In our gay guide to Johannesburg, we're sharing the best of the best of the gay scene, safe places to stay and top things to do.
“Guys don't go to Johannesburg…you'll get mugged or shot at!”
…so said many of our friends across our social media channels. We touched down at Tambo airport feeling quite tentative about our trip here. But as with many big cities we've been to on our travels with big “warning signs” from fellow travelers (Rio, Delhi, Buenos Aires, to name a few), we were absolutely fine.
Jo'burg is like any big major city. Of course, it has its problems, and you should avoid certain areas, lock up your valuables in your hotel room's safe, and keep your phone in your pocket out of harm's reach. But with basic common sense, your trip will be worry-free. This was our experience, despite being on our guard from the moment we arrived.
Johannesburg is a fascinating city to explore, and a complete contrast to Cape Town. It's gritty, edgy, raw, tough, full of green spaces, and has the most welcoming, friendly people you'll meet. It even has a small but exciting gay scene. As the largest city and financial hub of South Africa, this is where it all happened – from the Gold Rush to the trials and tribulations of Nelson Mandela, who lived a large chunk of his life here.
Oh Jozi, Jozi – you got us good! We arrived feeling skeptical but left with an insatiable desire to return to delve deeper.
Heads up: We just wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links. That means if you book something through one of those links, we'll get a small commission, at no extra cost to you. It helps us keep our blog going – so thank you in advance for your support! ♥
A unique souvenir from South Africa…
Your own tailor-made bomber jacket by Caraci Clothing – this is THE best souvenir from our South Africa trip. First, we selected the material in one of the bustling downtown markets, then we watched the Caraci team hand-make it from scratch after taking our measurements. Absolutely EPIC!
Is Johannesburg safe for gay travelers?
When it comes to overall safety in Johannesburg, the same applies to everybody whether you're straight or gay. Johannesburg is not the safest city in the world but if you stick to the touristy areas, you'll be fine.
There are parts of the city we were advised to avoid, particularly the townships unless visiting as part of a guided tour. We were also advised to be cautious when walking around in the Central Business District (CBD) area because it is notorious for petty theft, particularly for those of us (ahem!) who have a habit of walking around with our heads in our iPhones, narrowly dodging lampposts…
As a safety precaution, we advise taking a taxi from your hotel to restaurants, bars, and tourist places you're intending to visit and leaving anything valuable at your hotel. We followed all these safety precautions and were absolutely fine on our trip.
As gay tourists, we found Johannesburg to be gay friendly. However, the city has a reputation for violence which affects straight or gay.
Johannesburg and Cape Town are two main gay hubs of South Africa, a country we rated to be one of the most gay friendly countries in the world. It famously became the 5th country in the world to legalize gay marriage back in 2006, the first in all of Africa. Johannesburg has a large queer community living happily across the city with several LGBTQ hangouts.
Where is the gay area in Johannesburg?
Melville and Illovo are the gayest parts of Johannesburg where the bulk of the city's gay nightlife can be found including gay hangouts like Babylon, Ratz Bar, Beefcakes, and Liquid Blue.
Both Melville and Illovo are located in the northern end of Johannesburg, which is around a 15/20 minute cab ride from downtown (or the CBD – Central Business District) subject to traffic. We also found Rosebank to be very safe and popular with travelers – located in the north of the city, just southwest of Illovo. The hotels we recommend in our guide are based in Rosebank and Melville.
There are a few other gay places spread out across the city – Kitchener's in the central area of Braamfontein. People Like Us Pub and the Gay Club SA are in the Eastern suburb of Boksburg (which is around a 30-45 minute cab ride from Melville/Illovo).
Where to stay in Johannesburg?
Rosebank and Melville were the main places that were recommended to us. They are both very safe areas of the city, a short cab ride to downtown, and close to the main gay bars of Johannesburg. Checking into a hotel in Johannesburg was never a problem for us and we always felt welcomed, in particular at these hotels:
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Home Suite Hotels Rosebank
In a nutshell
- Well located in the safe Rosebank neighborhood
- Rooftop bar and pool
- Super spacious rooms with very large beds
- Delicious and bountiful breakfast
Splashing about on the rooftop pool and sipping on a few cocktails at sunset was our favorite takeaway memory of our stay here. Home Suite Hotels Rosebank is a safe bet if you're looking for a well-located, classy, chic and gay friendly hotel in Johannesburg.
