Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gay Times in Phoenix

By Ed Salvato

Phoenix is a sprawling city – the nation's fifth largest – a collection of palm tree-studded cities and towns ringed by mountains, where a car is in indispensable necessity. The similarities to Los Angeles are striking, right down to analogous municipalities, including exclusive Paradise Valley, Phoenix's Bel Air, and tony Scottsdale, its Beverly Hills.

Despite the controversial new immigration law scheduled to take effect in July, it's impossible to paint the area with the broad brushstroke of intolerance. Phoenix boasts a thriving community of LGBT residents and remains a warm and welcoming destination for gay and lesbian visitors. The population of Arizona is approximately 30% Hispanic, and the other 70% is incredibly diverse, ranging from bona-fide desert cowboys to Sedona's hippy-dippy energy healers. As one of the last bastions of the U.S. West with these intriguing contradictions, Phoenix is worth a visit.

Gay life
With gays and lesbians living throughout the vast metropolis, there's not a single defined gayborhood, though there are nearly three-dozen bars and clubs catering to queers, with a concentration of businesses along Seventh Ave in central Phoenix. Fez, offering American cuisine with a Moroccan flair, is a popular restaurant near Central Avenue. Amsterdam Bar in downtown Phoenix is the happening weekend club.

The more residential-feeling Scottsdale, home to some of the nicest resorts and hotels in the city, has two dance bars, charming BS West
tucked into Old Town Scottsdale with its fun drag shows and Forbidden also in Old Town, which attracts a younger crowd. Phoenix Gay Pride takes place in April to avoid the much hotter summer weather, and is a terrific time to visit.

See the stunning new Musical Instrument Museum , with its collection of 12,000 instruments from around the world; and Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden , for a better understanding of this sometimes extreme environment. Climb Camelback Mountain , which resembles, not surprisingly, a supine dromedary. Go early to avoid both crowds and heat. A truly magical experience is an evening stargazing Hummer tour with Stellar Adventures . You haven't really experienced the stars till you've seen the rings and moons of Saturn, a billion miles away, with your own eye.

Paradise Valley's InterContinental Montelucia , the brand's only resort property offers excellent service, gorgeous architecture and surroundings, great amenities, and views of Camelback Mountain. In Scottsdale, the Hotel Valley Ho originally opened in 1956 as a motor court-style hotel, re-opened after an $80 million renovation on its anniversary in 2005 as a hip urban hotel that pays homage to its mid-Century Modernist roots.

Phoenix considers itself a foodie city and in that vein offers a range of top-notch restaurants. Prado at the Montelucia offers Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Join the shoppers and local business people at Zinburger , a locally owned burger and shake joint with a contemporary feel in a popular upscale mall. The same owners opened Culinary Dropout , a hip dining and drinking hotspot along Scottsdale's developing canal-front area.

La Petite Maison in Old Town Scottsdale is an authentic French bistro restaurant with a limited menu of beautifully presented traditional French selections. Located in upscale Paradise Valley, El Chorro Lodge (a restaurant, not a hotel) at first blush seems a bit stuffy. However, the atmosphere is quite warm, and the food is consistently good.

Finish your night at Elements at Sanctuary , an outdoor bar/bistro/lounge, for incredible views of Paradise Valley and its surrounding mountains, to engage in some star gazing, or to simply relish the discovery of this city's surprisingly rich offerings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

London: In the footsteps of Victoria and Albert

Story and pictures by Ed Salvato

Financial crisis, financial schmisis! London remains a vibrant world capital rivaled only by New York in the Western world for sheer fabulousness. Sure, the United Kingdom's new coalition government is braying about belt-tightening fiscal austerity measures, but you'd never know it in the hustle-bustle of Europe's still-reigning financial capital. For anyone who visited during the grim Thatcher years, the transformation of this gritty, nearly collapsed city to the pulsating capital it is today is nothing short of miraculous.

London's an exciting city that just gets better, and it's a great time for Americans to visit. While it is still one of the most expensive cities on the planet, the exchange rate has not been this favorable for some time, recently hitting a low of about $1.44 – still pricey but 20 percent less than the summer of 2009.

