Traveling to Afrikaburn is quite different than traveling to any other festival, because you can’t quite just buy a ticket and ‘go’ on your own, and experience it like any other festival. In that burns are completely put on by their participants, have no money or stores at all, and don’t have workers there to set everything up for you, it’s much more of meticulous process to get to.
Traveling to Afrikaburn requires a careful amount of planning, networking, and teamwork, and a lot of resources that are not readily available to (and expensive for) your everyday backpacker or traveler.
When I set my sights on this incredible event last year, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road… but I was prepared to fight for an experience that I knew could change my life.
I was traveling solo through Africa. I planned the dates of a 6 week camping tour I did around the dates of Afrikaburn, and simply hoped to find a way to join a camp and make it out there into the dusty Tankwa Karoo desert.
I’ll let you in on a little secret now – I made it to the burn. I participated in an absolutely amazing camp full of people who are now my good friends, and felt safe and free and had plenty of resources and got the most out of my burn.
But let’s now step back a little… having all these essential things is not easy to come by as a backpacker traveling through South Africa. But I’m going to let you know how I did it, and give all the possible advice for anyone else wishing to have the same experience traveling solo to Afrikaburn.
Traveling to Afrikaburn: First, Know What You Are In For. What Is a Burn?
Afrikaburn is not a bucket list tick you can come and experience at the last minute, to witness all the crazy people and extravagant art and go home with a cool instagram photo. If that’s what you’re in it for… maybe rethink your travels. I mean sure, I got lots of cool photos (some of the best of my life), but the point is that AB is a fully immersive experience contingent upon the Ten Principles of Burning Man.
Luckily, I wrote a whole post on that right here (What is a Burn, and What Can We Learn?), so go ahead and check it out to see if it’s right for you!
Afrikaburn also puts out a survival guide each year as well – see 2017’s survival guide here (click the english one). This goes over ALL logistics you could need to know.
I think the main thing to understand is that Afrikaburn (any any burn) is totally, 100% participatory. You don’t attend the event, you co-create it. You don’t go and watch what is going on, you help make it happen. You do this by gifting, giving anything you possibly can to the community to help make it a better, more beautiful, and more inclusive place. Each and every person do their small part to make the festival into the complete, perfect, spiritual, creative, mecca of music, art, and radical expression that it is. Whether you are helping to put on a massive music stage, giving compliments, helping bathe people, painting bodies, building infrastructure, or serving champagne or coffee, you are doing YOUR part to make it a better place.
Possibly more important is to know that you are 100% self reliant. The only thing you can buy is ice. You must come with EVERYTHING you need for the entire week, or be prepared to somehow find it. This is one of the most incredible things, I think, having no money at all and relying on selflessness. But really though, you’ll need LOTS of water.
Non-commodization is also KEY. As a blogger (and if any fellow bloggers are reading this) don’t even THINK about trying to pull the blogger (or any kind of media) card here. They don’t want you or your followers, and even more so want to see this event as least tainted by the media as humanly possible. What they do want is to spread the unique and beautiful culture, so if you are doing that, there’s hope.
Expression is important too – Radical Self-Expression (did you read my post yet? 😛 ). I had someone say to me that they don’t particularly like dressing up, and asked if that was okay for Afrikaburn. I mean, technically, YES. Anything is okay here. But I think they missed the point. AB is all about letting your wild side fly, being free to wear something a little out of the ordinary, and really getting to feel comfortable out of your comfort zone. So letting those freak flags fly, I would argue, is pretty important too.
Last one I will talk about here – LEAVE NO TRACE. At AB, there is something called MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) that is not welcome, well, anywhere. You must be super-conscious of anything you leave behind – no dropping cigarette butts, glitter, etc, and you must bring all your rubbish with you when you leave.
Woah woah woah, let’s back up here. We’re already talking about bringing gallons of water, picking up cigarettes, and letting freak flags fly when I haven’t even gotten my ticket?! Sorry, guys, I got carried away. Let’s go back to the beginning. We’ll get back to the ten principles later 😉
Getting Tickets to Afrikaburn
First, sign up for the Afrikaburn newsletter. They will send out a hilariously written ‘Baardskeerder’ every so often with updates on the Tankwa Karoo (the desert/national park where AB is held, or “Tankwa Town”) and how the preparations are going. They will include fundraisers certain theme camps are having, info on the status of each year’s artworks, art and mutant vehicle applications and grants, maps, programs, and volunteer searches, and sometimes camps who need extra help.
Before you get a ticket, you will need to make yourself a ‘Burner Bio.” These are just a little profile on the Afrikaburn page that lets them know who you are. They’re super easy so get that done first so it will be ready when tickets go on sale.