The rooms at Home Suite Hotels are just beautiful – loads of space and modern. The extra-length king-sized bed made us very happy – Seby sure likes to spread out forcing me to almost topple over the edge in most beds…not so here! The staff are very friendly here, some of them openly gay as well. Home Suite Hotels is renowned as a gay friendly brand in South Africa (with 3 sister hotels in Cape Town). We sure felt this staying here!
Breakfast is another treat. It's a generous Full English – well cooked and delicious, with great coffee for me, and lots of unhealthy pastries for our greedy Frenchman.
Prices at Home Suite Hotels Rosebank start from $119 per night:
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check-in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.
Pablo House in Melville
In a nutshell
- Excellent gay friendly medium budget hotel in Melville
- Stunning views overlooking the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
- Beautiful pool with cabanas
- Excellent Egg-Go-Bar and Bloody Marys for breakfast
Ever heard of the South African bluesy rock band, Shadow Club? Their bassist, Louix Roux famously set up this gorgeous hotel. It has the most unique location ever, on a steep ridge at the highest point of Melville overlooking the Koppies Nature Reserve…those views!
Pablo House is one of the most popular gay friendly hotels in Johannesburg to stay in, recommended by almost every one of our gay friends here. There are 6 rooms to book to stay at Pablo House, each one uniquely decorated in a luxurious and contemporary style. Soft white cotton linen and bamboo memory foam mattresses – yes, please!
It's super famous for its Pablo Egg-Go-Bar for breakfast, coffee, and Bloody Marys(!), as well as the pizzas at the Pablo Dos Manos restaurant. And did we mention their pool? It's secluded, located down a staircase that weaves across the ridge with some impressive vistas that stretch north to the Magaliesberg Mountain range.
Prices at Pablo House start from $76 per night:
Radisson RED Hotel Rosebank
In a nutshell
- Reasonably priced gay friendly hotel in Rosebank
- Large hotel with a choice of 222 rooms
- Well-equipped 24-hour gym
- Rooftop terrace, pool, bar, and restaurant
Radisson RED was another lush gay friendly hotel recommended to us by LGBTQ locals in Johannesburg for gay travelers who want to be based in Rosebank. It's very reasonably priced, set in a peaceful, safe area on a pretty tree-lined street.
The Radisson RED is massive. There are no fewer than 222 rooms to book, each one spacious, modern, and pretty sleek! The bonus for guests staying at the Radisson RED is the rooftop pool, restaurant, terrace, and well-equipped 24-hour gym for buff queens who want to pump their biceps up before heading out into gay Jo'Burg.
Location-wise, the Radisson RED is around 15 minutes walk from the Rosebank Mall. They offer a complimentary shuttle for guests to/from the Mall. The Radisson RED is also a short cab ride to the gay bars in Melville and Illovo.
Prices at Radisson RED Hotel start from $104 per night:
Gay bars in Johannesburg
There are several gay bars in Johannesburg, mainly in Melville and Illovo, which is handy if you're basing yourself in this northern region of the city. If you're prepared to venture further out, Boksburg has a few queer places worth checking out, as well as the central area of Braamfontein.
Heads up, please note that the iconic Great Dane gay bar in Braamfontein permanently closed its doors for good in 2023.
Ratz is a super cute gay bar in Johannesburg located in Melville. As one of the oldest gay bars in the city, it is legendary in its own right. It has a strong 1980s theme, which was right up our alley. From the classic rock ballads to Whitney and Madonna's super hits, we were in heaven here! Look out for their daily themed special cocktail – always a delight. Overall, a great little gay bar for pre-drinks before heading to dance the hours away in Jozi.
Opening Hours: Ratz Bar is open daily from 4pm until 2am
Location: It's located at 9 7th Street, Melville
Liquid Blue in Melville
Liquid Blue is another gay bar located along 7th Street, just down the road from Ratz. Officially, Liquid Blue is not a gay bar, but it's become so prominent in the LGBTQ community that it's established itself firmly in the heart and soul of the gay scene of Johannesburg, particularly among the POC LGBT community. Thursdays get pretty busy here with students and young guys. On weekends you'll want to get here early, before 11pm, otherwise, it's a long queue for entry!
