What to pack
Packing for an African safari is vastly different than packing for just about any other trip, and it’s often a challenge for first time safari goers. Not only do most safari goers have weight restrictions on bush flights (a typical weight restriction is 15 kilograms or 33 pounds total per person, including camera equipment and carry-ons), but you also have the challenge of knowing which types of clothes to wear on safari are appropriate. We have put together our tips for what to pack for an African safari What to pack for a safari isn’t just about the clothing, either. There’s a lot of little quirky things about traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa that you need to know before you go. Here are some of the tips
PREPARE YOUR DOCUMENTS
Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa require your passport to be valid for six months beyond your travel dates in Africa. They also have requirements like a certain number of consecutive blank pages being available in your passport. So be sure to pull out your passport well in advance of your trip, and thoroughly review all the entry requirements for each country you’re visiting. US citizens can get the most up-to-date entry requirements on travel.state.gov.
Kenya is a Yellow fever country, so travelling from Kenya to these countries requires a yellow fever health card Tanzania, Mauritius, South Africa. Hence In addition to your passport being in order, you should obtain a Yellow Health Card and have it completed by your doctor. The Yellow Heath Card is an internationally recognized record of vaccinations endorsed by the World Health Organization. All passengers on the flight have to present their Yellow Health Cards to an official to verify the documents the moment you touch down. Some countries won’t even allow you enter the country if you can’t present this card, so it’s equally as important to have as your passport.
The other thing to pay close attention to are visas. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa require a visa for entry. Often a visa upon arrival is offered, and you should be prepared to pay for your visa with cash as electricity operates on the grid and connections can be unreliable for card machines. US dollars are widely accepted, though your US dollar bills should be printed after 2006. Additionally, ensure your bills are in excellent condition. US dollar bills with tears or writing on them won’t be accepted
CASH IS KING IN AFRICA
You won’t find credit card machines in the African bush and you’ll likely visit at least one village where you can pick up some unique souvenirs. US dollars are fairly widely accepted, and you can also easily take out local currency from an ATM when you arrive at the international airport.
Know that tipping is common throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and you should have cash on hand to tips guides and service staff. In our experience for a luxury safari, you should plan to tip your guide between $20 – $30 per day per couple.
Note that particularly in East Africa, only crisp US bills newer than 2006 are accepted. This is because banknotes produced prior to 2006 were very easily forged. You will definitely run into this when a bill older than 2006 make it into your mix and refused. It’s not a myth!
The primary activity on an African safari is going on game drives, which are what safaris are called in Africa. While there are often additional activities like walking safaris offered, the majority of your time will be spent sitting in safari vehicles while you and your guide look for the various wildlife you’ve come to see. That’s why it’s paramount that your African safari clothes are practical and comfortable.
We break everything down for you below with further explanation, but your packing list for safari should include the following essentials and will work no matter if you need a 2-day or 2-week safari packing list:
Duffel or soft-sided bag
TSA approved clear toiletry case
2 pairs of pants in a breathable fabric in earth tones
1 – 2 long sleeve shirts in chambray or earth tones
3 layering tanks or t-shirts
Wide brim hat with chin strap
Closed toe shoes like trail runners or fashion sneakers with good traction
Waterproof dry bag
Insect repellent with Deet
Plug adapters / convertors
First aid kit
LUGGAGE AND PACKING ESSENTIALS
You’ll likely be arriving to safari destinations like the Serengeti or Masai Mara on a bush flight. These are small planes, often only a Cesna Caravan, that have strict weight limits. They also require that passengers travel with soft-sided luggage that can easily be stuffed into compartments.
Some airlines like AirKenya and SafariLink offer luggage storage for a small fee. This can be a convenient option if you’re returning to the same airport. Just bring a duffel bag with you to take along to your safari destination, and store the rest of your luggage. But if you’re continuing on to another safari destination, you’ll have to take everything along with you.
The large duffel bag is made from a water-resistant material, is sturdy and is classy with its leather trim. It easily folds down in to a small zippered pouch that is perfect for packing. The pouch also comes with a strap, so it can be used as a cross body purse.
One other thing to invest in as a TSA approved clear toiletry bag, and this is essential for your Kenya packing list. Some African countries like Kenya and Tanzania have banned single-use plastic bags, inclusive of the ones provided by the airport. Kenya’s plastic bag ban law is the strictest in the world. Not only are plastic bags confiscated, but anyone caught using them faces a maximum penalty of $37,000 or a jail term of up to four years.
AFRICAN SAFARI CLOTHES
Know that the 15-kilo weight allotment adds up quickly. When it comes to what to wear in Africa, comfort should be prioritized over anything else when you’re spending time in the African bush. But packing sensibly doesn’t have to mean frumpy, either.
With laundry service available, you don’t need to pack any more than 2 pairs of pants, 2 long sleeve shirts and one pair of pajamas. We recommend bringing enough underwear for your entire trip or washing them out yourself since it is considered taboo to include your underwear in your laundry in Africa (and some camps or lodges will not wash them). Soap flakes are usually provided to wash out whatever you’d like yourself in your tent or room.
