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LGBT travelers: Check out gay-friendly Rosario, Argentina

ROSARIO, Argentina -- Rosario is a radiant city on the move with a tolerant and gay-friendly population. The city is nestled in a gentle twist of the mighty Paraná River about 300 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires.

Due to this close proximity to the nation’s capital, Rosario is often overlooked as a potential gay vacation destination by first-time LGBT travelers to Argentina.

However, Rosario freely displays its natural “water-world” of the Upper Delta with its magic islands covered by lush vegetation and the many desirable sandy beaches.

In the city proper, there are a number of museums, a curious blend of Spanish and Italian architecture, lovely parks harboring beautiful statues and monuments. The rainbow-adorned LGBT Paseo de la Diversidad walk and monument is proudly located on the river boardwalk -- located between Corrientes and Paraguay streets -- for all to see.

Numerous beaches line the riverfront, sparkling with restaurants featuring international cuisine, and steakhouses where you can sample the renowned Argentine beef cooked on a parilla, or taste the local gourmet speciality -- fresh river fish.

Vacation activities abound for the LGBT traveler to enjoy in Rosario. Night life is exciting with several gay discos -- mostly open only on weekends -- gay-friendly bars, sidewalk cafes and restaurants in a balmy, romantic atmosphere.

The local gay map and guide “De Ambiente” is an excellent source of Rosario LGBT information, which is updated and published four times per year. It is readily available around town including at the Official City Tourism Information Centers -- another sign of how gay-friendly this city really is!

You know that you have arrived at a gay-friendly hotel when the “De Ambiente” is displayed prominently in the hotel lobby along with other tourist information brochures. Such is the case with the Plaza del Sol Hotel in the heart of downtown Rosario, where the local gay guide is readily available in the foyer. The welcoming gay-friendly staff members are also extremely helpful. The hotel is nearby all the historic attractions, including the Paseo de la Diversidad, Independence Park Theatre, and El Círculo Opera House, plus numerous gay-friendly cafes, bars and clubs.

A short city bus ride -- costing less than $2 -- on the special “de la Costa” bus route will take you from downtown to the extensive sandy beaches of La Florida neighborhood (pictured top left). Here, sun worshippers gather around the umbrellas, beach volleyball games are everywhere, outdoor bars and cafes are dotted along the shore, nautical sports and bathers catch the eye. Were it not for the calm river and the lush islands in the background, it would seem akin to a tropical ocean resort beach.

For relaxation, you can take a leisurely cruise on the Paraná River and thread your way through a maze of vegetation-rich islands in the delta or, if you are more adventure-minded, paddle a kayak across to one of the islands. Many tourists and locals alike ride bicycles or horses around the parks.

Rosario is the city where Gen. Manuel Belgrano, one of Argentina’s most important forefathers, designed the country’s flag. One of the most popular attractions in the city is the impressive Flag Monument placed in the Parque Nacional de la Bandera, or National Flag Park (pictured bottom left). There is also the possibility of heading to the top of the monument's tower for a great view of the city and river valley.

The history of LGBT Rosario is extensive and fascinating. According to local historian and long-time Rosario resident Carlos Italiano -- writer, history and Italian teacher -- even during the oppressive dictatorships and religious influences the gay community in Rosario continued to thrive in secret.

Some of their clandestine meeting places still exist today like the Hotel Savoy lobby bar. Although it has been renovated and upgraded, the lobby bar still seems to have a gay atmosphere inherited from those early days. Ricky Martin chose this hotel for his gay home-away-from-home when he visited Rosario. What could establish a gay reputation more than a “royal” visit?

In those early days, the main gay cruising street was San Juan Street dating back about 45 years when there were no bars or clubs in which the LGBT community could gather and no Internet for instant hook-ups. Coincidentally, the gay-friendly Plaza del Sol hotel is located on this street today.

The renowned El Cairo Cafe was also a gathering place for the gay community along with local famous artists and authors. Today the Cafe has undergone a major restoration and is still a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

The journey from Buenos Aires by bus, train or rental car takes about three hours. It is well worth a side trip to Rosario for LGBT city life with some great opportunities for a change of pace and some relaxation during a gay vacation to Argentina.

With such a rich LGBT history, the Paseo de Diversidad and a thriving LGBT community, it is no wonder that Rosario is recognized as an extremely gay-friendly major city in Argentina.

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 his website.