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.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gay Wine Festival---Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza Winery

By Roy Heale

Located in the Andes mountain range of Argentina, Mendoza is a year-round vacation destination. Renowned globally for being the capital of Argentina's wine making industry----especially the renowned Malbecs---Mendoza is also a center for skiing in the higher peaks during July, August, and September. The annual Vendimia wine festival in March is the highlight of the year with festivities for all ages and a special Gay Vendimia Festival.
With a population of approximately one million residents in the metro and surrounding areas, the gay businesses and nightlife are thriving. Mendoza has become the secondary vacation choice for LGBT travellers in Argentina after a visit to Buenos Aires.

The grape harvest is celebrated annually throughout the month of March with the famous Mendoza Wine Festival. Festivities officially commence the first Saturday in March and occur throughout the region at all of the vineyards with special events in the city of Mendoza. But there is also the Fiesta de la Vendimia Gay which is held each year in conjunction with the main Festival. This is perhaps the most significant gay event in Argentina outside of the annual Buenos Aires Pride celebrations. It is supported by many sponsors and the local government making it an official part of the grape harvest festival. The crowning of the “Queen”---drag of course---is a much anticipated local event and a major theatrical production enjoyed by all of Mendoza's LGBT community and other citizens of this gay-friendly city.

Mendoza is the perfect place to call home while taking short excursions, day trips, or even overnight journeys to explore the numerous different vacation activities in this diverse region. Filled with tree-lined avenues, beautiful plazas, historic architecture, and artisan markets, Mendoza offers a relaxed pace of life in a bustling urban environment. The heart of the city pulses in the main square called Plaza Independencia, while the Parque San Martin offers a multitude of relaxing outdoor activities in a lush green environment. The Area Fundacional is a trip back in time to the city's early roots of the settlement days.

Parque General San Martin, Mendoza

In the heart of downtown is the gay-owned and operated DeptosMendoza apartment rentals of Modigliani Art & Design Suites and Dot Suites. Renting an apartment in Mendoza is the best way to enjoy the local scene. Theses suites are perfect for any vacation or business trip to Mendoza with a large variety of sizes and styles available. The English speaking staff are friendly and helpful with any travel needs or excursions. The apartments are large, spacious, luxuriously furnished, with designer appeal. The central location is very convenient for all activities in Mendoza with apartments priced to suit any travel budget.

The dry desert-like climate almost guarantees hot sunny days for enjoying outdoor activities coupled with warm nights where outdoor dining is the perfect end to a high-altitude day. Residents of Mendoza observe the very civilized custom of afternoon siestas and most businesses are closed from 1PM to 4PM with the exception of some restaurants.

Mendoza Surrounded by the Andes Mountains

After a hot sunny day the gay Alternative Spa can offer relaxation and stress relief. It is open from 3PM to 11PM offering whirlpool, sauna, lockers, solarium, relaxing areas and a bar to unwind and mingle. Situated in the downtown core, this is a very popular place for locals to hang out and mix with out-of- town visitors.

Two gay-friendly Resto-Bars---348 and Casa 3---are located on San Lorenzo Street and very popular with the gay community. But the Aristides Villanueva is the major street for dining out. Here you will find a festive atmosphere with patios full of revelers indulging themselves with every International culinary delight imaginable. Plus, of course, the renowned Argentine Parillas, where beef is a gourmet experience especially when accompanied by a local Mendoza vintage red wine. All at prices lower than almost any other major vacation destination in the world today!

Dining out is a major part of Mendoza's nightlife and be sure to try something unique in Mendoza and very gay at Los Chocos restaurant. It's a gay-owned and operated restaurant serving a gourmet six or eight course dinner in a private home, similar to the Paladares in Havana, Cuba. Special local Mendoza meats and produce are complemented with perfect Malbec wines. Dining with wonderful company and amazingly creative gourmet dishes is a holiday treat, and all for only US$60 per person. Incredible! This gourmet restaurant is in the home of Martin the Chef and his partner Martin who assists with the entire dinner. It's located in the heart of downtown, on the 5th floor of a classic residential apartment building. You can have the whole place to yourself, giving it a familiar and comfortable feel. Reservations are essential as each dinner can only accommodate up to eight guests.

After dinner is the perfect time for a visit to a local gay bar and conclude a fun-filled day. On Wednesdays La Reserva-Queen pub offers a fun Drag Show. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Estacion Miro is the hot gay nightclub for partying until dawn. Both are located in the heart of downtown Mendoza just waiting to entertain you until dawn, or perhaps even later.

