A Guide to the Cape Town Carnival – Art, Passion, Music and Magic

The Cape Town Carnival is one of the treasures of Africa, a melting pot of cultures that has an amazing parade, epic floats and music that will leave its mark on you forever

Cape Town Carnival cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak!

21st March 2020

Days to start

What is carnival in Cape Town?

Cape town carnival

The Cape Town Carnival is a joyous and colourful celebration of all things Cape Town. Taking place every March, the Cape Town Carnival is an awesome alternative to Rio Carnival with a distinctly African flavour. African culture, is a colourful culture! And Capetonians are proud of their beloved carnival which brings passion, art, music and magic onto the streets of Cape Town.

Cape Town Carnival is not about trying to replicate other carnivals around the world, instead they are all about trying to create a multi-cultural South African Carnival. Cape Town Carnival is about bringing the community together, promoting diversity, social cohesion, healing and celebrating African culture. It is a call to Cape Town and South Africa to realise their full potential.

Africa is a continent with very few carnivals and this carnival is a relative new comer to the carnival scene having only begun in 2010. Now in its 11th year this carnival already has so much importance and history around it. The Cape Town Carnival has been igniting joy and unity in the community through creativity and second-to-none entertainment.

South Africa is home to so many diverse and beautiful cultures and communities from all around the world. Each one is so distinct and unique! This festive celebration that is about the transformative power of creativity! Carnival unites this diverse array of communities and cultures. Carnival

inspires the city and its people to create, play and build together all while celebrating their African Identity.

The Cape Town Carnival has over the years become one of the most popular and biggest carnivals in Africa! Around 55,000 people converge together to join in the celebration. It attracts tourists from all over the world who for a memorable African experience filled with colour, music, floats, dancers and more!

When is the Cape Town Carnival

Cape town carnival

Cape Town Carnival cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak!

The 2020 Cape Town Carnival date will take place on the 21st March 2020! The 2020 Cape Town Carnival will take place on Human Rights Day! The national importance of this day is the perfect opportunity to recognise, celebrate and honour the diversity of the South African people and their rich collective culture!

Where is Cape Town Carnival?

Cape town carnival

As the name suggests the Cape Town Carnival takes place in the Mother City of South Africa, Cape Town! Cape Town is the second most populous city in the country after Johannesburg. It is a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast, sitting on a peninsula below the imposing Table Mountain. It is the legislative capital of South Africa.

The Cape Town Carnival will take place in Green Point.  The Green Point Main road will be closed off to cars.

What is the history of the Cape Town Carnival?

Cape town carnival

What is the history of the Cape Town Carnival? The origins of the Cape Town Carnival began a decade ago. The carnival was created as a way to ease the tension that the country’s dark history and created amongst different communities and races. It was established as a way of instilling a sense of pride and confidence among the black South African community.

Carnival can be seen as being a form of collective healing. It gives people the freedom, time and opportunity to play. Especially those who have previously both socially and politically been denied this. Carnival asserts the right to forget about your worries and asserts the right to play!

The Cape Town Carnival was envisaged as a way of building social cohesion and bringing the community together. The Cape Town Carnival was also created so that it would provide Capetonians of all ages and backgrounds, with a significant and accessible opportunity to easily engage with the arts and cultivate a shared sense of identity.

One South Africa

South Africa is home to so many beautiful and diverse cultures and communities from around the world. Each community and culture is so distinct and unique, but all have a passion for creativity, dance and music.

Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and indigenous traditional African beliefs all coexist peacefully in this proudly multicultural city. Given the troubled history of South Africa, such harmony has been hard-won and can remain fragile. Many have a fascinating and often heartbreaking story to tell.

This city is filled with determined pioneers from the Afrikaner descendants of the original Dutch colonists, to the majority coloured community, to the descendants of European Jewish immigrants and the more recent Xhosa (isiXhosa) migrants from the Eastern Cape. All these groups bring their own unique flavours to Cape Town’s rich melting pot.

The Cape Town Carnival reflects the diversity of this city and country, while at the same time encourages unity and togetherness. The vital cultural and social character of this city is highlighted during carnival by the social interaction between all Capetonians and through their recognition of each other.

The Cape Town Carnival 2020 Theme

Cape town carnival

The theme for the 2020 Cape Town Carnival is the “Incredible Journey – Sounds of South Africa”. This theme will be used as inspiration for the parades and costumes. The aim of this theme is to connect South Africans to their past, their future, their country and each other. Music transcends race, religion, culture, time and space and brings all people together.

 The culture of Cape Town is unique and vital and this years’ theme more than ever before will look at the sounds that inspired this nation. It will highlight the amazing music, sounds and dance of this incredible country. From marabi to marimba, riel to uhadi, doef doef to pata pata or house to hip hop. There are so many powerful and distinct cultural styles that can be showcased.

