Top Events

Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, South Africa, January

Maitisong Festival, Botswana, March

National Arts Festival, South Africa, July

Umhlanga Dance, Swaziland, August

Oktoberfest, Namibia, October

January

With Christmas over, the party in the Cape is only just beginning. In the north it's the rainy season, but great for birdwatching, plus high season in the Kalahari.

Cape Town Minstrel Carnival

The Mother City’s most colourful street party, the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival runs for a month from 2 January. With satin-and-sequin-clad minstrel troupes, ribald song-and-dance parades and general revelry, it’s the Cape’s Mardi Gras.

February

Rains in the northern part of the region can make travel difficult. Wildlife is hard to spot in the tall grass but it’s a great time for birdwatching.

Gwaza Muthini

This early February celebration in Marracuene, Mozambique, commemorates the colonial resistors who lost their lives in the 1895 Battle of Marracuene. It also marks the start of the ukanhi season, a traditional brew made from the fruit of the canhoeiro tree.

Marrabenta Festival

To hear marrabenta – Mozambique's national music – at its best, don't miss the annual Marrabenta Festival (www.ccfmoz.com). It's held mostly in Maputo, but also in Beira, Inhambane and several other locations. The timing is set to coincide with Marracuene's Gwaza Muthini commemorations.

N’cwala

A Ngoni festival held near Chipata in eastern Zambia on 24 February. Food, dance and music are all enjoyed to celebrate the end of the rainy season and pray for a successful harvest.

March

The rains are petering out and the sizzling temperatures are coming to an end. Keep in mind South African school holidays begin in late March: accommodation can be hard to find across the region.

Enjando Street Festival

The Namibian capital's biggest street party, also known as Mbapira, occurs in March every year. It's also a good excuse for people to dress in extravagant ethnic clothes that bring the streets to life.

Maitisong Festival

Botswana’s largest performing arts festival is held annually over seven days from mid-March to early April in Gaborone. The festival features an outdoor program of music, theatre, film and dance, with top performing artists from around Africa.

Ditshwanelo Human Rights Film Festival

Screenings on human rights topics are held at the AV Centre, at Maru a Pula School in Gaborone, Botswana, during the festival, and guest speakers are invited to talk about their experiences.

Kuomboka Ceremony

Celebrated by the Lozi people of western Zambia to mark the ceremonial journey of the litunga (the Lozi king) from his dry-season palace to his wet-season palace on higher ground at Limulunga. It usually takes place in late March or early April.

April

The end of the low season in the Delta and surrounding areas – parks have new growth, the rains are finishing and the temperatures are becoming more pleasant but tourist numbers are still down. South African school holidays continue until mid-April.

Windhoek Karneval

Established in 1953 by a small group of German immigrants, Windhoek's April Karneval is one of the highlights of Namibia's cultural calendar, culminating in the Royal Ball.

Maun Festival

A two-day celebration with plenty of music, parades, poetry, theatre, craftwork, dance and food; visual arts also feature. Held in Maun, the festival raises funds for local schools while commemorating northwestern Botswana’s rich cultural roots.

AfrikaBurn

This subcultural blowout features art installations and themed camps as a corner of the Karoo in South Africa is temporarily turned into a surreal paradise. If you’re in the area in April make a beeline here.

Harare International Festival of Arts

A not-to-be-missed event in Zimbabwe, Harare International Festival of Arts features local and international performers in opera, jazz, classical music, funk, theatre and dance.

May

Beginning of winter and the dry season, and a great time to visit before high-season prices kick in for Botswana and Namibia. Snow may fall on the highlands of South Africa and Lesotho where it is much wetter.

Wild Cinema Festival

This film festival, held in May, showcases the work of local and South African talent at cinemas throughout Windhoek, Namibia.

Festival Azgo

This Maputo-based extravaganza has become Mozambique's largest arts and culture festival, featuring artists from Mozambique as well as elsewhere in the region.

June

An excellent month to visit, although high season gets underway in some Namibia and Botswana lodges. Expect cool, dry weather, minimal crowds and choppy seas in Mozambique.

