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WWHAT TO DO, SEE, DISCOVER, AND EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA
For travelers of all ages, South Africa is one of the top destinations in the world. From luxury safaris and one-of-a kind cultural attractions to culinary, art, and nature explorations, South Africa truly has something for everyone. And we know this from experience!
Travel with us as we explore a diverse range of activities, landscapes, and welcoming communities all over this amazing country. Add to this the warmth, friendliness, and sense of humor of South African locals, and you will soon discover why we have fallen in love with The Rainbow Nation and return here as often as possible.
There are established gay and lesbian communities in Cape Town and Johannesburg, with smaller developments in Pretoria & Durban. Cape Town, often called the “LGBTQ Capital of Africa,” is a favorite destination for many people because of its proximity to the wine region, iconic tourist attractions, vibrant nightlife, and thriving LGBTQ scene.
Wherever you choose to go in South Africa, you are sure to find an exciting things to do, see, taste and experience that you will remember for a lifetime. Join us as we explore this beautiful country that celebrates and cherishes life and diversity every day of the year.
It’s likely your flight to South Africa will arrive in Johannesburg, so you should plan on spending a few days enjoying all this vibrant and exciting city has to offer.
Tourists to South Africa will most definitely want to take advantage of the primo-exchange rate. A nice mall with independent shops is at Newtown Junction (www.newtownjunctionmall.co.za). The vibe at most of the shops is decidedly hipster/street, which fits the neighborhood’s youthful feeling.
Afterward, grab an outdoor table at Pata Pata Jazz (www.facebook.com/PataPataJazz) in the area known as the Maboneng Precinct, which has been dubbed the Brooklyn of Johannesburg for its art culture, bohemian vibes, trendy restaurants, local markets, and a street style all its own.
Here, you’ll find Fox Street with handicrafts, art, music, and even photo shoots. We know we’re in the right spot when our graffiti tour guide skateboards right by us. I sit back, listening to the sounds of the jazz band outside, munch on a Mediterranean salad and a potjie filled with oxtail and rice, and soak in the South African sun and the street theater unveils itself.
We’re also fortunate to sit with Bangu Masisi the president of South African Tourism US who is eager to show off this exciting area, saying it is “Home to the city’s hottest new galleries, restaurants, bars, theater, and shops, [where] LGBTQ travelers alike can discover a wide variety of things to see, do and learn.” She also chats about why Johannesburg has become a trendy city for creative types including the LGBTQ community. “Johannesburg is truly the country’s epicenter, not only for business but also culture, and it is home to the most exciting developments in fashion, art, music, and more,” she says. “In addition to being home to the country’s (and likely the continent’s) largest and most diverse LGBTQ population, biggest collection of Pride events (Oct. 2019), and a wide variety of social spaces, businesses, and media outlets, Johannesburg is an especially exciting destination for the LGBTQ market.”
We’re also happy to hear that the South African Tourism is particularly eager to work with on-the-ground LGBTQ-friendly businesses to ensure a safe trip for North American travelers. Naturally, it’s the South African people that make the destination so enticing and welcoming. It’s also reassuring to know that LGBTQ rights are enshrined in their constitution.
At night, a diverse crowd fills the upstairs of The Orbit (www.theorbit.co.za) jazz club and bistro. Drinks flow to the beat of evening chatter and a piano getting tuned. The crowd reflects the area of Braamfontein, which has become another hip and arty epicenter of the city. We’re also lucky to meet a group of awesome men who comprise Johannesburg’s gay rugby team. After the team was formed, the boys needed to recruit more players. The idea came to create a viral ad campaign that debunked stereotypes and tore down stereotypical walls regarding the LGBTQ community. A burly rugby player, who happens to be gay, is plastered with the word “Fairy.” The campaign became a major success, receiving international press. “It went viral globally to over 140 countries and was seen by more than 350 million people worldwide. It was great to give us an identity. More importantly, players come and join us. As a club nothing is more important than players,” says Teveshan K. Kuni from the Jozi Cats.
With so many wonderful LGBTQ people to meet, and exciting things to experience in Johannesburg, you will probably want to add a couple of extra days to your itinerary here.
What is the best way to travel from Pretoria to Durban? One great option is on the luxurious Rovos Rail(www.rovos.com). With ever-available food, drink, and lounging, the trip feels like a very exclusive, classy cruise. Everyone on our train has a private room large enough for a double bed, armoire, chair, table, and a full bathroom (shower, sink, and toilet). The gentle rocking and low hum (nothing like the clicking, jarring rumble in movies) induces napping; with sleeping this easy, we only wish the train could run all night instead of pausing from midnight to morning.
We could keep to ourselves, as some of the passengers do, but we balance our way to the observation car, a comfortable compartment of wide-windows and the rich hues reminiscent of a private study. At first we settle into two big easy chairs for a quiet cocktail, but soon one of the Danish travelers engages us in conversation. He is a major train buff and, eyes aglow with pleasure, he says that Rovos lured him “like the snake tempted Adam and Eve.” At 30 we are at least a decade younger than most of the guests, not to mention the only gay couple aboard, but we soon find ourselves with a joyous little group of friends, sharing stories of home countries and waving to the excited children as we pass. Before bed we head to the outdoor platform at the end of the car, jackets wrapped around our shoulders, and we lean into each other as we fly through the milky light of a misty South African night, not another soul in sight.