So whether it is during the Vendimia Festival or at any other time of the year, make sure you include gay-friendly Mendoza in your itinerary for a gay vacation in Argentina.

For More Information Visit: http://www.deptosmendoza.com.ar/

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brazil, This Bargain Destination is Changing

Few countries have received the positive attention that Brazil has over the past few years. Clearly its day has come. Recently electing its first female president has certainly given Brazil some recent notoriety, but this is only one of the many accomplishments which have put it on the world’s center stage. Brazil is hosting the MIss Universe Pageant in 2011, Military Olympics in 2012, the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and of course, the Olympic Games in 2016.

All of these things have raised the world’s interest in South America’s largest country, but that isn’t the only thing going up. Prices for almost any good, especially tourist commodities, are going up.

Six years ago, when Zoom Vacations http://www.zoomvacations.com conducted our first tour of Rio, the exchange rate was three Brazilian reals to one US dollar. Now it’s about one and a half reals to the Dollar. So, if something cost 100 reals six years ago, this was only about $33 US. Now that same item is about $60. Not only is the exchange rate up, but the cost per item, in reals is also up.

For example, let’s look at something near and dear to all of our hearts: caipirinhas, Brazil’s national drink. Caipirinas on the beach in Rio were 3 reals seven years ago, or $1 US. Now caipirinas are 8 reals, which is about $4.50. Of course, the same caipirihna at one of the best 5 star hotels will set you back $14. Dinner at a good restaurant in Rio will cost you about $90, just about the same as in the States. A drink at a dance club will cost about $12, and a small 1.5 ounce bag of potato chips at the local supermarket costs $2. A one-way 25 minute taxi fare from the international airport to Ipanema costs $60. Needless to say, the days when everything in Rio seemed to be "free" are over. But, don't be dismayed. Overall, Brazil remains a good value because it provides experiences unlike anywhere else. Shall we say, Rio is priceless, even if it's no longer on discount.

If you’re thinking you should have gone to Rio ten years ago, you may be right. If you are thinking you should wait a few years until the prices get better again, you couldn’t be more wrong. No matter what your home currency does, the Brazilian Real is going up, and prices for every day items are raising so high that even local Brazilians are looking outside of the big cities, and even outside of Brazil to buy the things they used to readily and easily afford. Brazilians are now traveling to the States on a regular basis to buy electronics like computers, designer jeans, sneakers, and purses. Even workout supplements are cheaper in the States than in Brazil. A common joke is that steroids are cheaper and easier to come by than protein powder. If anything, it does explain the chiseled, muscle-bound bodies you see at the beach.

While a tourist can expect to find this all over Brazil, one will see it most in the big cities. Cities like Rio know that they have made it to a prominent position among global tourists, who will arrive in throngs and will pay regardless; that largely explains the hike in prices.

However, some would argue that right now is the absolute best time to come to Brazil. Yes, prices are higher than they were years ago, yet the social climate in Brazil is safer than ever, and the big cities like Rio and Sao Paulo are enjoying a kind of renaissance. Graffiti is disappearing, new restaurants and cafes are dotting the streets, and everything just seems, well, cleaner. Even Brazil’s shanty towns, or, favelas, whose seedy underbellies were widely considered impossible to cleanse are experiencing a rebirth as residents take back their communities from the drug lords. It is happening quicker than many would have imagined.

Tourists visiting the Brazil of today enjoy a safer, cleaner, in many ways more sophisticated experience, but that comes with a price… a higher price.
Zoom Vacations, a Chicago-based international vacation company specializes in tours to Brazil. For more information about Zoom Vacations, visit www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Exclusively Gay Our House, Buzios, Brazil

Our House Grounds

By Roy Heale

No visit to Brazil can be considered complete without a visit to Armacao de Buzios which is just a short two hour drive from Rio de Janeiro. This fabulous peninsula was discovered in the 1960s by French supermodel and movie actress Brigitte Bardot when during a vacation she was trying to escape from the paparazzi in Rio. Since that time Buzios has earned a reputation for its beautiful scenery, over twenty beaches, laid-back attitudes, and very gay-friendly welcome towards LGBT tourists. In fact the gay-owned and operated Our House Pousada is the only exclusively gay and lesbian resort in Brazil. Located just a ten minute walk from Ferradura Beach or the center of Buzios downtown, Our House is the perfect place for a very private, relaxing gay-getaway where you are guaranteed to spend your vacation in the company of like-minded travellers.

