This South Africa Packing List Helps You Pack Like a Pro… Guaranteed!

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For most people, going on safari is a trip of a lifetime.  It’s far away, it’s expensive — and it can feel challenging to plan and pack so that everything is perfect.  Thankfully, this South Africa packing list has everything you need so that you know exactly what to bring to South Africa.

Plus, if you’re willing to have laundry done partway through the trip, this can even fit carry-on only!  It has everything you need to enjoy private game reserves, Kruger National Park, Durban’s coastline, and the great city of Cape Town.

Before Your Trip to South Africa: Things to Do and Prepare

South Africa Travel Vaccines & Health

In addition to routine vaccinations, most travelers going to South Africa should consider getting immunized against Hepatitis A and typhoid.  Plan a visit to your local health clinic to get travel prescriptions and vaccinations, which might be necessary depending on which reserves you’re visiting and the time of year.

Tip: Travel vaccines can be expensive, so be sure to budget for them.  My typhoid vaccine alone was over $100!  Get an estimate of travel vaccine costs.

Malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases might be a consideration for your trip.  A few days prior to packing, treat your clothing with Permethrin Insect Spray (especially socks, since mosquitos like to bite your ankles).  Let dry thoroughly and pack in a plastic bag to preserve the protection.  The spray typically lasts through six washes or six weeks, whichever comes first.  This is well worth the twenty minutes of effort and $10 of supply.

You’ll also want plenty of insect repellent. These DEET wipes are easy to use and unlike liquids and sprays, they’ll never leak and you’ll avoid any TSA liquid restrictions on the flight.

Also, don’t drink the water!

There are a ton of solutions for drinking water while you’re in South Africa, all of which are more environmentally friendly than bottled water.

Sawyer Water Filter:  I use this water filter when traveling to places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink.  You screw it into your water bottle and drink as if it’s a straw (just like a Lifestraw but cheaper and higher performance).

Pre-Trip Essentials Before Your Safari

Travel Insurance: Many South Africa tour operators REQUIRE you to carry travel insurance, but it’s a smart idea even if it’s optional. Learn more about the benefits of travel insurance or buy a policy from RoamRight, a reputable company with easy-file claims and competitive rates.

Security: Attach luggage tags to all bags, including your day bag in case you get separated from anything along the way. If you need to carry a lot of cash (like to pay your safari operator), be sure to protect it in a money belt, underwear with hidden pockets (★sightDOING pick★), or these hidden pockets to sew into clothing.

hyenas in south africa safari packing list
Hyenas in South Africa

South Africa Packing List: A Strategic “Personal Item”

Airlines consider a personal item the bag that you put underneath the seat in front of you.  Ideally, you’ll use a backpack or tote for your flight that you can also use as a daypack throughout your safari.

matador daylite backpack

★sightDOING pick★ If you don’t already have the perfect bag, I have used my Matador Daylite Backpack all over the world.  It’s lightweight and folds up to almost no space at all when not in use — and it’s actually waterproof.  I’ve tested it in some pretty heavy rainstorms and my camera gear made it out alive!

For your flight, here’s what you need to pack inside:

The Basics: Always pack a copy of your flight confirmation(s), travel plans, important phone numbers, travel insurance information, and your passport close at hand!

In-Flight Comfort: On such a long flight, you’ll want a travel pillow, ear plugs, and eye mask.  But beyond the obvious, some comfort items I like to bring also include:

  • Wisps (toothbrushes without a need for water)
  • Ginger chews to help with motion sickness
  • Lip balm and hand moisturizer (airplane cabins get dry!)
  • Action wipes, for “showers” on the go
carry on essentials
My Carry On Essentials

Entertainment: Don’t rely on airline entertainment, which doesn’t always match with your preferences.  Download a few movies for your laptop/tablet/phone, keep an external battery handy, or pack a good book.  If there was ever a time to invest in noise-cancelling headphones, this is it.

Snacks: Airlines don’t always feed you when you’re hungry (and they don’t always have something you like), so I strongly recommend throwing in your favorite protein bar or a bag of nuts to have on hand.  A bottle of water is also a great idea — pack a reusable one that you can use throughout your South African safari.

Keep it Safe: As an added precaution, keep anything you don’t want damaged, like a camera or binoculars, in your personal item.

What about clothing on your flight?

