The most sophisticated city in South Africa, and perhaps in the entire African continent, Cape Town, "The Mother City," doesn’t fail to impress. It’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful place, full of the graceful Cape Dutch architecture that is unique to this part of the world. But as lovely as the city is, its setting is lovelier still. Table Mountain stands high above the city, and two oceans meet nearby in a riot of blues and green. With over 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all known species of plants on Earth, South Africa is particularly rich in plant biodiversity. No wonder outdoor enthusiasts flock here.
That Cape Town has Africa’s most vibrant gay community comes as no surprise. After all, this is a country with pro-gay marriage, adoption, and employment laws. Cape Town has a lot going for it, including a progressive political climate, a cosmopolitan population, and a live-and-let-live attitude about other people’s personal lives. There’s a laid-back vibe here that feels more southern California than southern Africa.
The gay scene is lively and varied. Most of the gay bars are clustered around De Waterkant, a trendy district on the slopes of Signal Hill dating back to the 1700's, from Waterkant Straat and Somerset Road to the waterfront. December’s Mother City Queer Project Costume Party is known as Africa’s biggest queer bash.’ Also, during Cape Town Pride in February, the city again becomes a fabulous gay party scene. Other big annual gay events include the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras arts festival in the nearby town of Knysna each April/May, and the Out in Africa Film Festival each October.
Cape Town International Airport is about 12 miles from the city center. MyCITI Shuttle runs buses every 20 minutes daily (4:20am - 9pm) to the Civic Centre on Hertzog Boulevard at the center for just R50. Metered taxis can also take you downtown.
There are no international rail services at this time, but for alternatives to flying see the websites of Strand Travel and CruisePeople, two British agencies that book passengers on both cruise liners and freighters.
This easy-going city is made for strolling. You’d be remiss if you didn’t rent a car to tour the coast, as this is one of the world’s most beautiful drives - remember that traffic is on the left-hand side of the road here.
Bus services are provided by MyCITI. The Cape Town rail station has Metrorail commuter/suburban and long-distance rail services. All major South African are connected by a railway system that is the most highly developed in Africa. See the PRASA website for an overview of passenger rail services. Seat 61 offers a good beginner's guide to rail and bus travel throughout the area.
The Blue Train is a magnificent five-star hotel on wheels for a 27-hour journey (1,600km/994 miles) to Pretoria, through diverse and spectacular scenery - with connections to Durban and the Bakubung Game Lodge.
BazBus is a care-free backpacker's hop-on-and-off option connecting 180 hostels in over 40 cities, towns and villages on routes along the coast from Cape Town to Durban, and inland to Pretoria and Johannesburg. They also do Cape Peninsula day tours.
Springbok Atlas offers a wide range of East and Southern African coach tours.
Ferries to Robben Island depart from Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront beginning at 9am. Tickets should be booked in advance. See the Robben Island Museum and About Cape Town websites.
There are several beaches popular with the gay community. Camps Bay is a long, sandy beach near a strip of smart cafes, bars, and clubs. Sandy Bay is a nude beach that attracts a gay contingent. Clifton Third Beach is where all the local boys hang out. See our "experiences" page for more.
The Dutch East India Company used the area to supply their ships and Jan van Riebeeck established the first permanent European settlement in 1652. Until the Suez Canal opened in 1869, this was the major way-station between Europe and Asia. The British, with eastern possessions of their own, incorporated Cape Town into their Cape Colony in 1814, in part a consequence of Napoleon's invasion of Holland. Further expansion came at the expense of local Xhosa peoples, and thousands of Dutch Boer settlers moved north to avoid British control. After the British/Dutch settler Boer Wars (1880-1902), and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Union of South Africa became a British dominion in 1909. Independence followed in 1931. After the 1948 elections the National Party ruled for over 40 years, extending the apartheid racial policies already in place, and declaring the Republic of South Africa in 1961 they cut ties to the Commonwealth. After decades of struggle by members of the African National Congress, among others, the majority population prevailed with free elections of 1994, and Nelson Mandela became president after enduring twenty-seven years in prison.
