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Surviving AfrikaBurn: A First Timer’s Guide To Tankwa Town

Think you’re ready for your first AfrikaBurn?

I had my first AfrikaBurn this year, and can tell you it is magical, inspiring, life-changing, enlightening, and I’m certain you’re going to have a significant experience there (you can read my full diary here).

However, there is a lot to think about before you go.

AfrikaBurn might be many great things, but it is also exhausting, dangerous, challenging, dirty, and both physically and emotionally overwhelming. There is a lot you need to prepare for – food, water, gifts, camping, transport, sun, rain, wind, costumes, tickets, lights, safety, budget. Living in the Karoo for a week is no joke! So many people go unprepared, and this ends up dampening their experience significantly. So my first piece of advice is, be prepared.

That’s what this guide is for, and is my gift to all first timers heading to Tankwa Town. I want to make sure your first Burn is as great, even better, than mine, and this guide will have all the information you need to make that happen.

Contents

  1. What is AfrikaBurn?
  2. Buying Tickets for AfrikaBurn
  3. Your Camping Options
  4. Transport to AfrikaBurn
  5. What do you do at AfrikaBurn?
  6. Understanding the Burns
  7. Safety and Security
  8. Volunteering
  9. Gifts
  10. MOOP
  11. Packing List
  12. Budgeting For AfrikaBurn

What is AfrikaBurn?

To attend AfrikaBurn, you must understand AfrikaBurn.

AfrikaBurn is not a music festival, a rave, a carnival, a concert, or any other kind of arts event or festival.

The truth is, there isn’t really a word to describe it. We simply call it, a Burn.

Each year, 12,000 people venture into South Africa’s Karoo Desert and volunteer their time and resources to build a city. The city is known as Tankwa Town.

Tankwa Town is a city of Radical Inclusion. Everyone is invited to live in Tankwa Town, however they are asked to live by a few guiding principles.

First, Tankwa Town is completely Decommodified. Money is useless in Tankwa Town. It’s not allowed there, and doesn’t belong there. There’s nothing to buy, nothing is allowed to be sold, there are no businesses, no branding, no sponsors, no advertisements, no markets, no stores.

In fact, there’s nothing at all in Tankwa Town, except what you take with you. The entire city is built from the ground up, by you. Whatever you take there, is what you will find there. If you want a restaurant in Tankwa Town, you build it. If you want a concert, build a stadium and create it. Tankwa Town is created entirely by the Community, and limited only by your imagination. If you don’t build it, it won’t be there.

Because there is nothing in Tankwa Town, you also need to take everything you need to survive for a week; water, food, shelter, clothing, electricity. This is called Radical Self Reliance. Some say, your ability to survive in the desert for a week serves as your Tankwa passport. Those who can’t do it, simply can’t come.

How does a town survive without money? Tankwa Town survives on an economy of Gifting. Residents are free to provide anything they want, but they can only gift, and expect nothing in return. Those who don’t know what to gift can volunteer as city staff – Rangers, Cleaners, Cooks, Lost & Found, Gate Staff. Everybody is expected to give something to the town. Otherwise, it can’t exist.

Radical Self Expression is a key component of life in Tankwa Town. There is no dress code, you express yourself freely in whatever way you choose. You can wear outrageous outfits, or wear nothing at all. Often the world tells you there are certain things you can and cannot wear or do. But not in Tankwa Town. In Tankwa Town, you are free.

In the centre of Tankwa Town is the playa, a large open circle of desert filled with artwork. Throughout the week, the artworks are burned by the artists; the oldest standing tradition of the Burn. The burns teach us Immediacy, and that the city is transient, life is transient. It reminds us that we built this city together, and will destroy it together, that it was only here for a moment, and nobody saw it but us.

Finally, we live by the principle of Leave No Trace. At the end of the week, everything that hasn’t been burned is dismantled or destroyed and removed from the desert. We leave the desert spotless, as if we were never even there. The city remains only in our memories.

