be best for it. I visit and inspect different destinations that I believe to be good possibilities and they are then plunged into my personal “Shark Tank”. Does the destination have what I am seeking for my client? I may love it but will it be a good destination to motivate book publishers from Boise, Idaho, floor covering installers from central PA, or the Philadelphia Gay Community? In essence I am manufacturing something tangible that people will want to earn, work for, plan for, experience and remember with great pleasure. It is not always what excites me but rather what excites the client. For example, St. Barth’s in the French West Indies excites me but, the average American does not like it at all for a variety of reasons. It is really essential to know your audience, what they would be comfortable with, “turned on by” and truly enjoy. I have made a few errors in judgment over the years, but in San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico. it is a proven winner. 

The first questions I ask the client (a bit of “role-play” with GPC) are as follows:

  1. Profile of guests (age, travel experience, interests etc.)
  2. Airport where will the guests will depart from and return to
  3. Timing of the program: dates and number of nights.
  4. Budget: “First Class” means different things to different people and I believe that if you can’t do something right, don’t do it.
  5. What is the size of the group as some destinations simply cannot accommodate large numbers of people.

The programs I design are (hopefully) original, personal and full of unforgettable moments. The questions I ask of any client would not change if I were designing a “once in a lifetime travel experience” exclusively for any of my clients. The selections I would make might differ according to the group demographics but, I will say that and I would have to be “on my toes” at all times designing for the Philadelphia Gay Community since Gay men and women tend to be extremely discerning with superior taste, imagination and a natural sense of detail. Overall, we are a “tough crowd” constantly strives for excellence. We just make the world a better place because we can envision it better than anyone else. We make it happen. A group of Gay women and men from Philadelphia would make me very nervous but the desire to “WOW” my audience would be very stimulating. Having planned travel programs for plenty of “straight” crowds over the years,  my GLBT friends would be a challenging, welcome change. Viva la difference! 

Quote from:  

  “Welcome to Puerto Rico, where the locals are friendly, the beaches is beautiful and the nightlife is hot. San Juan is very gay friendly, with bars, clubs and restaurants scattered throughout. Condado, the tourist district, and Santurce are the more concentrated gay neighborhoods.”

In cold hard fact, San Juan, Puerto Rico is a vacation destination with the best Gay and Lesbian infrastructure and the widest variety of exciting activity in the Caribbean.

When choosing a great incentive travel destination, “lift” (air schedule) is very important. Direct-nonstops are most desireable and Philly/Puerto Rico route has plenty. Airline schedules are more limited than ever in 2013, and an airline would rather cancel a flight than run it half empty. The days of empty seats to stretch out in have gone the way of free food, baggage check, pillows and blankets.  Some Caribbean islands have no daily service from Philly at all (Just a few times a week) and you generally changes planes in San Juan. Schedules tend to change with the season while PHL/SJU remains constant. 3 hours flight time is required with plenty of departures and arrivals. This is so important! I have guided hundreds of people to almost every island in the Caribbean and connections can double your time kept from the beach. You can easily leave Philadelphia on the first flight out in the morning and be on the beach by noon. I love to see excited people at 5 am on January 16 in PHL shivering in their shorts and flip-flops because they are leaving for SJU! Wear a swim suit under the clothes and you are good to go!

 Next, I look for Luxurious, sophisticated, one of a kind, hotels and resorts. Puerto Rico has plenty as well as simple moderately priced accommodations. Original, state-of-the-art hotels are sometimes fashioned from old buildings in Old San Juan and many are just enchanting. San Juan and the entire island offer more variety in accommodation than many world capitals. Many resorts so complete you never want to leave the grounds. I can attest to that fact.

 Important for a “sun-destination” are outstanding, safe, clean beaches and pools, excellent and varied shopping opportunities, golf, tennis, all water sports and deep sea fishing. Hot, romantic nightlife is always welcome as well. Puerto Rico has everything from cozy Gay guest houses exquisite Gay friendly boutique hotels, one of my favorites fashioned from an ancient “haunted” convent. Huge, dazzling mega-resorts are all around the island, all-inclusive properties and high-toned “Grande Dame” type hotels are also available. I have known the El San Juan Resort Hotel and Casino on Isla Verde, for many years and taking people into her glorious main lobby for the first time never gets old.”WOW” is what you hear. Las Vegas style casino gambling and shows all over the island are also a major plus.