On a recent trip, I was inspired by The Young Victoria, a charming movie depicting the early years of Queen Victoria's rise to the throne as well as her courtship with and marriage to her cousin Prince Albert from Germany. A modern-seeming marriage – she had to propose to him due to protocol – Victoria took care of state affairs, and he was head of the family, a role he truly owned. He also headed up numerous commissions, including organizing the very important Great Exhibition of 1851.They had a great love affair and, though Albert died of typhoid at 42, they had nine children. Victoria lived in a state of mourning till she died nearly 40 years later at the age of 81.

Your first stop is the Victoria and The Albert Museum. The museum, whose dedication was Victoria's final official act, does not contain much work or many artifacts from their life, but it is well worth a visit. The museum also hosts the marvelous Grace Kelly Exhibit through Sept. 26, 2010. Get tickets in advance.

To understand their life together, check out the Queen's Gallery, a small museum next to Buckingham Palace. You can see "Victoria and Albert: Art & Love" through Oct. 31, 2010. It shows how important art was to the young couple. The pieces were either commissioned by Victoria or Albert; gifts to each other; or objects gifted to them, including a fabulous pre-fabricated (for easy shipping) carved-ivory throne from India.

Be sure to check out the Albert Memorial, a gorgeous monument in Hyde Park across from The Royal Albert Hall. This lovingly designed monument celebrates Albert's support of and passion for the arts, sciences, and learning.

The final stop of the Victoria tour is Kensington Palace, home to seven princesses including Victoria, as well as Princess Diana, and other important, often tragic, royal British women. The current exhibit, "Enchanted Palace", is an out-of-the-ordinary interactive experience, part poetic fairy tale, part whodunit where visitors at each of the allegory-laden displays must interpret hints, fragments of poetry, and other visual cues to suss out the princesses who resided here over the past 300 years.

Visit the fantastic Natural History Musuem, which is located next door to the Victoria and Albert Museum, for the dinosaurs and vast number of curiosities and marvel at the splendid Victorian museum building itself and the creative, we-can-do-anything spirit of the age Victoria helped create.

More info
In London visit the LGBT Tourist Office at 30 Lisle Street, Leicester Square or go to London LGBT Tourist Office Website.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Rainbow Tour of the Seven Lakes Road from Bariloche, Argentina

A Rainbow Greets UsWhen We Start Our Journey

By Roy Heale

One of the most beautiful journeys by car in Argentina is the Seven Lakes' road. Starting in San Carlos de Bariloche the road connects to Villa La Angostura and San Martin de Los Andes for a full day excursion. Along the route are the seven lakes: Machónico, Falkner---where there is a 20meter waterfall---Villarino, Escondido, Correntoso, Espejo and Nahuel Huapi. Plus at the end of the journey the eighth lake is Lacar where San Martin de los Andes is situated on the shore. The road also traverses three national parks: Lanín, Arrayanes, and Nahuel Huapi. This is truly a scenic journey full of wonderful photo opportunities and memories that make for a perfect journey.

During my visit to Argentina's Lake District my host and fellow IGLTA member Cristian Signorelli from Bariloche Gay Travel made certain that I experienced this distinctive adventure before I left the region. We met early at my hotel for breakfast and then headed out in our car for a day full of activities.

It was a slightly cloudy and rainy start to the day but that could not daunt my excitement.
I new this was going to be a mystical gay day when at the start of our journey we were greeted by a dramatic rainbow just as we were leaving San Carlos de Bariloche. A sight that always surpasses the rain or clouds, especially when one can almost here Judy Garland's voice singing those inspiring, familiar words.

The first stop was at the quaint small town of  Villa La Angostura situated on the northern shore of Lake Nahuel. This is a year-round destination for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, camping, sailing kayaking, and more including skiing during July, August, and September. As we strolled around the village and along the shoreline of the lake we were once again greeted by a rainbow stretching from a mountain peak to the lake. I began to wonder how Cristian organized and planned his gay tours!
Our Second Rainbow of the day at Villa La Angostura

After a short refreshing visit around the town we were back in the car and on the road to San Martin De Los Andes. On this section of the journey the road winds its way though mountain peaks, alongside the lake shores, though small settlements, forests, and open valleys. Wild flowers and berries adorn the embankments, waterfalls appear by surprise accompanied by small creeks and rivulets.

