Where can you spend the night in a treetop hotel, an ox-wagon, a funky airstream with a rooftop bar, or even the Prince’s room in Rapunzel’s tower at the Castle in Clarens? Or spend your days mountain biking through nature preserves, kayaking, lounging on beautiful beaches, and feasting on palate-dazzling farm-to-table fare at al fresco eateries beloved by millennials the world over? We’re not talking Italy, Spain, or Thailand. You can get all this and so much more in South Africa.
After Marvel’s Black Panther became an international success, interest in travel to Africa boomed among Americans. But savvy LGBTQ travelers didn’t need to wait for the Wakanda effect — we’ve been visiting the continent, and South Africa in particular, in droves for years already.
A land of breathtaking beauty, South Africa was the first country in the world to enshrine LGBTQ rights in their constitution, first in 1993 with the interim constitution, and then in 1996 with the current constitution that forms the basis for the law and government of the nation today. Back then, leaders who were forging a post-apartheid world outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. A few years later, the country’s Parliament passed the Employment Equity Act, which protects LGBTQ South Africans from work discrimination. In 2005, the country became the fifth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. And in 2018, South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, pointed to the “beautiful humanity” of the LGBTQ community, asking his country to continue to support equality for “the LGBTQ community.”
LGBTQ parents are also protected. Cases going back to 2002, as well as the landmark Children’s Act, ensure adoption is open to all couples, same-sex parents both have equal rights, and children born through alternative insemination get both parents listed on their birth certificates.
This is all because at the end of apartheid—a history the country doesn’t shy away from and is worth some of your time exploring — the country was partly refashioned from the bottom up and today stands as perhaps one of the most progressive countries in the world.
This explains why many cities have grown to include large LGBTQ populations (Johannesburg, for example, and even smaller locales like Durban and Pretoria). Often called the LGBTQ Capital of Africa, Cape Town has indeed become a queer capital city with nightclubs, restaurants, major queer events including Pride, and boutiques and gayborhoods that can rival what you’d find in London, Sydney, or New York.
But, as a traveler, when you visit Cape Town or these other destinations you also get the chance to pivot from vibrant LGBTQ nightlife into amazing national parks, unexpected adventure activities, gorgeous wine lands, a Big Five safari adventure, or a leisurely swim along the golden shores. (And for LGBTQ travelers, what better option for family travel than a place that recognizes your rights as a parent?)
Sure, in some rural areas attitudes toward acceptance are still evolving, but real change is happening all across the “rainbow nation,” and for visitors, the country is ripe for exploration, queer camaraderie, and unexpected adventure. You might want your first introduction to be through a big LGBTQ event: Johannesburg Pride is held annually in September and October; the Mother City Queer Project party is in December; Cape Town Pride is in February; and the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras in Knysna is held in May. But you needn’t an event or even a gayborhood to entice you to book your trip now. South Africa is a land of unparalleled beauty, diverse cultures, and yes, even penguin-filled beaches that’ll have you coming back again and again.