They have an early-bird sale in Nov/Dec and general sales in February, generally. You can also get Direct Distribution Tickets (DDT’s) from theme camps with a registered number of tickets. I actually tried in the first sale and failed to get a ticket before it sold out, so I got mine in the second sale quite easily. The ticket price (and ticket itself) will really be the least of your worries when attending Afrikaburn… trust me. Coming in hot at a price of hardly $100 USD, you’ll have to worry much more about costs of getting there, food, drinks, and camp/living supplies. But alas, the ticket is still quite essential 😛
Traveling to Afrikaburn: What is a Theme Camp? What Are the Other Options?
If this is your first burn, (other than reading my post, trust me) you’ll want to know about camping at Afrikaburn. Again, in that you cannot buy anything there, you will have to make sure that you arrive with EVERYTHING you need for the whole week. Some people choose to do this just with another few people and a van, but most people band together into big groups, maybe 15-50 (depending on the camp).
Theme Camps are, well, themed camps (surprise, surprise) that register with Afrikaburn each year with a certain name and focus. Theme camps are plotted centrally along the main strip at Afrikaburn (called ‘the Binnekring’) and are interactive and open to everyone. They are usually the camps that organize activities, food, shows, music, food/drink, or art for the public to take part in. Remember, nothing is already organized at a burn, so everything originates from these Theme Camps and participants who cocreate the entire event.
How to Find a Theme Camp to Join at Afrikaburn
Theme Camps, in that they put on most of the organized events of a burn, often need help to do so. So, if you’re traveling, the best way to get in with a camp at Afrikaburn is to join a theme camp and sign up for shifts to work and help out. You could help out washing people at the bath camp, serving coffee at coffee house camps, painting people at art camps, serving champagne, decorating, building infrastructure, giving out water, etc, depending on the camp you join. If you dream it, you can probably do it at Afrikaburn – with a theme camp or not!
Nearing the event, many Theme Camps put up little bios and requests on the Afrikaburn website, detailing what they’re about and what kinds of people they may need. They will list their email addresses, and if you need to join a camp, reach out to some that sound god to you! Tell them about yourself, about your travels, through Africa, how you can contribute, and about what the burn means to you and why you are going. Just make sure you’re aware that this is a fully participatory event and they will want people who are keen to muck in, help out, and contribute!
Non-Theme Camps, and How to Find Them
I had a friend tell me that the best way to enjoy and appreciate Afrikaburn is to not join a them camp but go with a smaller camp of friends and be able to fully immerse in your first burn rather than working tons of shifts. This, of course, depends, and is different for everyone. Sometime’s it’s fun to work, meet people, and really contribute, but some people want to take it easy their first time. So, if you want to find a group of friends to join, the best way is to reach out into the community as much as possible. How can you do this?
Anyone You Or Your Friends Know
Try contacting anyone you know who has been to AB, or friends who know people who have been. Any lead is a lead, and maybe this person can help you in the right direction or put you in contact with someone who is running a camp.
Facebook Groups and Pages
There are Facebook Groups such as “Afrikaburn International,” “Afrikaburn Resource Community,” Afrikaburn (Group),” “Tankwa Ride & Share” (which is more for finding rides to/from the burn… link below) and a few more niche ones.
There is the main Facebook page for the event “Afrikaburn” that you can post on, and also some smaller pages for volunteering, specific theme camps, finding people, etc.
I must have posted in a million groups, messaged tons of friends (and friends of friends), and sent a million emails out to theme camps, opening up quite a few possibilities for my first AB. But the way I found my camp seemed to be a mix of a really strange story, absolutely perfect timing, and maybe some fate.
See, one of my posts was in the main Afrikaburn group about the fact that I was traveling solo and was looking for a camp to join. I mentioned my desire to help out as much as I could from the time I would arrive in Cape Town, a few contributions I could make right off the bat (ex. my camera- have you seen my Afrikaburn Photos?, body paint, cooking skillz, mixology, coffee serving, building help, camp decoration, good vibes, funny stories… you get the idea), and a bit about myself, hoping that maybe someone would respond.
And, they did.
It turns out, the friend of a guy I literally met in an elevator in Miami in 2014 (like… what?!?!), saw my post, and saw that he had a mutual friend with me. So, the friend of a South African guy I had had a few drinks with before Ultra Miami, contacted me. He said that his camp of friends takes on some foreigners each year, to help out with the camp, make new friends, diversify the camp, and contribute to the experience.
To me, this was absolutely insanely perfect (But everyone is different!). I said I was happy to join. I met the group at a bar when I arrived in Cape Town, and the rest was history.
Plug & Play Camps + Camp Costs
Another important thing to note is to stay away from what they call “Plug & Play” Camps. I almost fell into one of these traps, when I responded to a post on one of the Afrikaburn pages. Someone invited me to stay with their camp (and I was so desperate and happy to receive an invite that I obliged) in which they would have people serving the food and setting up tents, etc. I didn’t know much about it at first, and when I saw the camp cost of over 2000, I thought it was in the local currency – Rand. But after I transferred the money, I discovered it was supposed to be in USD!!!
