With 54 countries and island nations, there’s never a shortage of things to do on the African continent. Festivals provide a great opportunity to experience the diverse culture, music and food, while also benefiting the local economies. Here are some of the best ones you should consider attending.
The Equatorial Guinea Bodypainting Festival ~ Equatorial Guinea
The Equatorial Guinea Bodypainting Festival is one of the newest festivals on the continent, having only been launched in 2019. But it’s already gaining fans and spurring tourism to the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. The festival includes tours, eco-adventures, and art workshops on mask making, pole dancing, and creative drawing, among others. Of course, the festival highlight is the amazing body paint presentations.
Timkat Festival ~ Ethiopia
Timkat is Ethiopian Epiphany Day, a celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ, occurring across the country, but mainly in Lalibela, Gondar, and Addis Ababa. The festival happens every year on January 19 (January 20 in leap years), with preparations the day before (ketera) and three days of colorful processions, dance, music, prayer and a ritual baptismal re-enactment. This is one of the major religious festivals in Ethiopia and an excellent way to immerse oneself in Ethiopian history and culture.
The Voodoo Festival ~ Benin
The Voodoo Festival is a celebration of the voodoo religion that takes place every year on January 10th in Ouidah, Benin. This popular festival draws fetish priests, adepts, traditional chiefs and onlookers from across the globe. There are ritual sacrifices, dancing, drinking and drumming. Devotees assume the identity of gods, dressing up and transforming into that god as they do, with the realm of the magical close at hand.
Abu Simbel Sun Festival ~ Egypt
The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples built as a monument to Pharaoh Ramesses II and his queen Nefertari and to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. The temples remain in darkness all year, except for two occasions on February 22 and October 22, when a stream of natural sunlight illuminates the entire complex. Tourists come from around the globe to see this solar phenomenon and architectural marvel, and to enjoy music, dance, food, drinking, market shopping and more.
Carnival ~ Cape Verde
Carnival is celebrated on all 10 islands, but the biggest and liveliest celebrations happen in Mindelo on Sao Vicente island. The dates change each year, but the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday (February 25 in 2020) is filled with street parties and other events, culminating with the main parade complete with samba dancing, singing, live music, elaborate floats, and colorful costumes. Come ready to have fun because the celebrations start early in the morning and go on all day.
Sauti za Busara ~ Zanzibar, Tanzania
This 4-day music festival is held every February and showcases African music from across the continent. Highlights of Sauti za Busara include 400+ live musicians, a carnival parade, impromptu jam sessions and after parties, with a backdrop of the beautiful beach views and island breezes of Stone Town.
Bouake Carnival ~ Cote d’Ivoire
Bouake Carnival is the Ivorian version of Mardi Gras. This weeklong celebration of life and friendship is held in late March in Bouake, the second largest city in Cote d’ivoire. Tourists and locals join together to enjoy great music, eat traditional foods, explore cultural markets, attend lively street parties and parades, and hear music from local artists and musicians from all over the continent of Africa.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival ~ South Africa
Touted as Africa’s Grandest Gathering, Cape Town Jazz Festival is one of the biggest jazz festivals on the continent. This 2-day festival is hosted in the beautiful Cape Town and known for its all-star lineup of local and international acts.
Festival of Urban Music of Anoumabo (FEMUA) ~ Cote d’Ivoire
This annual music festival is a party with a purpose – the proceeds are used to build schools and hospitals across the country. Started by Salif “Asalfo” Traoré, singer of the Ivorian band, Magic System, as a way to give back to the Anoumabo neighborhood, this celebration has morphed from a neighborhood party to a major festival, drawing crowds of more than 100,000 people to Abidjan. FEMUA features a variety of Ivorian and Pan African music and has an annual theme aimed at spurring social awareness and change. Be warned — the festival starts late and typically runs until 5:00 am.
Harare International Festival of the Arts ~ Zimbabwe
The Harare International Festival of the Arts is one of Africa’s largest art and cultural festivals, held in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare. The 6-day festival and workshop program showcases Zimbabwean, regional and international arts and culture with dance, music, circus, street performances, fashion, spoken word, theater and visual arts.
Azgo Festival ~ Mozambique
The Azgo Festival is a contemporary celebration of arts and culture, with a strong focus on artists from Mozambique and the entire African continent. The four-day festival includes live music, films, dance, artistic and cultural development workshops and gourmet street food vendors.
Bush Fire Festival ~ eSwatini (formerly Swaziland)
One of Africa’s most popular events, Bush Fire is an annual 3-day festival which showcases music, art and culture from all over the African continent. Through its mantra “Bring Your Fire”, Bushfire encourages creative expression and social change, and invites everyone to contribute and engage through a program of creative workshops, discussions, art exhibitions and guest speakers.
La Biennale de L’Art Africain Contemporain/Dak’Art ~ Senegal
La Biennale de L’Art Africain Contemporain, commonly known as Dak’Art, is a month-long contemporary arts festival held every two years in Senegal’s capital of Dakar. The festival features art exhibitions with a variety of national and international artists, as well as in situ mural and sculpture creations, lectures, films, live performances, African culinary presentations, and more. The next edition of Dak’Art is in 2020.
Saint-Louis Jazz Festival ~ Senegal
Held in the former French capital of Saint-Louis, the renowned Saint-Louis Jazz Festival happens annually in May and attracts local and international jazz greats. The 5-day festival is in its 28th year and attracts close to 100,000 music lovers from around the world.