Comfort is important on such a long flight! I love pants with an elastic waistband and layers on top so you can adjust to aircraft cabin temperatures.  Compression socks are important for your health. Finish it off with a pair of sneakers or other walking shoes that you’ll use throughout the trip.

If you have space in your carry-on after the essentials, throw a change of clothes in your bag.  You never know if you’ll be separated from your main suitcase, so even just a change of underwear can keep you fresh!

For more on packing the perfect carry-on item for long flights, check out my full guide:
What to pack to survive (and maybe even be comfortable on) your next overnight flight.

I think its a kudu south africa packing list

What to Wear on Safari in South Africa

Light colored (tan, beige, etc.) clothing is best for safaris.  White shows dust, bright colors make you conspicuous to animals, and dark clothes attract mosquitoes and other insects.

Layers are best, since it can be cool for dawn game drives.  You may also want long sleeves and pants at times when mosquitoes are out since it will help prevent bites.

Don’t have the right clothes?

  • Try this quick-dry shirt with “BugsAway” technology for men and for women
  • Prana’s water resistant pants with lots of pockets are great for women and for men.

–> Get more information and outfit ideas in my guide on what to wear on safari. <–

Sun Protection: When you’re in the hot sun for game drives, you’ll definitely want a lightweight sun hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen.

What to Wear on Safari Evenings: Thankfully, most lodges are casual wear at dinner!  You won’t need to pack anything special, but you may want pants and a long-sleeve shirt or sweater (a rain jacket would also work).

zebra as seen on a south african safari

Filling Your Main Suitcas

Clothing:   The trick is to pack just enough clothing to get you halfway through the trip and do laundry when necessary:

  • 2 pairs long pants, like khakis or jeans
  • 2 pairs cargo shorts or similar
  • 6 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 nice outfit for dinners in cities like Durban, Johannesburg, or Cape Town
  • Swimsuit & cover-up, if desired (and a plastic bag for wet suits)
  • Pajamas
  • 8 pairs underwear
  • 11 pairs socks, in case your feet get gross during the day
  • Spare shoes (remember you’re wearing your sneakers on the plane!)

>>>>> PRO TIP: Packing cubes keep your clothes and other essentials organized in your suitcase.

Laundry: You can have laundry done at most lodges or rinse out a few things independently to keep clothes fresh.  Pack powdered laundry soap and folding travel hangers if you intend to do it yourself.

Do you have a travel adapter yet?

It’s a need-to-have to charge your electronics!  Most South African outlets use three round plugs, so you’ll need an adapter to make sure your plugs fit.  I recommend buying a universal travel adapter so you can use it on future trips (even when it’s yet another shape).  Get one with extra USB slots so you can charge a few devices all at once!

Side note: South Africa uses 220 volts for electricity.  Almost all electronics these days can handle that without a voltage converter, but if you have old electronics, double check to be sure.

The Weird Stuff: You’re not in Kansas anymore.  Bring a few plastic bags with toilet paper for bush bathroom breaks and a flashlight or headlamp for going out in remote areas.

Toiletries: Along with all the basics, don’t forget hair conditioner; it’s usually not provided.

Here’s what to invest in before your trip

If you don’t already have a good camera, this is the time to buy one. 

There are a lot of choices on the market today, but I like the Olympus PEN camera because it’s auto-focus features work great for those moments when the animals don’t sit and pose while you have time to manually adjust.  Pair that with a zoom lens and extra memory card so you’re good to go.

The other must-have item is a good pair of binoculars.

A good pair of binoculars is essential for wildlife viewing anywhere in the world since animals are often far from the road.  Yes, some safaris have binoculars you can borrow, but often they’re shared and other times they just aren’t high quality.

I always recommend buying the best pair of binoculars you can afford.  “You get what you pay for” holds true for optics!  Look at it like an investment, since they’ll last a lifetime, and can be used for everything from African safaris to whale watches to rainforest birding.

All binoculars come labeled with two numbers: a magnification and the diameter of the objective lens.  The binoculars I use are 8×42, meaning 8x magnification and 42mm diameter.

For wildlife, I think 8-10x is the sweet spot of giving you a great zoom without compromising on brightness, hand shake, or field of view (especially important for whale watching and other times you’ll be panning to find animals).  For the objective lens, try anywhere from 30-50mm to balance low-light visibility and portability.

