Gay Durban, South Africa’s third largest city, is cosmopolitan, ambitious, sleek and utterly obsessed with the aquatic.
With a renewed waterfront promenade, miles of gorgeous coastline, the warm Indian Ocean and luxury beachfront hotels and bars – a trip to Durban is an easy sell, even before you start to explore the cities rich and complex history.
While frequently referred to as the gayest city in South Africa in the past, it seems the glory days have passed with the closing of many of the gay hotspots in Durban’s Morningside neighborhood – the unofficial hub of the LGBT community here. Don’t expect to find a rainbow-flag covered queer village like Copenhagen, Palm Springs, Rome or Toronto however – and even in the country’s gay capitals, Cape Town or rejuvenating Johannesburg, things are not looking great.
South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of this sexual orientation, and the country was the first in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage, but sadly this progressive political climate has not translated to complete acceptance across society and LGBT hate crimes are all too common.
South African law doesn’t catalog hate crimes separately from other crimes, so we can’t know for sure the exact levels but there is no denying that homosexuality is still very much taboo in smaller, rural areas and that there is a gaping chasm between the law and the social realities for many South Africans.
This, however, is unlikely to affect your average traveller in urban areas – and particularly in gay-friendly Durban – but is something to be aware of, and we generally advise caution with public displays of affection in public as such. We are only just beginning to understand the shocking scale of LGBT discrimination in South Africa and while as visitors we personally did not experience any- this is not to say there is a critical need for hate crimes laws here as the local LGBT community still faces high levels of violence.
Theirs is no magic solution here and a change in public perceptions it’s a process that will take time. In urban sophisticated Durban however, we found many accepting and progressive attitudes and feel comfortable recommending to gay travelers who wish to experience a rich diversity of people, cuisines, and languages, alongside pristine beaches and wild nightlife.
Gay Durban Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In Durban South Africa
In this article we will cover...
Attractions in Durban
With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, you can bet there are going to be plenty of outdoor things to do in Durban and fabulous events which take advance of the amazing weather.
Beach days, hiking and cycling are all popular, but equally so is laying by the pool or booking day trips to explore the glorious nature on the doorstep of Durban. If you plan to get a lot done car hire in Durban is a very affordable option and popular to see more far-flung attractions. This is South Africa after all – one of the world’s greatest self-drive holiday destinations with the excellent road network and epic scenery.
However, when it comes to driving in South Africa, there are a few simple rules to keep safe including ensuring your windows and doors are locked when driving through any urban areas (especially when stopped at a traffic light!) and never leaving any valuables in sight when you are parked. Even better, park your car where a car guard is available – and then all it takes is a few rands to ensure your vehicle remains safe.
Naturally being gay does not define which attractions most of us will want to see in each destination and most queer travelers will simply want to check out the top things to see in Durban during the day! We found our favorite memories were watching the sunset from a relaxing cocktail bar, dancing till dawn with our queer family, or laying out by the pool in our luxe Durban hotel.
However, if you’re someone who can’t sit still, we have put together a few of our other things to do in this gay paradise that are sure to keep you busy!
Top Highlights in Durban
- Botanical Gardens – Spend the day wandering around Africa’s oldest surviving botanical gardens and you will quickly see how this top attraction is connecting people and plants while achieving local and international recognition through its research, plant collection, educational outreach
- Try Bunny Chow – A local culinary fusion in the form of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with various curries. Durban has the highest concentration of Indians outside of India thanks to two waves of Indian emigration to South Africa, and this dish is the perfect manifestation of overlapping cultures beloved by locals and visitors alike.
- Durban Beaches – Yes, famed around the world for its endless golden beaches and tepid waters, you are spoilt for options when exploring the coast of Durban. Everyone has their own opinion on the best beaches to explore but we love North Beach (Part of the Golden Mile with food, long piers, and calm water), Umhlanga Rocks (with its whalebone pier) and Ansteys Beach with its laid-back ‘local’ vibe.
- Florida Road – The famous hub of entertainment for Durban – and yes, it does have vibes reminiscent of good times in Miami, Orlando, and Key West. With over 2 kilometers of tree-lined pavement displaying restored Victorian and Edwardian buildings, there is plenty of restaurants, pubs, clubs, art galleries and eclectic little shops for everyone. A 24/7 kind of place you will undoubtedly end up one way or another.