Don’t take part in a plug & play camp as it basically goes against everything a burn stands for – does anyone remember, ‘radical self-reliance?!’ Your camp is radically self-reliant if you help make it happen. You will of course have to pay for general camp supplies which a few people usually organize, and each camp decides on the cost of their dues (for things like a stretch tent, generator, cooking supplies/BBQ, drink, common area seating etc, tents, food…). It varies but I would say the normal cost for a camp would be about R2000, give or take maybe 500-1000.
Now You Have a Ticket and a Camp… What’s Next, Afrikaburn Travelers?
Getting your camp ready: Depending on when you are arriving to South Africa, see if the people organizing your camp need any help with infrastructure, packing, shopping, or planning. As a traveler, you probably already missed out on the vast majority of the planning (which starts months in advance!), so it’s a nice gesture to try and do what you can when you arrive to help make your camp from an idea to reality. Pick up extra supplies they may need, help load vehicles, help decorate mutant vehicles, help shopping… whatever you can do!
Getting yourself ready:
When packing, you’ll definitely need to consider the weather. The year I went, it was very hot – so we didn’t even need jackets at night. But, my friends said that they couldn’t even leave their camp the year before without gloves and massive coats. So make sure you know the weather and what you need to be comfortable.
Food/Drink to Bring to Afrikaburn
You will need, of course, to make sure you have all the food and drink/water supplies you need for the week. My camp worked in a way that 2-3 people were responsible for one lunch or dinner during the week, so a new friend and I were responsible for cooking one lunch for 29 people, and that’s all. Not all camps work this way so make sure you have enough food for the amount of days you’re going for. Make sure you know the food storage situations too – will there be a fridge/freezer at your camp, how much space can you take up, what is the cooking situation, etc. It’s always better to have more food, though, than to be begging at the end of the week!
Drinks are entirely on a case by case basis. My camp dues included lots of different kinds of beverages that we could help ourselves to, which was awesome, but again, each is different! Grab some beers, wine, and hard drinks (try Amarula too, I lived off it 😛 )
How much WATER to bring to Afrikaburn
To be safe, bring at least 5L/day plus extra. They sell the massive 5l bottles at most stores, and I brought 10 for the 7 days (50L total). Remember, you will have to shower with this water also, if your camp has one! We almost ran out of ours!
I borrowed one from a friend, but it’s also possible to rent tents for a pretty hefty price. See if anyone in your camp has extra, or if the camp you join already has tents.
I actually picked up a pool lilo (floatie) from a shop, and slept on it quite comfortably the whole week. Most people get air mattresses, though, and they’re available around Cape Town (and probably JoBurg).
It can get hot, and the desert sun is relentless!
A lot of people wear boots or tennis shoes, in that the ground is dirty and rocky. And yes, it can get very rocky, so thick soles are good.
Good to protect from the sun!
Same idea. Important.
Sometimes you just don’t want to go through the trouble of showering, or walking all the way to the shower camp (where dozens of people naked shower together and are washed by the workers. No joke). So baby wipes are a great idea, for when you’re all dusty and for when the nasty porta-potties run out of paper. Make-up wipes are also a good move.
Also good to have.
Good to carry around to stay hydrated, especially if you have a backpack or a string to hang it over your shoulders.
Reusable Plates & Cups
Remember that AB is all about minimizing waste and leaving no trace, so it’s a good idea to bring a set of your own reusable plates, cups, and silverware to wash and reuse for your meals. If you are helping plan a camp, bring a few basins to wash up and a drying rack too, and some extra water for this (even if it’s non-drinking water from a hose).
Chances are that if you are traveling to Afrikaburn as a foreigner, you won’t be responsible for the braai (BBQ), stove, utensils, refrigerator, freezer, tables pots, pans, and all of the things you need to cook an actual meal. But, if you decide to rent a van and go it alone, these are all things you will want to think about.
Again, Afribaburn travelers joining a camp probably won’t be thinking about this, but it is important to think about. Battery-powered everything is good, also!
Being prepared is key! Things like scissors, a first aid kit, duct tape, foldable chairs/pillows/mattresses to sit on, band-aids, locks for your tent, smaller speakers, bum bag/fanny pack, and a hand fan are all things you may want to think about.
Fun Stuff to Bring Traveling to Afrikaburn
Lights of Every Kind
It’s very dark out there, so it’s not only fun but a great idea to have something to light yourself up! There are battery-powered light strings, glow sticks (as long as they don’t fall off… MOOP), glowing hula hoops & hats, etc! Rig your own special outfit with a string of lights!
