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The Great Gay EsCape

Like sister cities San Francisco, Sydney, and Miami, Cape Town is a sexy seaside spot with a variety of gay things to do. Promoted as "The Gay Capital of Africa" (South Africa's constitution was the first in the world to expressly protect the rights of homosexuals), Cape Town's queer tribes are increasingly rich and varied, with an excellent rapport between straights and gays, and plenty of boundary-crossing to keep the scene interesting. Traditionally associated with its late-night hedonism and tony designer neighborhoods, Cape Town's gay scene is also becoming a more multicultural environment. In April 2009, the annual Miss Gay Cape Town event included a special section for competitors from the myriad African states where homosexuality is still outlawed. It's also striking to witness the coming-out of many of the city's gay Muslims, some of whom took part in the Pride parade for the first time in 2009.

Most gay-friendly venues are situated in and around the City Bowl, particularly in Green Point's "De Waterkant Queer Quarter," Sea Point's Main Road, and the mountain end of Long Street. Centered on Somerset Road and up the slopes of Signal Hill to Loader Street, De Waterkant's Gay Village is where you'll find the best selection of clubs, bars, bathhouses, cafes, and guesthouses. Check the local press or the annually produced The Pink Map (available from tourism bureaus), or visit www.cape-town.org for more information. Wanderwomen (tel. 021/788-9988; www.wanderwomen.co.za) is a personalized women's-only travel agent; for events and parties for women who love women, go to www.lushcapetown.co.za.

Gay Events -- Africa's biggest gay circuit party is the annual MCQP (Mother City Queer Project) costume party, an extraordinary themed dress-up spectacular, held at great venues and attended by thousands of queers and straights of all ages and persuasions -- expect a red carpet arrival, numerous DJ-controlled dance floors, and riotous entertainments. For details of this mid-December event, go to www.mcqp.co.za. Cape Town Pride is a 10-day festival in late February (www.capetownpride.co.za); there are new cultural and entertainment events each year, but the highlight is the Pride Parade through the center of Cape Town. Held in September, Out in Africa (www.oia.co.za; tel. 044/382-1610) is the continent's most important gay and lesbian film festival, with something to satisfy all celluloid tastes. Also worth planning around is the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, held at the end of May, when some 5,000 camp revelers take to the streets of Knysna ("Africa's gayest town"), on the Garden Route -- a welcome extension to a trip to Cape Town, with plenty of gay-friendly places to stay along the way.

Recommended Guest Houses & Tours -- A variety of options can be had in De Waterkant Village, which is in the heart of the "Queer Quarter," within easy walking distance of clubs and bars. The most tasteful men-only choice, though, is the Glen Boutique Hotel (tel. 021/439-0086; www.glenhotel.co.za), in Sea Point, which has good facilities and very, er, well-equipped rooms. The Glen is known for its regular all-male gatherings -- especially around the pool -- that are a great place to meet new friends. Standard rooms go for R1,200 to R1,950 double, in the summer months, and just R600, in winter. But for genuine luxury, book one of the lavish suites (from R1,350, in winter). And if you feel the need to clear your head and get out of town, the men-only Shisa Guest Farm (www.shisafarm.com; from R780 double), in the fabulous Winelands town of Tulbagh, is just 80 minutes away. Franschhoek is also known as a gay-friendly town; if you spend the night, check out Ashbourne House (tel. 021/876-2146; www.ashbourne.co.za; from R880 double). If you're heading farther afield and want to search for gay-friendly accommodations, visit www.pink.co.za, or pick up a free copy of the Pink South Africa Guide. There are plenty of competent tour operators in Cape Town, but if you want to make friends, book with Friends of Dorothy Tours (tel. 021/465-1871; www.friendsofdorothytours.co.za). They cover pretty much everything in Cape Town, as well as the multiday tours of the Garden Route and whale-watching excursions. Cape Classic Tours (tel. 021/686-0013 or 083/251-7274; www.classiccape.co.za) is a gay-owned operator specializing in Cape Town and the Garden Route (but also handling safaris), and will provide you with a gay guide wherever possible.

Best Beaches -- Clifton's Third Beach is where you'll find international male models parading in garments so tight you can tell what religion they are. Sandy Bay is Llandudno's famous nudist spot, with discreet cruising at the far end of the beach. Beware: The freezing ocean will bring you down to size.

A Gay Night Out -- Kicking off with a bit of culture in town, you'll find On Broadway, 88 Shortmarket St. (tel. 021/424-1194), a great cabaret and theater restaurant with excellent shows. Moving to Long Street, Lola's, corner of Long and Buiten (tel. 021/423-0885), is the queerest vegetarian joint in town, with a delectable crowd. Traveling from town to the Queer Quarter, the first stop worth considering is buzzy Café Manhattan, 74 Waterkant St. (tel. 021/421-6666), a friendly, chatty bar with a good-value restaurant, which gets busy after 9pm nightly. You can walk from here to Somerset Road, where you'll find Bronx (tel. 021/419-9216; www.bronx.co.za), a very popular late-night bar on the corner of Napier Street; the upstairs nightclub, Navigaytion (www.navigaytion.co.za), gets a dedicated dance crowd pulsating and sweating to house every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 11pm until late. To get you in the mood with a few civilized drinks before the night turns sweaty, stop by the Loft Lounge ★★, 24 Napier St. (tel. 021/425-2647; www.loftlounge.co.za), where topless barmen provide great eye candy along with, ahem, cocktails. Occasionally, the venue stages strip shows and other events. Crew, wedged between Bronx and Loft, tends to fill up a little later, and entertainment includes beefy dancers. Around the corner, Beaulah Bar (named for the local gay-speak term meaning "beautiful"; tel. 021/421-6798) is a favorite lesbian hangout where boys needn't feel left out. Cape Town's leathermen and uniform-fetishists hang out at Bar Code, 18 Cobern St., off Somerset (tel. 021/421-5305; www.leatherbar.co.za), a men-only cruise bar with slings, dark rooms, a maze, and more -- ask at the bar about the underwear parties and naked nights, when a strict (un)dress code applies. Nearby, but even steamier, the Hot House, 18 Jarvis St. (tel. 021/418-3888), is a European-style men-only leisure club, with sauna, steam room, and outdoor sun deck with spectacular views over the city and the harbor.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.