How do they celebrate Cape Town Carnival

Cape town carnival

Carnival is a vibrant display of artistic expression and Capeonian pride! Revellers gather from far and wide to enjoy Cape Town Carnival which is celebrated with lots of music, costumes, dancing, large colourful floats, giant puppets, live music, fireworks, family-friendly activities and much more!

Carnival kicks of around 3pm in Green Point. Green Point Road stops cars and transforms into a magical pedestrian paradise, filled with food, fun, music and magic! Before the parade properly gets underway there are still loads of festivities and music on the street with revellers dressed in costumes and plenty of music and dancers entertaining the masses.

The open street lasts from 3PM to 6:45PM. At 7:00PM the Green Point Fan Walk parade officially begins. People fill the stands, pavement, buses to watch thousands of performers and floats take to the streets. The parade is colourful spectacle featuring incredible costumes, dancers, music, floats and entertainment. There are also plenty of food and drink stalls along the way.

The fun doesn’t end after the parade and is followed by a family party. From 10PM to 12PM you can enjoy a night of music and entertainment, which takes place in the Cape Town Carnival Village. The party features some of South Africa’s best singers, musicians, DJS and always features a famous headliner. You can listen to live music all while enjoying the delicious food and drinks from the vendors.

Green Point Fan Walk

Cape town carnival

The Green Point Fan Walk is a spectacular show that does not disappoint! Carnival-goers can look forward to around 14 moving sculptures, puppets, floats and around 2500 thousand costumed performers. Tens of thousands of spectators line the streets creating the most vibrant, and lively atmosphere. Everywhere you look you will see friends and families embracing the carnival spirit.

The parade features 54 performing groups from all over Cape Town. They all represent various parts of the community from schools to businesses, people from all areas and walks of life. Each group brings their own unique style and music. Marching Bands, drummers, dance groups and even firemen will take place in the festivities.

Get ready to have your imagination taken for a ride as the parade features the most extravagant, intricate and colourful floats and costumes that took an entire year to make and you can really see the hard work! Prepare to be absolutely blown away by the creativity that can be seen at this carnival.

For the last 365 days, the artists, musicians, performers, singers and creators from around the Western Cape have been working hard to design their floats, sew their costumes, choreograph their dance moves and perfect their melodies. All this hard work and passion creates one of the most spectacular carnival parades possible!

Cape Town Carnival honours the diverse variety of African cultural identities, traditions and creative expressions. Each one so distinct, unique and distinct! The parade and floats will draw inspiration from the  isiXhosa, seSotho, isiZulu & Ndebele styles of dress, colours, adornment, patterns and shapes to create a dramatic stage for this meeting of cultures.

One of the highlights of the parade is when the crowd gets all revved-up by the local fire-fighters who work tirelessly throughout the summer months when the city sees many runaway fires to contend with. If you are in a good spot to watch the parade, you may get lucky enough to rub baby oil on their buff bodies, which is a yearly tradition.

The grand finale of this years carnival will be the unveiling of the AfroFuture Float which imagines the city of tomorrow in a positive way. A future fuelled by possibility, exploding with invention, all in its own creative, unique and distinctly African style. The float hopes to inspire everyone in the city and even the country to be a part of this proactive energy.

Cape Town Carnival Map and Parade Route

The Fan Walk is around 2 kilometres long and there are many excellent viewing spots along the parade route. Below is a map of the Cape Town Carnival Parade Route and Carnival Village.

Cape town carnival

Cape Town Carnival Live Entertainment

The noteworthy performers at this year’s Carnival include: Michelle Davids Dance Company, the URC dancers from Kraaifontein, bioRithm, Heiderveld Theatre Company, the Vula Youth drummers and dancers, Rainbow Academy, Masizakhe, Jhoomkar Traditional Indian Dance group, Phatizwelethu, Cape Whalers Field Band Foundation, Aphrodite & Northern Lights group, KhuyaKhanya, Lavuthi Bhayi, Kraai4Art,  Kleinvlei Fitness Hub, ATKV Riel champions, the Mali Drummers,  IthembaLabantu and Masi Creative Hub, who are among many more.

Cape Town Carnival Tickets

Entrance to the Cape Town Carnival is completely free! It doesn’t cost a dollar to access this family-friendly festival or after-party. However, you can pay for seating to watch the parade in bleacher style seats. You can purchase your tickets here.

What to wear to Cape Town Carnival?

Cape town carnival

We say dress to impress! But don’t forget to wear your comfortable dancing shoes as the Fan Walk is over 2km long and there are many fun things to explore along the way. You don’t have to dress up in costumes to watch the parade but many people do! Some people will go all out and dress to impress while others may just add a little fancy-dress element like some face paint, or glitter. It isn’t essential and you won’t feel left out if you don’t.

How to get to Cape Town?

