CAPE TOWN AND ENVIRONS
Wet or wild adventure in South Africa’s gay mecca
Cape Town is South Africa’s “Pink City:” the epicenter of the LGBT movement in Africa and its hub of liberal expression. Way back in 1994, South Africa’s government enacted a national constitution that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.
Many South African leaders are promoting LGBT rights, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. This year, at the launch of the United Nations Free & Equal global campaign for LGBT equality, Tutu stated, “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven … I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was [against] apartheid.”
South Africa is a very safe country, but lesbian travelers should stick to the main cities and countryside. Avoid the townships, where conservative elements don’t welcome gay culture. Anywhere else is fair game.
The best way to take advantage of the majestic and varying landscapes of the Cape Town region is to rent a car and explore a few different regions: the serene countryside of Northern Cape, the bustling city center of Cape Town, and one of the 5-star game reserves in Eastern Cape.
In Northern Cape, visit the town of Springbok in Namaqualand, known for its stunning wildflower fields (flower season is August and September.) The region is home to the Nama people: friendly, fair-skinned Africans who speak English, Afrikaans and a local dialect. If you decide to take pictures of or with the striking locals, be sure to show them the photo afterwards as a courtesy.
Then, grab your binoculars and take a 30- minute drive from Springbok to either Goegap or Namaqua National Park (sanparks.org), two nature reserves that boast millions of picturesque wildflowers, as well as places for bird watching and spotting the shy oryx. In Goegap, soak up the sun during a brisk hike or feel the wind in your hair as you mountain-bike the 35- kilometer route. You may happen upon a grazing Hartmann’s mountain zebra or Klipspringer antelope. In the Namaqua National Park, cruise the scenic 100-mile 4×4 trail along the Caracal Eco Route. As you drive, the landscapes change from mountains to plains to windswept coast.
Begin your next day in Cape Town at Table Mountain (tablemountain.net). For a vigorous workout, grab your girl and brave a challenging two-hour hike up its rocky path. Keep in mind, it’s not for those with a fear of heights! Afterwards, take the cableway back to the bottom, which spins you 360 degrees for a panoramic view of the city. If you prefer to exercise your daredevil alter-ego, grab a rope and abseil off the top of the mountain with Abseil Africa (21-424-4760, abseilafrica.co.za).
The recently renovated Victoria & Alfred waterfront in Cape Town offers many ways to get your hair wet. The Two Oceans Aquarium (Dock Road, 21-418-3823, aquarium.co.za) dares you to try diving with ragged-toothed sharks and stingrays. You can also visit the warm swimming beaches of Muizemberg or Long Beach, 30 minutes from the waterfront. The beach of Camps Bay is too cold to swim, but you’ll see more than a few hot Europeans sunbathing topless. Finally, take a mind-boggling helicopter tour of Cape Town and gain a different perspective of its rich topography by air. You can book tours on the waterfront docks.
A visit to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without an excursion to the Cape Winelands (winelands.co.za), 40 minutes away. There are hundreds of estates offering wine tasting sessions. Each estate presents a custom experience, like a chocolate and wine tasting at the Waterford estate, or champagne and marshmallow tasting at JC Le Roux. Try a glass of Pinotage, a tasty South African red wine that’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The Adventure Shop (21-882-8112, adventureshop .co.za) offers a mountain bike tour that includes a bike and helmet rental, guided tour of the Winelands and a wine tasting.
For many visitors, a glimpse of the Big Five (lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo) is the highlight of a trip. At Eastern Cape’s 50,000- acre Kwandwe Reserve (Heatherton Towers, Fort Brown District, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, 46-603-3400, kwandwe.com), you can see the Big Five, plus cheetahs stalking a herd of impalas; a mother and baby rhino resting at a waterhole; or lion cubs wrestling with one another.
Accommodations and Dining
The Naries Namakwa Retreat (Rte 355, 86-199- 1118, naries.co.za) offers secluded mountainside accommodations in the Springbok area of Northern Cape. The retreat is gay-friendly, and even hosts a lesbian club from Cape Town that rents out one of the lodges every year. “Sometimes I don’t know whether to ask if two men who book together want one or two beds,” says Julene Hamman, the gregarious manager of the retreat. We recommend one of the exotic mountainside suites: dome-shaped structures made of South African thatch reeds built around a granite boulder.
Once you arrive in Cape Town, book your stay at the Table Bay Hotel (Quay 6, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, 21-406-5000, suninternational.com/ table-bay), which is optimally situated across the harbor with an incredible view of Table Mountain. Ask for a suite on the second floor for a balcony facing the mountain and marina; and if you hang out on your balcony long enough, you may catch a glimpse of a couple of seals kissing on the docks. The hotel offers a grandiose daily breakfast buffet with more than 250 options. After a day of adventures, indulge in some rejuvenation and pampering at the Camelot Spa. If you’re with a group of friends, book the Celebration Package, which includes a lengthy full-body massage.
Drive 15 minutes from Cape Town to the neighborhood of Woodstock and have lunch at The Kitchen (111 Sir Lowry Road, 21-462-2201, karendudley. co.za). Owned by a gregarious lesbian named Karen Dudley, the small kitschy restaurant is frequently standing-room only and offers a menu of in-house specialties, like beets, hummus and avocado sandwiches and healthy plates. The owner tears up when she fondly recalls Michelle Obama’s visit to The Kitchen a couple years ago.
You can choose to mingle in Cape Town’s most popular bar-hopping area, Long Street, but your best bet for gay nightlife is in the suburb of Green Point, where you will find many gayowned businesses. Dance the night away at two lesbian-centric bars: Crew Bar (30 Napier Street, 21-418-0118) and Beaulah Bar (28 Somerset Road, 21-421-6798).
Crew Bar is the starting point—a mixed bar with mostly men, but there are two levels with different music pumping as well as a lively theme each night. After a few drinks at Crew, walk around the corner to Beaulah Bar, the only alllesbian bar in Cape Town. All types of women come out and dance to pop and hip hop beats. Say hello to the manager, Myrna Andrews, who has been a staple in the local lesbian scene for the past two decades. Ask her what’s happening on the lesbian circuit while you’re there.
Many of the lesbian parties are monthly events held at various venues. The M.I.S.S. (Make It Sexy Sisters) events are run by a duo that throw a ladies-only themed party once a month; think the “Bro-lesque Show” and the “Miss Naughty Nautical” party (facebook.com/MISSmakeit sexysisters). If your visit happily coincides with one of these events, don’t pass it up. Even the nesters make an appearance!
The city’s annual gay gala, The Mother City Queer Project (mcqp.co.za), is a blowout party that takes place every December to celebrate South Africa’s inclusive constitution. Next February, Cape Town Pride (capetownpride.org) paints the town in rainbows for two weeks.
Because Cape Town is a major tourist destination, dozens of global airlines fly to its main airport, Cape Town International. Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Air France, South Africa Airlines and American Airlines are just a few of the major carriers that depart the New York area for Cape Town with layovers in London, Paris or Amsterdam.