Booking your first safari is so exciting! Anticipation runs high as you start to imagine the animal encounters that await you, but then you have to consider the practicalities. What should you pack for a safari in South Africa? Do you really need a £1000 lens to capture the photos? Why does all that safari gear have so many pockets!? Never fear, this guide is designed to be a totally truthful roundup.
You are welcome to read through all the rationale behind our packing list, along with examples we have learned from ourselves or you can head to the bottom of this post and just download the printable PDF that accompanies it. Tick it off as you pack and have a great time on your trip!
What to Wear on a Safari in South Africa
There is a dress code but no, it’s not just so you can look like an explorer. The whole idea is to blend into your surrounding and not shock or antagonise the animals. Think of it more as a colour palette. I did at first but slowly found myself getting sucked into the world of safari gear. For example, this playsuit was very easy to wear but I couldn’t see it making a return once the safari was over.
The Natural Look
Instead, plan a capsule wardrobe full of items that you love in these colours:
You can use them time and time again if they are in shapes and colours that you like, and not just “the safari look”.
If you really despise this kind of earth tone, consider buying a few t-shirts from a cheap high street shop for the trip. You can always donate them to the local community or charity after you have used them.
We would suggest taking enough clothing for your whole stay. Lots of safari camps offer laundry but try to preserve water and so encourage guests not to take advantage.
A Light Jacket
Zooming around first thing in the morning is surprisingly cold so it is great to have a light layer you can whip on and off quickly, and shove in your bag when you are not using it.
I bought a pleated, knee-length Uniqlo skirt in khaki and it is now a firm favourite in my travel wardrobe.
One item of clothing I did get especially, and one that I adore, are my Zipp2Go trousers. Getting up early to go on game drives can be quite chilly, but after a while, the sun does make an appearance and you will warm up quickly. It is at this point, you can whip the legs off and turn the trousers into shorts! Now I know that zip-off trousers and a new concept, but they are normally so dull, and you wouldn’t wear them in real life. These are funky and nicely fitted. They come in many designs, but for safaris their palm print is perfect.
It may be tempting to pick up a cool camo jacket or pack your camo cargo trousers but these don’t go well down in Africa. In fact, camouflage clothing is actually banned for civilians in Zimbabwe. Elsewhere it could get you into a sticky situation, so just leave it at home.
Bumping and bouncing across game park tracks is such fun but can take a toll on your chest. Bring a good sports bra that keeps those bad boys in place. It is also nice to not have wires digging into you went you are sat in the heat.
Yes, I know, hats don’t suit you. They don’t suit me either but you will be sat in the sun for hours and it can be unrelenting. I bought a hat from the UK…and promptly lost it. Luckily, the safari lodge shop had some to purchase.
Often, we recommend a wide-brimmed hat for protection from the sun, but in this instance, a cap or fisherman’s hat with a neck strap is better as they are a lot less likely to fly off your head if your safari vehicle picks up speed or gets caught in a gust of wind. You wouldn’t want to miss the perfect shot because you are hanging onto your hat!
- Walking – Bring something sturdy, especially if you are planning on a walking safari. We found that a decent pair of trainers did the trick. Walking boots would probably be overkill and very hot!
- Daytime – Flip flops, jellies and other similar light shoes are great for toddling around camp in the day time.
- Evening – Some people like to dress up in the evenings for dinner, in which case you will need a cute pair of shoes.
You may be lucky enough to have a sun deck, a swimming pool or a hot tub in your safari camp. For a decent swim or sunbathe, you will want your swimming costume or trunks on hand. Actually, this is a rule for all trips ever because you just never know when there will be a body of water to jump into.
If you are a serious photographer, you will probably know more about this than me. If, however, you are just an enthusiastic amateur then here is my advice.
A Great Point-and-Shoot
You don’t need to rush and buy a new camera for this trip. I did and didn’t know how to use the thing! Just take a decent digital camera that you know how to use.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100 is the perfect travel camera if you aren’t in the mood to mess about with lenses, aperture levels and shutter speeds. Point, shoot and you’ll get some decent shots. It has been a travel favourite since its first iteration.
Once the preserve of adventurer travellers, GoPro has been quietly upping its game and now takes excellent photos along with great video. Video is ironed out with HyperSmooth 3.0, great for rumbling along on a game drive. It is also super easy to take photos in the fisheye mode familiar to GoPro users, wide-angle and with a normal linear view.
