Afrikaburn is Africa’s only regional burn. In this in-depth guide, you’ll learn what Afrikabrun is, what to expect, wear and pack (plus a photo gallery!). Afrikaburn 2020 will be April 27th through May 3rd, 2020.
Afrikaburn overview (and what is a burn)?
Afrikaburn is one of the hundreds of regional Burning Man events held all over the world; however, it is the only large one on the continent of Africa. It sees about 10,000 visitors (compared to Burning Man’s 70,000). It has grown from about 1000 visitors at the first Afrikaburn in 2007. Burns are festivals like no other – rather than being a festival that is put on for attendees (like a music festival), it is a gathering created by participants.
The weeklong event has two main components: artwork and theme camps. The artwork is constructed on the “playa” and almost all will be burned before the end of the event. Theme camps are what create the actual activity and interaction of the burn – from a spanking booth to discos to coffee houses. More on both the art and theme camps below.
**Important note: One of the guiding principles (see below) of a burn is radical self-expression. A major threat to radical self-expression at burns is photography and lack of consent. All images included in this post were obtained with consent (including a disclosure that I write a blog and might share them). If you plan to attend a burn anywhere in the world and want to take pictures, please be sure to get consent to take people’s photos.
Burning Man guiding principles
Like all burns, Afrikaburn is guided by a set of 11 principles. It is important first to understand these principles in order to understand and plan for Afrikaburn. Check out Adventures & Sunsets for an in-depth review of burn principles and what we can learn from them. These principles are for burns, but can be applied in all aspects of any burner’s life.
Here’s a quick overview of the principles:
Radical inclusion: Anyone can be a part, and everyone is responsible for creating an inclusive community.
Gifting: Gifting is a way to build the community and it doesn’t matter the value of the gift. The idea is that you contribute to others. [include story of engagement]
Decommodification: No commercialization! This means no transactions, no purchases (except ice), no advertising – a burn should be free from the exploits of capitalism.
Radical self-reliance: You and only you are in charge of yourself. This means that before heading into the desert, it is up to you to be fully prepared and have everything you need. It’s up to you to survive and thrive.
Radical self-expression: (my personal favorite) Radical self-expression means you are free to express yourself in whatever way you choose. This can be creative outfits or nudity, painting or style. Your self-expression should always respect everyone else’s agency and liberty.
Communal effort: Burns are not events put on FOR attendees, but rather created BY participants. This means that everyone should volunteer to participate in some capacity or another.
Civic responsibility: It is each member of a civil society’s responsibility to be aware of civic duty. This means everything from complying with local laws, to looking out for all participants and to, of course, safe and responsible burning.
Leave no trace: This one is pretty self-explanatory – leave everywhere you go better than you found it. It is all of our responsibility to keep MOOP (matter out of place) contained. This philosophy is also known by campers as pack in/pack out.
Participation: I’ll quote the Afrikaburn website for this one, because I love how it’s worded: “We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play.”
Immediacy: Immediacy is a huge value in a burn. It is about being present and experiencing everything around you (pretty helpful that it’s in the desert with no signal!).
Each one teach one: Because the community is self-created and self-reliant, it is up to the individuals in the community to teach these guiding principles.Like all burns, Afrikaburn is guided by a set of 11 principles. It is important first to understand these principles in order to understand and plan for Afrikaburn.Click To Tweet
Preparing for Afrikaburn – what to expect?
Afrikaburn was my first burn and I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Over the years, I’ve seen friends go to Burning Man as a one-time thing, or year after year. But I still wasn’t totally sure what it was. I thought it was a kind of music festival, camping hybrid – and I was wrong.
Burns are not an event put on for people to attend, but rather a gathering that participants create. That’s all well and good, but what does that even mean? It means that everyone who goes are the people who create the art, the atmosphere, the activities, the vibes and the event itself. Everyone who goes will have a different burn based on what they choose to do with their time.
First-time Afrikaburn experience
I got really lucky in my planning for Afrikaburn, in that I hardly did any planning. Dates lined up pretty last minute and I decided I was going to go. Fortunate for me, the event hadn’t sold out, so another round of tickets went on sale and I was able to grab one easily. I joined all the Facebook groups right away and looked for a theme camp. To my surprise, I got a lot of response to my post looking for a camp and was able to look at what each of the camps were about and pick the one that was the best fit for me (I went with Alienz Coffee Shop because everyone seems to love them, they have a great location and, obviously, coffee).