- Durban Natural Science Museum – One of the oldest and most popular museums in South Africa attracting almost 300 000 visitors annually with wonderful exhibits on the history of the Earth, including past & present life. If you want to escape the sun and explore a glorious building filled with science and knowledge this is the place to go.
- Sani Pass and Lesotho 4×4 Day Trip – Experience the beauty of Sani Pass via 4×4 vehicle on a day trip from South Africa into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and back. Set out from Durban and pass through the exquisitely preserved Victorian city of Pietermaritzburg en route to the World Heritage Suni Pass, a steep pass rising 9,429-feet above sea level. Once crossing the border (bring your passport) visit a traditional Sotho village filled with huts built around a central area filled with livestock. Afterward, savor incredible views while enjoying lunch at Africa’s highest pub.
- Safari and PheZulu Village – Embark on a day of wildlife sightings and Zulu culture with a mini safari tour from Durban. Start at the Natal Lion Park for an incredible up-close view of lions and other animals such as elephants, leopards, and wildebeests. Then continue to the region’s Bird of Prey Sanctuary, where you’ll see resident raptors such as vultures, eagles, and owls. Follow this with a trip to the nearby Tala Game Reserve and afterward, the Phezulu Cultural Village and Reptile Park. Here, enjoy an immersive Zulu cultural experience complete with a traditional dance performance.
- Durban City Tour – Get a comprehensive overview of Durban’s highlights and landmarks, with transportation in between, on this full-day tour. Listen as your guide delves deep into the history, culture, architecture, and environment of this South African city. Stops include the University of KwaZulu Natal, Ushaka Village Walk, City Hall, the Juma Masjid Mosque, Victoria Street Market, Durban Botanic Gardens, the Golden Mile, and others.
- St Lucia Wetlands – Escape the city for a day exploring St Lucia Wetlands Park (iSimangaliso Wetland Park), a vast natural wetland that’s also South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Depart Durban for a 2-hour boat ride through the park’s estuary, keeping an eye out for resident crocs and hundreds of hippos as you float along. This massive estuary is also a bird lover’s paradise, with flamingos, kingfishers, eagles and more.
Gay Annual Events in Durban
- Project Prism – Project Prism is a community-based organization which aims to promote sexual diversity, assist in building a healthier queer community, and advocate for businesses in Durban to commit to being overtly LGBT friendly. Their stated aim is to broaden the spectrum of gay life, and intend not only to help facilitate the creation of new “safe spaces”, but to gather together with fellow LGBTQ’s for beach, park and sports days, and to attend nightlife or cultural events en masse. Look out for their events listed on Facebook.
- Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival – The oldest operational, and city-based, LGBTIQ film festival in Africa, held annually since 2011, taking place in late September. As an independent platform for filmmakers from South Africa and across the world to specifically deal with issues relating to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Intersexed (LGBTI) community, the DGLFF will showcase new and innovative motion pictures, documentaries, shorts, and related productions whilst conducting workshops, debates and talks on past LGBTI movies, productions processes, film writing and how the visual medium affects and is affected by the pink community across the world. Special emphasis is placed on African filmmakers, especially those that deal with human rights and issues of human sexuality in their work. If you are a fan of LGBT films but can’t make this event, you could try our favorite LGBT coming out films or attending some of the world’s other incredible gay film festivals.
- Durban Pride – Held every June, this fabulously gay week featuring a film screening & workshop by the Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival; radio interview and shows with local LGBTIQ people, a variety of chilled afternoon sessions of expression/poetry/song/entertainment/karaoke/soul/funk and more at LGBTIQ+ inclusive spaces. The clear highlight is the Durban Pride Liberation March and Festival at Gugu Dlamini Park Extension which features a spiritual segment with various faith communities, Mr and Miss Durban Pride, a Drag Show, a Talent Show and the clash of the DJs. On the grounds will be a community village with various stalls; a bar and games. Durban Pride at its core is an expression and celebration of sexual diversity within the city of Durban and commemoration of all life lost as a result of discrimination and oppression on grounds of sex, gender & sexual orientation. While there is a very important work to be to uphold laws and improve LGBT lives in South Africa, this Pride is also a fun celebration – and one travellers should consider planning their trips to Gay Durban around.
Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in Durban
In this glorious beachside city, you will not find any major hotel accommodation that has issues with gay guests checking in – and most as explicitly gay-friendly.
After all being gay-friendly is about providing a non-judgmental and respectful environment in which all people are treated equally. In saying that, elegant design, helpful staff, and excellent value for money never hurt anyone. Some hotels in Durban have also gone above and beyond in recognizing and marketing to the LGBT community and given their popularity with gay travelers we would say it has paid off!
Everybody likes to be surrounded by people with common interests and as such there are a few hotels in Durban favored by gay travelers – although to be clear there are no exclusively gay hotels in Durban sadly, but one funky guest house that caters only to gay men.
The following gay-friendly hotels in Durban are only the most recommended, but there are hundreds of other hotels in Durban if you don’t find quite find what you are looking for. Whether you want a fun and social hostel, a cheap but private place to crash after a night of partying or a chic luxury option to sip cocktails surrounded by fashionable people, Gay Durban has something for everyone!
Gay-Popular Hotels in Durban
- Oyster Box Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – A national treasure, this is one of South Africa’s most cherished hotel standing majestically on Umhlanga’s beachfront, overlooking the Indian Ocean and the iconic lighthouse. Discover timeless elegance, while enjoying a multitude of dining options, including their famous curry feast and High Tea, or indulge in the award-winning spa amid tropical gardens. With 86 luxe rooms boasting world-class views, dolphin watching from the Ocean Terrace and Oyster Bar and, lush pool and 24-Seater cinema with complimentary treats – this is our favorite hotel in Durban (gay or straight), and one of the most popular amongst our readers.
- Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani ☆☆☆☆☆ – An iconic hotel in Durban, this seaside urban escape invites guests to experience a modern full-service stay on Durban’s sun-kissed beachfront. Sweeping Indian Ocean views along the 7km promenade have set the scene for memorable holidays and exceptional events for nearly five decades. Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani promises an unforgettable stay in a contemporary classic. Sleep in comfort, dine with variety and meet with style – all with three glorious heated pools to choose from!
- Beverly Hills Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – The award-winning Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga, which first opened its doors in 1964, has become synonymous with elegance, gracious hospitality, and intuitive service. One of the finest luxury seaside hotels in South Africa, the Beverly Hills Hotel is the choice of royalty, celebrities and captains of industry with 89 beautifully appointed rooms – each with a private balcony and an uninterrupted view of the ocean. This luxury Umhlanga hotel also offers amenities such as complimentary WiFi, a fitness center, heated pool, a business center, two restaurants with an al fresco dining option and a convenient retail outlet. Additional benefits include a complimentary valet service upon arrival, access to the hotel’s DVD library, and a range of daily luxurious poolside massage treatments by experienced therapists. For business and leisure guests alike, the Beverly Hills is sure to evoke an iconic sense of nostalgia, timeless elegance, and romance.
- Hilton Durban Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – A unmistakable landmark tower hotel in a supreme location next door to the Durban International Convention Center, with easy access to Durban’s beaches and minutes away from all the cities top attractions. Step inside the hotel and find elegant rooms with magnificent views, world-class dining, and modern facilities for business and relaxation — everything you need for a remarkable stay in Gay South Africa.
- Ocean Vista Boutique Guest House ☆☆☆ – A new boutique guesthouse located in Ridge Road, conveniently close to both the heart of Umhlanga and La Lucia. With sweeping views of the Indian Ocean, it is a truly unique property, combining fresh contemporary design style with warm and generous hospitality. Ocean Vista boasts contemporary architecture and a compact interior, with a magnificent top floor communal area and 7 guest suites, specifically designed for panoramic views, serenity, and comfort and setting the bar for unpretentious luxury.
