Top Tips for Gay and Lesbian Travel to Africa

Top Tips for Safe LGBT Travel to Africa
Couple on the Beach, Cape Town.  Roger Richter/ Getty Images

The African continent offers a plethora of rewarding travel destinations for people of any sexual orientation. Unfortunately, however, gay and lesbian travelers need to do a little extra research before planning their trip, because homosexuality is still considered a criminal offense in some African countries while in others it can even be punishable by death.

Where is Being Gay Illegal?

The first step to a safe vacation in Africa is to research your chosen destination carefully. You need to find out the laws regarding homosexuality – and whether or not they are enforced. Homosexuality is illegal in the following countries:

  • Algeria
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • Comoros
  • Egypt (although homosexuality is not officially illegal, LGBTI persons and allies are often detained or imprisoned on "debauchery" charges)
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia
  • Ghana (men only)
  • Guinea
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Malawi
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius (men only)
  • Morocco
  • Namibia (men only)
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone (men only)
  • Somalia
  • Somaliland
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Swaziland (men only)
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe (men only)

If you are convicted, punishment ranges from minor fines to life imprisonment (Gambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Sierra Leone – although this is rarely enforced in the latter country). This map gives more information about anti-gay laws and penalties.

Where is Being Gay Punishable by Death?

Homosexuality may carry the death penalty in the following African countries:

  • Mauritania
  • Nigeria (in the following Sharia law states only: Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara)
  • Somalia
  • Somaliland
  • Sudan

South Africa: An LGBTI Haven

For many LGBTI travelers, South Africa is the ultimate hassle-free destination. It is the only country on the continent to recognize same-sex marriage, and the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Cape Town in particular has a reputation for open-mindedness, with many gay-friendly bars, restaurants and hotels scattered throughout the city. There is more to South Africa than sexual tolerance, however. It's also a magnificent destination in its own right, blessed with cosmopolitan cities, rich culture and an astounding variety of breathtaking natural spaces. 

Tips for Safe LGBTI Travel to Africa

It is worth remembering that regardless of your sexual orientation, African culture is generally conservative (especially in Islamic countries). Public displays of affection between straight or gay couples are often considered offensive, and although hand-holding between male friends is perhaps more common than in Western culture, the safest course of action is simply to be discreet. As long as you're willing to avoid public displays of affection, there's no reason that gay and lesbian travelers cannot travel safely, even to countries with laws against homosexuality.

There are many online forums where travelers can meet members of the local LGBTI community ahead of their arrival. This can be a useful resource, giving you a realistic insight into what life is really like for gays and lesbians in your chosen country as well as valuable information about the best gay-friendly hotels, bars, restaurants and tour agencies. However, be careful about meeting up with strangers; especially in poorer countries, scams are common and you could end up getting robbed or worse. 

HIV is prevalent throughout Africa, and all visitors, whether they're straight or gay, should make sure to practice safe sex. 

Gay and Lesbian Tours to Africa

If the idea of traveling independently seems daunting, consider booking a tour through an LGBTI-friendly Africa travel agent. Heritage Tours pride themselves on their tolerance policy which embraces all races, religions and sexual orientations. They specialize in customized itineraries to several destinations throughout Southern and East Africa. Alternatively, the CEO of Rhino Africa is the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association's Ambassador to South Africa. His company has a specific sub-division, Out2Africa, that offers luxury gay and lesbian-friendly itineraries to more than 20 African countries. 

OUT Adventures is another excellent company that specializes in gay tours and cruises all over the world, including itineraries to Morocco, Kenya and South Africa. The Moroccan and Kenyan itineraries are especially worthwhile for those that want to experience the magic of North or East Africa without persecution. Although laws in both countries prohibit homosexuality, OUT Adventures have the in-country experience needed to ensure that your experience there is both pleasant and safe. 

Resources for LGBTI Travelers

Whether you decide to travel on your own or with an organized tour, there are several websites worth checking out before your departure. The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) is a comprehensive one-stop shop for information about LGBTI travel to every continent, including Africa. Listed African destinations range from Tanzania and Uganda to Mauritius, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles. Similarly, the GlobalGayz website offers a valuable archive of travel articles, news stories and personal experiences connected to gay travel in every African country. 

If you're headed to Cape Town (widely recognized as the most gay-friendly city on the African continent), check out the Gay Cape Town Guide for information about the best beaches, bars and hotels the Mother City has to offer.