Windhoek Annual Cultural Festival ~ Namibia
The Windhoek Annual Cultural Festival is a new festival, which seeks to promote Namibian cultural diversity and provide a platform for upcoming artists and entrepreneurs to exhibit and promote their businesses. Participants celebrate their cultural backgrounds through traditional dress, dance performances and food. Additional activities include a battle of DJs, choir competition, battle of chefs, eating competition and talent show.
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music ~ Morocco
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is 10-day celebration held in Fes, in northern Morocco. The festival advocates music as a means of promoting dialogue and harmony between civilizations and is a combination of concerts, workshops and discussions on climate change, human and civil rights, social justice and other important issues.
Jazzablanca ~ Morocco
Jazzablanca is an international jazz festival held yearly in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city. The 9-day festival features local and international artists with a mix of famous and up-and-coming jazz, pop, rock, blues and funk. Food and fashion workshops are also held.
Zanzibar International Film Festival ~ Zanzibar, Tanzania
The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), also known as Festival of the Dhow Countries, is an annual 10-day film festival held on Zanzibar island. ZIFF includes workshops and screenings of African films in various genres, including African Animation, TV series and Web series.
Panafest ~ Ghana
The Pan African Historical Theatre Festival, commonly known as Panafest, is a cultural festival held every two years for Africans and people of African descent. The festival is intended to bring together Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora around the issues raised by the transatlantic slave trade. The two-week festival includes a variety of cultural events, performance arts, dance and music workshops, speaking colloquiums, and tributes to the ancestors. The next Panafest is in 2021.
Chale Wote Street Art Festival ~ Ghana
Chale Wote has quickly become one of West Africa’s biggest and most popular events, with more than 100,000 attendees and 200 Ghanaian and international artists participating. The 10-day street festival includes street painting, graffiti murals, photo exhibitions, live street performances, extreme sports, African cinema, street boxing, a fashion parade, a music block party, design labs and more.
Gaborone International Music and Culture Week (GIMC) ~ Botswana
GIMC is a weeklong annual festival that celebrates the city of Gaborone through music, theatre, comedy, poetry, fashion and other cultural activities. Performers include local, regional and international artists.
Lake of Stars Festival ~ Malawi
Lake of Stars is an annual 3-day international music festival held on the shores of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. The activities include music, talks, poetry, theater, film, art and wellness activities from Malawi and across the globe. On-site camping is available and encouraged. The festival is on hiatus for 2020, but is expected to return in 2021.
Nyege Nyege Festival ~ Uganda
Held on the shores of the Nile River, the 4-day Nyege Nyege festival is one of the biggest underground music festivals in East Africa. Nyege Nyege is a Swahili word meaning an uncontrollable urge to move, shake, or dance and you’ll do just that at this non-stop party and celebration of Ugandan and African culture. Nyege Nyege showcases an eclectic mix of music genres from Africans and the diaspora, including electronic music, Ugandan dancehall, Balani (Mali), Kweito (South Africa), Kuduro (Angola), Cumbia (South America) and more.
Felabration ~ Nigeria
Felabration is an annual music and arts festival commemorating the life of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician and human rights activist known for pioneering the afrobeat music genre. The weeklong celebration includes a wide range of activities, including debates, symposiums, afrobics dance competitions, art exhibitions and competitions, and music concerts.
Mombasa Carnival ~ Kenya
The Mombasa Carnival is one of Kenya’s biggest and most popular festivals, held every year in November. This lively street party revolves around two parades, which converge on Moi Avenue and display Mombasa’s diverse cultures with an array of floats, traditional dress, music concerts, and dance. A mix of traditional and contemporary artists join the celebration.
Afrochella ~ Ghana
Afrochella is Africa’s answer to America’s Coachella. This annual one-day festival seeks to highlight the thriving talent from and within Africa and features African music, culture, art, fashion and food. Related happenings, including panel discussions, charity events, and parties, are held the week of the festival.
Afropunk ~ South Africa
Afropunk is an annual alternative arts festival that includes live music, film, fashion, and art produced by black artists. The festival debuted in Brooklyn, New York and has since expanded to locations across the globe, including Johannesburg, South Africa. The two-day Afropunk Joburg features live concerts, panel conversations, battle of the bands, and food and craft markets.
Calabar Carnival ~ Nigeria
Called Africa’s biggest street party, the Calabar Carnival takes place the entire month of December in the city of Calabar in southeastern Nigeria. It attracts more than 2 million revelers and has participants from 25 countries. The festivities include street parades, battle of the bands, concerts, art shows, street parties, food competitions, fashion shows, sporting events and non-stop parties. Carnival week, the final week between Christmas and New Year, is when most of the highlights occur.
Victoria Falls Carnival ~ Zimbabwe
The Victoria Falls Carnival is a 3-day blowout party held annually at the end of December. The party starts on Day One with a Carnival train ride and secret bush party. Day Two features an electric safari concert with the best live house, African, indie and electro-pop music. The party culminates on New Year’s Eve, with a concert and year-end countdown complete with fire breathers, traditional dancers, and a host of African music artists. All of the fun is held in the backdrop of Victoria Falls, one of the biggest and most famous waterfalls in the world.