After I’d sorted a ticket and a theme camp, I needed to find a ride to and from Tankwa and some camping gear to rent or borrow (as a backpacker, I don’t really have appetite to buy things new, especially if I don’t intend to keep them). Fortune struck again! A mate I met in one of the Facebook groups had space in his Jeep and when I said I couldn’t take him up on his offer because he was leaving too early for me as I needed to get gear lined up, he offered to delay his departure a day and share his campsite (with a promise not to touch me, lol).
We took the long road up, which included stopping to help people with flats (and flat spares). Finally arrived to Afrikaburn, we were greeted by fellow burners at check-in passing around tequila (a very good gifting option). The burn started.
We got an awesome camp spot next to the group that would be my family for the week. Nicky and Trevor became my mission buddies and we explored the Binnerking all week together.
What is there to do? That’s completely up to you! I didn’t have a bike, so did a lot of exploration by foot, checking out the theme camps, having jam sessions, visiting bars and people making snacks, checking out the art. There are yoga sessions, fashion shows and even a wedding. The burns start in the middle of the week and for us were a bit delayed by the wind.
I spent the week wandering around the burn, trying to dance, meet people and see art. One afternoon, Nicky, Trevor and I went into the Ethiopian themed camp next to us and spent an hour or so sipping tea and playing the drums. Later in the week, the schedule started to revolve around the burns, making sure we saw the ones that we wanted to.
Some nights, I stayed in the tent. One night, I listened to a book all night and got up at sunrise to catch the burn, watching people getting ready to head in as I started my day.
Who attends Afrikaburn?
Radical inclusion means that everyone is welcome at Afrikaburn. I was worried that I would be too old for the burn crowd, but was surprised to find that I was often the youngest in a group. The majority of participants are from South Africa, but the event attracts visitors from all over the world.
This would be my principal criticism of the event. While it is an international event with a guiding principle of inclusion and decommodification, it is not an event that is wildly accessible. In addition to the ticket price, costs add up for the event from supplies and camping gear, to transportation and gifts. Just tenting over a camp alone can cost hundreds of dollars. It can be done on a budget, but the cost and remoteness of the event narrows the field of potential participants (or said more bluntly, there were many times it felt like an event for white money).
I have even seen and heard criticisms of “weekend warriors” (participants who only attend for the weekend) because they aren’t “true burners.” These criticisms seem to ignore that these people may want to attend for the whole week, but can’t afford it in cost or time off work and have a very condescending air.
Afrikaburn on a budget
It is definitely possible to experience Afrikaburn on a budget, but it will require significant amounts of sharing. Use the Facebook groups (links below) to connect with other burners to share rides and camping gear. For my burn, I was able to find another burner who had room in his Jeep and who was also willing to share his tent. This meant that I saved on transport, camping gear and supplies.
See below for places to help keep your self-expression budget down, by renting or creating your own items to wear. When joining a theme camp, you will want to consider the expected contribution.
Afrikaburn as a solo traveler
Wondering what it’s like to attend Afrikaburn solo? Is it worth it? The short answer is yes. The guiding principles themselves nearly assure that you will make friends. But more importantly, the type of people who attend Afrikaburn are those who want to create and participate in a community. That means it is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. The friendliness, zest and fraternity that you bring to the burn is exactly what you will get back.
Leverage the Facebook groups (links below) to start to make connections even prior to the burn. You can also meet other burners before the event at hostels or at scheduled meetups.
The friendliness, zest and fraternity that you bring to the burn is exactly what you will get back.Click To Tweet
Art at Afrikaburn
Anyone can create art for Afrikaburn and it does NOT have to be burned. When you arrive, you’ll get details of the artwork for that year’s event in the program. The artwork has expectations around safety of construction, that it should be creative in its design and use of materials, that it should be interactive and ideally can be taken apart and reconstructed after the burn in a place that it will bring value.
Creators of the art are the ones who choose if it will be burned. The number of pieces of art to be burned are limited by the organizers for safety and energy purposes. Burns may also be called off or rescheduled based on weather (e.g. too much wind). The burns are closely monitored by fire safety experts.
The burns are what bring participants together to take in the art and run from sundown to sunup.
