Cape Town, South Africa is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it might not seem like an obvious destination for queer travelers. The country’s history of apartheid and conservative culture do make it tricky to navigate, and as a white queer person I certainly felt uncomfortable there at times, but never because of Capetonians themselves, who are so welcoming and immensely proud of their city. Cape Town has an incredible diversity of travel experiences, from natural wonders to man-made attractions.
But what does Cape Town have to offer for queer travelers? Speaking with local LGBTQ+ South Africans, I learned that while Johannesburg is more of a haven, there are still plenty of things to do in Cape Town as a LGBTQ+ traveler.
The first thing I did upon landing in South Africa — after checking in the AC Hotel Cape Town Waterfront and taking a 5-hour nap in the amazingly comfortable bed — was Google local gay bars. The first option to pop up was Beefcakes, advertised as a retro gay burger bar with nightly drag shows. So while on my first night in town I had an amazing dinner at the AC (do you know that you can cut corn on the cob into “ribs” and grill them for a vegetarian BBQ option?) on my second I headed out to Beefcakes. Reader, it was exactly what the name implied: Half seedy gay bar, half kitschy 50s diner,
Beefcakes is staffed by a bevy of literal beefcakes who serve giant burgers shirtless and will let you do body shots off them — for a price. The clientele is mainly women (I guess women are allowed in gay bars after all), and the menu is full of cocktails like the Sex and the City cosmopolitan and Karen Walker margarita. Definitely worth a visit for the onion rings alone!
Cape Town had a few options for gay clubs, but the local queers I met told me that the only scene worth getting into was at Zer021. While many of the more mainstream gay clubs in South Africa cater to a cis white male crowd, Zer021 was full of QTPOC, queer women, and drag queens galore. When I walked in, a queen was on stage performing “Home” from The Wiz, which is nothing short of a gay miracle. Everyone inside was friendly, welcoming, and hot. The drinks were cheap, the music was...pretty much exactly what you’d hear at any gay bar in the world. The drag was bad in the best possible way: high camp and high energy. I went back a few more times during my 9 days in town, and it would be my first stop if I went back.
The first item on my official itinerary in the city was an experiential moment available to Marriott Bonvoy members — an outdoor lunch and foraging excursion at Veld and Sea. About an hour-long drive along the coast from the city center, this nursery offers seasonal sustainable foraging experiences where you can walk among the local fynbos (a name for the local vegetation), and pick your own lunch. A few years ago, Veld and Sea was nearly devastated by an enormous fire, and it was inspiring to see how resilient the sanctuary is. Our foraging experience was capped off with a course in making the perfect gin and tonic by Geometric Gin, mixing in the fynbos we’d just foraged with delicious results. Everyone at Veld and Sea was so welcoming and LGBTQ+-friendly, and any visiting queers should absolutely pay them a visit.
Of all the amazing restaurants in Cape Town — definitely check out the Jonkershuis Constantia WIne Estate restaurant and The Bungalow if you can — my absolute favorite was Mama Africa, a local recommendation with delicious, authentic South African cuisine. The atmosphere therewas as good as the food, with a live band playing traditional songs and covers of international hits like “Old Town Road.” The waitstaff was super friendly — as a trans person, a dining experience can often hinge on whether or not I’m correctly gendered by the servers, and everyone at Mama Africa was friendly and respectful. I’ll be dreaming about the mussels here for a very long time.
The real beauty of South Africa comes from its natural elements, and Cape Town is full of them. No matter where you are in the city, you never forget that you’re in Africa because the city is so full of lush greenery and the city’s two peaks, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, are visible from almost everywhere — I could see both from the window of my sumptuous hotel room at 15 On Orange. While hiking up Lion’s Head wasn’t in the cards for me, I was more than happy to take a cable car up to the summit of Table Mountain during a city tour on my last day in town. It was a bit too foggy on top of the mountain to really appreciate the view, but still an unforgettable experience.
Cape Town’s natural wonders aren’t just in the clouds, they’re down at sea level, too. Our city tour ended with a trip to see the famous Boulders Beach penguin colony, an internationally-known tourist attraction. As we’ve reported many times at Out, penguins are one of the queerest animal species, and I noticed several penguin couples who were absolutely part of the community. Gay (penguin) rights!