The 11 Guiding Principles of AfrikaBurn

These are the unwritten “laws” of Tankwa Town. They are not enforced as laws, but they are encouraged and expected to be respected by all who attend. I’ve mentioned most of them above, but here is the full list:

  1. Radical Self Expression – Express yourself truly and honestly.
  2. Radical Inclusion – All are invited and respected.
  3. Radical Self Reliance – Your survival is solely your responsibility.
  4. Decommodification – No buying, no selling, no advertising, no money.
  5. Communal Effort – We work together.
  6. Civic Responsibility – We value a civil and responsible society.
  7. Participation – We achieve change by personal action and being involved.
  8. Immediacy – We are here right now, all we have is this moment.
  9. Gifting – Give to the community without expecting anything in return.
  10. Leave No Trace – Respect the environment, leave it as if we were never here.
  11. Each One Teach One – A self reliant community depends on freely passing knowledge to one another.

Buying Tickets For AfrikaBurn

To enter Tankwa Town, you need a ticket.

Tickets in 2019 cost 1900 ZAR ($132 USD).

There is only one place you should buy your ticket, and that is directly from the AfrikaBurn website. You will need to set up a Burner profile, and you can purchase it with any regular debit or credit card.

Make sure you use your full legal name on your ticket purchase and that it matches your passport/drivers license. You will need to show your ID when you enter the gate and it will need to match.

I would also highly recommend printing your tickets out, don’t rely on your phone. You never know what can happen out there.

(If you’re wondering why you need to buy a ticket to a decommodified event: AfrikaBurn is a non-profit, and funds go towards things like admin, legal, materials for DPW volunteers to set up the town infrastructure (toilets, roads etc), not to mention renting a big ass desert for a week, among other things). Full financials are on their website.


What are the camping options at AfrikaBurn?

One thing that wasn’t clear in any of the official guides is, how does the camping actually work? Are you allowed to just camp on your own or do you need to join one of the Theme Camps?

The answer is, you can absolutely camp on your own without joining a camp, and in fact that’s how Burners traditionally attended Burns. Theme Camps were things that popped up later as the events became bigger.

What’s a Theme Camp?

Theme Camps are camps that plan to offer some kind of service to the burn, such as an area to serve food or a bar or something similar. Generally these camps need a lot of members to cook, clean, set up the camp and basically keep things running smoothly, so they invite volunteers to stay with them and help out. Lots of people join a Theme Camp for their first Burn, but you definitely don’t need to if you don’t want to.

If you’re planning on joining a Theme Camp, make sure you get in touch with the camps early. There should be a full listing of Theme Camps on the AfrikaBurn website and their contact details.

Find the ones that resonate with you and ask if they’re looking for people to join. The advantage of Theme Camps is they’re generally located closer to the centre of town, so it’s a lot less walking for you every day. The other advantage of Theme Camps is they generally provide things like water and food and a big stretch canopy shelter for you to camp under, which can appeal to first time Burners.

If you’re camping solo, you’ll be located a little bit further away, but if you get to the Burn early (first or second day) you should be able to get a spot not too far away. As a solo camper, you’re going to have a lot of other things to plan for too. We’ll talk about all that in the packing section below.

Of course, you can also arrange to camp with a group of friends and that is common too.

Plug and Play Camps

These are camps that, for a price, offer to set up your camping, transport all your supplies into the desert, and basically offer you a hotel-like service for your week in Tankwa. These camps are strictly prohibited at AfrikaBurn. If you’re offered a plug-and-play experience, do not accept it and report it via the website. Not only does it go directly against the principles of AfrikaBurn, it may be shut down by Burn HQ if/when they find out about it.

Cost sharing with other campers is fine (you bring the tent, I’ll bring the food, let’s all chip in for gas etc), but AfrikaBurn HQ can request financials if your camp is large to ensure no profit is being made.


Transport To Tankwa Town

Getting to Tankwa Town is a mission, it’s about 8 hours by bus, 4-5 hours by car. What makes it even more difficult is the road. It’s a shitty unpaved road and punctures are super common. I caught the bus to Tankwa, and our luggage vehicle had a blow out about halfway through. Check it out:

As you can see, this road is no joke.

