South African Safari Clothes
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1. Luggage | 2. Panama Hat | 3. Elephant Bag | 4. Chloe Boots | 5. Cashmere Wrap | 6. J.Crew Linen Dress | 7. Marysia One Piece Swimsuit | 8. Rag & Bone Vest | 9. Wide Leg Pants | 10. Pink Leather Slippers | 11. James Perse Cotton Tee | 12. Karen Walker Aviator Sunglasses | 13. Pink Camisole | 14. Skinny Cargo Pants | 15. Hooded Sweater | 16. Frame Shorts | 17. Binoculars | 18. Mansur Gavriel Tote Bag
What to Wear on Safari
If you’re going on safari for the first time, it can be puzzling to figure out what to wear. I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and was so excited to see the big five animals.
Typically, most safaris will do 2 game drives per day, once in the very early morning and another in the late afternoon. Here are essentials to pack and tips on what to wear for your South African safari:
Safari Packing List for South Africa: The Essentials
Clothes | Safari attire should be breathable, neutral and adjustable for both sunny and chilly temperatures. I recommend packing a capsule wardrobe of neutrals, greens and browns and mixing and matching since there are strict luggage weight maximums. When packing, things to keep in mind are insects, changing temperatures and colors. I’ll explain in more detail.
Shifting Temperatures – You’d think that the African bush or savannah would be hot all the time but I found it to more closely resemble desert temperatures, where the early mornings and evenings can be chilly and cold while the afternoons are blazingly hot. Safari game drives are typically timed to the natural lifestyle of the animals – there will be one early morning game drive to see the animals as active as possible before the lazy afternoon sun hits and another around sundown to see evening activity. Some safari reserves also linger on after dark to see night animals like hyenas. Because of this, you’ll want to dress in layers.
I recommend packing a sweatshirt or light jacket for the morning drives and wearing tanks or tee shirts underneath. Luxury safari camps will include extra blankets on the jeep, which I used to cover my legs. For the evening drive, I brought along heavier layers as the safari I was on would extend for an additional hour at night and temperatures got cold.
Colors – It’s important to pack neutrals, khaki and green colored clothing for your safari in order to better ‘blend in’ with the bush. The key to spotting animals in their natural environment is to mimic the African bush colors, which tend to be drab. Avoid reds which predators identify as “wounded animal” and avoid black and dark blues, as you’ll find yourself an attractive target for African Tsetse flies which bite. Apparently lions in East Africa are known to shy away from people wearing red as they instinctively identify red as a Masai warrior. White can easily get dusty and dirty in the bush and are the most noticeable to animals, so best to avoid if possible.
We stayed a gorgeous luxury resort but didn’t feel the need for formal attire or fancy dress at dinner times. I’d recommend linen pants or a dressy blouse for evening meals and a wrap or extra large scarf for the cold at night. Leave the heels at home.
Swimsuits | Luxury safari camps will have a swimming pool so pack a swimsuit. At the camp we stayed at, local elephants and giraffes would use the pool as their watering hole, which was so fun to see. I wonder if they could taste the chlorine?
Shoes | Within the jeep I wore both sneakers, boots and flip flops and it honestly didn’t matter at all since you are required to stay in the vehicle for the drive. There will typically be short breaks – we stopped for hot chocolate and drinks – where you can get out to stretch your legs. The bush can be slightly dusty so they recommend hiking boots or covered shoes but I felt fine in flip flops as well.
One afternoon we also opted to do a bush walk. I would definitely pack a good pair of sneakers for that… just in case you need to run suddenly. Only partially kidding.
Sunglasses and Hats | These are great to bring to protect against the sun but try to bring sunglasses that sit securely or use those old fashioned cords to keep them around your neck, same goes with hats. The jeeps don’t drive that fast but still my hat knocked off and the tracker was nice enough to retriever it for me. I was embarrassed to have stopped the vehicle for that and strapped it tightly on after that!
Sunscreen | A must have wherever you go, I like to bring both a facial sunscreen and all over body sunscreen. For the face, this Japanese brand is my hands down favorite – it’s non greasy, affordable and non-tacky without any scent. For the body, I love this broad spectrum sunscreen which smells like coconuts and leaves your legs nice and glowy.