Puerto Rico fun-fact: The very first Pina Colada was served at the Caribe Hilton in 1954. In 1978 the Pina Colada was officially proclaimed Puerto Rico’s national drink. I would rather have a beer, but, that’s just me.

The Caribe Hilton is another favorite of mine as it has a great location in Condado located east of Old San Juan. I remember my first visit to the hotel. I was inspecting it and several others for a possible incentive group. I remember walking into one of the dining rooms and the gigantic picture windows showed an ocean so blue and palms so perfect, sand so white, for a moment I thought “That has to be a photo/mural”! Gorgeous! Condado (Santurce) is also known as the “Gay Village”. (Gayborhood) It should not surprise that everything in this section is just a bit lovelier, livelier, and well kept. Ferragamo, Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Cartier? All in the Condado and then some include very talented local designers of clothing and art.

The Condado area was quite residential and upscale at the beginning of the 20th Century and is now a tourist Mecca with the emphasis on the GLBT Community, maintaining much of its former graceful feminine charm. A close Suburb of Old San Juan (where there is little Gay activity) you really have your bizcocho (cake) and can eat it too. By the way, speaking of Spanish, remember that Puerto Rico, though not a “State” is a Commonwealth of the United States. The official language is English and Spanish. In all my time in Puerto Rico, language has never been a problem. Old San Juan is a very popular cruise ship port so naturally shops, restaurants, cafes and charming galleries sit amongst ancient monuments and ruins of a time when San Juan was the Gateway to the Caribbean by sea. Candado is complete, compact and pretty much ideal for Gay vacationers whether they are single, a couple or for families. Were I married with children Condado would be perfect. As a gay, single man, still perfect and the way I personally like it. I resent being segregated because of who I am and who I am attracted to. We are all our own unique kind of normal.

Moving away from the Condado, The St. Regis Bahia Beach, is an exquisite resort. Private, upscale and secluded the GM is from South Philly. The El Conquistador on the other side of the island with views of St. Thomas (the U.S. Virgin Islands) is a huge complex of accommodations, restaurants and casinos in a classic tropical setting. I saw Bobby and Whitney there some years ago. Man, if those walls could talk!

Out in that area of the island is something truly magical! Puerto Rico has three Bioluminescent Bays where the water glows light blue at the touch of your hand. A natural phenomenon, the water contains a combination of organisms which emit a flash of blue light when agitated at night. Hard to describe, the experience is simply yet another reason Puerto Rico is very special and one of a kind. Don’t miss it as it is one of Puerto Rico and the world’s treasures! Also I like the color blue.

The restaurant scene in San Juan and the Condado runs the gamut of elegant and very expensive to the Hard Rock Café and simple Cuban style snack bars. American chains like Ruth’s Chris, The Palm and The Cheesecake Factory are scattered throughout the island and the local fish and seafood is unreal. If Rum is your thing Bacardi’s distillery is at your service with styles and proof of Rum not found anywhere else in the world. Jet-fuel anyone?

THE BOTTOM LINE: Easy access, great and varied places to eat and sleep, a comfortable BLBT lifestyle and beautiful beaches certainly say “Vacation Greetings from San Juan” to me! The prices are “affordable” or “are you fucking kidding me”? depending on the depth of your pockets. Unusual and unique  activity abounds all over the island. I really don’t think it would be possible to create a better sun and fun destination for the Philly GLBT Community. I really don’t.

Read Related Posts...

What to watch

Turkey time? Done and dusted! But hey, the weekend’s just unfolding its cozy blanket! 🍿✨ Who’s ready for a fabulous movie marathon? Break out the leftover pie and prep your comfiest couch corner, because we’ve got a dazzling lineup of fantastic LGBT flicks waiting for you! Whether you’re eager to dive into stories streaming straight…

Read more

Vocal ensemble Chanticleer beguiles the men and women of Princeton

World-renowned and Grammy Award winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer gave a stunning recital at Princeton University on October 12, 2023.  Chanticleer’s program was entitled Music of a Silent World. The composers featured were Kurt Weill, Majel Connery, Ayanna Woods, Ann Ronell, Heinrich Isaac, Max Reger, Joni Mitchell, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Churchill, Irving Berlin, and The Weather by Clyde Lawrence, Gracie Lawrence, Jon…

Read more