The eagerly anticipated day to meet our Detours Travel gay adventure group had finally arrived. This time we were setting off to discover a tiny rugged Central American country with rich rainforests, bordered by Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, notorious for balmy beaches and vivid sunsets, active volcanoes and stunning biodiversity. Costa Rica has been high on our list of leading destinations for some time and of course San José, the capital, would be our starting point. Detours has been guiding gay tours through Costa Rica for the past six years. Our party of twelve eager wanderers met at the Balmoral Hotel in central San José where Dan, our highly experienced guide, naturalist and entertainment planner, welcomed and introduced us and provided a brief overview of the program for our 11 day tour of this fascinating and diverse little gem of a nation.
Powder-soft, sandy beaches stretching along aquamarine, shallow waters makes Cancun’s Caribbean coastline idyllic from the air. Thick, lush tropical palm trees greet new visitors when their feet are firmly on the ground from the flight in. However, the lustre of Cancun may fade quickly for the gay traveller. From the airport most tourists are transported (we used USA Transfers) to the Hotel Zona of Cancun where 95%of all tourists stay. This area is a very narrow strip of land with water either side where hundreds of glitzy hotels jostle for the best location. It is almost impossible to see the water or beach for the cacophony of resorts. It is here we started to get the feeling we were a little trapped by soulless packaged tourism, lacking somewhat for the gay tourist on holiday.
Puerto-Vallarta in Mexico is an outstanding holiday destination for gay men. Apart from being a beautiful coastal retreat, the Zona Romantica is the hot spot for ‘our family’. It was in this area, on the cobblestone streets, we found a host of gay bars, a few dance clubs, some piano bars, a gay beach and swimwear shops by the dozen. Zona Romantica also offers a feast of eating choices, with an assortment of small cafés and large, festive Mexican restaurants, all featuring an easy-going, friendly atmosphere, even in January, the high season for tourists. Puerto Vallarta charmed us so much that, even from Australia, we will definitely return, perhaps not in January but on a shoulder season like March or October. Hasta Pronto Puerto Vallarta.
If beautiful sunsets are your thing, Kovalam Beach in south west India is a sunset paradise. Every afternoon sit back in one of the small beachside cafes, order a ‘Kingfisher’, the local beer, and watch a ball of fire sink slowly over the Arabian Sea. Sunset brings on a host of activities. Local fishermen in old wooden boats float across the pink and orange soaked horizon like migrating Siberian cranes. The sound of piercing whistles break the still evening calmness along with red flag waving by beach patrol officers to remove people from the water after 6pm. The local sun weathered beach sellers become more desperate to offload a coral carving, an elephant embroidered table cloth or a brilliantly coloured sarong.
Cochin is in the Indian state of Kerala where the local language of Malayalam is spoken. Cochin has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbour and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Today the city is rapidly modernising with new-fashioned malls, five star hotels and a brand new rail system. As a tourist in the city of Cochin the place to be is the old Dutch quarter known as Fort Cochin (Fort Kochi). Take a step back to colonial times with place names like Vasco-de-Gama Square, the Dutch Palace and Santa Cruz Basilica, all representing European influences of a bygone era. This is a calm and revitalizing sojourn with friendly people, fine food, abundant shopping and a laid back vibe. Drink in this measured pace before moving on to your next frenetic Indian city encounter.
Our destination for this part of our trip was the city of Jaipur but after a long five hour drive from Delhi we turned off at the 2000 year old town of Khandela in the state of Rajasthan. From the moment we arrived at our accommodation, the divine and regal Castle Khandela, we were given the royal treatment. A small band of drummers welcomed us. We were presented with fresh flower garlands, our foreheads dabbed with orange saffron and, as we walked through the main gate of the hotel, red rose petals rained from the ramparts above. Castle Khandela is a royal destination redefined. It is still the home of Dr Raisal Singh, the eighth Raja of Khandela, if titles were still held, but he has turned the castle into a boutique fifteen bedroom hotel, most suitable for one or two night stopovers.