Aloe Vera | Sunburns inevitably happen and aloe very gel is the key to relieve any pain. Currently I’m using this organic version made from cold pressed aloe.
Bug Spray | This depends on when you’re going. I went on safari in South Africa in late August and early September during their winter time, so there was no rainfall and no mosquitoes or bugs. However, if you’re going on safari during the summer season (perhaps to see the new baby animals or during the migration) you’ll want bug spray with at least 50% deet.
Certain sections of South Africa, including Kruger National Park, are in the malaria zone and it’s extremely important to protect yourself. There are also times of the year when the bugs are so bad they give you googles because the air will be so thick with flying bugs you’ll inadvertently eat or get hit by one.
Travel Bags, Neccessities and Electronics
Suitcase | It’s important not to over pack when going on safari as chances are, you’ll be flying from a major city to the closest local airport. Africa uses very small jet planes for remote areas and there are strict weight limits regarding luggage. Be sure to check your itinerary and flight confirmation for the exact amount. It can be as limiting as 20 – 40 lbs of luggage per person so if you are also a photographer carrying heavy gear, this is something to keep in mind. (My camera alone with a lens weighs nearly 10 lbs).
Read more: Lightweight Carry-On Luggage Options
Packing Cubes | I like to group clothing by color or function and pack each group of items snugly in their own packing cube. These are a lifesaver for keeping your suitcase organized in your hotel room and are my number 1 secret to maximize space and function in just a carry on suitcase. I typically reserve one packing cube for all my worn clothes to separate the dirty stuff from my fresh clothes!
Amazon has their own inexpensive 4 piece packing cube set and several travel blogger friends swear by this set from eBags. Personally I use a set from CalPak which I love. They’re machine washable for easy cleaning and if you have CalPak luggage – they’re perfectly sized for their carry on luggage pieces!
Toiletry Bottles | If I know I’m going somewhere tropical, I prefer to pack my own hair products since my hair tends to dry out from the sun and chlorine. I currently like these for shampoo and conditioner.
Portable Charger | I currently use an iPhone 6S and this Anker portable charger to keep it fully charged at all times. This charger is small and sleek with enough life to fully charge an iPhone 2x. Also I really love Anker’s products since they have great customer service. I once bought a product that ended up dying and they quickly sent me a replacement free of charge, so I highly recommend them!
Electric Converter | I have a global converter but for some reason it didn’t work in South Africa and I ended up buying a South African specific converter. I definitely recommend you buy this before your trip as I paid $24 for the little plug! Also pick up a travel sized power strip so you can charge multiple devices in one go.
Binoculars | To see birds and smaller creatures you’ll get a much better view with binoculars – I recommend this pair. Some top luxury safari companies will provide these but most don’t so bring your own. Large animals like lions, elephants and giraffe will come within an outstretched hand’s length from the jeeps but animals like rhinos, leopards, hippos and warthogs maintain their distance.
Medications | South Africa required a ton of shots and I went to see a travel doctor specifically for a complete list. One thing I hadn’t expected was malaria pills – there are a couple different versions on the market. You should talk to your doctor for the latest, accurate information but I remember that I took the kind which required consuming anti-malaria pills both before, during and after the trip (I think it was malarone). Also be sure to consult with your doctor about side effects. My cousin did doctoral work in Africa and hated his medicine since one of the side effects was disturbing nightmares.
The Best Camera & Photography Equipment for Safari
You probably want to document your safari so here’s my guide on the best cameras for safari. I highly recommend a DSLR and a zoom lens. Safaris in Africa aren’t cookie cutter so the lenses you’ll want to bring will vary depending on the place.
For example, in Rwanda gorilla treks are popular where you hike up the mountains, carry all your own gear and can get relatively close. In that case, you’ll want light weight and minimal zoom. Meanwhile if you’re headed on safari during the great migration, some of the best shots to get are wide angle panoramic views to fully capture the quantity of animals on the move so bring along a wide angle like a 35mm. Jeep vehicles differ by country as well so in some cases open vehicles mean clamps and bean bags won’t be of any use and you’ll need a monopod.