Our House co-owners Maria and Giselle---and fellow IGLTA members---purchased the property in 2002 and then spent three and a half years in a labour of love renovating and remodelling in order to create the perfect gay home-away-from-home for their future guests. They opened in December 2005 and immediately LGBT vacationers came flocking to their new gay resort paradise which is a hetero-friendly and adult---over 18---only venue.

Located on a hillside overlooking the ocean, all eight affordable rooms at Our House have an ocean view. Plus the large swimming pool is surrounded by lush tropical gardens, a BBQ where “If you bring it we will cook it”, and a rustic bar where breakfast is served daily from 8:00 to 10:00AM. This simple yet sophisticated gay resort is the perfect place to enjoy everything which Buzios offers to the LGBT tourist.

View From Our House Guest Rooms

As members of international groups and movements promoting environmental policies, Our House strives to preserve the fragile Buzios eco-system. Owner Giselle is also a partner in a joint venture for Eco Bike Tours where you can bike and hike around the peninsula enjoying the natural environment, hidden beaches, and beautiful countryside. These eco-tours are offered free to registered guests of Our House with a reduced rental charge for the bikes. Tour groups are from four to twenty participants and the journeys range from easy to difficult terrain varying in length from just over two hours to full day trips. This is an excellent way to experience the diverse landscape of this small peninsula.

If you would like to plan a special holiday dinner at the resort then co-owner Maria is a professionally trained and qualified chef who will plan a gourmet menu for up to sixteen people. Enjoy the relaxing surroundings, a cocktail by the pool, followed by a gourmet dinner in the rustic cafe, and watch the sunset over the ocean from your room. With advance notice Marie can prepare all of this to suit your budget and tastes, but of course seafood is a local speciality!

Rustic Bar

The resort also includes a lounge area with comfortable sofas, a television, and computer work station for those who want to stay connected with the outside world.

So if you are planning a trip to Brazil make sure you spend some time at Our House, enjoy a totally gay escape from the world, frolic on the spectacular beaches, and in the warm ocean. It is a paradise which will reward every gay traveller with some great vacation memories.

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



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Puerto Madryn, Argentina Vacation Essentials

A Beach Under the Full Moon

By Roy Heale

Located at the heart of one of Argentina's most popular eco-tourism destinations is the port city of Puerto Madryn. From this central point eco-tours depart daily for whale watching, visits to the sea lion colonies, the penguin settlements, wildlife parks, dolphin watching, and much more of the local wildlife. The region is a popular breeding ground for many species and has been recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site since 1999. The clear blue waters of the Nuevo Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean coupled with numerous sandy beaches has made this an extremely popular summer vacation destination in Argentina. The expert gay and gay-friendly English speaking staff at Flamenco Tour agency---and fellow IGLTA member--- have researched the local market to find gay or gay-friendly accommodations and attractions with special rates to suit any travel budget.

Here are some of their hotel recommendations:

View From Hotel Piren Room Balcony
Hotel Piren:

Located in the center of town on the main ocean boardwalk many of the rooms have ocean views. The staff are bilingual and a buffet breakfast is included in the room rates. There are standard, junior, premium, and senior rooms to choose from with a total of 91 rooms.

The Rayentray:

Hotel Rayentray Lobby Lounge
This relatively new hotel is located overlooking the waters of the Nuevo Gulf and has 170 rooms plus convention facilities. The facilities include a bar, restaurant, indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, sunbeds, and whirlpool plus a Casino. All rooms have ocean views and choices include junior, superior, suites, and special configurations for family groups.

Territorio Hotel:

Territorio Hotel Cafe
This boutique hotel offers 36 ocean view rooms and suites of different sizes with one especially designed for disabled access. The spa and health cub located on the top floor offers massages and special services plus a gymnasium. The main floor lounge, cafe and restaurant also have beautiful ocean views.

Flamenco Tour agency also offers a luxury two bedroom apartment in a residential neighborhood 100 meters from the ocean and a ten minute walk into town. This is a perfect home base to relax after your outdoor adventures or days spent on the beach and comfortably sleeps four people. It has a well equipped kitchen, WiFi, lounge area, and more. It is ideal for a gay vacation which combines beach days with the city nightlife or day tours of the countryside.

