Cape Minstrel Carnival: a guide to Cape Town's festivities

Cape Town. Festival. Umbrella. South Africa.
'Kaapse Klopse' by clarism_4Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 

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This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

Location: Cape Town, South Africa. The parade begins on Darling St, in front of Old City Hall, and passes through Bo-Kaap en route to Green Point Stadium.

Dates: Starts 2 January, and goes for a month

Level of Participation: 1 – stand back and take it all in

Cape Town’s largest carnival is a noisy, joyous and disorganised affair featuring marching troupes adorned in practically every colour of satin, sequin and glitter. The festival (also known as the Cape Town New Year Karnaval) dates back to the 19th century, when slaves in the city were allowed their only day off for the year on 2 January. The look of today’s carnival, however, was inspired by visiting American minstrels in the late 19th century, hence the face make-up, colourful costumes and ribald song-and-dance routines.

The main parade begins on Darling St, in front of Old City Hall, finishing at Green Point Stadium. The actual Cape Minstrel competition, when troupes are judged on a variety of criteria, including costume, singing and dancing, runs each Saturday night throughout January and early February. If you miss the main parade, there are chances to catch the minstrels in action on these nights at Green Point Stadium, Athlone Stadium and Vygerkraal Stadium – it makes for a unique Capetonian experience.

Essentials: The main parade begins at midday and attracts tens of thousands of spectators, so be sure to stake a place early.

Local Attractions: Ride a cable car to the summit of gorgeous Table Mountain and visit Nelson Mandela’s prison on Robben Island. Take in some cool Capetonian jazz at the famed Manenberg’s Jazz Café.

More Info: Cape Town Tourism (+27 21 487 6800; www.tourismcapetown.co.za)

See a list of other festivals in January here.