Leaving Bushfire festival in Swaziland (eSwatini), I can now say I know what music festivals should be. In contrast to experiences I’ve had where the festival itself is a colonization of local culture for the benefit of outsiders, Bushfire is a festival celebrating local and nearby culture and visitors have the privilege of joining.
MTN Bushfire festival in Swaziland – festival guide and review
Bushfire 2020 will be May 29th through 31st. It will be the festival’s 14th year, bringing music and arts from all over the continent to the continent’s smallest country – the Kingdom of eSwatini (aka Swaziland). In this in-depth guide, you’ll learn what Bushfire is, what to expect, wear and pack (plus a photo gallery!).
MTN Bushfire Festival lineup – what kind of music to expect
I admit that I went to Bushfire only recognizing one band name, and that actually made me really excited. They put together an incredible lineup of artists from all over Africa – from Swaziland to neighboring South Africa, to Kenya, Reunion Island and even Germany. The festival features four stages – the Main Stage, the Ampitheatre, the Barn and the Firefly. Each one has its own feel, so it’s good for attendees to find the one that best suits them, but also to check out each.
The 2020 lineup is not yet final, but can be found here.
Artists from 2019 included Alibombo (Colombia), Dobet Gnahoré (Cote d’Ivoire), Eme & Moonchild (Nigeria, South Africa), Granmah (Mozambique), Lindigo (Reunion Island), Maia and the Big Sky (Kenya), Mandla Mlangeni (South Africa) and Meute (Germany).
In addition to operating as a responsible festival, Bushfire is all about supporting the Swazi people. This shows up in the way that attendees bring their fire, but also in the beneficiaries of the event. The festival helps raise money for and support two main organizations – Young Heroes and BoMake Rural Project.
The mission of Young Heroes is to support orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland. Bushfire has been supporting them since the start of the festival and in 11 years, the festival and its partners have donated over E1,400,000 to the organization, helping them to provide food and clothing to over 1000 children.
BoMake Rural Projects aims to empower the women of Swaziland through access to services like health and education. Swazi handicraft is one of the most special I’ve personally seen in my travels, so organizations like this help keep it traditional, but still valuable to the progress of the country. Bushfire Festival has contributed nearly half a million Rand to the organization since 2010.
Bushfire festival on a budget
One of the best things about Bushfire is that its price point makes it accessible to everyone. Because you are probably going to be camping, you aren’t spending a ton on accommodation. The ticket prices are incredibly reasonable and everything inside the festival is very well-priced. While you may expect to pay $10 for a beer at a festival in the US, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $2 for one at Bushfire. There is a Global Market with food stalls with food from all over the world and it is also very reasonably priced.
Attending Bushfire as a solo traveler
Attending a festival solo may seem overwhelming, but Bushfire has just the right, friendly vibes to make it comfortable.
If you want to join a group, check out Once in Joburg – they are a hotel and hostel in Johannesburg and help travelers attend festivals and events all over Southern Africa. I went with them and couldn’t have asked for a better setup.
Spending money at Bushfire
Bushfire uses a cashless system and it makes the festival very easy in terms of managing your money. You don’t have to worry about carrying cash or dealing with change when buying drinks or food. Your wristband for the event is your wallet and you can top it up online before getting to the festival and at booths throughout the event. One of the best things is you don’t have to worry about putting too much on it – if you load more money than you spend during the event, you can get the extra money back.
MTN Bushfire festival accommodation
When attending Bushfire, you have a range of options for accommodation. The most fun is, of course, camping on site.
Camping at Bushfire (on-site)
Camping on-site at Bushfire is the best way to experience the festival. It is a festival in its own right. You can camp in the main area or in the forest (if you prefer a bit quieter and privacy, but it’s a longer walk). The camp area includes toilet and shower facilities, but expect a long wait for the showers.
If you plan to have a vehicle with you, be sure to have a vehicle camp pass, or you will need to park across the street and pack all of your things in. Once your vehicle is at your campsite, however, you cannot drive in and out. So, you’ll need to have everything with you.
Glamping at Bushfire
This year there are options for “glamping” at the festival. This includes real mattresses and bedding, flush toilets, tents you can stand up in, hot showers and more.
Hotels at/near Bushfire
If camping isn’t your style, there are still accommodation options for Bushfire. Malandela’s Guest House is on site if you don’t want to deal with transportation. Otherwise, there are plenty of options within a 15-minute drive from the festival, from hotels to guesthouses and wildlife sanctuaries.
Malandela’s Guest House (on-site)
Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary (4 km)
Lidwala Lodge (10 km)
Bushfire festival location
Bushfire festival is held at House on Fire, about 23 km from the capital city, Mbabane. You can find the location on Google Maps using House on Fire or Malandela’s Guest House. The Google address is: Malandela’s Farm PO Box 93 Malkerns, Malkerns M204, Swaziland.
Getting to Bushfire
The Kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland) is about a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg. There are a few options for getting there: you can fly, take a shuttle, rent a car or join a group that is going. I chose to go with Once in Joburg because not only did they provide transportation, but they included all of the camping gear and equipment, which I don’t travel with on my own.
