Traveling Proud in the Rainbow Nation
South Africa's progressiveness makes it an LGBTQI+ travel hotspot for singles, couples and families.
WORDS TIM MCGLONE
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They call it the Rainbow Nation, and South Africa has long been at the forefront of LGBTQI+ rights.
In 1996 South Africa's constitution was the world’s first to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, and then in 2005 they were the fifth country in the world (and the first in Africa) to legalize same-sex marriage.
This forward-thinking progressiveness, plus a recent openness and acceptance of diversity, a range of travel modes for all ages and several very lively nightlife scenes, make South Africa one of the emerging gay travel hotspots of the world.
Living life on the edge - the view from Table Mountain.
The LGBTQI+ community spends more on travel than the general population. In the USA alone, gay travel is worth more than $60 billion annually.
Yet in many respects, LGBTQI+ travelers who travel to Africa are still a minority within another minority.
There’s a lot to consider that most travelers wouldn’t necessarily need to contemplate, especially when it comes to international travel - critical cultural, legal and safety factors to think about.
Once an industry comprising only of gay party destinations like Berlin and Palm Springs, considerations for queer travelers have evolved drastically. Family vacations for same-sex families are emerging, and proving popular.
A safari represents one of the best options for family travel.
South Africa is one of the world's leading safari destinations.
Picking a family vacation that satisfies the travel desires of both parents and kids is a tricky balancing act. An African safari seemingly presents a reliable option: typically speaking, kids are often just as knowledgeable as their parents on the topic of lions and elephants.
For gay man Jeffrey Solomon, he and his Los Angeles-based family had no reservations about visiting Africa on a friend’s invite back in mid-2019. And, perhaps more significantly, he says they can’t wait to go back. Jeffrey was on a pilot trip for same-sex family safaris that has since evolved into a bookable program.
Jeffrey Solomon (front right) and family, friends on a pilot safari for same-sex families.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town.
“I feel like it’s a pretty diverse country. You have all of these different people and languages and cultures coming together in South Africa,” says Solomon, who currently works directing podcasts, having also spent much time in the theatre industry.
“What I can say is that everyone we came into contact with [in South Africa] was just so open and welcoming, friendly, and helpful.”
“I feel like it’s a pretty diverse country. You have all of these different people and languages and cultures coming together...”
Jeffrey speaks with a laidback brogue, and that rosy recollection typical of someone recounting a great trip. He is no stranger to global adventure, having traveled through parts of Europe, South-East Asia, South America, Mexico and Australia (where he performed a theatre show for the Midsumma Festival).
He is therefore a good person to talk to about the changing dynamics of LGBTQI+ travel and why considerations like things such as safety and wellbeing are different when compared to other travelers.
“The legal human rights landscape has changed quite a lot over the years everywhere,” he says.
“At least legally in some respects, I think South Africa is more progressive than we are in the United States.”
“Marriage rights are in their constitution.”
While South Africa represents an ideal place for families, it’s not just wildlife and kids.
De Waterkant is the central hub of Cape Town's LGBTQI+ scene.
The mecca of Africa’s gay scene is without a doubt Cape Town, and the hub of the city’s riotous gay nightlife is De Waterkant, a trendy neighborhood filled with chic bars and cafes just north of Table Mountain. Café Manhatten provides a relaxed vibe here in the afternoon, while down the road Coco and Pink Candy are iconic gay and LGBTQI+ friendly nightclubs. There is also the gayinct Facebook group, organizing lesbian events across the city.
Cape Town Pride Festival generally takes place in late-February or early-March, when warm days and balmy nights see sun-kissed locals filling bars and beaches across the city.
There are also pride celebrations in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg throughout the year making anytime – and anywhere – a good place to be if you’re a gay traveler in the most colorful and welcoming nation in all of Africa.
Four reasons why South Africa is an LGBTQI+ hotspot
South African native Sherwin Banda is President of African Travel Inc., and a gay man. He is the person to speak to when it comes to pride travel in Africa.
Arrived spoke to Sherwin about why he believes South Africa represents the perfect destination for LGBTQI+ travelers:
1. A diverse and inclusive constitution
“One of the greatest outcomes of South Africa’s young democracy was to embrace the broad spectrum of its people. We are referred to as the Rainbow Nation - what more can you say?”
2. Cape Town: the mecca for African gay travel
“Not only is it the place to be for gay travel on the continent and one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but Cape Town also offers amazing experiences for people that want to walk away with a deeper understanding of culture, and of Africa.”
Bo-Kaap, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, South Africa.
Sherwin on safari.
3. Value for money
"We find a lot of people saying, that what they were buying, they were getting so much more for their money. It’s a country that offers something for everyone, regardless of travel style or budget.”
4. Malaria-free destinations for safari
“There are a lot of malaria-free travel options, which makes South Africa the perfect safari destination for multi-generational travelers or families with young children.”