Meals are announced by the sound of bells played in the passageway. Men arrive for dinner in jackets and ties, and women in various levels of evening wear. The meals are excellent, tasteful cuisine with a flair for the visual and hints of South Africa in the choice of meats (ostrich and springbok, a local antelope) and fresh produce. A zucchini fritter is a particular favorite, with chives so fresh we ask if there’s a garden on board (the chef tells us that he shops for herbs just before the train leaves Pretoria). The extensive wine list reads like a full-page tour of South African vineyards!
The three-day journey is not all decadent leisure, though; we are promised a safari adventure and we get it. Waking with the sunrise, we tumble into a jeep after a quick stop for a breakfast of granola bars and pastries. The early departure is worth the reward. Located in KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province, known for its beaches, mountains, and savannah populated by big game, the safari destination Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in the northeast, is home to black and white rhinos, lions, and giraffes. It is an experience that makes us want to return to South Africa specifically to experience one their amazing safari adventures.
The next day, we begin our final leg of the journey, passing through the even lines of timber farms to more and more homes and villages. As we approach the city, I can’t help but feel that we are slowly transitioning back to the “real world.” As we approach Durban, we toast the staff with springbok shots (crème de menthe and Amarula, the fruity, South African answer to Bailey’s). Traveling by Rovos Rail has been the perfect introduction to South Africa, mixing carefully chosen outings, a sampling of the country’s culture, and luxurious, old-world service. Now it’s time for us to head out alone, to stretch our legs and our boundaries in Durban, on the open road, and beyond.
For most LGBTQ travelers to South Africa, Cape Town is the place to be either before or after exploring the wine country, national parks, seaside wonders, or a Big Five safari adventure. There are a variety of excellent accommodations from which to choose, and two of our favorite hotels are considered some of the best in the world. The One & Only, Cape Town (www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-cape-town-south-africa) is an urban resort festooned with palm trees and stone walls, soaring ceilings, and water features at every turn. Our suite opens to patios overlooking tiny sloops and small boats, and we are spoiled for choice for great eats, from Nobu’s famously branded sushi splendor to Reuben’s brasserie or alfresco dining poolside at Isola. The resort’s spa, on an island in the middle of everything, is the most expansive in the city, and lots of nooks and crannies make you feel alone with your thoughts. The service at One & Only, including the 24-hour butler service, is extraordinary in its invisible attentiveness, where needs are met before you realized the desire.
When it comes to the culinary landscape of this vibrant city, Cape Town has some excellent cuisine from all corners of the earth. Campy Beefcakes (www.beefcakes.co.za/cape-town) is a gay burger joint with an fun array of shows, theme nights, and dinner theatre. Hemelhuijs (www.hemelhuijs.co.za) is a gay-popular, casual lunch hangout with an Asian fusion menu and artsy surrounds. Meanwhile, Chef Luke Dale-Roberts has one of the toughest to get tables in town at The Test Kitchen(www.thetestkitchen.co.za) where tasting menus are the way to go as the chef sends out dish after dish of innovative cuisine using the freshest produce and fish you can find.
The “Gourmand Menu” is eight courses with wine pairings, so arrive hungry and make reservations long before you get to town. A fantastic food experience in the brightly painted Bo-Kaap section of town is the Cape Malay Cooking Safari(www.andulela.com/the_specials/cape-malay-cooking-safari) with authentic experience providers, Andulela. This is a halfday walking tour around the spice markets and cobble stairs and streets of the Malay Quarter. It starts at the Bo-Kaap Museum and ends in the home of a local, Faldelah, who is just about the sassiest woman on earth, with a heart and kitchen talent to rival any. It is hands-on cooking of traditional samosas, masala, and curry blended with great conversation and spice packets and recipes to take home after eating heartily at her table.
While you’re in Cape Town make sure to set aside enough time to visit the city’s top cultural landmarks and natural wonders. Robben Island, a World Heritage site, is an excursion for anyone interested in South Africa’s stirring political history. It was the place where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for most of his 27 year incarceration. The island gives some insight into his life, as well as a constellation of other fascinating political figures that were also incarcerated on the island. Former prisoners conduct the tour, which includes a visit to the cell that Mandela was incarcerated in during the apartheid years.
The Fugard Theatre (www.thefugard.com), named after one of South Africa’s premier playwrights Athol Fugard, is home to one of the largest Black theatre companies in the world, which is shaping theatre in this country and abroad. The theatre is an intimate 270-seat venue in an old warehouse building on the east of the city, featuring a variety of productions from operas like The Magic Flute and Don Quixote to local musicals. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch), is home to summer concerts that run from November to March. It’s all about lazy afternoons languishing on the slopes of the beautiful Kirstenbosch Garden, enjoying the sounds of the country’s best artists. From Jazz to the Philharmonic, it changes each Sunday.
There is so much to do, see, discover, and experience in The Rainbow Nation of South Africa. If you have a question regarding travel to South Africa, or if you would like to share one of your experiences with our readers, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org