You’ve seen the pictures. Men and women clothed head to toe in khaki, binoculars slung around their neck, looking as if they’re embarking on an 1800’s anthropological expedition. Except they aren’t. They’re embarking on an African safari, and it’s 2017. The truth is, you don’t have to look like Attenborough to visit Africa (although he IS an idol of ours); you can leave the khaki and utility pockets at home and still survive.
Now we’ve cleared that up, there are still some essentials you simply can’t do without. Due to the nature of Africa and its climatic differences those in the northern hemisphere can only dream about, you’ll need to pack properly.
Here’s our ultimate packing guide to Africa, so you can chill with lions and zebras and giraffes (oh my!) Attenborough style – without appearing like you’ve just stepped straight off the set of Out of Africa.
The really important stuff
This is the stuff you should pack before your undies.
- Toiletries (+ wet wipes!)
- Headlamp/LED torches for getting around at night
- Sunglasses to protect against that African sun!
- Insect repellent – DEET is your new bff.
- First aid kit & regular medication
- Sturdy closed toe shoes or hiking boots
- ‘Around the camp’ shoes or flip flops
- Camera (inc. extra batteries and SD card)
- Pocket knife
- Solar panel charger
- Day pack
- Lip balm to protect against that dry African air, the wind in your face on safari, and the dust during dry season
- Refillable water canteen so you don’t have to buy plastic bottles!
- African travel guides – internet can be patchy throughout the region, which means two things; websites aren’t generally up to date, and you probably won’t be able to access them anyway. A trusty Lonely Planet guide will get you a long, long way.
Things for warm weather
Africa is mostly warm, most of the time. Pack these essentials and stay cool, kind of.
- Light cotton t-shirts (avoid bright colours, especially for safari)
- Shorts (not too short, ladies)
- Loose fitting clothing like harem pants
- A hat – but not the wide brimmed kind you see in safari photos. You’ll spend more time chasing after it when the wind blows it off than being protected! Opt for a snug baseball cap instead
Things for cold weather
We’re about to blow your mind, but Africa is not always hot. During winter the temperature can even drop below freezing (trust us, it’s biting). Here’s what you need to keep warm as you hike those last few feet to the top of Kilimanjaro, or safeguard your snugness while camping in the Okavango.
- Down jacket – Perfect for compressing into a rucksack or day pack
- Rain jacket – Lightweight & waterproof. You know the drill.
- Long trousers
- Woollen jumpers
- Beanie (yes, really! It gets THAT cold!).
- Woollen socks
- Sleeping bag liners; they might be thin, but they add a mighty layer of warmth when you’re cold in your tent at night!
Things to pack if you have space
A common mistake of even the most experienced traveller is overpacking. If you have space, take these things with you. If you don’t, don’t.
- Travel cutlery
- A zoom lense to snap all the African wildlife you can on safari
- Binoculars for animal eye-spy!
- Travel towel
- Sleeping bag
- A good book (or two… probably not 8 each, as we did)
Things for the ladies
As a whole, Africa is pretty conservative. So ladies, it pays to cover up.
- Any specific female hygiene products you prefer, as stock and choice is pretty limited across the region
- No short shorts – keep things knee length or longer!
- Long sleeve shirt
- Always pack spare toilet paper. I repeat: ALWAYS. PACK. SPARE. TOILET. PAPER. On the offchance that a public toilet has it, you’ll probably have to hand over some cash for a mere square of the stuff. Best to be safe, and it also doubles up as napkins, tissues, etc!
Things for long bus rides
The longest bus ride we had in Africa was 42 hours (we made that mistake so you never have to), and we’re pretty sure we only survived by having the following handy:
- Meals / snacks that were bought the evening before to keep us well nourished.
- Some spare cash for a cheeky roadside samosa (or toilet break!)
- Warm clothes if your travels are starting early or finishing late
- A really long, interesting book
- Charged phones or iPods with downloaded playlists and podcasts
- Lots of water. We took over 6L of water with us on our epic bus ride!
- Your sanity, so that you can spend the full two days questioning why you ever let yourself get on a 42 hour bus ride in the first place!
All packed for your African safari? Check out our small group adventures.
Words and images by The Common Wanderer.