Packing for an African Safari is a big job! There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to your safari suitcase and what you put inside of it. I recently had an amazing stay at the so lovely Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
I met with the Kwandwe manager JP and asked for his advice on what to pack for safari – particularly what do you need to buy on your african safari packing list that’s new and what can you repurpose that you might already own.
Not only does JP have years of experience managing Safari reserves Kwandwe has just opened a gorgeous online shop. The shop is perfect for buying items to fill your safari suitcase as well as lovely items and gifts if you like all things African. And if you are staying at Kwandwe you can pre-order all your safari kit and pick it up when you arrive – perfect!
⇒ South Africa has some amazing wine country – find out about how to get around the most lovely in my Wine Tours Stellenbosch post.
My recent visit to Kwandwe was my 6th time on safari – I love it! However, I did not love packing. I found African safari packing very daunting – particularly my first safari. I also made a lot of mistakes – like bringing high heeled shoes! So I have combined my experience with JP’s expertise to produce an expert packing list for African safari!
The Ultimate Packing List for Safari – But a couple of things to consider before we begin:
Is this your first time on safari? If so I strongly urge you to re-purpose as much of what you already own as possible. If you have been on African safaris before and loved them like me then it could be a good time to invest in some comfortable safari gear. Everything in my packing list African safari recommendations should stand a considerable test of time unless I note otherwise.
Do you enjoy doing things that utilize a similar type of clothing to safari clothing? Eg trekking? Hiking? Walking? If so, again, it could make sense to invest in some more focused gear like that on my list.
Whether you are heading on a Masai Mara safari or a Serengeti safari a safari packing list Kenya will look pretty much the same as a safari packing list Tanzania as a safari packing list Botswana! I think you get the point! All packing lists for African safaris will look virtually the same.
Finally, if this is your first safari you may not be aware that most safari camps offer daily clothes laundry service. At the end of the day pop your dirty safari clothes (everything!) into the basket or bag and they will be back by the end of the next afternoon’s game drive. So if you are going on safari for 6 days you really only need 3 days worth of African safari clothing max.
⇒ A great time to visit Africa is when you are about to start a new life – check out my post on a Safari Honeymoon to find out how.
Safari Weather and Logistics impact on What to Pack for a Safari
Planning your clothes for safari is a mixture of logistics and weather.
In terms of logistics, the structure of most East Africa safari days is quite similar. A morning game drive, which begins between 430 and 630am depending on the time of year and normally runs for about 4-5 hours, a rest in the middle of the day and then an afternoon drive that kicks off between 3pm and 430pm depending on the weather and then lasts till the sun goes down.
The afternoon drive includes the traditional sundowner drink. Eg whatever you wear on the afternoon drive will be what you wear for a sundowner.
Once back at camp there is time to relax/refresh and then dinner.
When considering the weather, most of the key places for Safari in Africa eg South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana are in the southern hemisphere. So Winter is between June and August.
There are different reasons to go on safari at different times of the year eg long green grass can mean better photos but harder to see the animals, the middle of summer is hot but good for watering-hole shots, etc etc.
Check out this blog post from Kuoni on when to go on safari by country
From packing for safari point of view, the key thing you need to know is no matter what time of year you go there will be big variations in the weather during the day. So layers are critical – and layers that are easy to take off and put back on.
Even in the height of summer, it is usually quite cold when that early morning game drive kicks off. By mid-morning things can warm up and you may get down to shorts and a t-shirt by the end of the morning drive depending on the weather.
The beginning of the afternoon drive is normally the warmest point of the day in terms of drives. However, once the sun begins to drop the temperature can drop drastically and you may well need to rug up again.
Dinner tends to be very casual at the large majority of safari camps – even at the very top end. Most people wear a version of what they had on that day. I like to bring a light dress and layers just to feel less confined after a day in a vehicle but it is usually a cotton dress and flat shoes or runners.
Also, don’t forget that most viewing vehicles are open-topped for the best visibility of the animals. This means you need to think about covering up from the sun as well.
⇒ A growing industry in Africa is spa – check out my post on the best South African Spa options.
Recommendations and Packing Tips for African Safari – Luggage and Bags
Firstly, I will cover the luggage and bags. This includes your main piece of luggage or variation on a suitcase, some type of bag or pack to take with you on the vehicle for the drives, camera bag and bum bag for ease of movement when it is time to take those all-important photos!