Opening Hours: Liquid Blue is open daily until around 3am
Location: You can find it at 8 7th Street, Melville
Beefcakes in Illovo
Beefcakes is the iconic gay resto/bar of South Africa. There's one in Cape Town's De Waterkant and one here in Illovo. Handsome topless beefy waiters welcome you and flirt(!) with you as you head to your table, grab a burger, drinks, and enjoy the show of hot exotic dancers and hilarious drag queens leading events like “Flamingo Bingo”. The only downside is that Beefcakes is heavily marketed to hen and bachelorette parties, so be prepared to be a minority in a sea of cackling drunk Sharons and Karens…
Opening Hours: Beefcakes is open Thursday to Saturday from 3pm (6pm on Saturdays) until 11pm/midnight
Location: It's located at 198 Oxford Street, Illovo
People Like Us Pub in Boksburg
The advantage of basing yourself in Boksburg (a suburb in East Johannesburg) is that you're very close to the Tambo international airport as well as to the People Like Us Pub. The only downside is that it is far from everything else – around a 30/45 minute cab ride from Melville/Illovo, and central downtown Joburg. PLU is a very fun and intimate gay bar. It's buzzing without feeling hectic. The crowd is mixed – everyone is welcome regardless of gender or color.
Opening Hours: People Like Us Pub is open daily from 6pm until 2am
Location: It's located at 343 Kingfisher Avenue, Sunward Park
Kitchener's Carvery Bar in Braamfontein
Kitchener's is proud of its title as “Johannesburg's second oldest bar”. For us, it's become synonymous with the gay community thanks to its themed parties, the most popular being the monthly “Pussy Party”. One for the ladies, but thanks to nights like this, Kitchener's has established itself as being a very queer-friendly space. Wednesday nights are popular with students when they enter for free. Weekends are driven towards a predominantly adult audience with a strict “no guys under 23” policy!
Opening Hours: Kitchener's Carvery Bar is open daily from 11 am until 4 am (until 2 am on Wednesdays and midnight on Sundays)
Location: It's located at the corner of Juta and De Beer Streets in Braamfontein
Gay clubs in Johannesburg
There are several gay clubs in Joburg dotted around the city. In terms of the main gay area we've described (around Melville and Illovo), Babylon is the main gay club to check out. Otherwise, you'll need to factor in a taxi ride to places like Boksburg, Newtown, and even New Doornfontein.
Babylon in Illovo
Boys boys boys… and their chasers will wanna be heading out to Babylon. This is Joburg's most popular gay bar with the kids (particularly the white LGBTQ community). As you enter, trendy, chic, and playful is the theme! Flat-screen TVs play what they describe to be “Babylon’s signature mix of naughty imagery!” We'll leave you to discover what that entails… Drag shows and exotic dancers in abundance here, overall a fun gay night out in Jozi.
Opening Hours: Babylon is only open Friday and Saturday evenings from 8pm until 6am the next day
Location: It's located at 198 Oxford Road, Illovo
Therapy at various venues
Therapy is one of the most exciting gay parties happening every few weeks at various different locations across Johannesburg, mainly in Rosebank. Therapy parties are a pretty big deal when they happen, usually attracting a celeb or two. Themed nights in the past have included “Dirty Twist”, “Urban Angels Party”, and “Hot XXX Buns”. In terms of music, DJs focus on underground house and dance music, with a few pop classics thrown in for people like me and Seby. Check their FB page for details of the next party.
Opening Hours: Therapy parties are usually held on the weekend, from around 8pm until 4am the next day
Location: Since the locations change, check the details for each one
The Gay Club SA in Boksburg
The Gay Club SA is the flagship gay hangout over in Boksburg, where you can also find the People Like Us Pub. Pop camp rules the school here with a glorious mix of everyone under the LGBTQIA umbrella gathering every weekend to drink and dance. Cocktails are also a treat here, with a special themed one to try out each night. A heads up from us – as far as gay clubs go though be warned that Gay Club is only open until midnight.
