Your flights are booked, the lodges chosen, you’ve checked your visa requirements and got all the necessary jabs. Now if only you could get that packing list sorted, you’d be ready to wing your way to the vast open plains and waiting herds.
Packing for an East Africa safari can be daunting. You want to prepare for every eventuality during those dusty days out on game drives and evenings in elegant lodges, yet if you’re taking charter flights (and chances are you will be) you’re restricted to a single, soft-sided bag weighing a maximum of 15 kg.
Don’t stress! Simply use these recommendations as a guide and you’ll have everything you need for an unforgettable safari.
Pack in a soft-sided bag, like this canvas duffel bag from Sandstorm Kenya.
As I mentioned above, if you’re travelling on charter flights between reserves you’ll need to pack in a soft-sided bag. These planes have limited luggage space so bags get squashed into the hold or even behind the rear seats on very small planes.
And yes, that 15 kg luggage limit is strictly adhered to! If your bag is too heavy, you might be forced to repack and leave some items behind or have your bag flown on another plane at your own expense - and it is indeed a considerable expense!
You are also allowed one piece of carry-on luggage, which must be small enough to fit on your lap. I’d recommend a daypack which can then also be taken in the game drive vehicles and packed with items you might need on your safari: your camera, binoculars, sunblock and a warm top.
- Pack in an over-the-shoulder or duffel bag
- Put your camera in your carry-on daypack
- If your safari is part of a larger itinerary, leave a bag at your hotel in Nairobi (or wherever your arrival and departure point is)
Clothes for Your Safari
Neutral colours not only blend into the environment (whites and bright colours make you more conspicuous to animals) but they're also great for hiding dust! (photo: Serengeti Under Canvas)
Since you’ll be spending hours on a game drive vehicle pack loose fitting, comfortable clothing and don’t worry too much about evening attire as even luxury lodges and tented camps have a casual dress code.
You also don’t need that many clothes on safari as most lodges have a next-day laundry service so you can wash and wear items numerous times.
- 3-4 short-sleeve or t-shirts
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 long-sleeve shirts (for protection from both sun and mosquitoes)
- 2 pairs of cotton trousers or light pants
- 1 light jacket or fleece
- 1 wide-brim hat with under-chin tie (to stop it being blown off in open-top vehicles)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Lightweight sandals or flip flops (for wearing around the camp)
- Swimwear (for camps and lodges with a pool)
- Cotton socks and underwear
- Buff or, scarf or bandana (good for dust)
- Sunglasses with polarised lenses (the glare can be intense)
- Pick neutral tones like khaki, stone and brown
- Avoid dark blue and black during the day as tsetse flies are attracted to darker shades
- Think in layers as it can be a chilly start on those dawn game drives
When travelling around East Africa, light aircraft are widely used for transfers between reserves - although this welcoming commitee is quite unique! (photo: Governors' Camp)
Once, right at the end of a game drive, we came across .a lioness with her cubs at a kill. It was a truly thrilling sighting, although I couldn’t help kicking myself as the “low battery” signal flashed on my camera screen which, after taking a couple of shots, promptly died. Since then I’ve always travelled with an extra camera battery and made sure both are fully charged.
Also, although your lodges and camps are sure to take credit cards, bring cash too to so you can tip your safari guide and driver or do a bit of souvenir shopping at the local markets and villages.
- Passport + a copy (keep in separate bags)
- Yellow fever certificate (if travelling on to South Africa)
- Camera, battery, extra battery and plenty of memory cards
- Chargers (for camera and phone) and a power adaptor
- High-factor sunscreen (get unscented to avoid attracting insects)
- Lip balm
- Mosquito repellent
- Malaria prophylaxis
- Personal first-aid kit (headache pills, antihistamine cream etc)
- Good binoculars (at least 8 x 30 magnification)
- Small torch
- Toiletries (remember the lodges will have shampoos, soaps etc)
- A pack of wet wipes or hand sanitizer
- Cash for tips (including driver and guide)
And that's it, ready to go!
Do you think I've left anything off the list? If so, then please be sure to add it to the comments below.