If you rent a car, be sure to get a cross-border letter and that you have all of the appropriate paperwork to take the car across the border. Rental car companies in South Africa should be able to provide you all the detail that you will need, but do double-check. You don’t want to be at the border with no way to cross because you are missing paperwork.
The shuttle buses leave from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport and have a few stopping points in Maseru. From Maseru, you will need to sort out local transportation to get to Malkerns (which may be difficult with all of your gear).
You can also book full transportation and camping packages directly through Bushfire as one of the ticket options.
eSwatini/Swaziland entry and borders
Entering Swaziland is typically quite easy, but be aware that the festival draws about 20,000 visitors crossing borders. This means the lines can get quite long both going in and out. The primary border crossing between South Africa and Swaziland is at Maseru, but there is another alternative crossing a bit further south. When you are looking at alternate border crossings, do check the operating hours.
Check with the Swaziland Tourism Authority website for visa requirements, or directly with your country’s resources.
What to wear to Bushfire
While there is certainly no shortage of style at Bushfire, it is not one full of “crazy” outfits. But as a festival aimed at representing the cultures of the continent, you will see all kinds of styles represented. If you don’t have any to bring with you, I recommend checking out the marketplace. Not only is it well-priced and quality goods (vs. commercially made products at souvenir shops), but it all supports the BoMake Rural Projects.
Where to get the best festival outfits
The earlier you can scour for treasure, the better. But I arrived with one day get ready and had enough time. However, I did not have enough time to craft anything (like a bejeweled hat), so give yourself at least two days before the burn to do your shopping and crafting.
Festival outfit shopping in Johannesburg
Dunusa markets: The first place you might want to look in Johannesburg are dunusas. Dunusa markets start at 2 Rand per item and you can find some gems while surrounded by swirling languages and cultures. You can get to three markets from Park Station – here are detailed instructions on how to find them, how to shop at them and what to be aware of.
Rentals: If you’re looking to rent some items, a few shops to look at are Scalliwags, Razzmatazz and Sinderella. But know that things get lost in the desert and sometimes don’t make it back (and crafting can be part of the fun).
Second-hand shops: There are plenty of charity and vintage shops in Johannesburg to choose from. Here are a few that are well-liked.
- Bounty Hunters (be aware, there are cats)
- Hospice Wits (similar to Goodwill in the US)
- 27 Boxes
- Wizards Vintage
- Rags and lace (higher-end, vintage)
The mall: If you’re in need of anything from the mall or are looking for particular brands, the best option is the Sandton City mall.
MTN Bushfire 2018 photo gallery
Bushfire 2020 resources
It can be overwhelming to plan for and international music festival when camping is involved, especially if you are coming from out of the country. Once in Joburg is not only a great base because of its location, but can also help you with questions and getting ready.
In addition to the Once team, some resources you want to be sure to have handy are:
Other things to do in eSwatini/Swaziland
The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) is an incredibly interesting country and has a lot for visitors to do. It is worth having a few extra days in the country.
Where to stay in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is the perfect place to launch your journey to Swaziland, being that it’s only a short drive away. Picking a place to stay in Johannesburg can be overwhelming, given the city’s reputation. Once in Joburg is a safe and perfectly located hotel/hostel for preparations (and they take travelers to the fest). They offer private rooms and dorms, both at great prices and with breakfast included.
Find the best price to book Once in Joburg here.
Other options to stay in Johannesburg:
- Airbnb: There are plenty of nice Johannesburg Airbnb options, but it is worth your time to communicate with hosts first to understand the neighborhood you’re choosing. Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Booking: There are a few hundred options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
Other festivals in Southern Africa
Southern Africa has no shortage of festivals, big and small, celebrated all across the calendar year. Here are some of the hottest picks for festivals in Southern Africa.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of festivals in South Africa, beyond the ones listed here.
March: Ultra South Africa (CPT & JHB, South Africa)
Ultra is the world’s premiere festival brand, held in 24 cities all over the world in 2019. It is South Africa and the continent’s biggest electronic music festival. It was in Cape Town on March 1st and Johannesburg on the 2nd (2020 dates TBA).
April: Splashy Fen (Drakensberg, South Africa)
Splashy Fen is billed as South Africa’s friendliest festival. It will be held next April 9-13, 2020. It is the country’s biggest and longest-running festival, celebrating music, arts and people, located in world heritage site the Drakensberg.
April: Afrikaburn (Tankwa Town, South Africa)
Afrikaburn is Africa’s regional burn – a smaller version of the United States’ Burning Man. It will next be held April 29th through May 5th, 2019.
August: Oppikoppi (Northam, South Africa)
Oppikoppi 2018 was held Thursday, August 9th through Saturday, August 11th, 2018. This music festival started with mostly rock and 2000 attendees in 1995 and has grown to showcase 160+ international sets to 20,000 attendees in 2016. It’s been ranked in the top 5 festivals to visit in the world. Note: Oppikoppi has been canceled for 2019 and is set to return in 2020 after taking a “gap year.”
October: Rocking the Daisies (Cape Town, South Africa)
This music and arts festival is held annually in Cape Town. Rocking the Daisies will be held October 4th through 6th, 2019. This festival is about giving you the warm fuzzies – it features music and entertainment, but you can also expect activities like yoga, magic and virtual reality.
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