Afrikaburn theme camps
Theme camps are the hallmark of what creates the burn. These can be official or unofficial, organized by a group of friends. In theme camps, you will find like-minded individuals. The camps typically gift back to the burn and you can find out how in the program you get on arrival. Whether it be Alienz Coffee Shop, who serve espresso coffees in the morning, or the Pancake People, who serve up, you guessed it, pancakes, or the different camps that put on music and DJs or set up bars and braais.
If you are attending Afrikaburn solo, joining a theme camp is the ideal way to get involved. You can connect with theme camps in the Facebook group and see descriptions of the official ones on the Afrikaburn website.
Staying connected at Afrikaburn
Aka is there WiFi or will my cell phone work? The short answer is no. So make sure that you’ve done any communication you need to before heading up (your phone will cut out about two hours away from Tankwa). There is no WiFi inside the gates, but if you’re desperate, you can drive just outside the gate to a nearby lodge (and pay for it). If you need to communicate inside the gates, bring Walkie Talkies or use the message boards – chalkboards located next to lost and found.
See the resources below for the missed connections group if you want to find someone you met along the way.
Getting to Afrikaburn
Afrikaburn is held in Tankwa Karoo in Stonehenge Private Reserve (near, but not in Tankwa Karoo National Park itself). This is about 300km northeast of Cape Town and takes some effort to get to. The last bit of the road on the way in is dirt/gravel and very rough. Every year, cars and trucks are sidelined on this road by flat tires, so it is important to go up with the right vehicle (and to check your spares).
You can get to Afrikaburn by car, bus and even plane.
Rent a vehicle
There are plenty of vehicle rental companies in South Africa for you to choose from. When renting a vehicle, it is important to consider the environment. Ensure that your vehicle has a working spare tire and you know how to access it (and the tools needed, like the jack). So many people had flat tires, only to find out in the moment that they didn’t have a jack or that the spare was also flat.
Sharing a ride to and from the burn is a great way to make best use of the vehicles on the road. Better to fill every car headed to Tankwa than to add more cars to the road. Tankwa Ride & Share
Catch a bus to Afrikaburn
If you don’t have too much stuff to pack into the burn, you can catch a bus to and from. Find more information here on getting to Afrikaburn by bus.
Fly to Afrikaburn
Tankwa has an airstrip, meaning that yes, it is possible to fly to the burn. To organize a flight, the best place is to go to the Share a flight to Afrikaburn discussion page. You can also see the airport and airspace information page for more details.
Vehicles at Afrikaburn (mutants and bikes)
Afrikaburn is a non-driving event. This means that once you’re in with the vehicle you arrive in, it should remain parked. The only vehicles allowed on the Binnekring (and around the event) are registered mutant vehicles and bicycles. You can find out more about mutant vehicles and registering them on the Afrikaburn website.
Because of the size of Afrikaburn, it is walkable. But you might find that you are walking miles and miles per day. This has many people bringing up bicycles, but beware, some have gone missing. You can keep yours at your camp and there is a main bicycle stand in the middle of the Binnekring.
Tickets to Afrikaburn are released in stages:
- General Sales: September 26th, 2018 through April 26th, 2019
- Mayday Tickets: August 7th, 2018 through May 3rd, 2019
In order to purchase tickets (and participate in the event), you need to first create a profile on the Afrikaburn website. From there, you can use the available tools to buy or sell tickets.
In 2018, 13,000 tickets were made available; tickets were 1895 Rand (approximately $135). Afrikaburn is committed to transparency, including financial transparency. Money from ticket sales goes to health and safety of the event (e.g. fire safety for the burns), certifying the event, the organization and necessary facilities (e.g. toilets).
Afrikaburn 2019 theme
In addition to the theme camps, each year the entire event itself has a theme. The 2019 theme is EPHEMEROPOLIS.
More on the 2019 theme here. The following is from the Afrikaburn website:
Ephemerality (from Greek – ephemeros) is the concept of things being transitory, existing only briefly.
Rising like a dusty mirage out of the Karoo heat, there’s a city that many call home. A manifestation of our collective imagination, the culmination of our collective efforts. It comes and goes, and ebbs and flows. It’s transient, temporary and transitory. It’s neither here, nor there. It is real in its unrealness.
What to wear to Afrikaburn
One of the most fun parts of Afrikaburn is radical self-expression (which means fun outfits or whatever suits your fancy!). When planning what to wear, be sure to check the weather forecast. Some years have seen nothing but sunshine and heat, where others have been full of wind and very cold at night. Tankwa Karoo is in the desert and can be unpredictable.
