Last updated: 11:55 PM ET, Mon September 28 2015

What are The Most Gay-Friendly Destinations?

Features & Advice | David Cogswell | September 21, 2015

What are The Most Gay-Friendly Destinations?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Thomas Stanley, who has a 40-year history as a tour operator that includes positions with Travcoa, Cox & Kings, Trafalgar, Mountain Travel – Sobek and Lindblad Travel, is also one of the world’s experts on gay and lesbian travel.

Today Stanley is the owner of Stanley’s Adventures LLC, which specializes in customized travel products for sophisticated travelers and operates the websites,,, and

He knows and understands the gay and lesbian travel market and knows well the kinds of concerns that gay and lesbian travelers have that others may not be aware of, such as the fact that in some countries it is a criminal offense to be homosexual and it often carries harsh penalties.

Stanley has personally and professionally traveled extensively, almost incessantly, for more than 40 years, and he understands well how to advise gay and lesbian travelers on where and how to travel safely and enjoyably.

Here is his spontaneous, quick-hit listing of the world’s most gay-friendly destinations.

South Africa

South Africa is one of the most gay-friendly destinations in the world, Stanley said, and in some ways it is the most advanced country in its attitude toward gays. The modern republic of South Africa, which is only a little more than 20 years in existence, was founded on Nelson Mandela’s vision of the Rainbow Nation, a place where all people respect each other regardless of differences in race, religion, etc., and where diversity is not only tolerated, it is celebrated.

“South Africa was the first country to have constitutional gay rights, the first country in Africa to have gay marriage,” said Stanley. “For the most part it is a more enlightened country in terms of gay rights, South Africa is extremely gay friendly.”  

Though South Africa may lead the world in terms of gay rights, most other countries in Africa are not as gay friendly. “In the French-speaking countries typically it’s legal,” said Stanley. “In the English-speaking countries, under Victorian law, it tends to be illegal to be gay.”


Turning to Northern Africa and the Middle East, Stanley said, “Israel is extremely gay friendly, though they don’t allow gay marriage."


“Lebanon tends to be gay friendly,” said Stanley. “In the gay districts people can be in the open, but outside of gay districts they have to be discreet.”

Although Morocco is a moderate, not extreme Muslim country, it is not very gay friendly. “In Morocco some have been arrested for being affectionate in public, An English gentleman and his Moroccan friend were arrested for being affectionate in public, for holding hands or something like that. It goes against the norm of a moderate Muslim company that still has modesty, whereas in Lebanon women go to the beach in bikinis.”

Spain and Portugal

In Europe, Stanley rates Spain as the most gay-friendly destination, with Portugal coming in second.

“To me Spain is the most gay-friendly country on earth,” said Stanley. “It was one of the early countries to adopt gay marriage. It actively welcomes gay tourists, and markets to gay tourists. Spain and Portugal are probably the friendliest countries in Europe for gay people.

Sweden and Iceland

“Sweden would probably be the next one,” said Stanley, “and Iceland. Iceland is extremely gay friendly. Almost all of Western Europe tends to be gay friendly, certainly gay tolerant. In Eastern Europe it’s a different story. It’s legal to be gay in pretty much all of Eastern Europe. That said, certain countries, like Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, you don’t dare be open in public in those countries or you face threat of arrest or violence.

Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia

“Hungary is much friendlier,” said Stanley. “I haven’t sent anyone to Romania or Bulgaria for a long time, so I’m not sure about them. Hungary and Slovenia are the most gay-friendly countries of Eastern Europe. Croatia is pretty gay friendly.”

Thailand and Taiwan 

In Asia, Thailand and Taiwan are the most gay-friendly countries. “For the most part, the Buddhist countries are gay tolerant, gay accepting. Malaysia is not tolerant. Bangladesh and Pakistan are not tolerant. Muslim countries are not gay friendly. Indonesia is a Muslim country, but it also has Hindus in Bali It tends to be gay tolerant. Singapore is kind of neutral. They discourage gay events or affection, but people don’t get arrested.

China, Japan and Korea

China, Japan and Korea are gay tolerant countries. “They are used to seeing gay people,” said Stanley.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

“Vietnam is very gay friendly,” said Stanley, “as are Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam allows gay weddings, but not legal gay marriage. But they will not arrest for that. Some other countries will arrest people for having gay weddings. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are quite good.”

Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia

“South American for the most part is good for gay people,” said Stanley. “Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia are gay friendly. Almost all the other countries are tolerant. Probably the least tolerant are Venezuela and Guiana. In Guiana, it’s illegal to be gay."

Mexico and Costa Rica

In Central America, the most gay-friendly destinations are Costa Rica and Mexico. “Mexico is very gay friendly,” said Stanley, “and has gay marriage now. There is one country in Central America where it is illegal to be gay and even to enter the country, and that is Belize. That said, gay clients who go to Belize, the hotels typically take care of them very well. But you’re actually committing a crime by entering Belize if you’re gay.

Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and St Martin

“In the Caribbean, painting in broad strokes, the Spanish- French- and Dutch-speaking islands tend to be very gay tolerant, including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and St Marten. Curacao actively woos gay customers. The government finances marketing campaigns to gay clients. There are issues with the English-speaking countries, in Jamaica, and there have been some issues with the Bahamas."

In addition, Stanley cites Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Nepal as all being very gay friendly.


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