In terms of your main piece of luggage if you are going somewhere like South Africa and being picked up from a major airport then you can probably just stick with luggage that you already have for a safari.
However, if you are either moving around to several safari camps and/or taking light planes then you will want to look at taking a softer type of suitcase/bag. Softer safari luggage is required as if you are moving around your bag will come on and off vehicles quite a few times so it needs to be lighter and also it needs to be easy to pack in with all the other gear. Same applies with small planes
There are quite a few bags that can make for a sensible investment due to their flexibility of use. Some options are
A large-ish duffel bag is probably the optimal format for safari. Duffel bags are easy to pack with other pieces of luggage and there is no weight in the structure. However, you do want a decent duffel bag so that all the things inside are protected.
The next most important item is the safari travel bag you take with you on game drives. This safari bag tends to include the following: photographic equipment, water, sweets or snacks, layers of clothing, gloves/buffer/hats, phone, toiletries (hand sanitizer, sunscreen, mosquito spray, lip balm) etc.
There aren’t loads of room on a safari vehicle so the safari travel bag shouldn’t be too big. Your bag will spend most of its time on the floor of the vehicle so it should also be quite sturdy and able to get a bit dusty/dirty. This is a bag that can easily get flung around so it is really important to get one that ties/closes at the top or you could end up with your gear strewn across the vehicle.
Safari backpacks are pretty much the best option. They are sturdy, tend to have loads of pockets and flaps which can be super useful, they tend to be waterproof or come with covers, close at the top and are built for a bit of wear and tear.
Another option which JP suggested is to use a Nylon Cooler Bag. These can flat-pack, sit nicely in vehicles and keep everything dry. Nylon Cooler bags are often used by rangers and are nice and low cost.
Bumbags are quite in fashion again at the moment! They are also great for safari as your hands can be free for photos whilst you keep say your phone, some personal items, different photography items etc close by in your safari bumbag.
Packing cubes are so helpful for organising everything within your luggage. I have one for underwear, one for tops, one for bottoms etc etc. Packing cubes are like having little shelves within your luggage – and particularly helpful when you are trying to quickly grab clean clothes for a 6 am game drive!
Safari Camera Bags are critical for protecting any type of quality camera. It is ideal to take the camera bag with you on game drives as they can be bumpy and lenses are sensitive things and can easily be knocked or broken.
Also, the safari camera bag gives you storage for camera cleaning equipment (you need to clean lenses etc regularly when on safari due to all the dust), extra SD cards, filter lenses etc. These are things you will want with you on the drive rather than leaving them in your room. The light can change dramatically during one game drive – and you can encounter bad weather that could get dirt on your lens. You will want that gone asap in case a leopard pops up!
If you already have a good camera bag and you don’t mind it getting a bit dusty then there is no need to buy another one for safari.
⇒ Wondering about what kind of camera to take on safari? Check out my post on Best Camera for Safari – plus a guide on how you can get some great safari shots on your phone.
If you have a biggish camera then a little beanbag can be incredibly useful. The camera beanbag can be placed on the side or tops of vehicles to provide a stable base for your camera. I love these! Ideally, bring a beanbag without beans and just add some sand when you get to your lodge and tie it up. This can really improve the quality of your pics – especially when you are on your maximum zoom.
The Kwandwe online shop has some fantastic bag options as well – Check out Kwandwe Bags here
⇒ Many of the big lodges will have power so you can wash and dry your hair with style! Check out my post on the Best Travel Hair Dryer with Diffuser Reviews.
Now it’s on to you! Let’s start from the bottom:
Comfortable walking shoes are the best option for safari. There is no need for a hiking boot or any type of specialized shoe unless you are looking at a walking safari. The majority of time on an African safari is spent in a vehicle rather than on the ground. Of course, if you already have hiking boots they will be fine on safari – but it may not be so comfortable for you to wear heavy boot all day.
Trainers in a neutral colour are pretty much perfect. I am often moving about the vehicle to get the best photo and you will get on and off the vehicle quite a few times for coffee breaks, bathroom breaks etc. This makes trainers the perfect shoe.