Unfortunately, the model I bought is discontinued, but these Nikon Prostaff 8x42s are very similar and still have features I think are a must: a rugged, waterproof, fog-proof design.  A harness is handy to keep your binoculars handy without straining your neck.

binocular harness
Consider buying a binocular harness for your trip to keep the weight off your neck.

If you can splurge, my husband swears by a Leupold spotting scope.  It’s a lot more money, but you’re paying for a lightweight, compact scope that’s easy to pack and will amaze you with the viewing quality.

Packing list for south africa collage

Don’t Stress about Your Safari Packing List!

For most people, a South African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.  You can use this printable packing list if you still need more direction, but otherwise focus on the incredible adventure you’re about to have!

South African Safari Packing List Essentials

Need specialty gear? Get everything you need to prepare for a trip of a lifetime!

21 thoughts on “This South Africa Packing List Helps You Pack Like a Pro… Guaranteed!”

  1. I would like to add to your packing list for an African Safari. Bring a very bright flashlight. We walked the perimeter fence when we stayed at a rest camp in Kruger and the flashlight allowed us to see nocturnal animals. Also I would recommend binoculars to view animals in the distance as well as some of the unusual birds.

  2. I have read so many articles in a row that I have one question to pose to you…
    Why not use zip loc plastic bags which one can deflate to fit clothes size, see through, can be labeled
    and also not have odors pass out of the bag, nor moisture.

    1. @Linda, I’ve found that gallon size ziplocs are too small to be of much use and the space bags are pretty expensive. I use packing cubes (made of fabric) which also have a see-through/mesh top and can be used dozens of times.

  3. I will be traveling to South Africa in March. It’s with a group of college students. Also some professors ( in clouding me) so we have only a one day safari and a morning bush walk. Any other tips would be very appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Hi Becky,

    I will be traveling to South Africa from the last week in September through the first week in October. From Cape Town to Johannesburg, quite the temperature swings. Using your packing list as a guide. My safaris are drive safaris–other than the safaris can we wear other colors? Not clear on this. Also what insect repellent do you use on your skin?

    1. @Tamara, When you’re not on game drives, feel free to wear any color you like. Ask your game lodge for advise on insect repellent, since some areas are more prone to insects (and malaria) than others.

      For bug spray…I like Bugs Be Gone, which is all-natural unless malaria is cause for concern. In that case, I don’t mess around and use Deet based projects, like Ben’s Wipes. Since it’s not a spray, you don’t have to worry about potentially dangerous inhalation or accidentally getting chemicals in your eyes. Have a great trip!

  5. I am going to Capetown in mid April, 2019, 4 days, and to 3 other camps, Elephant plains camp. Mala Mala and ilala lodge! Finishing at the end of April! What temperature will it be and how do pack that time of yr. tips ideas

    1. @Ellen, April is the first month of autumn so it can be cool (55° F) at night and for sunrise game drives! Layers are essential so you can take things off as the sun comes out midday (70s). Make sure you have a jacket or fleece sweater.

      1. Do I need a light down jacket? For 2 weeks what do you suggest I pack, knowing we will be in cape town for 4 days before safaris. Do I need shorts or Sandles or bathing suit, and can I wearblack or blue? Ants of tops pants etc

      2. @Ellen, I personally wouldn’t bring a down jacket but to me 55 degrees Farenheit is cool, not frigid. It will depend on the climate you’re used to (same goes for your question about shorts and sandals).

        Of course you can wear black and blue; the light colors are just suggestions.
        White shows dust, bright colors make you conspicuous to animals, and dark clothes attract mosquitoes and other insects.

  6. I am going to Capetown in mid August, 2019, 3 days, fly to Johannesburg and then to Kruger for 6 days followed by a flight to Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls for the last 2 days finishing at the end of August! What temperature will it be and how do pack that time of year. tips ideas

  7. So your readers are aware, your link to Amazon’s universal plug adapter, does not have an M type 3 prong plug that is used in South Africa. So it will not work there.

  8. Yeaa, you know what — I get that sometimes too. The fear of missing to bring something super important for a trip, so I tend to worry and check on a lot on what I’m going to pack. So posts like this are a great help for us who tend to worry on underpacking or overpacking or leaving something so important. One thing I forget to bring most of the time are medicines. I mean, it’s that one crucial thing we should not forget, but I mostly do, so reading one in your blog is a great reminder! Thanks for this!

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