Opening Hours: The Gay Club SA is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings from 8pm until midnight
Location: It's located at North Rand Road & Gibb Road, Boksburg
The Third Place in Newtown
Located around 10/15 minutes drive south of Melville and Illovo, The Third Place is a popular choice for a gay night out in Johannesburg, especially for gays in their 20s. It's quite hard to find it both online and offline though! It's hidden down a cobbled backstreet on the edge of Newtown with absolutely no signage. Took us 3 attempts and several friendly taxi drivers to find it. Online there's no social media or website – just a bare GoogleMap listing. So you'll just have to trust us!
Opening Hours: The Third Place is open Wednesday to Sunday from midday until midnight
Location: It's located at 39 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, Newtown
Tennis Club in New Doornfontein
The Tennis Club is a cool venue in the Ellis Park Indoor Arena Complex. It's not a gay club but attracts a large queer crowd, and when we say queer crowd, we mean the in-your-face crop-top wearing tight shorts crowd! They sometimes host gay nights such as a Drag Ball, which are not to be missed! Check their website and FB page for full details of the next event.
Opening Hours: The Tennis Club is open only on Friday evenings from 8pm until 3am
Location: It's located at the corner of Bertram and Miller Streets in New Doornfontein
Gay saunas and gay cruising in Johannesburg
There are a few places to go in Johannesburg to let off some steam and get wrecked! So much so that they've even named a gay sauna after the word…
The Rec Room in Randburg
The Rec Room is Joburg's leading gay sauna, located over in Randburg. Inside this playground for gay guys, you'll find a steam room, bar, showers, video lounge, Jacuzzi, cabins, maze areas, and oh-so-much more! The Rec Room is located at Shop No 1, Phoenix Centre Malibongwe Drive & Tungsten Drive Union Tiles Complex, Ferndale in Randburg. It is open daily from midday till midnight (7am on weekends).
The Factory in New Doornfontein
When it comes to gay cruising in Johannesburg, it's probably best (and safer!) to keep it indoors. The Factory is your friend. A buffet of fun for the gay boys – strictly men only to get in here! Check out their Twitter for more racy content shared by their gorgeous community. Themed nights include events like “Incognito” and “Balaclava and Boots”! The Factory is located at 6 6th Street in Doornfontein. It is open daily from midday till 3am (6am on Thursdays to Sundays).
Gay events in Johannesburg
The bulk of the gay events in Johannesburg happens in October during the country's official Pride Month. Whilst international Pride day in June is still celebrated in Johannesburg, more focus is put on Pride Month in October.
Johannesburg Pride (October)
Johannesburg Pride is not only the country's largest gay Pride event but the biggest on the entire African continent! It takes place during the official South African Pride Month in October to honor the first South African pride parade, which was held on 13 October 1990 at a time when the Apartheid era was coming to a welcome end. It's so important that it's earned the rightful nickname of “The Pride of Africa”. For the latest info check out the Johannesburg Pride Facebook page.
Rocking the Daisies (October)
Whilst not a gay event, the Rocking the Daisies music festival is like the South African version of Coachella. It attracts a large queer crowd who come to soak up the festival atmosphere. It takes place over 4 days in early/mid-October. They attract a range of prominent local acts to perform here each year along with some international names like Clean Bandit.
Our favorite restaurants in Johannesburg
When it comes to eating out in Joburg we were spoilt. There are some excellent restaurants, which are really reasonably priced. The most surprising discovery was Ethiopian food, which is popular across South Africa. Here are a few of our favorites we tried and loved:
Marble restaurant celebrates the quintessential South African tradition of cooking on a fire. Or as they put it, “not just a plate of food, but a theatre of experience”…a phrase I'm going to borrow in my everyday vernacular! Everything is cooked on coal: meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, and bread. It's super tasty. Marble is also renowned for its views over Joburg – it's located in Rosebank on a hill, which makes it a top spot to show off on your Grindr date!
