AfrikaBurn 101: a survival guide

Last year I went to my first AfrikaBurn, South Africa’s version of the Burning Man festival, for the first time and I had my mind blown. It was a fantastically surreal experience: an town of art and performance that sprung up in days in the middle of the desert in the Tankwa Karoo, where it seemed like you had entered a parallel pyschedelic world. I had an amazing time and can’t wait to go back this year. (Read my blog about AfrikaBurn 2012 here).

There are more people going to AfrikaBurn this year (it’s next month from 1 to 6 May) than ever before (with over 6000 tickets sold), so there are going to be a lot of newbies. AfrikaBurn is like no other festival. If you’ve been to Rocking the Daisies or Oppikoppi, and you reckon you’ve got festival organisation waxed (beer in cans, decanted spirits in plastic bottles, mixer and wet wipes), this is a whole other story.

If you’re an AfrikaBurn virgin, then this survival guide is for you. Remember to hit this gong when you enter the festival if you’re a newbie – it’s a rite of passage.

Afrikaburn festival, Tankwa Karoo, South Africa

 

Getting there

First of all, don’t try and get in without tickets. Even if you drive all the way there from Cape Town, they will not let you into the festival without a ticket. If you don’t have a ticket, they sold out weeks ago but there are ones for sale on Gumtree and AfrikaBurn’s Facebook page.

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

For full directions on how to get to AfrikaBurn from Cape Town, Durban, Bloem and Joburg, click here. There’s a treacherous stretch of dirt road that’s over 100km long – the only way to get to the festival. You can tackle it in a 2×4 but drive REALLY slowly. I took my Clio last year and not only did I shred a tyre (below), but I also damaged all the rims of my car, and did some internal damage. Borrow your parents’ 4×4 or your friend’s bakkie if you can. It’s essential to bring a spare tyre (and someone who knows how to change a tyre).

 

Afrikaburn festival, Tankwa Karoo, South Africa

 

The other alternative is to fly – the glamorous way to arrive.

Afrikaburn 2012-19

 

What to bring

In a word, everything. There’s nothing to buy at AfrikaBurn so you need to bring all your own food and water (budget on a minimum of 5 litres of water per person per day). It’s a good idea to make your camp really comfortable, as you need a bit of downtime in between all the exploration. Bring lots of camping chairs and cushions and try and create a shaded area (it does get hot during the day).

Afrikaburn 2012, Tankwa Karoo, South Africa

 

Apart from the obvious provisions – food, booze and water – here are some other essentials you need to bring:

Sunscreen
Portable shower
Hat
Goggles and bandanna (for dust storms)
Warm clothes for the evening (it can go down to 0 degrees)
Headlamp or torch
A lot of wet wipes
Black plastic bags (you need to take all your rubbish home with you)
A basic first aid kit
A bicycle (the best way to get around)

 

Afrikaburn 2012 Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

Dressing up

AfrikaBurn is one giant costume party. If you’re not a dress up person, try and pretend you are just for this festival. The theme this year is Archetypes, so try and tailor your dress up accordingly. If you’re camping in a group, a communal dress up is a lot of fun and the best way to find your friends at night (I can recommend the bright blue wigs for superior people-spotting in the dark).

Afrikaburn 2012-4

The onesie is a classic look

Afrikaburn 2012-8

If you’re not into full dress up, bring a rad hat or headpiece. Or just paint your face.

Afrikaburn 2012-10

Abluting

The toilet situation at AfrikaBurn is really not bad. There are porta-loos, which are cleaned frequently and always seemed to have TP, and some outdoor loos on the perimeter of the camp which are perfect if you’re not bothered about completely private.

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

The burnings

Don’t miss the actual burnings, which happen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. You get a map and a programme when you get to the festival which has all the scheduled times. The burnings are amazing. There’s something very primal about watching huge structures turn into flames. Just don’t get too drunk and play with fire.

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

Taking time out

The great thing about where AfrikaBurn is, is that you’re able to walk away from all the craziness of the festival and spend some quiet time on your own in the desert.

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

There will be pop up yoga classes at the festival, so bring your yoga mat and do a bit of meditation and stretching in between all the dancing.

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

Accept rides from strangers

Remember what your parents told you about not ever getting into a car with a stranger? Forget that at AfrikaBurn. There are mutant vehicles – artistically converted cars and motorbikes – that cruise around the Binnekring (the inside circle of the camp) giving you lifts to nowhere in particular. Jump on to the back of a giant snail or party on the deck of a pirate ship.

 

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

Afrikaburn Tankwa Karoo South Africa

 

The most important thing, however, is to go with an open mind and have fun. There’s nothing else like this festival in South Africa and it’s amazingly inspiring. Let me know if you’re going to AfrikaBurn for this first time this year!

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13 Responses to AfrikaBurn 101: a survival guide

  1. Flashpackatforty - Craig April 25, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Really interesting piece, never heard of this event. The colours are amazing, but those images of the men in those bright onesies has scarred me for life. 😉

  2. Sarah Duff April 25, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    If you’re scared of onesies then Afrikaburn is not the festval for you! Seriously though, it’s an amazing event – I’ve never been to anything else like it.

  3. Suki April 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    We’ll be there. Hubbie, the kids and I. For the first time, with wings on 😉

  4. Sarah Duff April 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Awesome! Hope you have an amazing time.

  5. Alissa April 30, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Wow, I’ve never heard of this before, looks intense! I’m guessing its the kind of party that’s good to go with a caravan of people to share supplies and party with?

  6. Sarah Duff April 30, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Hi Alissa, glad I could introduce you to Burns! It’s intense but in a fascinating, inspiring kind of way – not in a negative way at all. It’s great to go with a big group – last year and this year I’m in a group of about 20 people. You could also go on your own though (I know of people who do) and still have an amazing time – people there are so friendly. You could spend your whole time making friends with strangers!

  7. Yusuf April 30, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    My first time going this year. Listen out for me hitting that gong 🙂

  8. Sarah Duff April 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Awesome Yusuf! I hope you have an epic festival.

  9. Bianca Ross July 15, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Hi Sarah, I study graphic design and for our 1st product of the new term we have to design a new logo concerning AFRIKABURN. (oo,) Its very exciting to take on a theme project like AFRIKABURN because its so vibrant and energetic. When I am finished, I would like to send you my design if that will be okay with you.

  10. Sarah Duff August 2, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Hi Bianca, what an awesome project! I’d love to see your design when you’re finished.

  11. Eva March 10, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    Thanks for a great article!
    Do you recommend to stay the full 7 days or for first timers 5 days is enough?

    • Sarah Duff March 10, 2017 at 11:43 am #

      Five days is certainly enough to get the full experience, but there’s something special about staying for the whole week – I think there’s more of a mind shift the longer you stay. If you do stay for a week, you need to pace yourself a bit when it comes to partying and staying up really late, otherwise you’ll be beyond shattered by the end of it!

  12. Darren Bruce-Brand March 22, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

    Awesome article! This year will be my 1st Burn! Cannot wait. Will be doing 5 days….

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