Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s 5th largest city, might not have a large gay scene – but there are plenty of other attractions here, chiefly gorgeous beaches, proximity to safari parks and a city center that is slowly becoming trendy again thanks to a few urban regeneration projects.
Known as the friendly city – Port Elizabeth attracts more families than circuit queens but considering the laid-back vibes and warm welcome we received here we felt like we had stumbled upon a bit of a hidden gem. Dolphin spotting one day, hikes through grand safari parks the next with evenings filled with casual conversations over beers – before hitting up one of the cities only gay bars – Port Elizabeth boast an outstanding quality of life which we quickly fell in love with.
However, don’t expect to find a rainbow-flag covered queer villages like Taipei, Seville, Chicago or even nearby Cape Town – and be aware that while you might not experience any discrimination that does not mean life is easy for LGBT people in South Africa…
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 traveler in urban areas – and particularly in friendly Port Elizabeth – 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 isn’t a critical need for hate crimes laws here as the local LGBT community still faces high levels of violence.
Theirs is no magic solution and a change in public perceptions is a process that will take some time. Much like in Pretoria and upscale part of Johannesburg in our travels through Port Elizabeth we found only accepting attitudes. Because of this, we feel comfortable recommending Port Elizabeth to gay travelers who wish to experience a rich diversity of people, cuisines, and languages, alongside pristine beaches and funky nightlife.
Gay Port Elizabeth Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In Port Elizabeth South Africa
In this article we will cover...
Attractions in Port Elizabeth
With moderate and warm temperatures all year round and only scattered rain throughout the year, you can bet there are going to be plenty of outdoor things to do in Port Elizabeth and fabulous events which take advance of the 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 Port Elizabeth. If you plan to get a lot done car hire in Port Elizabeth 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 Port Elizabeth 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 Port Elizabeth 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 sunny paradise that are sure to keep you busy!
Top Highlights in Port Elizabeth
- Addo Elephant National Park Safari – Learn about the biodiversity and unique ecosystem in Addo Elephant National Park on this fully guided tour from Port Elizabeth. Explore the only place in the world that hosts Africa’s “Big 7”: the Southern right whale, the great white shark, elephant, black rhino, leopard, lion, and buffalo with a guide’s expertise to teach you everything you ever wanted to know about these animals.
- Stanley Street – Home to South Africa’s newest blossoming food precinct, wander this historic area to find charming Victorian homes that have been restored and renovated into hip cocktail bars, designer boutiques, and fabulous eateries.
- Volkswagen Auto Pavilion – Come and see the cars of the past and the technology of the future. The AutoPavilion captures Volkswagen’s legacy with state-of-the-art technology. From cars that chronicle the past to an exciting look at the future, be taken on an epic expedition as you venture through the Place of Cars and Legends. If you are a cover lover, want to see the oldest kombi in South Africa, or just want to see one of only five automobile discovery centers in the world, this is the place to go!
- Dolphin and Seal Catamaran Cruise – Spend 3.5 hours on this scenic catamaran sightseeing cruise from Walvis Bay, where spotting seals, pelicans, dolphins, and other marine life is practically guaranteed. Float alongside friendly dolphins on this epic day cruise and check out Cape fur seals that congregate along the shores of Walvis Bay. Get an up-close look at local oyster beds where these gems of the sea are cultivated and harvested. Between July and August, the peak of whale season, travelers may even catch a glimpse of these giants of the sea. Tuck into a light snack as you cruise along the bay, and sample some of the famous oysters farmed right in the waters of Walvis. Top off the trip with a toast of bubbly while savoring a glass of sparkling wine.
- Sandboarding – South Africa may be known for its fantastic surfing, but there’s plenty of action to be had on the dunes as well. Meet your guide who will outfit you with equipment and teach you the basics of sandboarding (think snowboarding but on sand dunes). No experience is necessary and if you’re lucky, you can see whales and dolphins swimming in the bay.
- Kragga Kamma Safari – Wildlife viewing in the city has never been easier. Experience unforgettable wildlife viewing up close in a malaria-free environment. African animals roam freely like white rhino, giraffe, zebra, nyala, bontebok, impala and more with Cheetah in a separated enclosure. Memorable sightings guaranteed. Enhance your experience with an open vehicle safari game drive.
- SANCCOB – A registered non-profit organization whose primary objective is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled seabirds – especially endangered species like the African penguin. The organization works closely with colony managers to identify birds in need of care in the wild and bring them to one of their two centers in South Africa: Cape Town (Western Cape) and Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape). Head along to see their wonderful birds in tuxedos, to learn more about conservation and to support a worthy cause…
- Humewood Beach – You are spoilt for choice of beaches in Port Elizabeth, but we just loved Humewood Beach, South Africa’s oldest blue flag beach conveniently situated between Kings Beach and Hobie Beach along the main beachfront. Offering sheltered sunbathing, rock pools to explore, grass for picnicking and manned by lifeguards, this is always a popular choice.