I’ve tailored my gear recommendations below for South African safaris, the bulk of which take place in Kruger National Park.
Canon 5D Mark III | This is my go-to travel camera and I brought along three lenses, my trusty 24-70mm, a 70-200mm zoom lens and a wide angle 10-22mm lens. For each game drive I kept the spare two lenses in my backpack at my feet. It’s also helpful to wear a jacket or vest with pockets so you can keep all your extra memory cards, lenses and lens caps quickly at hand. The animals won’t wait for you!
Lenses | If you have two camera bodies, it’s helpful to load one lens on each to avoid swapping lenses during the game drive. The African bush is extremely dusty and changing lenses can potentially ruin your gear with dust. The 70-200mm was my go-to lens and worked well for about 70% of the shots. Sometimes the animals would appear right next to the safari vehicle in which case the 24-70mm would have worked better but I knew that in the time to swap, it would likely have moved on. An iPhone can be handy for these instances!
Where to Sit on a Safari Game Drive | Most experienced game drive leaders are either photographers themselves or familiar with photographers on their drives and they’ll do their best to position the vehicle to get the best shots, which is extremely helpful. In South Africa, drive vehicles are predominantly open Landrovers with 10 passenger seats (1 next to the driver, then 3 rows which can seat 3 people each). Either of the two rows behind the driver are good for photography. I would avoid the last row which is above the jeep wheels, as it’s quite high off the ground and can be a little too high for the best shots. Our game driver was excellent at slowly moving the jeep forward or backward so that each “row” could get the “perfect” shot.
Camera Accessories | Along with the camera, I brought my spare battery, battery charger and extra SD and CF cards. I now shoot with just SD cards since I realized you can insert them in your laptop to easily offload, but I keep all my cards in this wallet to keep them organized and easily reachable. When I kept my SD cards loose, I would lose them all the time – even if they were in a zippered pocket. The memory card case fits both SD and CF cards and was under $7 so it’s a no brainer purchase.
Other things you might want to bring include a monopod and extension tubes. A monopod is a tripod with just one leg and if you keep it between your legs you won’t disrupt other passengers while still stabilizing your shots. I didn’t bother bringing one since I was near the weight limit but this monopod is an affordable, solid choice.
If you are worried your lenses won’t pack enough zoom, bring along extension tubes. I bought this set of 3 by kenko which essentially sits between your camera body and the lens and helps to magnify the power of your zoom. If you have a crop body camera, this will further magnify. It can be slightly trickier to focus so just check the back of your camera to make sure your shots are coming out well. What I did was re-evaluate all my photos after each game drive so I could adjust my gear and camera equipment accordingly. In total, I spent 5 days on safari with 3 days of 2 drives so a total of 6 game drives.
What should you not bring on safari to South Africa? Well, chances are your vehicle will be an open land rover so stabilizers like a bean bag or tripod clamp won’t have any ledge to sit on. Skip these. Unless you plan to shoot birds, a zoom over 400mm is not really necessary. If you do want to shoot birds, you’ll need something like a 600mm lens which is not only extraordinary expensive but quite heavy.
If this all sounds excessive to you.. consider that you’re already spending a small fortune to go on safari, so why not do your best to capture the glory? Going on safari and visiting Africa remains my all time favorite travel experience to date.
The Best Souvenirs from Africa and Safari
Africa has so many great things for sale that you’ll want to bring home. For the interior design lover, there are animal printed hides, pillows and decorative wooden carvings. Ostrich eggs are for sale as are sculptures of giraffes in various heights.
Local markets will sell carvings, figurines, gems and jewelry. There are lots of kitschy tourist market places but you can ask your guide for an authentic marketplace in a local village if you want true unique souvenirs. A friend of mine brought back a really unique, hand made tree with amethyst gemstone leaves.
South Africa is also well known for its wines so I brought home bottles of red and after going wine tasting in the Cape Town winelands. If you fly South Africa Airways they give out mini bottles on the plane, even in coach! Always a nice treat.
Love outdoor travel? Then make sure to check out this post for what to pack for Macchu Picchu!
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