Here are your options for getting to Tankwa:

Drive yourself

Most people drive themselves to Tankwa. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive assuming you don’t have any real problems. I worked as a greeter on the gate and a lot of people were arriving with flat tyres, even in good weather, so be prepared for that. Have a couple of spares and a puncture kit, and make sure you know how to change a flat.

The directions from all major cities can be found on the AfrikaBurn website.

If you are planning to drive, and you’re planning to camp solo, I would highly recommend a camper if you can afford it. It will just remove so many of the weather considerations you need to make when camping in a tent. Especially if you’re staying the whole week, the extra comfort will be worth it.

AfrikaBurn Bus

The bus is an ideal option for those coming in from overseas and don’t have car. It totally removes the need to worry about driving, changing tyres, keeping spares and tools, vehicle passes and so on.

In 2019 the Burn Bus was 1095 ZAR return (about $75 USD). It leaves at midnight on the Sunday before opening and returns at 1pm on the Sunday of closing. The bus is pretty comfortable, and can fit all your stuff. My main concern was whether I’d be able to fit all my camping gear and water on the bus, but the ticket says “anything you can fit in the taxi on the way to the bus stop, you can fit on the bus”

The one major downside of taking the bus is it’s a super long bus ride, around 8 hours each way.

Tickets are sold on Quicket.

Carpooling

There are lots of people heading to the Burn and many of them will have free seats. The best way to find a ride is to post on the Facebook group Tankwa Ride and Share. This is a group specifically for finding and offering rides to Tankwa.

Again, the main issue is space, because even if people have spare seats, they may not have room for all your stuff. Don’t try and arrange your rides one or two days before the event – arrange them early as open seats become much rarer as the event gets closer!


What do you actually do at Afrikaburn?

I got this question a lot. If there are no concerts or performances or famous people to see, what do you actually do at AfrikaBurn?

It’s a city. You live in it.

And like any city, there is always stuff going on. When you arrive, you will receive a map and a WTF? Guide, so you know What The F*ck is going on. It will detail all the Theme Camps, Artworks, Mutant Vehicles, Classes, Talks, Events and so on:

Also, like all cities, it is totally different during the day and night.

I don’t want to say too much as so much of AfrikaBurn is figuring the city out for yourself and creating your own unique adventure. But here’s a general idea of what goes down:

AfrikaBurn during the day

The day is when most of the events are happening. The centre of town is along the Binnekring and Buitekring (translates to “inner ring” and “outer ring”). For reference, you can check out the town map.

Walking along the Binnekring during the day will present you endless Theme Camps offering food, drinks, playing music and hosting events. Just from memory, 2019 had things like desserts, wine, ribs, burgers, yoga, sauna, movies, massages, pancakes, fresh juice, and lots of dancing. There are also lots of classes, talks and discussions about many subjects – spirituality, sex, life.

People also enjoy exploring the artworks during the day, so you’ll see many people out on the playa. There will also be Mutant Vehicles out on the playa with DJ’s playing sets for anyone after an afternoon dance.

What’s a Mutant Vehicle?

Tankwa Town is a pedestrian and bicycle only zone. All vehicles that come into Tankwa are required to drive straight to their camping spot and park for the duration of the week. The exception is Mutant Vehicles. Mutant Vehicles are pieces of mobile art, usually modified cars or trucks. All need to be inspected and approved as Mutants by the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles).

If you wander around the Buitekring and the camping zones in the day, you’ll find more Theme Camps, generally smaller and lesser known ones. For example, everybody knows Pancake People because it’s on the Binnekring, but nobody knew about Maple Camp because it was a few blocks away on Butterfly Road. So during the day, make sure you take the time to really explore the map, you’ll find a lot of gems out there.

Personally, I love the day much more than the night. It’s when the real conversations are had and friendships are built. My advice is definitely don’t sleep in! Get out of your camp, start interacting. There’s lots to do and people to meet!

AfrikaBurn At Night

After sundown, Tankwa Town turns into one enormous party like you’ve never seen. The bars and clubs all let their speakers blare at full volume, people are dressed in fairy lights and glow sticks, crazy fur coats and costumes, and drugs and alcohol are everywhere. The playa is also filled with Mutant Vehicles pumping tunes and creating mini dancefloors all across the desert. The party goes right until sunrise and even then it doesn’t stop.