We arrived in San Martin de Los Andes just in time for a parilla lunch of beef, salad, and patatas fritas accompanied by a good Malbec. This is another quaint Andean town with year-round tourism and outdoor activities for all to enjoy.

For our return journey we headed back via the highway through the more desert-like region of the Andes Mountains where lakes are not commonplace and the vegetation is more arid. However, Cristian told me if we were lucky there might be a sighting of the region's indigenous bird of prey---the Condor with its three meter wingspan-cruising the wind currents high above.

Sure enough, after about one hour of driving in the afternoon sunshine, Cristian spotted a Condor in the sky and stopped the car for me to take a picture. By the time we were both out of the car, and to our amazement, we were surrounded by what seemed like at least one hundred Condors hovering above. Both of us were completely mesmerized by the sight and they seemed curious about us for several minutes. Then as quickly as they appeared they vanished again. As a local resident Cristian was astounded and impressed upon me that most people were lucky to see just one Condor. He had never before seen or even heard of an entire flock of them traveling together. In fact many people search the skies and never even see one lone Condor. It is important to note that Condors usually travel alone or in pairs making this a very rare sight to behold.

After an incredible week in the Lake District my observations rate this as a wonderful gay-friendly playground and the perfect place for that long-awaited gay honeymoon! Cristian Signorelli of Bariloche Gay Travel will plan your visit so that your memories will be deserving of how long you may have waited for your wedding.

Whether you want to go skiing in the winter, sit on the beach during the summer, or climb a mountain peak, this region has everything for the perfect gay getaway.

For More Information Visit: http://www.barilochegaytravel.com/

For More Travel Stories By Roy Heale Visit: http://www.royheale.blogspot.com/

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Argentina Legalizes Same-Sex Marriages!

By Roy Heale
Buenos Aires, Argentina

It's a case of deja vu for me personally! As a young gay teenager growing up in London, England I never thought I would live long enough to see the legalization of same-sex marriages. Now I have been fortunate enough to live in two countries and be a witness as this important “equality” legislation is passed---Canada and now Argentina.

After a fourteen hour marathon session of debates and speeches on July 15th., 2010 Argentina has become the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage after the Government Upper House, the Senate voted in favor of same-sex marriage legislation. Coincidentally, 2010 is Argentina's Bicentennial Year and this is an amazing way to celebrate this country's history as a tolerant society.

The country's Lower House, the Chamber of Deputies, had already approved the legislation a few weeks earlier.

The vote in the Senate, which endorsed the bill by just six votes, approved the legislation---backed by President Cristina Fernandez's centre-left government---passed by 33 votes to 27 with three abstentions.

The law, which also allows same-sex couples to adopt, had met with strong vocal opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Outside Congress, as the debate continued into the early hours of the morning, supporters and opponents of the bill held rival but mostly peaceful demonstrations. Local television stations covered the entire debate with a live broadcast and follow-up interviews and comments after the vote was completed.

A few gay marriages have occurred recently in Argentina, some of which were annulled by the Supreme Court, creating a legal controversy.

In Buenos Aires and some provinces same-sex Civil Unions have been legal for some time other but there was no law to regulate it on a national level.

Argentina's capital is widely considered to be among the most gay-friendly cities in Latin America. It was the first Latin American city to legalise same-sex unions.

Same-sex civil unions are also legal in Mexico, some states in Brazil, and Uruguay, while gay marriage is legal in Mexico City. But Argentina will go down in history as the first South American country to legalize same-sex marriages and adoptions nationally.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Queer of the Year

Time is running out to vote for Queer of the Year!! Make sure you vote for one of the 'Brightest Stars Under the Rainbow.'

Monday, July 12, 2010

Safari Adventure

Imagine dreaming of a wildlife adventure for more than fifty years, researching the possibilities for more than two years, and then having it all come together as easy as ABC.

That's exactly how I found myself getting off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya.

Finances were a major concern for me, and after looking at dozens of tour operators I finally lucked upon Club ABC Tours (www.clubabc.com/ ) the most economical operator that offers deluxe guided safaris to Kenya (starting at under $4,000 pp, ALL inclusive).