- Goble Palms Guest Lodge & Urban Retreat ☆☆☆ – Relax in an atmosphere of a bygone era with contemporary refinement. A charming blend of tradition, elegance and style awaits guests in the gracious surroundings of Goble Palms, a beautiful Edwardian lodges are set high up on the ridge, overlooking the sea. Sink into a cosy armchair with a book, sip a glass of wine on the expansive patio or just enjoy the peaceful ambience of this unique English Country Style accommodation close to the city. Cute, unique, affordable and with a pool – what is not to love!
- Caza Beach Guesthouse ☆☆☆ – La Lucia’s finest guest house offers boutique accommodation with seven luxury rooms, each of which overlooks a beautiful indigenous garden with a sparkling pool for those warm summer days. Each room comes with private access, as well as an array of other facilities – and all conveniently situated a mere 20 metres away from the beach and with a range of local attractions to engage in. Stunning, gorgeous, unforgettable!
- Durban View Guest House ☆☆☆ – A modern, comfortable, gay hotel in Durban – or more of a guest house – situated in the hub of Durban’s trendy restaurant and gay area with sweeping city and sea views. A five-minute drive to the Gay Durban Club Altitude, here you can choose from one of only 5 superbly appointed en-suite guest rooms, or their deluxe budget backpacker suite. Check-in and enjoy spectacular city views from the roof-top spa and sundeck, relax around the pool while sipping cocktails or help yourself to a drink from the cash bar in the guest house pub. Your hosts Dave and Llewellyn have all the inside knowledge on the local gay scene and will ensure you have absolutely everything you need for a perfect stay in Durban.
- Curiocity Durban ☆☆☆– There are no gay hostels in Durban, but we loved this open-minded spot, newly opened and perfect if you are on a budget or travelling solo. Located in the Rivertown Triangle neighbourhood just on the edge of this sub-tropical port, Curiocity is set around the breezy courtyard of a landmark building and gives visitors the perfect base from which to explore – or just hang out for their movie nights, yoga on the beach and pub crawls.
Gay Nightlife in Durban South Africa
Sadly the gay club scene in Durban is always changing and it seems like most places open just as quickly if they close.
Be sure to check websites and Facebook pages before heading out, and take care – While Durban might be one of the most gay-friendly cities in Africa, displays of affection outside of gay bars can still lead to trouble. Also, watch out for hustlers and don’t take any valuables with you if you can help it.
Sadly the infamous 2-level gay nightclub Lounge has closed, as has their men-only Red Bar, and there is only one gay nightclub left to explore. Visitors to Gay Durban tend to be more focused on the daytime fun-in-the-sun so there is no need to wait until Happy Hour to head to the bars – and many travelers here can be found drinking any time of day on sun-drenched rooftops or at chic cocktail bars. Sure they might not be exclusively gay, but they are gay-friendly and gay-popular so we have decided to include a few here as well.
Of course, Durban does get crazy wild, and what better way could there be to get to know the locals than in a Durban gay bar! Just don’t forget your common sense.
Gay Clubs & Bars in Durban
- 58 On Albany – A gay pub that has recently be renovated where you can hang with the local LGBT community in a no-frills environment. Come for a relaxed beer and stay for the friendly company you are bound to meet.
- Club Altitude – Durban’st new trendy cosmopolitan pub/nightclub for the anyone different and fabulous, home to Durban’s LGBTI Community. Seriously the only real gay venue in town, but luckily it is so, so much fun and offers something for everyone. Live entertainment, girls nights, old-school clubbing and fun campy drag show. Open 5 night’s a week, we loved dancing the night away in a friendly atmosphere where we could make friends and mingle with our global queer family.
- Bent – For 10 years, BENT has successfully filled a social niche in Durban’s lesbian and gay community by hosting fantastic parties at up-market venues once every few months. BENT now also hosts events for the lesbian and gay community in Johannesburg–Pretoria area once a month. BENT prides itself on providing friendly hospitality& customer satisfaction while encouraging gay men and women to socialize and network in a safe and secure environment. If you are lucky enough to be in Gay Durban during one of their events, it is an absolute must-try!
