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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January 2005, 13:05 GMT
Gay tourists discover Buenos Aires
The BBC's Elliott Gotkine
By Elliott Gotkine
BBC correspondent, Argentina

Sweat trickles down the face of a man busking in a steamy town square.

Buenos Aires (Photo by Elliott Gotkine)
Buenos Aires is now relatively cheap to visit
A young woman paints the final brushstrokes of a summertime cityscape.

Gaggles of children giggle by the lakeside in a gloriously green park.

This is Buenos Aires: So pretty, so elegant and so European that it has often been described as the "Paris of South America".

Before Argentina's economic crisis struck in 2001, Buenos Aires was probably the most expensive city in South America: $1 bought you one peso.

Now it gets you three, allowing visitors to experience a first-world city at third-world prices.

Chic quarter

But although tourism of all types is booming, Buenos Aires is now establishing itself as the place to go for one particular group of visitors.

San Telmo is just outside the city centre.

It has always been a favourite among tourists of all orientations, thanks to its lovely antique shops, its chic boutiques and its ancient-looking cobbled streets.

But it is also fast becoming the epicentre for Buenos Aires' booming gay tourist trade.

Gary, a gay tourist from San Francisco (Photo by Elliott Gotkine)
Finding out that it's very gay-friendly and very accepting means we can enjoy the attractive men and go to the gay bars
Gary, tourist
Not only is this the home of the first ever gay hostel in Buenos Aires, but there are now plans afoot to officially designate this place "gay-friendly".

Enjoying some of the shade afforded by a cavernous flea market, I caught up in San Telmo with Gary and his partner Chris.

They come from just outside San Francisco - the birthplace of gay pride.

They had already done Miami, Rio and other gay hotspots and wanted to try something new.

Gary told me Buenos Aires seemed like their kind of town.

"I just wanted to come here for the great weather, the European atmosphere, the exchange rate, the fact that it's in the Americas. And then finding out, as we travelled, that it's very gay-friendly and very accepting, it just means we can enjoy the attractive men and go to the gay bars."

Parade

In November, Buenos Aires' annual gay pride parade attracted thousands of men and women.

Waving rainbow-coloured flags and dancing with unbridled joy, they wound their way through the city's streets.

How times have changed in Catholic Argentina: Just a few years ago, there were far fewer marchers and many covered their faces for fear of reprisals.

Pride Travel, a travel agency serving a gay clientele (Photo by Elliott Gotkine)
Travel agencies and tango bars are springing up to serve gay clients
Nowadays, the worst they can expect is a hail of verbal abuse.

"This march deserves our deepest scorn," shouted one man. "It's a march against nature."

Overall, though, protests were muted.

Buenos Aires is now among the most liberal cities in the Americas.

Two years ago, it legalised same-sex civil unions.

And at the recent Latin American tourism fair, held in the Argentine capital, officials were more than happy to promote the city's pink credentials.

"We're not conservative, in traditional terms," says Marcela Cuesta, Buenos Aires's subsecretary of tourism.

"We're quite an open society, with open criteria to accept visitors. And that's what we've been showing and that's why gay tourism has nominated us as a gay-friendly city."

Income

She says she's delighted with the influx of gay tourists, who bring in much-needed revenues.

Tourism in Buenos Aires is up to 5.25m visitors - a new record. Twenty percent of these, we believe, are gay
Marcela Cuesta, Buenos Aires tourism official
She notes that homosexuals tend to be big spenders because many do not have children to support.

And she says their efforts to tap into this niche are already bearing fruit.

"Official figures show that tourism in Buenos Aires is up 38% on last year to 5.25m visitors - a new record. Twenty percent of these, we believe, are gay, from all over the world, especially from Europe and America."

To meet this growing demand, travel agencies, guest houses and even tango bars catering for the city's gay visitors are popping up all over town.

And there are plans afoot to build a five-star gay hotel in the city.

Buenos Aires, dejected for so long by its economic woes, is once again standing proud, as the gay tourism capital of South America.

But then, in a city where even the presidential palace - the Casa Rosada - is pink, we should have probably seen it coming.




SEE ALSO:
Gay Bombay comes out
19 Jun 03 |  South Asia
Hyde Park to host gay festival
28 Feb 03 |  England
Gay travellers advised on safety
04 Jul 02 |  UK News
Country profile: Argentina
13 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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