Kweto Siriwala

Ibo Island Day, on 24 June, marks the feast of St John the Baptist and is celebrated as Kweto Siriwala ('to not forget your roots') day in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago. Events include traditional music and dance, and dhow races.

July

High season is underway in Botswana and Namibia – expect warm clear days and ideal conditions; and combined with South African school holidays until mid-July, it’s busy, so book accommodation in advance.

Lake Malawi International Yachting Marathon

This international event – a gruelling eight-day, 560km race – is the longest freshwater contest in Africa. Starting at Lake Malawi's Club Macacola it ends at the Chintheche Inn. A great time to be on one of the lake’s islands.

Mulanje Porter's Race

Formerly just for porters, the race is now open to anyone with the lungs and legs to make it 25km up the staggeringly steep Mt Mulanje in Malawi. A great spectacle; participation is not for the faint of heart.

National Arts Festival

Feel South Africa’s creative pulse at the country’s premier arts festival from late June to early July in studenty Grahamstown. Performers from every conceivable discipline descend on the refined city, hijacking space from squares to sports fields.

Open of Surfing

The winter months bring big waves to South Africa's Eastern Cape, and Jeffrey's Bay holds its international Open of Surfing. Part of the surf-loving town's 10-day Winter Fest in mid-July, the contest attracts more than 10,000 spectators.

August

Wildlife watching is at its best as water sources become limited in the parks, so it’s a popular time for visitors on safari. Temperatures on the rise across the region; most lodges crowded with European visitors.

Maherero Day

One of Namibia's largest festivals falls on the weekend nearest 26 August. Dressed in traditional garb, the Red Flag Herero people gather in Okahandja for a memorial service to commemorate their chiefs killed in the Khoikhoi and German wars.

Timbilas Festival

Watch Chopi musicians play intricate rhythms on large marimbas, often in orchestras consisting of 20 or more instruments, plus singers and dancers. While the Mozambican festival (www.amizava.org) is not always well organised, the musical tradition is fascinating. It's held in Quissico.

Umhlanga Dance

A showcase of potential wives for the king: marriageable young Swazi women journey from all over the kingdom, carrying reeds, to help repair the queen mother's home around August or September (dates vary).

September

Temperatures are rising but it’s still a popular time for travel to the region and tourist numbers are high. South African school holidays in late September can jam accommodation.

AE Gams Arts Festival

Windhoek's main arts festival is held in September, and includes troupes of dancers, musicians, poets and performers all competing for various prizes. The best of Namibian food is also on show.

Kugoma

This festival (www.kugomashortfilms.wixsite.com/kugoma) in Mozambique showcases short films from throughout the Southern African region, with many free screenings and discussion forums held in and around Maputo.

Lake of Stars Music Festival

‘Glastonbury on the beach’: this brilliant three-day Malawian festival bubbles with stellar UK and African bands, and a host of celebrated global DJs. Money raised goes toward the Children in the Wilderness charity.

Morija Arts & Cultural Festival

This annual five-day event held in September or October in Lesotho showcases the diversity of Sotho culture through dance, music and theatre.

October

The end of high season in Botswana and Namibia with hot weather throughout, but Windhoek is a magnet for beer drinkers and it's a popular time, especially for German tourists. First rains arrive in the northernmost regions.

Oktoberfest

Windhoek in Namibia stages its own Oktoberfest – an orgy of food, drink and merrymaking in an event that showcases the best in German beer, usually drunk at tables set up inside large marquees. There’s plenty of traditional German dress on display too.

November

November is when many locals begin scanning the skies for rain. High season is over and wildlife watching is good, but the build-up to the rains can be unpleasant. Migratory birds fill the skies.

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts

Summer music festivals take place in stunning settings across South Africa. In the Western Cape, the choice includes the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in Cape Town's botanic gardens (November to April).

Mafalala Festival

Held annually between late October and late November, this festival (www.iverca.org) showcases Maputo's rich artistic and cultural legacy, focusing especially on the city's lively Mafalala neighbourhood.

December

The rains should be in full swing across central and northern regions. It's high season in Botswana’s Kalahari. Expect calm seas (good for diving) along the coast. There's a peak period everywhere over Christmas and New Year.