Not everything at night is about partying though. In 2019 we had State Of Bliss which opened a jazz lounge and served tea, there was Sweet Love Cinema which screened movies until the a.m., plus lots of people just chill in their camps and relax.

Remember, the nights are freezing cold, so make sure you have something warm to go out in at night. Also, some places serve drinks at night, but not many. If you plan on hitting the nightlife hard, make sure you bring your own alcohol.

In your daypack

When you venture around the town, you need a backpack to carry all your things with you. The most important things to remember are days are sunny, nights are cold, it’s dusty and you need to hydrate. Sanitiser, lip balm, buff, dust goggles, sunglasses, WATER, plate, cup and cutlery, map, headlamp. Here’s what a typical daypack (and nightpack) might look like:


The Burns

Every night there are burns scheduled, usually between 6-8pm. To understand why the artworks are burned, you need to understand the origins of the event.

In 1986, two friends built a wooden statue of a man and burned it on a beach in San Francisco. It was a ritual attended by about 30 friends. This ritual continued each year, and eventually became known as Burning Man. More artworks started to be built, more people started attending, and it grew so big it got moved into the Black Rock Desert. Today, 80,000 attendees head to Black Rock each year and construct an entire metropolis for Burning Man. This is known as Black Rock City.

Tankwa Town is South Africa’s version of Black Rock City, and both cities live by the same core principles. The burns are a central tradition of Burning Man, and AfrikaBurn.

The burns are symbolic because they represent the impermanence of the city, and life in general.

I would highly recommend attending as many burns as possible. They are the essence of the event and what it stands for, and they mean different things to everybody. The Burn Schedule is up every day at OCC (check the map).


Safety and Security

While incidents do happen in Tankwa Town, they are rather rare, especially considering the environment.

One provider of security are the Tankwa Town Rangers. Rangers are not police officers, they are Burners just like everyone else but volunteer to patrol the city and keep the peace. For example, they give directions to people who are lost, if someone has parked their car blocking the road, a Ranger might ask them to move it, if a parent has lost their child, a Ranger will help them radio it in to HQ. A big part of a Ranger’s job is to ensure people are safe, so if anyone is seen passed out or incapacitated, Rangers will escort them to the Sanctuary tent – a first aid tent where they can get medical treatment or rest.

There are also police, medics and ambulances present in Tankwa Town, however they are only called in as last resorts, for serious medical emergencies, or if laws have been broken. Often Rangers will radio incidents into Ranger HQ, and HQ will decide if they need to escalate it. Medical evac is also available.

For the burnings, there are fire marshalls present at every burn, who secure a safety perimeter and then monitor the burn until it’s complete. There have been incidents of people running into burns, so marshalls are large in number and security around burns is taken very seriously. Many burns are cancelled or postponed because of wind concerns.

There are also Event Guardians, local staff which act as general security for the event. They generally are stationed on the main streets and just observe for any problems, but I didn’t see them often.

The Self Reliance principle is pushed a lot in this respect. People are generally encouraged to look after themselves and solve problems themselves wherever possible. For example, at Ranger training we were told not to get involved in fights or arguments between people. Radio it in if it gets out of hand, otherwise, let them settle it on their own.


Volunteering

Volunteering is encouraged for all burners, and you will see the sign “One burner one shift” posted on the Binnekring by the volunteer booth. Particularly for those not involved in a Theme Camp, volunteering is the ideal way for you to contribute to Tankwa Town and embrace the principle of Communal Effort. I volunteered every day Mon-Fri as a Ranger, Greeter, Fluffer and Ice Slinger and each shift added so much to my experience.

If you’re a first time Burner, I would highly recommend volunteering as a Ranger. This is the absolute best way to learn how the town works. As a Ranger, you’re forced to learn the map because people will see your orange vest and ask you directions, so you will very quickly learn your way around town. This will add so much to your enjoyment of Tankwa Town; by the end of the week, I met people who still didn’t even know various parts of the town existed. As a Ranger, I’d been forced to walk the town end-to-end over my shifts, I didn’t even need the map by the end of the week.

