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Grahamstown's Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival (www.nafest.co.za) began in 1974 with some 60-odd performances, and now offers a staggering variety of entertainment. Besides theaters, every conceivable kind of venue is utilized, including churches, school halls, museums, and pubs. There is a formal program, an official fringe festival, and even a fringe of the fringe that gets seriously alternative. Some offbeat productions have included families of giant puppets and stilt workers roaming the streets and a theater ensemble who create hair installations on its audience. Others are more thought-provoking and challenging, such as a walk through the streets of the town with homeless children, highlighting the inequality of wealth in South Africa. You can also see local and international music, theater, ballet and modern dance performances. There's a Children's Festival and a large outdoor market with vendors selling everything from hand-painted T-shirts to local crafts.

The large festival events and the film festival are staged at the 1820 Settlers National Monument, a concrete edifice on Gunfire Hill, next to the old garrison, Fort Selwyn. Sundowner concerts at 5 pm in the monument's foyer give previews of the various shows.

Tickets

Tickets are available via Computicket (www.computicket.com) up to two months before the festival.

Getting to and Around the Festival

If you are flying into Port Elizabeth, you can rent a car to make the hour-long journey to Grahamstown, or you can take the festival minibus that meets passengers at the airport (until 8 pm, R150 per person). Check out the festival Web site for booking information.

In Grahamstown, the Hopper Bus travels between the monument and various venues throughout the day. Timetables and booking information for all festival-related events are on the comprehensive Web site.

Where to Stay

A wide variety of accommodations is available, ranging from rooms in university halls to private-home stays. It's advisable to plan your trip three months in advance or more, but it's still possible to find something at the last minute. Many overseas visitors stay in surrounding towns or on game farms in the area (which often have special packages) and make day trips into the town.

Be Prepared

The festival takes place in midwinter, and it's always very cold at night. Days can be hot and sunny, so it's advisable to wear layers, and to bring a coat and scarf.

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