Ms. Tina got nothing on us. She be hitting up this joint with a few beers and a steak! Proud Mary is another gem in Rosebank, so super handy if you're based here for your trip. It's vegan friendly (a rarity in South Africa which is very meat-heavy in its cuisine), but just as famous for its steaks – from tomahawk to wagyu beef. Cocktails are also tasty here and the staff are super welcoming, which creates a really warm vibe. Oh and the space? It's big – no claustrophobia issues here!
Signature is located in the suburb of Morningside in northern Joburg. It's a little far out, but very leafy/residential, and safe. Signature is one of the most highly-rated restaurants in the area. It's famous for its views, food, and wine. Each plate is show-stopping – a melody to the palate! They specialize in fine dining, with a range of sushi, seafood, fish, and signature dishes like Ostrich Fillet, Beef Tornado, and Paradise Fillet. A few excellent vegetarian options are also on offer.
Top things to do in Johannesburg
The first thing we wanted to do in Johannesburg was to visit Nelson Mandela's house and learn about his journey through Johannesburg's streets. Whilst there is (quite rightly!) plenty afforded to this incredible man, Joburg also has many other excellent experiences and sites to check out, the best of which we highlight below.
Design a bespoke African jacket with Caraci
Do not leave South Africa without getting yourself a custom-made jacket (or kimono) from the affable Sebo of Caraci Clothing. The entire experience involves meeting Sebo (a Joburg born/bred gay local) who takes you to the market to search for and select your fabric.
He takes you back to his tailoring shop to show you how a jacket is made from this material, giving you the chance to try out a bit for yourself. Then later in the day, he presents you with your own custom-made jacket (kimono also an option) which is the best souvenir you can take back home with you!
Constitution Hill is a former military fort-turned-prison that's most famous for having incarcerated people like Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. Today it's a fantastic museum, also home to the country's Constitutional Court.
They have daily tours taking you through the complex, explaining its fascinating history. It's quite an emotional experience. They also host different exhibitions and events throughout the year, in particular for Pride Month in October.
The Apartheid Museum is one of those harrowing but super important places everyone needs to visit. It opened back in 2001 telling the story of the rise and fall of apartheid, which turned 20 million South Africans into 2nd class citizens when it was implemented in 1948.
The museum itself is also a work of art – famous for its unique architectural design. We recommend booking one of the 3-hour guided tours of the Apartheid Museum to get the most out of your visit, which includes hotel pickup/drop off.
Admire Johannesburg from a helicopter at sunrise
Whilst the prospect of waking up at 4am wasn't the most welcome thing on our vacation, the adrenaline of taking a sunrise helicopter ride over Johannesburg took over! We did our helicopter ride with Capitalair SA which specializes in both chartered, corporate, and tourism helicopter tours.
After a safety briefing, we had lift off just before the sun broke out. We flew around the big city for around 45 minutes, even spotting a few elephants in the nearby National Park, all with the backdrop of the sunrise. It was an incredible experience, one that we will never forget!
Soweto Township: home of Nelson Mandela
Townships are a sad reminder of the Apartheid era. Black people were separated into these mini-cities called “townships” and kept away from the city centers. Townships were often neglected by the authorities and therefore were ridden with violence and poverty.
The Soweto Township is where Nelson Mandela lived. Whilst visiting a township today is still a big risk for tourists, doing it as part of a Soweto township guided tour is absolutely fine and highly recommended: locals in the Soweto Township are used to tourists and tour groups visiting Mandela's house.
The Maboneng Precinct
What was once a run-down neighborhood, the Maboneng Precinct has over the past few decades undergone a massive renovation to become one of the most remarkable areas of Joburg. Maboneng itself translates to “place of light”. Today it's alive with cool art galleries, hotels, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife.
It's often nicknamed ‘the Brooklyn of Joburg'. We loved visiting the weekly Market on Main, which is Joburg's leading food and design market. It's also rewarding to just wander around, get lost in the area, taking in the vibe…but remember, valuables out of sight!
Pilanesberg National Park Safari Day Trip
No trip to South Africa is complete without a safari. Most tourists will most likely head to Cape Town and also factor in a 2/3 day safari as part of their South Africa itinerary. If you're just staying in Joburg, we recommend checking out Pilanesberg National Park for a safari.