Nairobi is no Provincetown, but before I left the US I hooked up with GALCK (//galck.org), the leading LGBT advocacy umbrella group in Kenya. Don't miss "family friendly" venues like Gypsies, Tacos, Simmers, Changes, Black Diamond and Red Tape.

After a good night's rest at the Sarova Stanley (very nice accommodations, best Thai food in town) my real journey began in Samburu National Reserve. There, at the Samburu Sopa Lodge, a new and very pretty hotel staffed by super warm people, we sighted our first herd of elephants and a migration of baboons right from the outdoor dining area's veranda. Game drives took us into the park for dazzling views of more pachyderms, zebra, giraffe, our first simba (Swahili for lion), and even one cheetah hunting (a rare sighting!). Make the side trip to a Sambura village....these people will captivate your heart.

Next stop Mt. Kenya Safari Club. Old world luxury is very much alive at the exclusive five star hotel, with breathtaking grounds, superlative rooms (many overlooking majestic snow covered Mt. Kenya), gourmet food, and a stellar hotel staff. Go to the Animal Orphanage, or like me, take a free bird walk, soaking up vibrant colors in fauna and flora. Although we did not do a game drive here, I understand the park is also tremendous (Contact Charles Munyiri, charles.munyiri3@fairmont.com, an extremely knowledgeable safari guide at Mt. Kenya).

Onward to The Ark Lodge in Aberdare National Park, a more spartan structure affiliated with the lavish Aberdare Country Club. Staying at the lodge offers a unique opportunity to view mega ton elephants, rhinos, hyenas, warthogs, buffalo, and more, from secure blinds. I could literally feel the elephants breath on my neck. See manager Phillip Nyaga at the Country Club to arrange for a private walking safari ($10 per person), one of the most exciting experiences I had on the trip.

Crystal blue meets vibrant pink at Lake Nakuru where thousands of flamingos make their home. Endless skylines of mountains, lake, birds, zebras, elusive rhinos with babies, and giraffes. Photo opportunities are endless. The Flamingo Hill Tented Camp is anything BUT rustic camping: huge tents, netted beds, full electricity, full bathrooms, a new pool on the way, and THE best nan bread prepared every day. Try to get to Lake Naivasha to see the hippos.

Last stop Maasai Mara, the area that borders Tanzania (ABC offers optional trips there), the beginning of the Serengeti Plain, and home to the Maasai tribe. Another Sopa Lodge, great digs, epicurean food. Game drives were breathtaking, with migrating wildebeests, zebra, Maasai Giraffes, herds of elephants, many lions (we got to see cubs, and one eating her kill), and even a jackal or two. Also visited the Maasai Village, another incredible experience learning about culture, dance, music and more.

Shop in Nairobi, (try the market just below the Hilton Hotel) because many items you see along the way are much more expensive outside the city. On the other hand, you might not see an item again. Shopping outside Nairobi is open to bargaining, and varies from beaded necklaces, to wood carved bowls, to African motif batiks.

Group travel might not be your thing, so if you have the finances, check out Inside Africa Support, owned by IGLTA member Luc Deckers, who can offer you tailor made private itineraries (http://www.lucdeckers.com/). I was fortunate to have real nice folks on my tour, and given the exceptional accommodations, incredible games drives, consistently delicious food, and the price, Africa really was as easy as ABC.

Sheryl Kay is a freelance print and photo journalist based in Tampa, Florida.  She's also a Contributing Editor at CURVE Magazine.  Please contact her at skreporter@hotmail.com 

Friday, July 9, 2010

One of our Sponsors - Travel Guard

What do you think of when your thoughts drift toward vacationing in France, Germany and Belgium? For some people, a trip to one of these European cultural hotspots evokes thoughts of amazing architecture, medieval villages, food and festivals rich with the region’s ancient heritage. Certainly, it meant all this and more for two seasoned travelers from Omaha, Nebraska who planned their personal journey to remember. They expected things to go off without a hitch. Surely, their experience and travel skills would serve them well as they maneuvered the complexity of overseas travel.

The travelers effortlessly navigated their way around Europe and thoroughly enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of its rich culture. Being experienced travelers they thought nothing would ever go wrong.

But that’s where their travel luck ended. Upon their arrival back in the United Sates they received word that their connecting flight, which would take them home to Nebraska, had been cancelled because of severe weather; which was also making weather around the New York airport less than hospitable.