Open-toed shoes are also ok if you are not going to be walking around. Personally, I tend to wear closed-toe shoes like trainers or light boots for the morning drive and then open-toed shoes like Birkenstocks for the afternoon drive. Flip flops are probably too flimsy and the shoes will get dusty so you may damage sandals.
There is no need for any type of special sock for safari – just bring what you already have.
Safari Trousers Women and Men
When it comes to safari clothes it is just like the movies – neutral colors are best. You won’t be kicked off a vehicle if you’re wearing a fluoro top but it is better to wear neutral colours that blend in with the vehicle. The animals see the vehicle as one entity and learn not to fear it. Anything that contrasts with that isn’t helpful and can scare the animals off.
Earth or neutral colours are also the best at hiding the inevitable dust and dirt that is part of any African game drive.
In terms of fabrics don’t worry about insect repellant or anything like that. A nylon breathable fabric is ideal. Thick cotton can be too heavy.
My personal safari favourite is the good old zip on zip off or convertible trousers. These pants were made for safari. You can have your legs covered first thing and last thing of the day and then turn them into shorts when warmer. I also love the trousers available at Lululemon – they are super comfortable and I also always wear them on planes.
On the top half, if you are prone to getting cold it might be a good idea to have a dry fit layer as your base. These can be especially good if long-sleeved when it comes to the heavy sun. Personally, I find these a bit restrictive but I would always prefer to be a bit cool rather than too hot so it is a personal choice for this safari attire.
A looser dry-fit t-shirt is my ideal base eg the type of t-shirt you would wear for running. Bodywarmer vests can then be a very handy next layer and multi-use. However, on their own, a bodywarmer vest won’t be sufficient on a cold African morning.
The other option is the safari shirt. These are button-up shirts and are often made of breathable fabrics and/or have ventilation. One of the best things about a safari shirt is the number of pockets that it has – this can be very useful!
I love fleece and tend to always use one as my second layer. I think that is because fleeces tend to be nice and soft and layer up well! Again Lululemon also have some great fashionable choices in this area.
In terms of a jacket, you can choose a thicker fleece jacket or a down jacket. Again this comes down to personal choice and time of year. Most upmarket safari lodges will have ponchos and blankets available for you on their game vehicles. I use the down jacket I use for trekking/walking when on I am on safari.
Safari clothes for women tend to be very similar to safari clothes for men! Most of the links above will take you through the women’s section of the website but every website I have linked to in this post has safari clothing womens and men on their sites.
Another fantastic place to visit in Africa is the amazing and oh so photogenic Namibia. Read more about it and check out my photos:
⇒ Check out my Namibia Self Drive 10 Night Itinerary here
⇒ For somewhere different here is my guide to the Kalahari and Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
⇒ Find out all about the amazing sand dunes of Namibia in my post on Sossusvlei Travel Guide
Safari Hats, Buffers, Gloves and Sunglasses
A buffer or warmer for your neck can be a great use on safari. These can be cotton or fleece. Buffers are lovely for keeping your neck warm and when you pull them up can keep the dust out of your mouth. The cotton warmers are also great for keeping the sun off your neck.
In terms of protecting your head, the drivers/trackers all tend to wear fleece beanies when it is cold and then move to caps when it warms up. I feel like they are an excellent reference point! I personally like a cap and then use the hood of my down jacket or the camp provided poncho.
A wide-brimmed hat can also be a great option when it comes to the heat as it will cover both ears and neck. Think like a cricket hat if you are going on safari in the middle of summer.
I always take a pair of cotton gloves for cold safari mornings. Big ski gloves are pretty much never necessary on safari. The ideal is a pair lighter gloves so you can still use your camera while wearing them. Fingerless gloves can be ideal for this.
Sunglasses are key – just your normal ones will be fine. I often take 2 pairs as I am prone to damaging sunglasses and you don’t want to be without a pair of sunglasses when on safari!
Keeping everything charged when on Safari
Very few safari vehicles have power – and if they do it is often needed for other important things like preparing your coffee. Most lodges will have power although there may be limitations on charging usage and charging may only be done in some central locations etc.
As a result, power banks can be super useful on safari. I bring one out with me on game drives for my phone. If you are taking video and loads of shots your phone can run out of steam fast and trust me when I say there are few things more frustrating than having a great animal viewing experience and being unable to capture it on a camera.
I love my Anker power banks. I use the stubby pencil-sized one in my travel bag and then have the bigger power bank as a backup.