We visited it for a few nights and enjoyed several safaris here, but it's also possible to do a safari as part of a day trip from Johannesburg. The big draw with any safari is to aim to spot ‘The Big Five', which are lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffaloes.
For more gay travel inspiration for South Africa, be sure to watch our awesome #LiveAgain video we made with South Africa Tourism:
Planning Your Own Gay Trip To Johannesburg
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own gay trip to Johannesburg. Read on to find out everything the gay traveler should know before they go.
How to get there: If Johannesburg is your first stop in South Africa then you will most likely fly into the O.R Tambo international airport, which receives flights from destinations in Africa and Europe. From the airport, you can reach the city center via train, taxi or our personal pick – a private transfer with Welcome Pickups.
This ensures an English-speaking driver will be waiting for you no matter what time you arrive and will take you and your luggage directly to your hotel without any fuss or hassle. Also, if you go to leave Johannesburg from the airport – go as early as possible, at least 2 hours in advance as the immigration queue can get pretty big.
Visa requirements: Residents of many countries can visit South Africa visa-free for up to 90 days; these include the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia. You may still need to pay a visa fee though, so make sure you check your personal visa requirements well before you make your plans for visiting Johannesburg.
Getting around: There is a bus system in Johannesburg but it's not really recommended for visitors as they can be confusing and often unsafe. It's better to use a taxi to get around, but make sure the driver turns the meter on or agree on a set price beforehand.
The Gautrain is also a safe way to travel between the airport, Malboro, Midrand, Rosebank, Pretoria and Centurion. SAFETY tips – put your phone and valuables away when walking the streets. In the evening if you're going out it's better to take a taxi than to walk.
Travel insurance: Johannesburg is safer than you might hear on the news, with many tourists visiting each year without any problems. Even without safety concerns, travel plans can be disrupted by cancelations, illness, or injury. We never travel without the security of travel insurance and strongly recommend others do the same. We always use Heymondo Travel Insurance as their coverage is both comprehensive and affordable. We've been using them for years and have always been happy with the quality of their service. It's easy to make a claim online if something does go wrong.
Vaccinations: All travelers to South Africa should be vaccinated against common diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox, as well as Covid-19. It's also recommended that you be vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, malaria, rabies, typhoid, and yellow fever. Make sure you check with your doctor or travel nurse which vaccinations you should have before making your travel plans for Johannesburg.
Currency: The currency used in Johannesburg (and the rest of South Africa) is called the South African rand. The currency code is ZAR and it's usually just written as R. Currently, $1 converts to about R 14.74, €1 is worth about R 17.37, and £1 converts to around R 20.41.
Tipping culture: Tipping a small amount for good service in South Africa is customary, although it doesn't need to be a huge tip. 10-15% of the total on a restaurant bill would be considered normal, and you can give a few rands to hotel staff or taxi drivers. Many workers in Johannesburg do rely on tips so they will certainly appreciate it. Check out this guide for more info on tipping in South Africa.
Internet access: Many of Johannesburg's cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi, and there are also free WiFi spots in some of the public buildings – for a certain amount of data each day. If you know you will need a solid connection during your trip, then we recommend bringing a portable WiFi device with you, especially if you'll need to get some work done.
Also, scheduled power cuts (aka “load shedding”) are a thing in South Africa, so electricity may sometimes go out, but usually for no more than two hours at a time. Check with your hotel if there is going to be any load shedding during your stay if you will need to get work done – then you could go elsewhere during the cut or plan around it.
Accommodation: We always use Booking.com when looking for the best places to stay in Johannesburg. They have the widest range at all the best prices, and many listings include free cancellation – perfect if you like to be spontaneous! Their online customer support is also excellent and available 24/7.
Sightseeing and adventure: For more fun things to see and do in Johannesburg, check out GetYourGuide. They have lots of tours, activities, and excursions for all sorts of interests. It's really easy to book online and their wonderful online customer support is also available 24/7.
When to visit: Johannesburg is in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are the opposite of America and Europe. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are the best times to visit as the weather is pleasant but not too hot and prices fall as there are fewer tourists.
Gay Map of Johannesburg
Here is a map of all the places we've mentioned in Johannesburg, we hope you find it helpful to plan your own fabulous gay trip!