I was in my 20s the first time I went to Mykonos alone. It was also the first time I was able to be out as gay in Greece.
My grandmother was from Andros, part of the Cyclades Islands, along with Mykonos, Santorini, and dozens of other islands. I spent many summers in Andros watching the ferries from Athens stop at the hora (town) with gay partygoers on their way to Mykonos, and I began plotting early how I would eventually get there myself.
As a teenager, I wasn't out to my family. My cousins and I would spend every August with our aunts in Andros, where they watched us like prison guards -- our comings and goings were clocked and recorded meticulously. Even going on a (hetero) date would have entailed an entourage of chaperones from each family following us everywhere we went.
When I was 25, I took a business trip to Athens, and although I had an obligation to visit family in Andros, I had already mapped out my escape -- claiming I could only stay for three days before heading out, when I actually planned five days in Mykonos.
I can still recall stepping onto the ferry -- my aunt crying and my entire family on the dock wishing me farewell. I felt bad for lying as we pulled away from the dock. But by the time I could no longer see them, the thrill of my adventure overtook any guilt.
By this time, Mykonos held almost a mythical, Atlantis-style quality to it. And as I disembarked near Little Venice I couldn't believe I was really there. Those five days in Mykonos are forever seared into my memory. I've been back many times since, and every time it has been an adventure -- which is part of the island's allure. People love to get lost on Mykonos -- literally and figuratively. You can spend hours trying to find your way out of the labyrinth of streets that often lead to dead ends. The island was developed this way on purpose, to deter pirates who raided Mykonos in the 19th century seeking Venetian treasure.
Mykonos's transformation into a major gay destination has its origins in the 1920s, when the island became an artists' colony, populated mostly by British expats, many of whom happened to be gay. Over the years its popularity among gay tourists grew.
Mykonos is Greece's answer to Ibiza in that it's the party animal of the Greek Islands -- and from June until September, the island never sleeps. Clubs are open dusk to dawn -- if they close at all. The minute you hit the shore you're offered a taxi ride to the two most gay-friendly beaches, Paradise and Super Paradise. Both offer rocky coves populated by beach clubs where people start drinking early. You'll want to rent an umbrella and chair before the beach is packed to the rafters with scantily clad men. That's a normal, glorious summer day on Mykonos.
At the end of every August, the population of the island quadruples as 30,000 gay men descend for XLSIOR, which is the largest gay circuit party of the year. XLSIOR bills itself as attracting the "creme de la creme" of the gay world, and it's a party that people come back to again and again, giving it a cliquey vibe (especially for those without the mandatory six-pack). But the great thing about Mykonos is there's a surprise around every corner and it's easy to disappear in a crowd of tens of thousands of guys.
After the party is over, you definitely want to take in the sunset at Elysium -- it's a fancy hotel that sits on the hilltop overlooking the bay and a delightful place to spend one's last night, watching the next wave of adventure-seekers as they arrive.