If you’re looking to explore Kenya and East Africa this year, here are some of the biggest events and festivals locally and in the region.

1. Rusinga Festival

This annual 2 day festival founded by Anne Eboso celebrates and aims to preserve the Suba culture and it is hosted on Rusinga Island in Homabay County. It takes place on the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas and features music, art, cultural sporting activities and cuisine indigenous to the community.

Rusinga Festival 2016

2. Maralal Camel Derby

The annual camel derby takes place in the middle of the year in Maralal town, attracting local and international visitors. The race is open to professional and amateur camel riders. A 10km cycling race happens concurrently with the derby. Aside from the races there is a cultural show that displays the diversity of the resident communities of Samburu County. This year the festival will take place from August 24th-26th.

Maralal Camel Derby 2016

3. Lamu Festival

Lamu Cultural festival, which started in 2001 is the longest running cultural festival in the country. The 3 day festival takes place in November and is meant to give visitors a taste of Swahili life. The activities at the festival include dhow sailing races, donkey races, traditional henna paintings, traditional artisan craft making and competitive Bao games. The Bao games is regarded as one of the oldest games in history with archaeological evidence showing that it has been played in the region for thousands of years.

Lamu Cultural festival

4. Shela Hat Contest

Started in 2010, the Shela Hat contest takes place on Peponi beach in Lamu giving locals a chance to show off their creativity as they parade their uniquely hand crafted sun hats. There is no limit to the ingenuity of the contestants as they make use of the material available on the island, be it old cement bags, pieces of coral, shells, palm fronds or water pipes.

Shela Hat Contest
Image by Ronald Klemp

5. Lamu Painters Festival

The concept of the bi-annual festival was created by Herbet Menzer in 2011. It brings together local and international painters to paint the stunning scenery and the people of Lamu Island, temporarily transforming the narrow alleyways of Lamu town into one big art studio.

Lamu Painters Festival

6. Lamu Yoga Festival

The event will feature over 150 classes of yoga taught by 26 professional practitioners during the four day festival. Other activities include yoga workshops and meditations, a chance to indulge in Swahili cuisine, sail on a dhow and interact with yogis from all walks of life. The festival activities will take place on Manda Island, Lamu Old Town and Shela Village.

Lamu Yoga Festival

Access the Lamu events and Festivals Calendar here.

7. Kenya Kite Festival

The Kenya Kite Festival is meant to bring together kite enthusiasts, kite fliers and kite makers from around the world. The highlight of the festival is the 20-30 ft. the kite display from professional kite fliers.

Kenya Kite Festival

8. Nairobi Film Festival

The inaugural Nairobi Festival took place in 2017. The brainchild of Mbithi Masya and Sheba Hirst, the festival is meant to showcase local films and grow the cinema going culture in the city. The 2018 festival is slated from 27th March to 1st April with screenings taking place at Prestige Plaza Cinemas on Ngong Rd.

Poster for Kati Kati from Nairobi Film Festival 2017

9. Pawa Festival

The annual street festival hosted by PAWA254 takes place in the month of December. The event is a rich kaleidoscope of various visual and performing artists who block an entire street in Nairobi and treat revelers to an afternoon and evening of art.

Pawa Festival 2016

10. Lake Turkana Festival

The annual Lake Turkana Festival takes place in the month of June in Loyangalani town on the shores of the Jade Sea. The event is a showcase of the unique cultural diversity of the 14 ethnic communities in Marsabit county through song and dance These are the El Molo, Rendille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanatch, Gabra, Borana, Kosno, Sakuuye, Garee, Waata, Burji and Somali. The 2018 festival will take place from the 28th-30th of June.

Lake Turkana Festival

11. Storymoja Festival

Dubbed the ‘biggest book party’ in East Africa, the Storymoja festival is a 5 day annual feast for book lovers and literary art enthusiasts. The event brings together some of the most notable poets, authors and artists on and off the continent to host discussions, workshops and entertain attendees through the week long festival.

Storymoja Festival 2017

12. Rhino Charge

If you don’t mind getting muddy and have a penchant for adventure then this definitely one of the events you need to attend. The Rhino Charge is an annual off road motor sport competition where competitors are required to visit 13 check-points using the shortest distance possible within the 10 hour race time. The winner is the competitor who visits the most check points using the shortest distance.

Rhino Charge
Image from Naibor


Events in East Africa

13. Nile River Festival – Uganda

The four day annual event takes place in January on the River Nile. Hosted by Kayak on the Nile, the festival brings together professional and amateur kayakers and white water rafters to try and conquer the rapids of the Nile. For the 2019 festival, click here.

14. Zanzibar International Film Festival – Tanzania

Also known as the Festival of the Dhow Counties, the 10 day annual film festival held in Zanzibar features screenings, discussion panels and workshops from film makers across the region. It has been described as one of the biggest cultural festivals in East Africa.

Zanzibar International Film Festival

15. Kwita Izina – Rwanda

Kwita Izina (The Gorilla Naming Ceremony) is a country wide event held in September where baby gorillas are introduced to the local communities, formally named and celebrated. This year, the event will take place in Kinigi-Musanze.

Mother and baby gorilla

16. Nyege Nyege Festival – Uganda

Nyege Nyege Festival

Started in October 2015, Nyege Nyege has grown to become one of the biggest music celebrations in East Africa. In 2017, the 4 day festival attracted 7,000 attendees, had 4 music stages and over 200 performers from all over Uganda and in the region. The 2018 festival will take place from 6th-9th September at the Nile Discovery Beach in Jinja.

17. Tandawazi Festival

If you fancy a week of dance and learn from different instructors then this definitely the event  for you. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn different forms of dance and art including: capoeira, break dance, afro-latin dance, street dance, drumming and yoga. The festival will take place between 28th March – 1st April at the Kenya National Theatre, and Diani beach. Check the website for more details.

18. Koroga Festival

The 21st Koroga Festival will go down on Saturday 17th March to Sunday 18th March. The two day music festival is hosted by Capital FM at Carnivore Grounds. It brings together some of the biggest acts from across the continent. Artists that have performed include Papa Wemba, Freshly Ground, Sauti Sol, Diamond Platinumz and Yemi Alade.

Tickets cost Ksh. 2,000 in advance and Ksh. 2,500 at the gate.

Tentative future festival dates include:

  • May 12th and 13th
  • July 7th and 8th
  • August 25th and 26th
  • November 10th and 11th.