To be a Ranger, you will need to attend Ranger training, either before the Burn in Cape Town or during the first two days of the Burn at Ranger HQ.

To sign up as a volunteer, you can either do so beforehand on the website, or in Tankwa Town at the volunteer booth.


Gifts

Gifts are something a lot of people don’t prepare for and end up regretting. You are going to have so many incredible moments and connections with people and having a small gift to exchange can really add a lot to the experience.

Some people gift things like candy, chocolates, one girl gifted me a mini waffle while I was on Ice Slinger duty and it was the most perfect and delicious thing to receive at that moment. Little gestures like this make up part of Tankwa’s magic so I’d suggest thinking about what kind of gifts you might want to bless the city with.

I took about 60 of these bracelets and they were all the rage, people loved them! Anytime I saw someone doing something nice I would put one on their wrist, like the guy performing jazz at the State of Bliss lounge or the guys cooking the ribs each day, or even just someone who gave me a compliment or a hug. Often people I’d given them to would stop me a few days later on the street and be like “Hey man thank you so much for this bracelet I love it!” My only regret is I didn’t take more, I should’ve taken 200!

Tankwa Town is the perfect place to rediscover the joy in giving, so make sure you’re prepared with meaningful gifts you can spread each day 😉


MOOP

Before we get to the packing lists let’s talk about MOOP.

MOOP stands for Matter Out Of Place and refers to anything that doesn’t belong in the desert. Everything from cigarette butts to beer cans are MOOP. In fact, every single thing you bring to Tankwa with you is MOOP. One of our Burn Principles is Leave No Trace, so everything you bring with you, you must take back with you, including your trash. Even biodegradables like orange peels and apple cores are MOOP. Things like that take a long time to biodegrade in the desert, you need to bag it and take it all home. If you’re going to the Burn, do not MOOP!

If people see you mooping they will call you out for it. You should do the same.


AfrikaBurn Packing List

This is the largest and most important section. Remember, there is nothing in Tankwa Town provided for you, except toilets.

That means you need to take everything needed to survive for a week in the desert – a week of food and water, good shelter, warm clothes, bedding, transportation, medicines, any electricity you need and so on.

Below is my recommended packing list. There may be other things you need to consider, but this is everything I took and I didn’t run into any major problems out there.

Camping

  • Tent – My advice for tenting is to spend a little extra and get a larger tent that is wind and waterproof. A tent like this will probably cost you around 1,000 – 1,500 ZAR. A 3-4 person tent is about right for solo camping, as you’re going to have a lot of stuff. You’re also going to be very tired at the end of each day and you want your home to be comfortable. This is the exact tent I used (Oztrail Genesis 4V Dome) and I ordered it straight off Takealot, they delivered within 48 hours and it was perfect. My friend nicknamed it the mansion because it was so nice and spacey compared to tents of most other solo campers 😀
  • Rebar – When the wind decides to show up in Tankwa it is vicious. Normal tent pegs are about as useful as toothpicks. You need rebar. Rebar is that steel reinforcement bar they use on construction sites. We had a dust storm on Day 2 and without rebar my tent would have stood no chance. Afterwards the town was littered with tents lying in bits. If you don’t have rebar during a strong wind storm, kiss your tent goodbye. Don’t believe me, check out the video. I bought my rebar from Outdoor Junkies in Capetown, they sell ready-made rebar pegs for Burners at around 25 ZAR a pop. Worth every penny.
  • Hammer – To get your rebar into the ground, you’re going to need a hammer or mallet. Even with a good mallet, it still wasn’t easy getting my pegs in, the ground in the Karoo is like concrete. To be honest you shouldn’t have any trouble borrowing a mallet of someone in the campgrounds, but just be aware that you need one.
  • Mattress – Again, the Karoo ground is rock hard, it’s not like sleeping on grass. You’ll need a mattress or sleeping mat. Something like this is perfect.
  • Sleeping bag – It is freezing cold at night in the Karoo, sometimes sub-zero. Make sure you bring a warm, thick sleeping bag, something like this.
  • Pillow – I didn’t actually take a pillow, would’ve been nice though!

