You’ve dreamed about an African safari for as long as you can remember. You’ve researched your destination down to the last detail, and you’ve finally booked your safari of a lifetime and you’re ready to depart but, what are the essentials you should carry with you in this journey?
For many first-time safari goers, this is the most daunting part of the adventure: what to pack for a safari, what to wear and what to leave at home—all valid questions and ones we get asked often.
We’ve broken it down for you as an easy way to approach this pre-travel task!
Choosing the right luggage is crucial and can make or break your African safari, bringing the correct luggage and packing lightly are the golden rules for every trip. While the international flights have generous luggage allowance, it is important to note that there are strict weight and size limitations for the smaller aircraft that link out to the remote safari locations.
The exact weight allocation varies slightly across destinations, but typically between 15 and 20 kg (33 and 44 lb) are permitted per person, which often includes your camera equipment, handbags and additional carry-on items. And, yes, they do check, so pack as lightly as possible to ensure a hassle-free journey.
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As important as the weight, is the type of bag itself. Hard-shell cases are not ideal and, for the most part, soft-sided bags are required on the smaller aircraft. For most safaris, a lightweight, soft-sided duffel bag is the norm. If you have a lot to pack, some people choose to forego the wheels—they add unnecessary weight when every kg counts.
If you have to purchase an emergency soft-sided bag at the check-in desk of a very busy African airport, then unpack and repack in front of a queue of onlookers, it won’t be a good experience.
As an “insider trip” we suggest too that if you’re like to bring some memories from Africa, do leave a bit of extra space for any safari “souvenirs” you might like to take home (unfortunately the same luggage restrictions apply to return flights).
Pack for all seasons
There is a misconception that it is always hot in Africa. While the summer days can indeed be hot, the mornings and evenings—regardless of season—can be chilly, especially in an open safari vehicle. To face the weather, layering is very convenient in these situations. Your layering should include at least on warm layer especially if you plan to go on early morning game drives. We recommend also adding a layer that if water and windproof as this will go a long way in keeping you comfortable in all weather conditions.
Most safari operators will provide blankets on the vehicles (year-round) and hot water bottles on every seat for those winter mornings. If you feel the cold, we highly recommend bringing a beanie and a pair of thin gloves for winter safaris. During the summer months, a light rain jacket is handy; however, many lodges will supply ponchos on the safari vehicle and umbrellas in the suites.
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For the ladies: dresses and skirts are fine for around the lodge and the pool, but believe us when we say there is no delicate way to scramble on/off a safari vehicle, with other guests, and your ranger, standing below. Also handy to note is that game drives can get very bumpy, so some women prefer to wear sports bras.
Another packing tip is that most safari camps and lodges provide a complimentary (or minimal cost) laundry service, enabling guests to pack light. Simply place your clothing in the laundry bag provided and it will be laundered, ironed, folded and placed on your bed at evening turndown (or the next morning, if the weather is inclement).
For cultural reasons, the laundry service in some destinations respectfully excludes undergarments but soap will be provided so it can be done in-room.
In terms of shoes, comfortable walking shoes are great (you don’t need to purchase hiking boots) as well as a pair of flip flops.
Remember: color is key
The general rule is to wear neutral, natural tones that blend in with the surrounding landscape (green, grey, brown, khaki, etc.). While this is not strictly enforced on safari vehicles, it is the preferred dress ethic, and certainly a requirement for nature walks. So, leave the red, pink, yellow, and colorful prints at home.
Long sleeves and pants also help minimize bites and protect you from scrapes on walking safaris. Shorts, can be fine around the camp or lodge, but for game drives and bush walks stick to lightweight pants.
You may want to leave the whites at home too. It is also next-to-impossible to keep clean while on safari.
Remember lighter colors are cooler, whereas dark ones absorb the heat and make you feel hotter.
When considering evening safari wear, bear in mind that the days of jackets and ties at the dinner table are long gone. Most safari lodges have relaxed dress codes for dinner so there’s no need to take any formal safari clothes with you.
There is enough time after the evening drive to return to your suite, shower off the day’s dust and freshen up.
Be sure to check out whether your lodge has a swimming pool and if so, don’t forget to pack some swimwear. A dip between game drives during the middle of the day is a great way to contemplate your wildlife viewings, whilst working the tan.
In most lodges, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, scrub and lotion are provided in convenient glass-pump bottles.
Don’t forget to pack strong SPF sunscreen, after-sun and lip balm. Some lodges will provide sunscreen in the suites and/or can also be purchased at the lodge.
If you are on specific medication, keep it in a safe place as it isn’t easily replaceable in remote bush locations. Hand sanitizer is readily available, and many lodges will also provide insect repellent. Bring some allergy meds if you suffer from pollen, dust, etc. and some antihistamine in the case of bug bites.
Optional Items to take with you
- Small personal flashlights
- Universal wall-plug adapter kit
- Enough memory cards for your camera and a hard drive to download them into (if you’re big into photography)
- Power bank/battery bank
- Pocket tissues
- Lens cloths
- Gloves, beanie and scarfs if you’re travelling during the wintertime
Don’t forget to pack any medications you are currently taking at your time of travel.
You should also consider packing your preferred pain reliever, lip balm, sunscreen, antiseptic cream, personal toiletries. Most camps will have these items on offer. “Your [carry-on] should contain medications and necessary items in the event your checked bag is lost or delayed.
What to avoid wearing on safari
The above information should give you a good overview of what safari clothes to take with you, but just in case you’re still in any doubt, here’s what you should absolutely not take with you on safari: A camouflage safari outfit. In a number of African countries, you can actually be arrested for wearing army-style camouflage clothes that could be confused with military wear. Best to avoid.
What not to pack
There are certain items we think it’s best don’t make the shortlist for your bag as there won’t be any need for them during your safari:
- The will to diet – gear up for a delicious but fattening diet!
- Snacks; no need to bring game drive snacks as likely you will be overfed while you’re out and about
- Plastic bags; they are banned in some African countries and will be confiscated at airport
- Hairdryer; most lodges provide unless they are eco-friendly and solar-operated in which case the use of hairdryers won’t be permitted.
- Drones; most national parks and private reserve across Africa won’t allow their use due to wildlife security monitoring reasons, as well as the privacy of fellow guests; best to leave them at home unless you have permission and the necessary paperwork resolved prior to travel.
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