I make charging my electronics my first priority at the end of each drive to give maximum time to camera batteries etc to recharge. More and more lodgess are also now adding in charging through USBs which is super helpful and reduces the load.
Most upmarket lodges will have shampoo, conditioner, shower gel etc. Makeup is a personal choice as is skincare of course but the key things that are more safari specific that you want in your safari luggage are:
⇒ lip balm (safari can be very dry)
⇒ hand sanitizer (for using the “bush bathroom”)
⇒ mosquito spray or insect repellant (mostly for the evening – again some provide this)
⇒ something to block up your stomach if needed – upset stomachs are common when travelling and you don’t want to miss a game drive because you are worried about your stomach\
⇒ allergies can be exacerbated on safari so bring medication with you if you suffer from these
⇒ eyedrops can be a nice treat – especially if you wear contacts. Eyes get dusty on safari.
Tunisia is a Northern African gem that is so much more than beach holidays. Find out more about it and see my photos here:
⇒ For another fantastic and instagrammable destination check out my post on Sidi Bou Said Tunisia
⇒ Check out the stunning Salt Lakes of Tunisia and a Road Trip Guide here
Extra Travel Tips/things to think about:
-I was told on my first safari not to wear perfume or strongly perfumed items as most animals have a much stronger sense of smell than us and may keep away as a result. It is not really a big deal but better not to wear perfume– and you want to appreciate the amazing smells of the bush – as do your fellow vehicle passengers. Although I did read somewhere that certain animals love Calvin Klein Obsession for Men so maybe if you have that make an exception!
-Most upmarket safari lodges will have some type of store or gift shop – particularly Kwandwe!!! – so you can buy some things if you have left anything at home.
-the majority of lodges have binoculars available which can be rented. Unless you are a hugely passionate bird watcher there really is no need to buy binoculars just for safari
-one of the most fun things to do on safari – especially with kids – is to keep track of the animals that you have seen. The guides will usually have books so that you can find out more about the animals you have spotted but personally, I think one of the nicest souvenirs of a safari is an animal book where you can mark what you have seen. This is also a great thing to take on your next safari – and next – to remember your experiences.
JP recommends Sasol as the best book for this type of purpose. They are sold at Kwandwe or you can buy them online.
⇒ Looking for some other great animal experiences to have whilst in South Africa? Check out my post on Whale Watching Hermanus.
The Kwandwe Registry
Kwandwe has just taken its fantastic gift shop online! Now you can pre-order all your safari items and have them waiting for you! This is also a great option if you’re working out how to pack for safari honeymoon. Why not set up a Kwandwe gift registry for your wedding guests and have them contribute to your experience?
I often find once I have visited somewhere I wish I had of bought the hat/vest the guides wore etc – but it is too late. No more – you can visit the Kwandwe Registry before and after your visit! And the shop has some fantastic gift sets that are perfect for presents – for honeymooners, friends or yourself!
Finally, the Kwandwe Registry has some lovely gift items. You can’t beat their animal-themed onesies and I absolutely loved the painted ostrich eggs (although these ones you have to buy there due to customs restrictions with shipping ostrich eggs around the world). Anyway, there are loads of lovely unique and beautiful items on the Kwandwe registry that make for fantastic gifts whether you are going on safari or not.
Getting to Kwandwe
The nearest airport for Kwandwe is Port Elizabeth.
The drive to Kwandwe from Port Elizabeth Airport takes about two hours. Kwandwe can organize a transfer for you or you can grab a hire car.
Staying at Kwandwe
Kwandwe is, without doubt, one of the best safari lodges I have visited. I warn you it will be hard to go back to other lodges after you have visited this safari lodge – Kwandwe won the Best Safari in Africa 2018 award!
Watch my 360 video of my amazing room at the resort:
And the Warthogs who were literally outside my room!
If you want an amazing safari experience – from the most wonderful personal service to the delicious food to great animal viewing to stunning accommodation – Kwandwe is the place to go.
Who Paid for What in this Post
Kwandwe were kind enough to host my stay with them which covered all safari costs – thank you! I covered the costs of getting to Kwandwe and getting back to London. As always my opinions are all my own.
This post contains some affiliate links. That means if you click on them and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. This will not increase the price that you pay. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.
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Also published on Medium.