Food

You need a week of food. It’s up to you whether you want to cook or not. I personally decided against cooking, as it meant there would be so many more things to bring, and would use more water too. Instead I survived on wholesome ready-to-eat foods:

  • Rusks – Bring a variety, they don’t take up much space and are nutritious.
  • Dark chocolate
  • Protein bars – Bring a variety (chocolate, peanut, dried fruit, seeds etc)
  • Biltong – Ostrich, beef, kudu – great source of protein.
  • Nuts – Bring a variety.
  • Health snacks – I had a lot of those healthy snack balls and bars, usually made of dates and nuts and seeds.
  • Other snacks and treats – Cookies, sweets, dried fruits etc.

If you do plan on cooking, you should know they do sell ice in Tankwa Town. It is the only thing allowed to be sold there (as a food safety issue), and is sold by the AfrikaBurn team. Therefore you will be able to keep meat fresh (and drinks cold) as long as you buy ice each day.

One tip: Don’t get too worried about food. Lots of theme camps serve food and most people take way too much. By Day 4 or 5 people will be happily giving away their food so they don’t need to take it back. I only took about 4-5 days worth and I still had this full box to bring home:

Of course that doesn’t mean you can go unprepared! Take the minimum amount you think you’ll need for a week, and that will definitely be enough. If you have any left over, you can gift it.

Water

The recommended amount is 5 litres per person per day. This includes drinking, washing, brushing your teeth etc.

I took 30 litres (six 5L bottles) and ended up giving 3 of them away on the last day. However this is because I was working as a Ranger so I was able to fill up my water bottle at Ranger HQ each day, and also there was a Theme Camp offering showers so I did most of my bathing there.

I still recommend taking 4-5L per day, even though you may not use that much. It’s always better to be overprepared, and you can always gift it if you have any left over.

Clothing

  • Costumes – Radical Self Expression means you’re encouraged to wear whatever you want! You will see lots of people wearing extravagant things, and also lots of people wearing nothing at all. Dressing up is awesome fun and a big part of the Burn. A good place to get stuff in Cape Town is at the Grand Parade on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and the vintage stores in Observatory (Bang Bang, Voom Voom, just walk down that street, there are several). Coats For Africa is another great shop.
  • Warm jacket – The nights are very cold in the desert so you need something warm. Big fur coats are popular because they’re warm and they look awesome.
  • Buff – I used my buff every day and it was a life saver (you can get them here). You can wear a buff so many different ways so it serves you in all weathers – wind, sun and rain. This is me wearing it as a full head mask during one of the very windy days:
  • Full brim hat – The sun can be brutal in the day.
  • Walking shoes/boots – Unless you’re taking a bicycle, you will be walking a lot! And I also recommend walking over biking, because it will be so much more natural for you to stop and talk to people, make new connections, and wander down little streets and into little camps. Make sure you have shoes you can walk several kilometres in each day (and be sure to tape up your feet if you’re prone to blisters).
  • Sunglasses – Obviously.
  • Dust goggles – When the dust storms hit, they hit hard and you can barely open your eyes for five seconds without dust getting in. You may be lucky and have no dust storms, which is great, but if they do come you absolutely need goggles. Ski goggles like these ones are super affordable and will do the job perfectly, even swimming goggles, or you can buy some cool steampunk ones from a vintage shop or on Amazon:
  • Thermals – Again, the night is cold. You may not get much sleep if you’re not warm. Handy for wearing under your clothes while walking around the playa at night too. Something like this is perfect.
  • Warm socks – For sleeping!
  • Flip flops – Really handy for doing things around camp and quick trips to the toilet. Also, the ground is reasonably flat and not too hazardous out there, on hot days, lots of people walk around in flip flops. Gives you feet a break from your boots too.
  • Gloves – Hands freeze at night.
  • Everyday clothes – You don’t need to dress up in costume every day, sometimes it’s nice to just walk around in a tank top and shorts. Light long sleeve shirts and pants are ideal to keep the sun off you. Bring a versatile wardrobe, you get all kinds of weather out there.
  • Final day clothes – This was one of the best tips I received. Fold up a full set of clothes and wrap it up tightly in a plastic bag. These will be your clothes for the trip home at the end of the week. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is spend 5 hours in a car sitting in dirty dust covered clothes. Having a fresh set of clothes for that final trip is heaven.

