Visiting Burning Man in the Nevada desert can cost a significant amount of money.

Visiting Burning Man in the Nevada desert can cost a significant amount of money. Veterans and newcomers alike share insights into the economics of life on the playa and why it's worth it.

It's not easy – and not cheap – to create a bustling city in the middle of a barren desert. However, that's exactly what happens at the Burning Man festival, held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Burning Man started in 1986 on a San Francisco beach with just 35 people, united by the "desire for a more creative and interconnected way of being in the world." This week, nearly 70,000 people are venturing out of the dusty desert after the 37th edition of Burning Man. The nine-day festival has transformed into a massive cultural phenomenon, where so-called "Burners" from all over the world come together to build a civilization from scratch, complete with art installations, healing camps, inspiring talks, and live DJ performances.

Each year, attendees can spend thousands on tickets, fees, transportation, and supplies for their time on the playa, as well as invest countless hours. However, many say it's worth every penny.

Tessa Velasques (Photo: provided by Tessa Velasques)

Tessa Velasques, 33: $5,000 to $7,000

Tessa Velasques has been to the Burning Man festival four times – she even introduced her father to the festival (he has also attended several times now). A chef from New York who cooks food in the style of documentary films on TikTok, she attended her first Burning Man festival at the age of 26. "I heard magical things about art, music, self-discovery, a spiritual journey, and it really intrigued me," she says.

Velasques had never been to festivals – or even camped – before Burning Man, but she had heard from peers that she would "find herself" in the desert. She became a convert and has since spent between $5,000 and $7,000 (approximately £4,010 to £5,520) on each trip to the playa.

In addition to hidden labor costs, which can include hours of setting up and breaking down camp, during her 2022 trip, Velasques spent about $1,000 on round-trip flights from New York to Reno, Nevada; $700 on a festival ticket ($595 plus fees and delivery); and $500 on the transportation of materials to the site. She also spent nearly $600 on personal items like costumes, $1,500 on a shared van, where she stayed, and $400 on camp fees, which included shared food resources, water, shade structures, and a generator.

As a self-employed worker with no paid vacation, Velasques budgeted her resources for her Burning Man participation in the first few years of her involvement. It paid off. "I hoped for awe and wonder, hoped for inspiration, hoped to find myself, hoped to have fun and challenge myself," she says, "and all of that really did happen."

However, she hasn't returned since 2022. The expenses are substantial, but Velasques also expresses disappointment in "influential people on social media and tech bro types who don't actually adhere to Burning Man's core principles," such as communal effort, leaving no trace, and civic responsibility. She believes she can better allocate her money elsewhere, where she doesn't harm the environment and go against her ethical principles.

Agave Lounge and Prem and Penny Kumta (Photo: provided by Prem Kumta)

Prem Kumta, 47: $8,000

Prem Kumta from San Francisco discovered Burning Man in the early 2000s through friends who created a massive sound camp – a city within the Burning Man city – with a mile-long sound art installation along the playa.

After attending his first Burning Man festival in 2003, Kumta, the CEO of a creative agency, and his wife Penny visited the festival half a dozen times until they had children, and returned once their three kids were older. Their most recent trip was in 2022.

Unlike many other festival-goers, Kumta is part of a large camp with an especially "massive setup" – he is one of the founders of Agave Lounge, a camp with over 150 people and a geodesic dome covered in carpets, built to shelter people from the elements. Inside the dome is a bar designed in an agave theme, where 20,000 to 30,000 drinks are served throughout the week, a bouncy castle, a giant sound system for world-class DJ performances, and supplies for those in need in extreme weather conditions.