At first they were informed their flight would be delayed two hours, but that quickly turned into four hours and then they learned a new flight wouldn’t arrive until the next day. The travelers were given a phone number to call the next morning to be sure their flight was still taking off at the announced time.

Unfortunately, when the next morning came, all they heard when they dialed the phone number was a recording - and it didn’t give them the confirmation they needed. They needed to talk to someone to find out what time their flight was leaving, but how? That’s when they remembered the travel insurance plan they had purchased through Travel Guard.

Travel Guard worked with the airline on the travelers’ behalf only to learn that their flight had left at 9 a.m. without them! Without missing a beat, Travel Guard worked with the two now weary travelers to obtain new flight tickets home. While other passengers were arguing and shouting in the airport frustrated with their flight situation, these two travelers were working with Travel Guard who took the worry out of an otherwise stressful situation.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

LGBT Travel Industry Gathers in Buenos Aires For Third Annual GNETWORK360 Conference

By Roy Heale

In South America July usually signifies the cold of winter, but in Buenos Aires from July 21st to 23rd the temperature will heat up when hundreds of LGBT tourism industry professionals gather together for the third annual GNETWORK 360 conference. This important award-winning FREE event is the major global gathering each year for LGBT travel and tourism networking, educational forums, panel discussions, exchange of ideas, and renewing old acquaintances or making new ones.

Recently the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) recognized the GNETWORK360 conference as “The Best LGBT Networking Event” and presented the convention producers, Pablo De Luca and Gustavo Noguera, with an award. The presentation ceremony took place at the IGLTA Annual Convention in Antwerp, Belgium in June 2010. However, this recognition is something which delegates to the two prior conferences are already cognizant. Previous experience may also be the reason why over 300 travel industry delegates have already registered for this year's assemblage in Buenos Aires.

The conference welcome and keynote address will be given by the new Argentina Minister of Tourism, Carlos Enrique Meyer. In June of this year Argentinean President, H.E. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced the action to separate the Ministry of Tourism from the existing Ministry of Industry and Tourism and named Meyer, previously Secretary of State for Tourism, as Minister of this new government department. This recognition of the importance of the multi-billion dollar tourism industry to the Argentine economy may perhaps also lead to a new emphasis on the growing sector of LGBT tourism in this country.

During the course of these three days there will be approximately twenty-four distinguished guest speakers, presenters, and members of discussion panels from eight different countries. Delegates can attend a total of sixteen official sessions and receptions. These global LGBT travel industry leaders will share their knowledge and experiences with delegates. Topics will range from Social Network Marketing Tools, to LGBT Diversity, Distinguishing the Lesbian Tourist, The Economic Impact of Gay Tourism, Equality at IBM, and specific Destination Success stories. The expert presenters will travel from Europe, South and North America to share their stories and discuss issues of importance to anyone connected to the travel industry, whether large or small businesses, or individual entrepreneurs.

In the evening of July 23rd starting at 7PM there will also be a Marketplace and Cocktail Reception followed by the closing festivities.

Throughout the three days coffee and lunch breaks will provide numerous networking moments for delegates to spend time getting to know each other and learn about business or networking opportunities. These individual encounters and sharing of knowledge or experiences has been the main benefit of GNETWORK360 in the past and this year is sure to prove no exception.

Perhaps the most unique highlight of this conference is that it is absolutely FREE for all travel and tourism delegates. Truly a unique opportunity to benefit from this experience without having to pay a high price tag for the privilege of attending. Online registration and detailed schedule information is now available at www.GNETWORK360.com or questions can be directed to: info@gnetwork360.com for answers.

Also, at this year's conference the GNETWORK360 organizers will present, for the FIRST time, two new awards to an individual and a company who in the past year have made major contributions to the LGBT community in Argentina.

If your daily life involves the tourism industry, whether you are a hotel employee, a tour guide, a travel consultant, or other member of the industry, then this conference has been designed just for you. So be sure to mark your calendar with the dates July 21 to 23 and head to the Axel Hotel, Buenos Aires Auditorium, and Palacio Alsina to share the experience.

Visit http://www.gnetwork360.com/ for Complete Conference Details and Online Registration