- Port Elizabeth See-It-All Tour – Experience Port Elizabeth on this full-day tour, which includes stops at a local brewery and a township cultural experience. Follow a guide on a walking tour through the city center, stopping at highlights such as Donkin Reserve at Belmont Terrace, the old lighthouse, and Fort Frederick. Stop at a craft brewery for a beer tasting and have a meal with a local family in Walmer Township. If you only have one day in town, this is a good way to make sure you don’t miss any highlights…
- Grass Roof Farm – Something of a Port Elizabeth landmark thanks to its namesake feature: a pitched roof covered in grass and wildflowers! This wonderful eatery, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, promotes a healthy, organic lifestyle and the roof, designed by young and hip local architects, is a symbol of this. Located just a few kilometers from Sardinia Bay on the corner of Heron Road and the New Seaview Road
- The Garden Route From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town – Make the journey between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town a memorable one with this 5-day tour, which stops at all the important highlights and landmarks along the way. With navigation, transportation, and commentary provided by a guide, you’ll learn much more about the area and ensure you don’t miss any important sights. Stops include Jeffreys Bay, Sedgefield, Outdshoorn, and Cape Agulhas, with accommodation and some meals included. Or why not just hire a car and do it yourself?
- Nelson Mandela Bay Pride – Dust off those feather boas, patch those chaps, seek out your best glitter heels and boys – paint that eye-shadow for the gods honey -, yes if you are visiting Port Elizabeth in November you absolutely cannot miss Pride! With stalls, a parade, so much entertainment, and more sequined and fabulous pride outfits than you could shake a stick at, what’s not to love?
Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in Port Elizabeth
In this glorious beachside city, you will not find any major hotel accommodation that has any 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 Port Elizabeth 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 Port Elizabeth favored by gay travelers – although to be clear there are no exclusively gay hotels in Port Elizabeth sadly.
The following gay-friendly hotels in Port Elizabeth are only the most recommended, but there are hundreds of other hotels in Port Elizabeth 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 Port Elizabeth has something for everyone!
Gay-Popular Hotels in Port Elizabeth
- No 5 by Mantis ☆☆☆☆☆ – A showcase of authentic South African art and a masterpiece of comfort and opulence. No 5 has everything we could want for a fabulous gay hotel in Port Elizabeth, but to be clear – its popular with everyone: gay, straight and unicorn. The exclusive ten guest rooms here are complemented by a restaurant, fine dining cellar, whiskey and cigar lounge, boardroom, private cinema, Camelot Spa, gym and pool. This is seriously luxe accommodation and our go-to recommendation when travelers ask where to stay in Gay Port Elizabeth. It is insanely popular, so book as far ahead as possible if you don’t want to miss out!
- Radisson Blue Port Elizabeth ☆☆☆☆ – Discover the ocean on your doorstep at this seriously stunning hotel situated just 300 meters from the beautiful Blue Flag beaches. Chic décor is found through its 173 stylish rooms and suites and if it is important, you can keep up with your fitness routine in our gym, or head to the Amani Spa to unwind with a milk bath and a algae body wrap. Personally, we recommend just lying in the outdoor pool and gazing out to the Indian Ocean. Sometimes the simplest things are the best….
- The Boardwalk Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – A unique entertainment, dining and conference venue famous for being the only licensed casino in Port Elizabeth. The Boardwalk Casino offers 24-hour entertainment with a tempting variety of sidewalk restaurants and bars and spectacular views of the multimedia musical fountain. A sprawling complex with classic rooms, ocean views, included breakfast, spa, gym and 2 pools. Personally, it’s not our favorite place to stay, but if you want to be at the centre of it all and can’t seem to keep still – It’s a fabulous option!
- First Avenue Guesthouse ☆☆☆☆ – A dreamy bed and breakfast style lodge situated in Port Elizabeth’s elite beachfront suburb of Summerstrand. Gay-friendly and offering a selection of elegant and tastefully decorated guest rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and complimentary toiletries suitable for both corporate and casual travellers. Each guest room also has access to the swimming pool, garden and dining area. To seal the deal there is secure off-street parking (if you are hiring a car), and a fresh breakfast buffet to get your day started off right in the dining room, which overlooks the tempting swimming pool.
