Carnival Court Backpackers in Cape Town

Join the circus at Long Street’s top party hostel

As proper as a princess during the day, Carnival Court Backpackers is not all that unlike a scene ripped from the 1970s comedy classic “Animal House” in the evenings. There may not be motorbikes revving up the historic wooden stairs or blondes in bras and panties pillow fighting in the dorm rooms, but, at the Long Street hostel, anything, from setting a new drinking record to turning tabletops into dance floors to stumbling upon a gang of grown men dressed in nappies (diapers) – this actually happened – is possible.

With a bar that serves alcohol at backpacker prices (ask for vodka in a Russian accent), a balcony that overlooks Cape Town’s most legendary nightlife artery, pool and foosball tables and a line-up of entertainment – think live music, DJ nights and trance parties – scheduled from Wednesday to Saturday, the city centre hostel is the it spot for those who care less about a good night’s sleep and more about a good night out.

Though started as a guest house for well-to-do visitors back in 1902, the three-storey Victorian-era home relinquished its posh beginnings in the 1960s. During this period, while hippies were putting daisies in revolvers on the streets of America, and wildcat strikers were prowling the cobbled ways of France, the Cape Town city centre, Carnival Court included, descended into depths reigned over by the depraved. Today’s party hostel was yesterday’s whorehouse, even inspiring famous South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys’s play “Karnaval”, a work banned for five years for its obscene and blasphemous nature. 

As the years passed though, the formerly seedy CBD was granted a new lease on life, and the building now occupied by the hostel followed suit. Under new ownership, and after a much-needed facelift, Carnival Court Backpackers officially launched in 1997, and ever since, has been a party-hearty stalwart on a street that claims the largest number of bars and clubs per capita in the city.

These days, it has 70 beds in total across a collection of six- and four-bed dorms, twin and single quarters and private double rooms, as well as communal bathrooms and a fully stocked kitchen with plenty of fridge space and an assortment of cooking appliances. Not to mention, its two balconies, one of which extends from the bar and is open to the public and one of which is for guests only (this serves as the tanning balcony in summer), grant visitors a bird’s-eye view of the buzzing debauchery below.

And while the hostel’s greatest pull is certainly its prime location in the midsection of the Cape’s most happening neighbourhood, the reason travellers come for a week and end up staying for a month seems to be the uber-friendly and helpful staff. Fun-loving, but professional and incredibly knowledgeable about tours, excursions and overland trips (they’re quizzed monthly), the team at Carnival Court is as much responsible for starting riotous evenings as they are for making sure you don’t spend all your time looking into the bottom of a bottle.  What’s more, there’s a full-fledged booking centre on site, and the Baz Bus stops just outside the building.

That said, if you’re dead set on throwing your name away nightly (meaning, having an embarrassingly regular raucous throwdown), the hostel’s devoted employees will do their best to ensure your safety. They insist on confiscating your valuables and putting them in a safe behind the desk, and a security guard on duty from 8pm to 8am daily patrols the floors, making sure rooms are locked. Additionally, those storing their belongings in unlocked dorm cubicles can purchase a sturdy lock for a pittance thanks to a deal negotiated by the backpackers.

Boarders in need of a night of serious shut-eye can, of course, ask the staff for ear plugs; though, be forewarned, even if the hostel is enjoying a quiet evening, Long Street will likely not be so serene.  Needless to say, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys being in the throes of revelry and just steps away from an army of restaurants, coffee houses, bars and clubs, Carnival Court is second to none. All those in the mood for a quiet read and restful night of sleep, go elsewhere.

Tip: Thanks to the 2009 addition of a small stage, Carnival Court Backpackers hosts local musicians a few times a week. Guests can catch jazz greats, up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll heroes and acoustic acts for FREE. Visit the Carnival Court Facebook page for scheduling updates.

The Bill: Cheap as chips! Rates range from R120p/p for a bed in a dorm to R250p/p for a single room. What’s more, Carnival Court offers special prices for international volunteers and students travelling in South Africa.

Booking Carnival Court Backpackers: To book, contact +27 (0) 21 423 9003, email info@carnivalcourt.co.za or book online via the Carnival Court website

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Snoek, bokkoms and vetkoek at the Bergrivier Carnival on the West Coast.

In Cape Town on holiday? Have a gander at our locals' list of Mother City must-dos.

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