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Toilet paper/paper towels – The toilets always have toilet paper, but having your own is handy, also just for cleaning around camp.
  • Lip balm – Essential! The desert destroys lips.
  • Baby wipes/wet wipes – Absolute life savers. You can use them as toilet paper, tissues, wiping down cutlery, and many other things. “Wet wipe showers” are also common and effective. I took about 12 packs and used almost all of them.
  • Moisturizer – Skin gets battered out there.
  • Nasal spray – For the dust!
  • Hand sanitiser – Essential, used it daily.
  • Sunscreen

Tools and supplies

  • Power bank – For charging phone and camera (there’s no reception in Tankwa, but phones are still good for taking photos and notes).
  • Headlamp – Essential! Get a good strong headlamp like this one , you will use it alot to get around town after dark.
  • Torch – Not essential if you have a headlamp, but still handy.
  • Spare batteries – Obviously.
  • Duct tape – For fixing shit.
  • Pad and pen – Good for writing down phone numbers, contacts, notes.
  • First aid kit – You don’t need a treasure chest, but at least take some essentials. I had band aids, Dettol, tea tree oil, tape.
  • Locks – Stuff does get stolen at burn, lock your tent. Use a code lock, keys get lost.
  • Cup – Essential! Drinks are gifted everywhere but you need your own cup. Use a carabina to latch it to your waist for easy access, or even string it around your neck.
  • Plate – When gifted food, you can often just use your cup but a plate or small lunchbox helps.
  • Spork/cutlery
  • Fanny pack – I used my fanny pack every day, it was very handy for the small things like lip balm, sanitiser, wipes, notepad etc.
  • Backpack – You’ll need a small daypack to carry things with you during the day – water, sunscreen, scarf or warm clothes, cup, plate, maybe even a camera.
  • Umbrella/raincoat – We only had a tiny bit of rain and I just stayed in my tent. But if rains are heavier, you might really want these.
  • Trash bags – There are no bins in Tankwa. You need to take all your trash home with you!!
  • Lights – You need to light yourself up at night. There are cars and bikes all over the place and if nobody can see you it’s a problem. Many people like to use Christmas lights, but I think glow sticks are ideal -cheaper and you can also gift them. I took a tube of 100 and gave most away, you only need 4 or 5 per night to be fully lit up. Just make sure you take them all home with you! Glow sticks are full of chemicals and are the worst kind of MOOP. You can usually get a tube of 100 for less than $10.

Other optional supplies

  • Buckets – Buckets come in handy around camp – as a basin to bathe, as a rubbish bin for the corner of your tent. Also note that you cannot just dump grey water (water with soap in it that you’ve used to bathe, brush teeth, wash dishes etc) in the sand. If 12,000 people dumped grey water around the campground it would be a huge muddy swimming pool! You need to collect it and let it evaporate – buckets are perfect for this.
  • Broom/dustpan – Cleaning your tent is nice every few days, as the dust gets everywhere quickly. You can just use a makeshift broom out of some paper, but having a proper dustpan is very handy.
  • Bicycle – Many people bring bicycles – they aren’t necessary but you will be doing a lot of walking without one. You can also rent a bicycle for the week from Pedals For Peace.
  • Camera – You don’t see many cameras in Tankwa Town since the dust ravages them, but if you know what you’re doing and have a dustproof lens, you can get some amazing shots.
  • Table and chairs – If you plan on lounging around your tent, bring foldable chairs and a table. Not so necessary as a solo traveller, but if you’re coming as a group you’ll probably want this to be able to eat and just chill out together.
  • Umbrella/shade – Something that can change your entire camp is having a shaded area outside where you can just sit and relax. I spent most of my time at other people’s camps, but if you plan on spending a lot of time in camp relaxing, you’ll want to arrange something like this. Either some big picnic umbrellas or a tent with a shade attached.
  • Generator – Not necessary in my opinion, but a lot of camps bring them.
  • Gas cooker/stove – If you plan on cooking. Make sure to adjust your water supply accordingly for washing dishes/cooking needs.
  • Fire extinguisher – If you’re cooking, you’re advised to bring one.
  • Musical instruments – Always a winner!
  • Extra set of car keys – If you’re driving, definitely bring two sets of keys. Things get lost easily in the Karoo. Last thing you need is to be stranded out there.