- Belvedere Cottages ☆☆☆ -Located in popular Richmond Hill, these stylishly appointed cottages are self catering and offer affordable luxury to gays on a budget. Belvedere Cottages offer space, privacy and home comforts and are serviced six days a week with a light service on Sundays. Each cottage has a fully equipped kitchen and dining area and a comfortable lounge. Gay-owned and gay-popular, though by no means exclusive this is a fabulous accommodation option in the heart of Port Elizabeth
- Lungile Backpackers ☆☆☆ – Lungile means “all ’s good” in the native isixhosa language so, come shack-up at this fun hostel for your stay in the friendly city and create your own adventure! Sure, its not a glamourous hotel – but if you are travelling solo, want to make some friends, save money and be only a five minute walk from the beach, restaurants, beach bars, boardwalk and booming nightlife this is a great option!
Nightlife in Port Elizabeth
Sadly the nightlife scene in Port Elizabeth 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 Port Elizabeth might be one of the most gay-friendly cities in Africa, displays of affection outside of the two gay bars could still lead to trouble. Visitors to Gay Port Elizabeth tend to be more focused on the daytime fun-in-the-sun and can frequently be spotted day drinking – either by the pool or at the beach. Its always past midday somewhere, right?
Many venues here are gay-friendly more than gay-popular, but we loved them and are including them anyway. Forget the laid-back facade, a crazy night out in Port Elizabeth is not hard to come by – and what better way could there be to get to know the locals than in a Port Elizabeth gay bar!
Just don’t forget your common sense.
Gay Clubs & Bars in Port Elizabeth
- Aqua – The only gay club in Port Elizabeth pumping out fun Top 100 music and nothing but good vibes. Aqua can always be counted on for frivolous fun, great music and to draw in fascinating people from all walks of life. Their decor is upmarket chic and Aqua always goes the extra miles for their neon and foam parties- plus lookout for their one-off events. Drinks are reasonably priced for South Africa and there is frequently tempting drink specials to really get the party started. Bar staff are friendly, as is the crowd, with an ‘everyone who wants to have a good time is welcome’ attitude.
- Cheers Lounge – A fun gay venue perfect for meeting new people and just relax with an affordable drink…or two. Its nothing fancy, and rather small, but Cheers Lounge provides a safe queer space with hot (shirtless) bartenders, drag queens and camp music galore. We loved every inch of this place, however, and hope you will too!
Other Nightlife Hotspots We Loved In Port Elizabeth
- For The Love Of Wine – A funky wine shop that during the evening turns into a happening bar with a fine selection of South African wine – plus a few international bottles to mix it up. A place to enjoy wine as the art of winemaking intends it.
- Bridge Street Micro Brewery – The first craft beer brewer in Port Elizabeth located on the banks of the Baakens Valley. Serving delicious local craft beer and classic pub food, including hand-rolled artisanal pizzas and quality burgers. Superb service, the vibes, the music, the lightening – everything is perfect here, which is probably why it is so damn popular. Expect waits at peak times, and crowds of locals from all walks of life. Not to be missed!
- Roof Garden Bar – A laidback environment with a beautiful view of the city. The name says it all really, perfect for cold beers at sunset and chilled beers with friends.
- Beer Yard – Craft beer without any of the pretentiousness! Pop in to enjoy a cold one any day of the week on the deck or in the garden with fun canvas tent roofs that remind us of Arabian nights in Abu Dhabi or Doha. Expect a relaxed and homey atmosphere, welcoming service, inspired pub food, and great conversation.
- Barneys Tavern – Promising good fun, good fun and great service we love this landmark restaurant and bar for its fun parties and entertainment 7 nights a week. Located on absolute beachfront there is nothing better than enjoy a divine cocktail looking over the ocean here, but be wary during the holiday seasons as overcrowded is common and it is difficult to find seating outside. The secret is out about Barneys Tavern, but the fantastic ambiance and welcoming-to-all atmosphere remain the same.
Cruising And Gay Saunas In Port Elizabeth
Sadly as of 2018, there is no gay sauna in Port Elizabeth. The days where gay men could only meet up in steamy saunas at night are long gone – and most guys in South Africa now chose to use popular gay hook-up apps or head to the bars!
If you’re thinking about hiring a car, the nearest gay sauna in South Africa is now around 8 hours away in Cape Town, or 11 in Jo’burg and Pretoria. Sadly, Durban is also lacking hot and heavy hook up facilities.
There are a few gay cruising spots in Port Elizabeth, which we cannot recommend at all for unfamiliar tourists. If you are desperate the Secrets Nudist Beach (also known as Noordhoek Beach) can be fun, but we really just recommend you stay with the bars, clubs, and apps.