During my five day visit to Puerto Madryn I soon learned that dining out in this town offers a gourmet experience comparable to much larger cities. My personal favorite was dining on the beach at the Vernardino Club del Mar with a spectacular view and a cafe style menu with extensive choices for lunch or dinner. When craving seafood Los Colones or Cantina El Nautico are the best places and both are located in the center of the town and close to the beaches. Cafes like the Lizard Cafe or the Bodegan Bienvenidos offer simple fare at reasonable prices and the Lizard Cafe specializes in pizza for dine-in, takeout, or home delivery. Be sure to visit the Quimey Quipan---meaning “Welcome” in English----in the town center or when heading to Puerto Piramedes for whale watching and enjoy local Patagonia creations with seafood or meat dishes.

Bodegon Bienvenidos

 Vernardino Club del Mar

Whatever you are looking for on your gay vacation be sure to consult with the expert staff at Flamenco Tour agency and they will point you in the right direction to find local gay-friendly businesses. This seaside town and surrounding countryside offers a very unique eco-friendly experience for every outdoor enthusiast or nature lover. Combine mother nature with great gourmet dining, beach relaxation, and first class accommodations for the perfect gay get-away in Argentina's spectacular Patagonia region.

For More Information Visit: www.flamencotour.com

Monday, January 3, 2011

Eco-Friendly Florianopolis, Brazil

Naufragados Beach, Florianopolis

By Roy Heale

On my second visit to Florianopolis I was fortunate enough to be hosted by local experts Marta Dalla Chiesa and Lesley Cushing, the co-owners of Brazil Eco Journeys, and fellow IGLTA members, who are the only LGBT tour operators in Southern Brazil. Although it was my second visit to this wonderful, natural paradise island they managed to show me places and attractions that I had not discovered before. They have lived in Florianopolis---affectionately known by locals as Floripa--- for seven years, their company has been assisting LGBT visitors since they arrived. Their knowledge of the island and beyond is second to none. So whether you are visiting for the first time or returning for more of the beaches, sun and fun, be sure to contact them before you leave home for an assurance of the perfect island gay vacation.

Traveling around the island we visited several beaches and villages from the north end to the southern tip reminding me of the diversity on this small island with options for surfing or swimming and relaxing. We spent time at the sand dunes of Mocambique Beach, the International Jurere Beach and village, the Centro Historic Old Town, and my personal favourite Pantano do Sul Beach. We also visited the old Fort of Sao Jose on Ponta Grossa which was built in 1740 and provides great views of the island, the beaches, and the ocean. These are only a few of the highlights and in just five days we managed to traverse the entire island several times with different stops each day. That is one of the pleasures on an island which is 54 km long and 18km wide at its largest point---everything is easily accessible with only a short distance to travel. With 42 diverse beaches, fresh water lagoons, mountains, and more, Floripa is the ideal place for an outdoor adventure with nature.

Gay Beach

Naturally this vacation paradise offers a wide variety of restaurants from gourmet dining, to oyster shacks on the beach and everything in between. One of the most popular culinary options is the Brazilian favorite of “Buffet By The Kilo” where you fill your plate and pay for the meal by its weight. There are numerous restaurants with ocean views and, of course, fresh seafood is the main highlight on almost every menu featuring the Catch of the Day.

Catch of the Day at  Barra de Lagoa

If you happen to find yourself in the quaint fisherman's village of Barra de Lagoa then a visit to Gabbiani Restaurant is a must. This is one of the historic places in the small township and it began as a restaurant in 1952 and has remained in the same family for three generations. The current owners Rafael and Edson Coelho proudly display black and white photos of the community and the restaurant as it was back in the days when their grandfather started the business. Recently they have remodeled and decorated the building creating their own menu of local specialties. This is a very gay-friendly establishment with great food, attentive service, and a perfect location overlooking the beach. The Coelhos are always there to assist with menu selections or drink specialties. Be sure to ask for one of their different blends of Cachaca which is recommended by fishermen as the traditional drink before eating shellfish and is one of the ingredients for the popular Brazilian Caipirinhas. They will even share with you the secret way of drinking this strong liquor by itself.

Gabbiani Restaurant

Any visit to Floripa is bound to be a memorable vacation but Brazil Eco Journeys will ensure that you receive a true gay-friendly welcome from accommodations---like the Natur Campeche Pousada--- to restaurants and of course where to find the gay beach. Pack plenty of sun tan lotion and prepare for one or more of the spectacular beaches for relaxation or aqua sports.

Note: Florianopolis is the host city for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Annual Convention in 2012.

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