By Plane: The Cape Town International Airport is the second largest in South Africa. The airport receives multiple flights daily to all other major South African and Namibian cities. There are also international flights from Europe, The Middle East, The USA, Asia and even Australia. Cape Town International Airport was actually voted Africa’s leading airport in 2017 at the World Travel Awards Africa.

By Train: Cape Town’s main train station is located in the city centre on the corner of Strand Street and Adderley Street. All trains to or from Cape Town depart from here. All South African passenger trains are run by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), which has many different long distance inter-city trains and commuter suburban trains. Shosholoza Meyl operates inter-city trains and MetroRail operates several commuter trains in major cities.

 The Blue Train is a legendary luxury train service and is considered the most comfortable and stylish way to get from Pretoria to Cape Town. The trip includes overnight accommodation, meals and drinks.

By Car: The vast majority of roads in and around Cape Town are in good condition making car travel easy. Several major highways start in Cape Town.

  • The N1 runs north east passing Bloemfontein, Paarl and Johannesburg  on its way to Harare in Zimbabwe.
  • The N2 runs along the East Coast towards George, the Garden Route and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, through the Wild Coast up to Durban and Swaziland.
  • The N7 goes along the West Coast to the Northern Cape city of Springbrook and to Namibia.

Car hire in South Africa is not as expensive as Europe or the United States. Locals claim that Cape Town drivers are the most courteous drivers in South Africa and drive slower in comparison with other cities. Get a quote for a rental car here.

By bus: All major bus companies have intercity connections from Cape Town that can take you to any other city within South Africa and to Windhoek in Namibia. There can be up to six different buses a day in certain cities. The buses generally start next to the train station, near the Golden Acre Building. There are also several bus services available travelling from eastern Africa, notably Tanzania and Kenya. For more detailed information about bus services check out the bus companies websites here:

By boat: Most of the larger cruise liners will dock in Cape Town.

Where to stay in Cape Town?

Cape town carnival

As Cape Town is a top tourist destination you are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation. Cape Town has something for all budgets and levels of comfort. If you want to stay near carnival than we recommend booking your accommodation in Green Point.

Green Point is a trendy residential area that is best known for housing the Cape Town Stadium that was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. There are many boutique guest houses nestled into the winding streets of this area.

Of course you could always stay amidst the bustle at the Waterfront or Long Street and the colourful houses of Bo Kaap or in Woodstock which is filled with trendy shows and cafes. A short while out of town you have the upmarket suburbs of Tamboerskloof and Oranjezicht which are filled with smart guesthouse and B&Bs that are all within easy reach of exploring Table Mountain.

You could also enjoy the great outdoors and stay in Camps Bay, Bantry Bay or Clifton which boast some of the most expensive real estate in the country. Just outside of town are some amazing vineyards. From the pristine country side of Constantia to the relaxed vibe of Hout Bay, there are plenty of areas that are within easy reach of the city, where travellers can immerse themselves in the great outdoors.

Check out some accommodation deals for Cape Town here.

What to do and see in Cape Town

Cape town carnival

As a tourist in Cape Town you are spoilt! This sprawling city excels in natural splendour and is a coming-together of cultures, landscapes and cuisines. There is honestly nowhere quite like Cape Town.

Firstly you have the in-your-face beautify of a craggy mountain range that drops into the glittering seas and its flanks carpeted in delicate florals and greens. Then there are the pristine white sandy beaches that are lapped by the chilly Atlantic whose curves are defined by giant granite boulders, and burbling mountain streams that are dappled in forests.

Obviously Table Mountain needs to be on the top of your itinerary. The Table Mountain National Park Defines the City.  It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and boasts awe inspiring views of Cape Town and its surrounds. It also happens to be home to over 1500 plant species. While this is the headline act, there are many other gorgeous natural landscapes within the parks extensive boundaries.

You have cultivated areas like the historic Company’s Garden, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Green Point Urban Park that make exploring this city an absolute pleasure. Follow the locals lead by taking full advantage of the abundant outdoor space. You can go hiking, mountain biking, paraglide of Lion’s head, abseil off the top of Table Mountain or learn to surf.

Cape Town also has a cool urban edge and human creativity is self-evident in this city. It saw the city be crowned the World Design Capital back in 2014. There are excellent art galleries, world-class restaurants, hip bars and design-savvy shows. It is home to many innovative designers and artists who are drawn there by the city’s innate beauty and with MOCAA the city is now home to the biggest repository of contemporary African art!

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Take a Tour

Honestly there is so much cool stuff to do and see in South Africa, we recommend doing some sightseeing when you are there. Everything from gastronomic tours, to archaeological sites, cycling or exploring national parks and underwater caves can be done, just check out Viator where you’ll find loads of different, excursions, day trips and sightseeing tours.

Or if you are incredibly lucky and are able to take a longer vacation then just coming out for carnival, take a look at Tour Radar, as they have lots of different itineraries for amazing vacations around South Africa, which we highly recommend because it is such a unique part of the world. 

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance. Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

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