BUZIOS, Brazil -- Just 120 miles north of Rio de Janeiro lies a small peninsula known as Armação dos Búzios. It is only eight kilometers long and adorned with over 20 magnificent beaches bathed in brilliant sunshine year-round.
Some beaches are small and accessible only by short hikes or water taxis and others are expansive, sandy stretches of shoreline with restaurants, cafes and bars. The diversity and options these beaches offer creates the perfect setting for vacations in the sun with fun outdoor activities.
No wonder this small Brazilian paradise has already been discovered by numerous LGBT travelers seeking the perfect relaxing gay-getaway.
Búzios has a long history as a small fishing community and holiday destination. But in 1964, when Brigitte Bardot -- super model, actress and icon of the Sixties -- posed for photographs in Búzios wearing a bikini swimsuit, which was a new rage at the time, the peninsula gained a new reputation.
Naturally a beautiful screen goddess in a skimpy swimsuit declaring this small fishing village to be an “aphrodisiacal wonderland” proved to be more than enough to launch an entire industry of tourism, which is still thriving today. In her honor, you can stroll along the Bardot Cove and on the Orla Bardot you will find a statue of her sitting on a suitcase and gazing out to the ocean.
Sunset is the best time here to experience the magic of Búzios and understand the mystique which captivated Bardot in the sixties and lives on today.
With a resident population of about 25,000 people, this is a truly international community. The locals have a long history in the community going back several generations. But many of today's residents came to visit Búzios on vacation and then returned later to make this Nirvana their permanent home.
Perhaps this is the reason why the peninsula enjoys a reputation for tolerance and acceptance of all visitors including the LGBT traveler. Although this a very typical Brazilian cultural community, there is also a strong European influence, which leads to comparisons with the French Côte d'Azur towns like Saint Tropez.
In the main center of Búzios, the narrow cobblestone streets and unique architecture housing restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques emanates a sophisticated flair while the countryside offers rich tropical vegetation, rolling hills, spectacular views and sandy beaches.
Although the main attraction here is water sports and beaches, Búzios is also an ideal place for people who appreciate fine dining. There are French, Italian, Moroccan, Thai and other restaurants to please the most discerning tastes. The influx of foreigners who relocated here is partially the reason for this diversity, having brought the recipes and spices from their native countries.
Fish and seafood remain the favorite local dishes because Búzios is surrounded by beaches on all sides and an ocean plentiful with a variety of seafood. The popular Brazilian “Buffet By The Kilo” is well-represented in Búzios by Boom Restaurant where the choices are incredible from salads to hot entrees, or meats cooked to order on the assado. At Chez Michou there is a wide range of sweet and savory crepes, which are perfect at any time of the day. For gourmet dinning at night, be sure to visit Patio Havana for great food and entertainment accompanied by ocean views.
Almost every restaurant offers a Catch of the Day but the real delight is at the Fish Shanty on the promenade where the catch is direct from the ocean to the grill, and to your table. Or perhaps some Argentine beef at Don Juan is an option from seafood delights. Whatever you are craving it is all available in Búzios and always with a different view.
Almost every accommodation on the peninsula is gay-welcoming but during my visit I was fortunate enough to experience two of the gay and lesbian owned pousadas.
First, I stayed at Chez Wadi where the gay owners strive for -- and achieve -- perfection in making you feel right at home from the moment you walk through the front door. Located just 100 meters from the expansive Manguinhos Beach, Chez Wadi offers 10 air-conditioned large rooms in a tropical garden with a swimming pool and artistically furnished common areas. This quiet location and carefully manicured lush tropical flora is the perfect place to relax and yet still be close to all the other attractions of Búzios.
Second, I stayed at the lesbian-owned Our House, which is the only exclusively gay resort in Brazil. Located just a 10-minute walk to downtown and about the same distance to the popular Ferradura Beach, Our House offers eight rooms with ocean views, a large swimming pool, a rustic cafe area where breakfast is served, an entertainment lounge and more. Owners Maria and Giselle endeavor to provide a safe and comfortable place for gay vacationers to enjoy exclusive privacy and relax in a totally gay environment. They also offer a wide range of hiking or biking eco-tours along some of the peninsula's most beautiful trails and countryside. This is a great location, with great views, and perfect hosts.
Naturally the beaches and water activities are the main attraction and Búzios offers everything imaginable including snorkeling, surfing, kite-surfing, fishing, ocean kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, fishing and hiking. Of course simply relaxing on the beach and swimming in the crystal-clear blue waters is a must!
On one side of the peninsula, the waters are slightly cooler with stronger waves for the surfers and the other provides calm, warm water for less strenuous sea sports. Whatever the preference for activities, the diversity of more than 20 large and small beaches offers beach-goers of all ages the perfect place to spend the hot sunny days.
No visit to Búzios is complete without at least one boat trip onto the Atlantic Ocean coupled with visits to the secluded beaches and scenery that is not readily accessible by land.
I was fortunate enough to spend four hours at sea with Búzios Nauta hosted by their experienced sailors and tour guides. During this cruise we stopped at four of the more secluded beaches where swimming and snorkeling or relaxing on the beach were enjoyed by all. The boat was well stocked with both alcoholic beverages -- mostly Brazilian Caipirinhas -- water and soft drinks. Plus in the afternoon our short stops included visits from kayak or boat deliveries of Pizza and fresh prawns. A truly blissful time in the sun on the oceans gentle waves with cool breezes.
Getting around Búzios is easy on foot, by inexpensive taxi, or you can rent bicycles or dune buggies to explore more of the peninsula's beaches and lush tropical scenery. However, make sure you have a map and good navigator as the narrow, winding and curved country roads require careful maneuvering.
With a close proximity to Rio and the very gay-friendly atmosphere, Búzios is rapidly becoming increasingly popular as a new favorite South American gay vacation destination. What could be more gay than amazing beaches, calm and clear ocean waters, gourmet dining, gay accommodations and late-night clubs, bars and entertainment? All of this at reasonable and affordable prices with a tropical climate for surf and sun gay get-aways. Make sure you add Búzios to your upcoming vacation plans and you won't be disappointed.
Roy Heale, a freelance writer who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is SDGLN's South America contributor. He writes about LGBT issues from the Latin American continent. To read more stories by Roy Heale, visit http://www.royheale.blogspot.com/.