AVOID MOOP! When planning your best Afrikaburn outfits, avoid items that will MOOP (loose feathers, glitter, etc.). Previously I had recommended edible glitter as biodegradable, BUT those looking for MOOP after the fact have no way of telling what kind of glitter it is (and say that glitter is a pain in the @ss) so just skip it.
**Important note (repeated from above): One of the guiding principles (see below) of a burn is radical self-expression. A major threat to radical self-expression at burns is photography and lack of consent. All images included in this post were obtained with consent (including a disclosure that I write a blog and might share them). If you plan to attend a burn anywhere in the world and want to take pictures, please be sure to get consent to take people’s photos.
Afrikaburn packing checklist
What you will need for Afrikaburn will, of course, depend on the weather, but most of your kit will be the same regardless. Especially if you are coming from out of town, or are new to festivals, you may not know where to find the items you need.
Here is what you need to bring (or at least consider) to ensure you’re ready to be radically self-reliant for a great burn. This is designed for a basic campsite setup; the more complex your site, the more you need to add to the list.
Camping gear for Afrikaburn
If you aren’t traveling with your own gear, you will need to get a kit together. You can do this with a combination of buying new and used, renting and sharing.
New gear: Cape Union Mart has everything you need for the outdoors. For those from the US, it is comparable to an REI and they have several locations. There are two locations at the Waterfront if you’re staying nearby. Larger grocery stores (like Shoprite and Pick and Pay) will have basic camping gear like camp chairs and braai supplies.
Used gear: Look on Gumtree (South Africa’s Craigslist) or ask in the Afrikaburn Facebook groups (links below). The Facebook groups are also great to connect with people amiable to sharing equipment or splitting the cost of purchases and rentals. You can also try reaching out to locals via Couchsurfing who may have camping equipment but aren’t attending the burn (so it’s available to borrow/rent).
Rental gear: While I did not rent any gear, there are a few options for camping equipment rental in Cape Town. Check out Scuttle, Camp Tent Hire or Overland Camp Rental; if you’re also renting a vehicle, look at Around About Cars.
Where to get the best festival outfits in South Africa
The earlier you can scour for treasure, the better. But I arrived with one day get ready and had enough time. However, I did not have enough time to craft anything (like a bejeweled hat), so give yourself at least two days before the burn to do your shopping and crafting.
Festival outfit shopping in Cape Town
I stayed at Once in Cape Town (see below) and most of these shops are in walking distance (if not cheap Uber distance).
Mardi Gras is a costume shop that offers rentals (with deposit), accessories to purchase and makeup and body paint (note: the body paint is pretty pricey here).
Second-hand shops: The second-hand shops in Cape Town offer both high-quality vintage (expensive) as well as gently used (more economical) options. They are no strangers to people getting ready for Afrikaburn, and my experience was that they had a lot of fun helping people create great outfits.
- Second Time Around
- 2nd Take Long Street
- Vintage and the city
- Gracious Daisy Vintage (higher-end, vintage)
The mall: If you’re in need of anything from the mall, the two options you’ll want to check out are Golden Acre (more budget-friendly) and V&A Waterfront (everything you need, but more expensive).
Festival outfit shopping in Johannesburg
Dunusa markets: The first place you might want to look in Johannesburg are dunusas. Dunusa markets start at 2 Rand per item and you can find some gems while surrounded by swirling languages and cultures. You can get to three markets from Park Station – here are detailed instructions on how to find them, how to shop at them and what to be aware of.
Rentals: If you’re looking to rent some items, a few shops to look at are Scalliwags, Razzmatazz and Sinderella. But know that things get lost in the desert and sometimes don’t make it back (and crafting can be part of the fun).
Second-hand shops: There are plenty of charity and vintage shops in Johannesburg to choose from. Here are a few that are well-liked.
- Bounty Hunters (be aware, there are cats)
- Hospice Wits (similar to Goodwill in the US)
- 27 Boxes
- Wizards Vintage
- Rags and lace (higher-end, vintage)
The mall: If you’re in need of anything from the mall or are looking for particular brands, the best option is the Sandton City mall.
Afrikaburn photo gallery
Planning for Afrikaburn can be totally overwhelming, but there are so many resources to help you get ready.
Afrikaburn Facebook groups:
- AfrikaBurn (Group) – This is the group by the official Afrikaburn page; official information is shared as well as plenty of conversations and shared photos.
- Afrikaburn International Group – This is another group for general information about the burn and making connections.
