Gay Vacations in Africa and the Middle East

Africa and the Middle East Highlights

  • Don’t mistake same-sex affection for homosexuality. Especially in Islamic countries where the sexes are segregated before marriage, heterosexual males may be seen walking hand in hand or embracing.
  • Be discreet. Even though some cultures in the region may seem open to gays, public displays of affection still may get you into trouble.
  • Join a gay travel group for your first taste of the region. Traveling on your own in Africa and the Middle East can be trying for the uninitiated, and meeting gay people on your own can be a challenge as well.
  • Don’t be put off by gift-giving. In most cultures in the region, it's customary to give small cash gifts (a dollar or two usually) to people who help you along the way—be they hospitality workers, guides, or friendly strangers. Think of it as tipping for unexpected services.
  • Prices in French-speaking Africa are highest. The African franc (CFA, pronounced "seefa") is a common currency used in nearly all the former French colonies in Africa, where prices can be considerably more than in non-French speaking countries.

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From camel treks to wildlife safaris to jungle lodges, for a true gay travel adventure, Africa and the Middle East can’t be beat. Africa is the last frontier of modern travel, and the vast continent has incredibly varied geography and cultures. Northern Africa is sandwiched between Mediterranean history and the arid Sahara. The western part of the continent is filled with rich tribal arts and cultures, while eastern Africa boasts the great herds of the Serengeti and a hybrid Arab-African history. Central Africa is thick with deep rainforests and mountains, and the Kalahari Desert and the modern world of South Africa round out the southern tip of the continent. Most of the Middle East is more accessible for gay travel than people think, and it offers desert adventures, excellent scuba diving, shopping, and historical sightseeing.

This vast region has a more modern tourism infrastructure than most Americans realize, and despite its anti-gay reputation, most LGBT travel is hassle-free. More and more companies are organizing gay travel in the region, making it easily accessible for first-timers.

Attitudes towards gays in Africa and the Middle East are slowly changing, and gay scenes are unique in each country. Lebanon, and especially Israel, have thriving scenes that resemble the larger gay scene in Europe. In North Africa, and particularly Morocco, a de facto homosexual culture exists—if not exactly out in the open. And non-Muslim African countries south of the Sahara are a bit more accepting of gays than others.

When planning gay travel to this region, it's important to know that homosexuality is illegal in almost every African and Arab country, and gays have been imprisoned in such modern-looking nations as Egypt and Dubai. The sexually segregated nature of many African and Middle Eastern cultures makes it even more difficult for women to meet other women. But many of these nations’ local gays and lesbians have organized rights groups in retaliation, and even countries like Somalia now have queer organizations.

For gay travel with a Western-style scene, head to South Africa. As the first country in the region to legalize gay rights and gay marriage, South Africa has a huge scene, centered in Cape Town, with gay bars, beaches and parties.


Published: 17 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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