Africa's many carnivals are not the most internationally known, but Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique carnivals have long traditions. Newcomer Seychelles this year offers a tourism-adapted carnival.
Mindelo on Cape Verde's lush São Vicente island so far has been the most known and maybe most spectacular carnival in Africa. Preparations on the island are on the highest gear: On 8 March, the 2011 Mindelo carnival kicks off.
The Mindelo carnival offers a Brazil-like atmosphere, in a relaxed African setting. Outfits and stages follow the Brazilian model, while the music is truly indigenous. Low criminality rates, perfect weather and temperature conditions and unlimited hospitality further contribute to the Mindelo carnival's top ratings and reputation.
Mindelo on São Vicente is not the only carnival in Cape Verde, but it is certainly the most known and spectacular. For years, it has been the top destination for the enormous Cape Verdean Diaspora, travelling to the event year after year. Only slowly, international tourists are discovering this major celebration, which started already in the 18th century.
Cape Verde's capital Praia is also organising a major carnival at the same time, in sharp competition with Mindelo. Also the Praia carnival is lively, colourful and authentic and - by distance - the greatest annual event in the otherwise rather sleepy city. Most travellers, so far, however prefer the Mindelo carnival to the one in Praia.
Close to Cape Verde, on the African mainland, impoverished and chronically unstable Guinea-Bissau also has a once-a-year occasion to forget the problems haunting the country and its population. Poverty makes the Bissau carnival smaller than the Mindelo carnival, but not any less exotic, with different ethnicities wearing their traditional attire.
In Bissau, this year's four-day carnival kicks off on 5 March. "People dress up in various different manners and disguise themselves wearing traditional attire and masks," reported the SOS Children's Village in Bissau, which let its children participate in the festivities. A special "children's carnival" is held every year in the capital and in Bafata.
Further south, Angola's booming capital Luanda is seeing its age-old carnival growing each year, with city and national authorities increasingly sponsoring the event. The Luanda carnival organisation committee this year reported to have a budget of US$ 400,000 and the provincial government has declared its aim of making Luanda Africa's number one carnival destination.
Large competitions are arranged, for the best musical carnival hit, the best attire and the most beautiful girl. The organisation committee seeks to create a "balance between the traditional and the modern" as it prepared the city for the 5 to 8 March carnival, with large parades to run through central Luanda. Also a children's carnival is planned for 5 March.
In Maputo, the capital Mozambique, yet another Portuguese speaking country, there are also carnival traditions, although public parades play a smaller role here. Carnival is Maputo is mostly celebrated in bars, discotheques or in private arrangements.
The Mozambican city of Quelimane, located 1,800 kilometres north of the capital, is rather the place to go for traditional carnival festivities with a very African touch. The Quelimane carnival is the most known and spectacular in Mozambique, attracting many visitors.
This year's carnival in Quelimane was however held already in mid-February. Residents and visitors this year had the poorest luck as extraordinarily heavy rains washed away the main parade and outdoor activities.
With carnivals in Africa mostly being a tradition brought by Portuguese settlers and kept alive in Portuguese speaking countries, other African cities and towns lately have been organising carnival-like events, mostly following initiatives from tourism authorities.
City authorities in South Africa's Johannesburg for some years have arranged the "Joburg Carnival" on New Year's Evening.
A more serious competitor, however, is Seychelles; a prime tourist destination in the Indian Ocean. This year, from 4 to 6 March, the Seychellois capital Victoria hosted its first-ever international carnival, with invited guests and starts - including Dionne Warwick and Grace Barbé - from all over the world.
The Seychelles Tourism Board, a key organiser, promises to make an annual high-level event of the Victoria carnival, with colourful tropical parades, an international up-market flair and a show-off of the islands' cultural diversity. "It is a carnival for the world, and it is a carnival where the world is invited to be represented with their own respective carnival floats to showcase their strengths and their culture," according to Alain St Ange of the tourist board.
With Seychelles onboard, Africa this year truly presents the whole range of carnivals, fit for any taste; from the exotic traditionalist Bissau carnival, to the unlimited celebrations of Cape Verde, via the African-modern mix carnival of Luanda to the upmarket Victoria newcomer.