Budgeting For AfrikaBurn

How much does AfrikaBurn cost?

I came to Cape Town around two weeks early to make sure I was properly prepared for AfrikaBurn. As you can see from the packing list, there are a lot of things you need to buy.

Here’s a very rough breakdown of all the things I bought for Burn:

  • AfrikaBurn ticket: 1,895 ZAR / $132 USD
  • Bus ticket: 1,090 ZAR / $76 USD
  • Tent: 1,299 ZAR / $90 USD
  • Rebar: 141 ZAR / $10 USD
  • Backpack 190 ZAR / $13 USD
  • Fannypack 100 ZAR / $7 USD
  • Satchel 120 ZAR / $8 USD
  • Sunglasses 20 ZAR / $1.50 USD
  • Storage boxes 102 ZAR / $7 USD
  • Headlamp and batteries 239 ZAR / $16 USD
  • Jacket 150 ZAR / $10 USD
  • Scarf 40 ZAR / $3 USD
  • Scarf 50 ZAR $3 USD
  • Boots 560 ZAR / $39 USD
  • Hat 60 ZAR / $4 USD
  • Hoodie 150 ZAR $10 USD
  • Thermals 120 ZAR / $8 USD
  • Socks 130 ZAR / $9 USD
  • Gift bracelets 680 ZAR / $47 USD
  • Costume stuff (vests, hats etc): 990 ZAR / $69 USD
  • Food: 1,600 ZAR / $111 USD
  • Water: 110 ZAR / $8 USD
  • Miscellaneous (sunscreen, first aid, wet wipes etc): ~500 ZAR / $35 USD
  • Things I was able to borrow: Sleeping bag, mattress, cooler bin.

TOTAL 10,700 ZAR / $716.5 USD

Obviously there were various things I already owned so didn’t need to buy, like a power bank, buff and so on. Also, since I’m on the road I can’t really carry much with me, so I literally had to buy almost everything. If I were coming travelling to South Africa solely for the Burn, I would’ve brought a lot of stuff from home.

Luckily South Africa is relatively inexpensive, so preparing for Burn isn’t as expensive as other European festivals or Burning Man. And if budget is really a problem, you can sell most of your costume stuff at vintage shops when you get back. I gave most of mine away, but I did sell my tent pretty easily when I got back to Cape Town.

Also, once you get to Tankwa Town you won’t be spending anything, so you only need to budget for preparations beforehand. And, since it was my first Burn I was slightly overprepared; you should be able to do it for much less if you just stick to the essentials.


Final Tips For AfrikaBurn

  • I know it’s hard after reading a huge guide like this, but go without expectations. Don’t look forward to anything, just let the experience happen.
  • Don’t sleep in. So much great stuff happens in Tankwa Town during the mornings and afternoons.
  • Take people’s contact details. It’s very unique connections you make there.
  • Goggles, wet wipes, cup, gifts, rebar, buff. These small things will make such a big difference! Make sure you have them.
  • Take some photos, but not too many. Try and live in the moments.
  • Get involved in everything. Go to all the events, volunteer as everything, attend the events that are way out of your comfort zone. That’s the secret to self discovery in Tankwa Town.
  • Go on the first day! In my opinion the first 3 days are the best. You experience the town building and coming to life. The final days are quite different, in fact some people come to Tankwa just for the party at the end of the week. So the crowd changes a bit. Definitely experience the early days if you can.
  • Try to appreciate the whole experience of Burn. I met people who literally just slept in the day and partied at the Cobra all night. I talked to them about different places around town and they hadn’t even heard of them. There is so much more to see than just the raves.
  • Express yourself radically, give lots of hugs and gifts, and have HEAPS OF FUN 🙂

That’s everything I have to say. Writing this guide has been my Each One Teach One, and providing it here to you is my Gift.

SEE YOU IN THE DUST.

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