- AfrikaBurn Theme Camps 2019 – This group is for theme camps and if you’re looking to join one, it’s a great place to post information about yourself and what you’re looking to contribute.
- AfrikaBurn Missed Connections – This group is for after the burn when you need to find someone you didn’t keep contact with.
- AfrikaBurn Resource Community – This group is specifically for resources for the burn.
- AfrikaBurn 2018 – Lost and Found – Another post-burn group, this one is pretty self-explanatory. In addition to the people who have lost or found items, the official Afrikaburn lost and found carries on after the event here.
- Tankwa Ride & Share – This is the group to post if you have extra space in your vehicle or are looking for a ride.
The official Afrikaburn website has a lot of information to help you get ready. The most helpful pages are:
Where to stay in Cape Town
You will likely make Cape Town your base before and after Afrikaburn. My preferred placed to stay is Once in Cape Town as it is perfectly located walking distance from great thrift and costume shops and has both dorm and private options. I wasn’t the only one – when I got back to Cape Town and was checking in, I ran into a bunch of people from my camp!
If you are staying in Johannesburg instead of Cape Town, check out Once in Joburg.
Like any big city, Cape Town has many different accommodation options for any budget and preferences. The best neighborhoods to stay in the city are:
- Bree Street, Long Street and Kloof Street: buzzing part of the city with many bars and restaurants, great place to stay if you’re planning to go out a lot. Once in Cape Town is ideally located and offers private rooms and dorms.
- Camps Bay: the fanciest area of Cape Town with the most expensive hotels at the beautiful beach; The Place on the Bay is right on the water and offers apartment-style accommodation.
- V&A Waterfront: still quite fancy and expensive but nice and safe, with many restaurants and a big shopping mall; the Greenhouse Boutique Hotel is a nice, relatively budget-friendly option close to the waterfront.
- Tamboerskloof: here you can find places to stay in a different price range, located further from the sea but closer to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head; 91 Loop is a budget option with dorms and La Grenadine is a more comfortable option.
Once in Cape Town
The Place on the Bay
Other options to stay in Cape Town:
- Airbnb: There are plenty of nice Cape Town options on Airbnb, but it is worth your time to communicate with hosts first to understand the neighborhood you’re choosing. Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Booking: There are a few hundred options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
Other Burning Man events
Afrikaburn is a massive regional burn, but it isn’t the only one. The main event is Burning Man, held in Black Rock City, Nevada (USA) August 25th-September 2nd, 2019. Tickets start at $425 and are hard to get. Midburn is in the Negeve Desert in Israel and will be held June 4th-9th, 2019. Click here for a full list of regional Burning Man events (there are a lot of them).
Other festivals in Southern Africa
Southern Africa has no shortage of festivals, big and small, celebrated all across the calendar year. Here are some of the hottest picks for festivals in Southern Africa.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of festivals in South Africa, beyond the ones listed here.
March: Ultra South Africa (CPT & JHB, South Africa)
Ultra is the world’s premiere festival brand, held in 24 cities all over the world in 2019. It is South Africa and the continent’s biggest electronic music festival. It will be in Cape Town on March 1st and Johannesburg on the 2nd.
April: Splashy Fen (Drakensberg, South Africa)
Splashy Fen is billed as South Africa’s friendliest festival. It will be held next April 19th through 23rd, 2019. It is the country’s biggest and longest-running festival, celebrating music, arts and people, located in world heritage site the Drakensberg.
May: Bushfire Festival (House on Fire, Swaziland)
MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland isn’t in South Africa, but the tiny kingdom is just a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg, it counts. 2019 will be Bushfire‘s 13th year, bringing music and arts from all over the continent to the continent’s smallest country – Swaziland. It will next be held May 24th through 26th, 2019.
August: Oppikoppi (Northam, South Africa)
Oppikoppi 2018 was held Thursday, August 9th through Saturday, August 11th, 2018. This music festival started with mostly rock and 2000 attendees in 1995 and has grown to showcase 160+ international sets to 20,000 attendees in 2016. It’s been ranked in the top 5 festivals to visit in the world.
October: Rocking the Daisies (Cape Town, South Africa)
This music and arts festival is held annually in Cape Town. Rocking the Daisies will be held October 4th through 6th, 2019. This festival is about giving you the warm fuzzies – it features music and entertainment, but you can also expect activities like yoga, magic and virtual reality.
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