Paint Pens/Body Paint
Not a necessity for everyone, but my paint pens made my week. I loved painting people each day and everyone likes to get a lil funky at the burn.
Good for getting pretty before going out in the Binnekring.
Radical Self Expression – Outfits!
It’s definitely hard to have extravagant burn outfits when you are traveling, but luckily Cape Town/South Africa is cheap to shop, and a lot of daytime outfits are small to pack. Creativity is key – I made an awesome cape (above) from safety-pinning a sarong I got in Zambia for $2 to my necklace, a skirt from cutting up an R10 scarf, and repurposed lots of things for crazy outfits.
There are a few markets in Central CT where you can pick up some fun jewelry and clothing – lots of classic African designs also.
The R5 Store
This is where it’s at. There are a few of these in Sea Point (Cape Town) and scattered around SA, and they’re where you can get ALL the fun stuff- wigs, masks, tattoos, wands, long socks, tights, jewelry, wings, all sorts of scarves and material you can use to make other things. Put on your creative cap and go – there’s no limit to what you can discover and put together from stuff here.
Case study: I made the skirt-thing I am wearing in the first photo in this post from a belt I got for R30 and a R10 green scarf I cut up and tied all around. The wings, headband, and wand were also a set from here for R35. The socks in the photo above? R20. Less than $2. The ‘cape’ and flower chain in the photo below were also less than R50 from the R5 store. (Convertion is about R13.5 to 1$USD)
One of the hostels I stayed at, 91 Loop, had a Pre-Burn market a few days before the burn. It was incredible, but also quite expensive (and rightfully so, in that artists and designers themselves were selling their handmade products!). I bought a fur jacket and some goggles here, in preparation for the dust and the ‘cold’ nights.
Zaful/Cheap Online stores
I ordered a really cool green high-waisted velour set (pictured above also) for like $13 from a website called Zaful before coming, and kept it in my backpack. I alternated parts of this with different bralettes, tights, and jewelry the whole week.
And now, you’re ready! How do you GET to Afrikaburn?
Afrikaburn Transfers + Rideshares
If your camp isn’t organizing a transfer, you can find a rideshare online! I would look to pay around 800-1000 Rand each direction – it’s not close, and as you will see, the dirt road you take to get there is basically straight out of hell.
Tankwa Ride & Share Facebook Group – check in this group, which is specifically made for rideshares to Afrikaburn. This helpful community will have some ideas!
Rent a Car
If you are not going with a transfer or a camp, you can rent a car to take out to the desert! Just make sure you know the parking areas and have everything you need.
Yep, that’s right, Tankwa town has an AIRPORT! And flights can be as low as the cost of a transfer from Cape Town. Check the website for flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town – I bet the view would be unforgettable.
The Actual Act of Traveling to Afrikaburn
You may be traveling to Afrikaburn from Cape Town or JoBurg, but one thing that’s for sure is that the ride isn’t a piece of cake. It will take a lot of loading cargo, some junk food stops, and a LOT of dusty road! But if you have a good playlist going, you should be sweet.
Once you wait in the line to enter Tankwa Town and get your wristbands and survival guides, IT’S GO TIME! Find where to set up your camp or where it is already set up, and get going…
Go play! Just kidding. It’s time to help set up the event that you are an integral part of creating. Whether you are helping setup with your own camp or volunteering for shifts at the main tent through the week, it’s important to remember to participate rather than just observing.
Afrikaburn Pro Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Burn
- Stay Hydrated
- Pitch your tent under another (bigger/stretch) tent so it doesn’t get super hot
- Decorate and design a great common area for you and your campmates to chill
- Eat well
- Contribute & co-create always
- Keep an open mind
- Jump head-first out of your comfort zone
- Say yes
- Explore all the camps
- Sign up to volunteer
- Appreciate all the art
- Make your own art (of any kind!)
- Watch a burn
- Write something on an art piece that will burn down, so you can let it go
- Talk to strangers
- Follow the ten principles
- Meet new people
- Radically express yourself
- Don’t leave MOOP
- Pick up MOOP you see
- Try new things
- Watch the sunrise
- Dance under the moon
- Find new music
- Ride a mutant vehicle
- Give things away
- Look at the stars
- Leave Tankwa Town better than you found it, and as a better person than when you arrived 🙂
Pin this guide if you found it useful!
Staying in Africa a while? Check out more of my posts from the area!
- Cape Town Adventure & Sunset Guide – comprehensive guide to CT
- Cape Town’s 10 Best Adventures
- Shark Diving in Cape Town
- Wine Tasting in Cape Town
- A Namibian Road Trip (Highly Recommended!)
- Bizarre Facts about Swaziland
- Angel’s Pool and Victoria Falls, Zambia (Video)
- Visiting a Township in Cape Town