“Which direction should we walk?”
My friend and I had arrived at Mi Cayito beach in Cuba, a stretch of shoreline 15 miles east of Havana, in search of gay Cuba travel experiences. It looked as though the beach extended quite a distance in both directions, so we were unsure where to find the gay section of beach that supposedly existed. The Internet hadn’t been much help in that regard.
Just then, a skinny guy with a tight tshirt and a sassy demeanor sauntered past with a female friend. We were evidently on the right track. “Follow that queen!”
Our hope that the dude would lead us to the gay beach were realized when, after five minutes of walking west, we spotted the rainbow flag.
On this weekday afternoon, the gay beach had maybe 100 people at most, but it was still awesome to see signs of gay life in Cuba, where acceptance of gays is growing but still not nearly at the same level as in most western nations.
As of this writing, Cuba still has no official gay bars (just the occasional gay night at a club). So the gay beach was our best shot at finding the LGBT crowd in Havana. And we sure found it.
Couples held hands and soaked in the rays near the faded rainbow flag. Lesbian couples, often absent from male-dominated American gay beaches, were present in fairly large numbers. A big group of friends chatted and played in the water. A female couple snuggled; a male couple made out for 15 minutes in the ocean.
The crowd ran the gamut from teenagers to 40-somethings, with attire ranging from speedos to board shorts. The beach itself was beautiful, offering warm waters and a mild gradient that allowed visitors to walk close to 100 feet offshore and still touch the bottom. It felt pretty much the same as any North American gay beach, and that was cool.
LGBT Cuba: Where to Find the Gays in Havana
When it comes to finding gay folks in Cuba, there are no easy tricks. While Cuba does have wifi and everyone has cell phones, nobody uses apps like Grindr because internet access is spotty and expensive.
I did login to Grindr twice. There were only two people within 100 miles, and both were visitors on a cruise ship. The closest Cuban was 141 miles away.
There aren’t even that many articles online about gay life in Cuba. As of 2018, there are no official gay bars in Havana, LGBT nightclubs, or Cuba gay resorts. You can find occasional gay life and drag shows, though. I read in the New York Times that a place called Myxto has drag shows, but I didn’t figure out where this place was until my final few hours in town, when I spotted it on an early-morning walk. It’s too bad I missed out on a drag show in Cuba!
So you’ll mostly have to use common sense and gaydar. Find the fashionable clothes, trendy haircuts, and dance clubs, and you’re on the right track. These are stereotypes, of course, but they did hold true for many young Cuban gays, who were clearly open and weren’t trying to hide their orientations from anybody. This was true even in smaller towns, where it was easy to spot the occasional out and proud guys.
There is one neighborhood in Havana that is fairly popular with the rainbow crowd. That would be Vedado, the modern and trendy ‘hood next to Centro Habana. Avenida 23 runs through the heart of the area and leads to the Malecon. When it comes to nightlife in Havana, Vedado is one of the best spots. It has a jazz club that caters to tourists, and some dance clubs where the local college-age crowd seemed to hang out.
This section of town is a popular gay hangout. We saw a decent number of obviously gay guys around here, mostly under 25. Finding older Cuban gays in their 30s and 40s was a little bit tougher. The beach was the only place I saw them in significant numbers.
With no Grindr or Tinder activity, LGBT Cubans find each other the old-fashioned way – eye contact. If you tend to stare down attractive folks a little too long, you may find yourself being followed around by guys who interpret that as interest on your part. This happened to me on a couple of occasions and I felt bad because I hadn’t meant to send any unintentional signals to anyone.
If you visit more upscale and secluded destinations in Cuba such as Varadero, which is known for its all-inclusive resorts, you may likely encounter other gay travelers and tourists, moreso than locals. It all depends what kind of gay Cuba travel experience you want – locals or tourists?
Random fact I feel compelled to share because it seemed unusual: I’d estimate that more than half of men in Havana under age 30 shave their legs totally like women. This did not seem to be just a ‘gay men’ thing – lots of dudes holding their girlfriends’ hands were rocking calf stubble. This was especially true in Vedado.
I never did figure out why. Maybe it’s a fad, or perhaps it’s a cooling mechanism to deal with the constant humidity and sweating. In any event, be prepared for the smooth look.
How to Find Mi Cayito Gay Cuba Beach in Havana
La playa! Here’s a Google Map showing the location of Mi Cayito. It’s among Playas del Este, and not far from hotels like MarAzul, Club Bravo Arenal, and Hotel Atlantico.
There are public buses that run in that direction, but the Cuban bus system is notoriously unreliable. You don’t want to stand around waiting for a few hours to catch a bus.
The best bet is to hire a taxi. We found a driver (a friend of a friend) who dropped us off at the beach and picked us up there a few hours later. I believe the charge was roughly $30 US for the round-trip, which we split.
As noted earlier, the entire beach of Mi Cayito is not gay. The gay section is to the left when you arrive and you’re looking out at the ocean. Keep walking until the find the folks who are unmistakably LGBT.
Or, just hang out around the main entrance of the beach, play volleyball, and socialize with the families. It’s up to you!
LGBT rights in Cuba and additional gay Cuba travel resources
Cuba is making great strides when it comes to LGBT acceptance, but there’s still a ways to go. I wouldn’t recommend being overly affectionate in public in most parts of the country just yet. In some parts of Havana, open gay life is more acceptable. I did see PDA at the gay beach and to a lesser degree on the Malecon. Obviously, gay marriage is not legal in Cuba, though Reuters reported that the country’s recent draft constitution could open the door for eventual same-sex matrimony.
In 2018 and 2019, a number of online articles seemed to give the impression that Cuba is some sort of utopia for gay men, but most of these were exaggerated. Yes, Cuba is gay friendly to a greater degree than many of its Caribbean neighbors, but a lot of those countries (Jamaica, Trinidad) have notoriously homophobic cultures, so being more progressive than them isn’t necessarily a huge statement.
Havana does have a pride parade in May to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia. Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. She works at the National Centre for Sex Education.
So it is entirely possible to meet and hang out with gay folks on the island if that’s something you are interested in. As more local politicians warm to gay rights, tour companies expand their gay-themed tours in Havana, and more American gay tourists come to visit, I would expect LGBT life in Cuba to grow and become more public in the coming years.
Here are a few more resources to check out regarding the gay Cuba experience in Havana.