Why South Africa Reigns as the Ultimate LGBTQ Adventure

by Darian Aaron

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday August 15, 2021
Originally published on June 23, 2021

If you've ever dismissed the idea of visiting South Africa on vacation because you assumed that safari was the main attraction or the continent was incapable of meeting western expectations of luxury and opulence, then pack your bags and get ready to have your mind blown.

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, Inc., has earned his reputation for transforming tourists who have never considered vacationing in Africa into raving fans. A leading figure in the African travel industry, Banda, along with a team of LGBTQ professionals in both Africa and the U.S., has been creating unique African experiences for decades while delighting in the surprise of clients seeing Africa for the first time through a new lens.

"Picture: The Four Seasons in The Bush. Picture: The Ritz Carlton, but on steroids," says Banda.

"If we're going to speak about luxury being defined by price and opulence, why do you think Africa was colonized? Because of what it represents and offers," he says.

After Johannesburg, Cape Town (the country's second-most populous city) is considered by many to be Africa's queer capital, having safeguarded sexual orientation as a human right in its Constitution in 1994 and legalizing marriage equality in 2006, years before full equality was granted to LGBTQ Americans.

"When people think of inclusivity, the context is America, but that inclusivity, legislatively, was only recognized recently compared to what has been discovered in South Africa," says Banda.

It's one reason he promotes travel to South Africa for LGBTQ tourists as a must-visit travel destination, not only for the beauty and one-of-a-kind experiences the city offers but for the freedom and safety that LGBTQ tourists experience.

"It [South Africa] has the sensitivities that we need and the security that we need to feel validated and safe," says Banda.

"When I talk about safety, I'm not only thinking of safety in the conventional sense of whether it's safe from violence. I'm also including it as a safe destination to be seen and validated," he says.

Banda, a Los Angeles-based South African native who shares a home with his husband and son, is committed to ensuring the validation of his LGBTQ clients begins before they even set foot on the continent.

"We ask very specific questions, such as pronouns preference in terms of accommodation. And all of our team members are trained on how to anticipate and fulfill the needs of our LGBTQ community," says Banda, who insists it is essential when customizing experiences based on the travel style and interests of the traveler.

All of which culminates in a once-in-a-lifetime experience that LGBTQ travelers, whether experienced or novice, will cherish for the rest of their lives.

A Life-Changing Experience

According to global statistics shared by Banda, "the amount of people who travel to Africa is less than 10% compared to places like Europe and Australia." That number is poised to increase once tourists discover the magic of Cape Town or a trip to the Winelands — "Picture Sonoma and Napa Valley and multiply that by four," says Banda. And no visit to South Africa is complete without a trek to the iconic Table Mountain, named after its flat-top topography.

"When you are going up Table Mountain, you are going in a cable car from the foot of the mountain to the top," says Banda. "And the cable car turns multiple times in 360 revolutions, so you have a bird's-eye view of the entire peninsula as you ascend Table Mountain."

Seal Island, a large seal colony off the shores of Cape Town, is also a draw for admirers of the mammal and is ground zero for shark sightings as seals are their primary food source.

And then there is the rich history of Robben Island, where the late political activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned before the fall of apartheid, which Banda describes as a "pivotal part" of the South African story.

Banda says tourists can also "opt to visit local villages in the surrounding area, or just choose to lie at the pool or shop or do the arts scene in Cape Town," all of which is carefully curated by Banda's team in America and on the ground in South Africa. It's one of two experiences that he and his team at African Travel Inc. guarantee each client. The second experience: an awakening.

"Most people who come back say, 'I was completely transformed. I went to Africa perhaps for the wildlife, but I will definitely return because of its people,'" says Banda.

"There's a heart-to-heart connection that happens when you are there. And most people who have been to Africa will tell you that it is the one place that they believe is the journey of a lifetime."

Darian Aaron is Editor-At-Large of The Reckoning, a Counter Narrative Project digital publication covering Atlanta's Black LGBTQ+ community. He is also the creator of Living Out Loud 2.0 and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.