You could even just use your phone. You aren’t going to get that amazing zoom capability but most phone cameras are pretty great these days. iI makes backing up and sharing your photos and videos seriously easy.
A Tablet or Other Bluetooth/WiFi Device plus Transfer Cable
If you aren’t using your mobile device, you’ll need a way to review and store your photos. Trust me, you will take hundreds of photos, far more than you will ever use. The ability to go through and select your best shots whilst you are still in situ is invaluable. We have found that trying to do this a long time after the fact means it probably won’t get done.
Once you have picked the best photos, you can then store them on that secondary device as a backup, and maybe even send them to the cloud if your camp/lodge has WiFi.
Consider taking an external charger for your phone/camera. It would be terrible to run out of battery just as you come across the best sighting of the day. This is especially important if you are doing a camping safari as power outlets are not guaranteed every night.
Toiletries to Bring on Safari
You’ll be taking your standard wash kit, but there are few things you’ll need to ensure are included in it:
You will want this for both the evening (as a standard) but also, in the day time if it’s rainy season. Choose a strong repellent with at least 50% DEET.
Sunny days are a welcome aspect of safaris in South Africa, but obviously you need to be mindful of the damage the sun can do to your skin. Whether you are enjoying the rays over lunch or are out and about on wildlife drives, remember to apply and reapply. Some people recommend a tinted moisturiser or CC cream with SPF but that wouldn’t cover me for a whole drive.
If you don’t fancy showering a few times a day, bring a packet of wet wipes. You are likely to get pretty dusty hurtling around on a Safari vehicle and it is so much easier to give your arms, ankles, neck and face a quick wipe down. We like to store ours in a ziplock bag to stop them from drying out.
If this is your product of choice, bring them with you as they can be hard to get hold of in Africa. Remember, you must not flush them anywhere in the world but this is especially important in places with less robust sewage systems. You do not want to be the person who breaks the camp toilet!
As a nature lover, you may revel in the sounds of animals/bugs all night. However, couples in nearby tents might be less appealing. I am a very light sleeper so once it was really time to sleep, ear plugs were vital.
Your camp may have a first aid kit but you will need to bring any regular medications you take. Take some spare just in case as you may be a long way from a pharmacy and unable to obtain a prescription.
First Aid Kit
Bring along the normal collection of bits:
- Pain killers
- Anti-diarrhoea tablets
A Few Other Things to Pack for a Safari in South Africa
These are invaluable for spotting those exciting things way off in the distance. That being said, you may not have to pack them yourself. You could either enquire whether others in your group own a pair, or ask your safari lodge/camp whether they have some you can borrow/rent.
I am visually impaired and often use a small pair of binoculars at the theatre, hence I didn’t mind taking them along. The whole group ended up using them so it was definitely worth it.
Most camps do a morning and afternoon drive, with plenty of free time in the day. If you are in a nice lodge, with lots of electricity, you can sit and watch videos or listen to music. However, if you are going analogue, it’s nice to have some paper-based entertainment.
Multiplug and Adaptor
In spots where there are plugs, there may not be that many. With an army of phones, cameras etc to charge, bringing along a multiplug means you only need one outlet. Do ensure you have a South African converter. These have three round pins and are unlike anywhere else.
From night drives to midnight dashes to the bathroom of a tented camp, a torch is very important. We prefer a head torch as it leaves your hands free for other things. Try and find one with red light for use at night.
Not too much though, we always advise using cards when possible. You will need some cash to tip your guides, drivers and camp staff. Just make sure you have enough South African Rand to cover what you are comfortable tipping.
You may have a morning wake up call but if you like to have a little longer to get ready then it is nice to have your own alarm set. If you are doing a safari camp without a guaranteed electricity source, you will want to have your phone off overnight to preserve juice so take a small battery-powered alarm clock.
You will need somewhere to keep your cameras, binoculars etc during drives. We recommend a small bag that zips fully. Some people opt for little rucksacks but we found the bumpy roads meant we were worried about crushing our camera gear. Instead, a crossbody bag is a good option.
What Kind of Bag Should you Pack for a Safari in South Africa?
If you are flying from Johannesburg to your safari camp, make sure your bag is soft-sided and weights less than 15kg. These are the usual luggage requirements on the small planes that travel to safari airstrips. Keeping the weight down can be tricky but if you are travelling with others, share the liquids, tech gear and books around equally.
Your Safari Packing List