PANTS AND LONG SLEEVES
If you’re going on safari in East Africa in places like Kenya or Tanzania, then you’ll be just a few degrees away from the equator where the sun is strong. Even though it might seem counter intuitive to pack pants and long sleeves when the weather will be hot, you’ll be glad you did for protection from the sun.
Long sleeves and pants also help minimize bites and protect you from scrapes on walking safaris. Shorts, skirts and tank tops can be fine around the camp or lodge, but for game drives and bush walks stick to lightweight pants and long sleeve shirts.
Clothing in earth tones is essential. Africa has a fly called the tsetse fly, which is a biting fly. They are attracted to dark blue and black, and tsetse fly traps are a blue or black cloth strung up in the trees where they are active.
Wearing blue or black makes you a tsetse fly trap and they can (and will) bite right through your clothing. Insect repellent is not effective in keeping tsetse flies away and the tsetse fly has been linked with a disease called sleeping sickness.
Game drives typically begin early and you’re out and about by 5am – 6am. The temperatures between night and day can be drastic, and you’ll practically experience all four seasons in one day. Mornings are cool and a jacket is necessary. A cute utility jacket is also functional since all the pockets come in to use for easy access to lens cleaning cloths and lenses for your camera. You don’t have to spend a fortune Don’t bother with packing a rain jacket. The safari vehicles can be closed up. So skip the extra weight of a rain jacket that you may only need once or twice. Pack a light scarf. Wrap it up in to keep warm in the early morning, then use it to protect yourself from the sun when you strip off some layers under the hot midday sun.
We recommend only bringing along one casual dress for the evenings around camp. Having one dressier outfit make a night feel a bit more special. Nearly every evening you would arrive around sunset and would go directly to drinks around a campfire, a bush barbecue or hung out having a drink in the common lodge areas before dinner. You would almost never go back to your tent or room to change first.
You definitely don’t need to tote along heavy hiking boots. Not only will they be too hot, but hiking boots are clunky to pack. Really, any pair of sturdy closed-toe shoes will do. We recommend a good pair fashion sneaker that you can dress up a bit with a cute dress in the evening. Reef Iris shoes has anatomical arch support and a cushioned foot bed that keeps you comfortable, The tread is also good, so the Reef Iris can also be worn for bush walks. Some parts of Africa don’t see rain often, and when it does rain the ground can quickly turn into a muddy river. In Africa, flip flops are worn only around the pool. Bring a pair for walking around in your tent and going to the pool at your camp or lodge.
SWIM SUIT AND CASUAL CLOTHES FOR AROUND CAMP
Many camps, especially luxury camps, have pools these days. There’s no better place to be than lounging in the pool during the hot afternoons between game drives. Don’t forget a swim suit! You can also be more casual around camp in a pair of shorts and a tank top or t-shirt. It’s not necessary to stick to neutral colors either, like when you’re out on game drives.
Linen is perfect as a breathable fabric on hot afternoons. Not only will you stand out to other people, packing your favorite jeans or black shirt could also make you a magnet for tsetse flies. And your neon yellow trainers could scare off the animals on a bush walk.
Dust is a problem and hard on your camera equipment. And if you have any rainy days, you’ll be combating both rain and sticky mud. Having a waterproof dry bag large enough to stick your equipment and anything else you want to stay dry or dust/mud free will definitely come in handy. It folds down small and weighs basically nothing, so is easy enough to pack.
SKIN AND HAIR CARE
The African bush is dry, so don’t leave home without your favorite moisturizer and a good conditioner. Even though all of the camps and lodges provide shampoo and conditioner, We recommend you bring your own.
You don’t need to bring the big bottle of your favorite shampoo and conditioner. You can have a set of Cool Gear Go-Gear Silicone Travel Containers that are TSA approved. You just fill them back up with your Repairing Shampoo and Conditioner (which is sold in environmentally friendly refill bags) to keep your hair healthy at home and on the road. Your lips also get very dried out and cracked in such dry conditions. bring your lip balm which is an ultra-rich moisturizer that actually absorbs in to your lips to hydrate them.
Africa uses 220 – 240 volt electricity at 50hz. Each country can be different with the plug type, so verify the plug type for the countries you’re visiting before your trip.
Many electronics these days are dual voltage, meaning they can operate on the 110 volts that the US operates on as well as 220 – 240 volts that much of the rest of the world operates on with only a plug adapter. Cell phone chargers, camera chargers and even laptop chargers are all dual voltage these days and you need nothing more than a plug adapter to plug them in. Things like hairdryers and flatirons often are not dual voltage and require a convertor in order to use them.
FIRST AID KIT
Remember that you are in the African bush and the nearest town or village might be hours away by plane. Be sure to pack yourself a first aid kit with medications you might need like aspirin, cold medicine in case you do catch a bug, an antihistamine like Benadryl for reactions to insect bites, diarrhea medication like Imodium, sunscreen and cough drops or throat lozenges. Bathrooms are basically non-existent in the African bush and it’s not the place where you want to experience tummy woes.