Other Nightlife Hotspots We Loved In Durban
- Lighthouse Bar @ Oyster Box Hotel – One of Umhlanga’s hottest spots boasting breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the iconic red and white Umhlanga lighthouse. The magnificent terrace combines 180-degree views of the coastline with live music perfect for sundowners, snacks or a light meal. Try the signature Apple Mint Cosmopolitan as you enjoy the refined atmosphere.
- Moyo on the Pier – A a uniquely Durban destination offering the perfect place in which to relax and watch the world go by. Cocktails at the Beach Bar, exquisite views of the Indian Ocean, tropical weather, exotic flavors, and soulful vibes – this is Africa at its laid-back best! The Pier offers guests a new look, a breezy atmosphere, and fantastic dreamy ocean views, making the Moyo pier the perfect casual African dining experience.
- Panorama Bar + Pool @ Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani – It’s hard to compete with the views, but this trendy hotspot is a talking point all of its own. Heated pool, cocktails and a menu perfect for sharing or savoring – perfect for a planned meeting or casual mingling any time of day. The cocktail menu is a colorful and flavourful mix of classics mojitos and negronis as well as reinvented long drinks like the tall tanq or the whiskyjinja that highlights premium spirits and mixers. Let the bar mixologists recommend something special.
- The Chairman – A sophisticated world-class jazz bar that stimulates the imagination and bends all rules and inventions. Architecturally stimulating filled with people from all walks of life coming for divine cocktails, live music, and inspired conversation. Our favorite drink: the Voodoo Child with kiwifruit, lemongrass, pineapple and blackcurrant vodka – the globe in a glass with stops in New Zealand, Shanghai, and Hawaii. We love it all!
- Beach Bums – Watch the waves and ocean glow while sitting on the shore with your feet in the sand, sipping perfectly mixed cocktails and enjoying some of Durban’s fun cuisine seaside. Beach Bums is set right on the shores of Casuarina Beach, located on the M4 Ocean Road between Durban and Ballito. There is an idyllic array of indoor and outdoor seating options available and a great place for friends or couples to relax with live music, weekly events and easy afternoons of beer and chilled vibes.
- Unity Brasserie – A animated brasserie drawing in younger crowds, with fun craft beers and sustainably sourced comfort food. Relaxed, flavourful and focused on cutting their carbon footprint, Unity strives to introduce locals and visitors alike to the quality of local produce and their own locally-brewed beer. Simply put, they like to serve great chow and good beer.
- Absolute – Redefining velvet rope laid back exclusivity, Absolute positions itself as the flagship for all things fabulous in Durban’s high-end party scene. The drinks, the dance, DJs, and the special events all make for a night at Absolute unlike any other.
- Tiger Tiger – Blending sophistication with excitement in a contemporary setting, this megaclub in Durban features eight stylish bars, 2 stellar dance floors, and a state-of-the-art sound system. Core to it all is a modern and ultra-sophisticated design makes Tiger Tiger a favorite destination for party-goers of all ages and sexualities who come for the themed parties, competitions, giveaways and drinks specials, Not a known gay-hotspot, but still wild fun and you never know who you will meet here …
Cruising, Gay Saunas & Bath Houses in Durban
Even though Durban is a wildly popular gay vacation destination there are no gay saunas in Durban – likely because South Africa’s homophobia was a colonial import, but the glorious European gay sauna scenes like in London and Amsterdam that came later somehow seem to have been left behind. You won’t find any in Port Elizabeth either, but in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria there are a few steamy options.
- Cine-X – A gay-friendly adult entertainment store with a full range of DVDs and toys. There are 4 cinemas (2 gay), dark rooms, discreet cruising, and a guarded car park. Naked nights and other events advertised via their Twitter.
- Club Altitude – Hosted a ‘Gentlemans Night’ every Tuesday from 8.30 pm with cash bars, lounge areas, and a break-away area. Do as little or as much as you are comfortable with. Towels are provided, its discreet, upmarket and fun, and what happens here stay here.
- Durban View Guest House -Stay at this modern, comfortable, gay guest house situated in the hub of Durban’s trendy gay area with sweeping city and sea views. With a fabulous rooftop spa pool, cute guys and plenty of common areas to mingle – there is the potential for some very classy fun here. Plus you can always ask owners Llewellyn and Dave for further help should you need it.