Buenos Aires – It’s the last stop for 1,700 gay passengers on board the cruise ship Infinity.
After a 12-day trip in February, the vessel dropped anchor in the Argentine city increasingly described as the most gay-friendly in South America.
“Buenos Aires has become the number-one destination for gay tourism because it doesn’t follow the ghetto model. Quite the opposite; it encourages integration. This has allowed us to surpass other tourist destinations like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo,” says Carlos Melia, owner and manager of Buenos Aires’s Pride Travel.
Two events – the grand opening of five-star gay hotel Axel in the San Telmo neighbourhood, and playing host to the fourth Gay World Cup of Soccer – make it clear Buenos Aires is investing in gay tourism.
Leaving behind the repressed, conservative mores that prevailed under military rule, Argentina was the first Latin American country to recognize homosexual civil unions.
Porteños (Buenos Aires-born people) are open, warm and friendly, which adds to the city’s appeal. Called the Paris of South America, it combines the elegance of Europe and the soul of Latin America in a cosmopolitan metropolis rich in architecture, history, film, theatre, arts, dance and music.
The tango, full of sexual desire and melancholy, is danced not only at tango clubs but also in the streets of typical neighbourhoods like La Boca and San Telmo. You can feel the heat rising from sleekly dressed couples sensually entwining their legs to the rhythm of the bandoneón.
Caminito, named after the popular tango of the same name, is a 100-metre pedestrian street in La Boca. Rows of tiny, colourful sheet-metal houses make this working-class neighbourhood a unique attraction.
Artists sell crafts, paintings and souvenirs while street musicians play tangos. Italian taverns can also be found here, along with La Bombonera (the Chocolate Box), the stadium of the Boca Juniors soccer team, for which Diego Maradona played.
Although Buenos Aires doesn’t have a defined gay neighbourhood, San Telmo is favoured by this community. Narrow streets paved with original cobblestones create a special atmosphere in an area that’s home to antique stores, art galleries, street performers and tango clubs.
Others places to visit are downtown, Puerto Madero, Recoleta and Palermo, Soho and Hollywood, which attracts a gay following for its eccentric fashion sense, bars, international cuisine and art galleries.
“I loved Palermo because it was very funky and had an interesting Queen Street-style bohemian street,” remembers Greg Kozdrowski of Toronto’s Rainbow High Vacations, who visited Buenos Aires two and a half years ago.
Buenos Aires clubs, bars and restaurants are open until early morning, when you can grab a café con leche (coffee with milk) and medialunas (croissants) before heading to sleep. “Men are attracted to Buenos Aires because of its reputation as a fun city with a lot of clubs. I had one of the best holidays, and it cost me the least,” says Kozdrowski.
The wide range of gay-oriented services includes local and cross-country travel packages.
Accommodations run from five-star hotels to affordable tourist rental apartments.
This unforgettable city should be walked to feel its vibration and soul.
And even if gastronomy is not your priority, be sure to visit one of the restaurants on Corrientes or Lavalle for a bife de chorizo (famous Argentine beefsteak cut) and a parrilla (grilled meats). They are absolute musts!