Today South Africa is a multi-ethnic society of diverse cultures that includes Africans, Europeans and others brought as slaves from Indonesia by the Dutch, along with Indian/South Asian indentured workers who arrived under British rule. Eleven official languages are spoken, including Afrikaans, originating from Dutch, and South African English, commonly used in public and commercial life. Nine Bantu languages also have official status. It has the largest economy in Africa, and the world's 28th-largest.
Currency and Money
The rand is the local currency. Each rand is divided into 100 cents, making this an easy currency for foreigners to learn. ATMs are plentiful in Cape Town. Consult your home town bank before departure for possible partner bank information to save on debit card withdrawal fees, and to facilitate credit card transactions.
For gay and gay-friendly area business locations and website links see our map & listings section.
Gay information sources for South Africa, with Cape Town coverage, include: CapeTown.tv, Exit Magazine, GaySouthAftrica.org, GaySouthAftrica.net, Mamba Online (see their recent photo galleries), and QueerLife.
The website of SA Bears has events info for bears, cubs & friends.
The Queer African Reader has online African LGBTIQ news, commentary, resources, and links across the continent and around the world.
For map locations and website links to the businesses below, and more, see our gay Cape Town listings pages.
Alexander Bar (6 Strand St), conversation bar, locals young and old, craft beers and local wines, classic cocktails, sandwiches, canapés. Alexander Upstairs is a well-equipped intimate performance space with live jazz and world music performances, cabaret, comedy shows, drama, readings and more. See what's showing.
Amsterdam Action Bar (10-12 Cobern St), men's neighborhood cruise bar near the The V&A Waterfront, with games area. Their upstairs cruising area has cubicles and sling room, and connects to the next door Backroom Bar men's bar known for friendly topless barmen and spontaneous shower shows. The Boyzone Adult Shop is located in the rear, offering merchandise from jockstraps to slings or feather boas to club outfits.
Bar Code (18 Cobern St), a men-only levi-leather/rubber/uniform bar in Green Point, with dark rooms, slings, a cruising area with videos, a maze, and an outdoor deck. Naked and Underwear Nights fill the calendar, and they have an accessories store too.
Beaulah Bar (30 Somerset Rd, Greenpoint), Wednesday through weekend party bar and dance venue in Greenpoint. Mixed young crowd, popular with women; board games, weekend DJs.
Beefcakes (34 Somerset Rd, Greenpoint), 1950s South Beach Miami-style diner restaurant/bar in the Village; burgers and fries, drag cabaret shows and Bitchy Bingo, shirtless bartender hunks. Also at 198 Oxford Street in Illovo/Joburg.
Cafe Manhattan (74 Waterkant St), industrial chic Village restaurant and bar, breakfast all day, burgers, grills, salads, starters, mains, shakes, cocktails; comfy lounge, terrace bar.
Crew Bar (30 Napier St), gay bar/lounge, dance club, top DJs, front and rear open terraces, lively mixed crowd, shirtless bartenders and sexy dancing hunks on the bar.
Hot House (18 Jarvis St), the local bathhouse, sauna and steam facilities, Jacuzzis, cruise maze, dark rooms, glory holes, sun deck with great views, TV lounge, fireplace, two bars, restaurant, internet, adult store.
Stargayzer (12 Caxton St, Parow), mixed neighborhood bar, DJ music lounge bar/ dance club, karaoke, R&B nights, theme parties.
CLOSED: Bubbles Bar (125A Waterkant St), two-level drag show pub, cabaret, torch songs, big patio; Lion Corner Tavern (205 Lower Main Rd, Observatory), restaurant, cocktails, courtyard, fireplace, WiFi.
In Port Elizabeth, on the coast to the east of Cape Town, Club Aqua (York St at Prince Albert Rd) is a gay nightclub with a young mixed crowd, dancing, and a website full of pretty pictures of all the folks here.
The Cape Town Opera, and the Cape Town Ballet each has performances at the Artscape Center, which also has stage productions. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra concerts take place at Cape Town City Hall.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has several large shopping centers full of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. The area can get quite cruisy, from the escalators and public walkways, to the coffee shops, book stores and pubs. See our beach listings for other cruise spots.