Stemming from the Swahili word for ‘journey’, safaris are Africa’s crème de la crème and piece de resistance all wrapped into one. If you’ve never had the chance to head out on safari before, you’re in for an amazing time. Every game drive, walk or boat trip providing new experiences and novel photo opportunities. But it can be difficult knowing what your African safari packing list should contain.
Good travel operators should give you a basic guide once you’ve booked. But to be the ultimate in prepared, we’ve created this guide to everything you’ll want to pack for a trip to Africa and everything you won’t!
African Safari Packing List Basics
Think about your luggage carefully. Because of the terrain, wheely suitcases aren’t all that useful. The wheel mechanism also adds a substantial amount of weight you can do without for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s going to be easier for you (and porters) to move your bag about. Secondly, if you’re heading out to a private airstrip on a light aircraft (sometimes called a bush flight) luggage allowances tend to be limited to 33 pounds / 15 kilograms.
This is also the reason we’d recommend a soft-shelled luggage rather than one with a hard shell, although you do need to be more careful with any breakables.
When it comes to clothing, you’ve got the tricky task of blending into the environment as much as possible so you don’t scare away the animals you’ve come all this way to see, staying as cool as you can and keeping the bugs at bay.
You don’t need to head to a specialist safari outfitter for a whole new wardrobe, since most camps are like luxury hotels dotted about the savannah. Many even have overnight laundry services.
Clothing for three to four days is therefore usually enough. Try and find clothes that are neutral colors – such as beige, tans or light greens. These are colors you might expect to see in the bush naturally, and are especially beneficial on days you’re going on game walks rather than drives when the vehicle will hide most of your coloration in any case. Khaki is also fine, but keep away from camouflage since it’s illegal to wear unless a member of the military in many countries in the region.
To help stay cool, natural fabrics such as cottons and linens are best – the thinner the better. Avoid bringing denim which is hot, weighty and takes up a lot of space in limited luggage allowances.
Shorts are always tempting because of the heat, but you may prefer a light pair of trousers instead as they will provide protection against both the sun and biting insects. Mosquitos are mostly a problem at dawn and dusk in areas with still water, so consider changing for the evening if hanging around the camp bar. You’ll also want to bring tropical strength insect repellent and use it on any areas of bare flesh.
Even walking safaris don’t tend to be too strenuous, so you’re not going to need bulky hiking boots. However, a pair of shoes with a good tread which you can wear all day in comfort, such as a pair of sneakers, are needed for their grip on unsurfaced paths. If possible, avoid those which are bright white or other unnatural colors.
A pair of sandals is another useful addition to your African safari packing list, so you aren’t limited to your shoes when in camp or the privacy of your room.
Protection from the Sun
Being on safari will generally mean being out in the open for several hours at a time. Although most safari activities take place in the early morning or late afternoon when animals are at their most active and engaging, you’ll still be spending a substantial amount of time in the sun, and probably a lot more than you are used to back home.
Protection from the sun is therefore a must. Sunglasses with UV protection will also help prevent you endlessly squinting in the bright light. A form of headgear will help stop your face and neck burning and keep you cooler. If you’re not a fan of hats and caps per se, try a bandana. They can be soaked in water for extra freshness.
Other Items to Remember for Your African Safari Packing List
The contrast between the heat of the day and night can mean safari goers feel a little chill once the sun has dipped below the horizon. A light sweater will do the job perfectly to correct this.
You shouldn’t swim anywhere without checking it’s safe to do so locally first. Many rivers and lakes are deadly due to the presence of crocodiles. On the plus side, many camps have their own plunge pools ideal for a cooling dip, so don’t forget your swimming gear!
Another essential to add to your African safari packing list is a small medical kit. It doesn’t need to be flash, just contain medications you use in ordinary life – painkillers in case you get a headache, anti- diarrhea medication, decongestants and sunscreen. You may also need to take a regimen of anti- malaria tablets. This will depend on exactly where on the continent you’re traveling to.
Since most camps run on generator power, there is a risk of blackouts, so a small but powerful torch (bright enough to get you along paths at night) is also important to consider. Headtorches are lightweight and keep your hands free.
What to Leave Out of Your African Safari Packing List
Knowing what not to take on safari is just as important as understanding what you should take. In addition to camouflage wear, avoid taking single-use plastics such as polythene shopping bags. In some countries they are banned and you can be fined for using them. In others, they will add to the mountains of plastic refuge that needs to be dealt with each year.
You should also leave your hair dryer at home. The electrical systems of almost all camps aren’t able to deal with the large amount of power they require to run.
Knowing What to Pack for Africa
The general advice for any African safari packing list has to be keep it simple. Cut back on the unnecessary so you can instead use your limited luggage allowance for what you’ll actually use day in day out. Just remember to save a little space for souvenirs!