The Complete African Safari Vacation Packing List & Guide

You’ve dreamed of going on safari for the longest time and now it’s all in motion: you’re finally heading to the savannahs of the Serengeti, the sprawling crater floor of Ngorongoro, and the verdant jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Your sights are set and your flights are booked—now, what in the world do you pack for your African safari adventure? What are the list of essentials for your African safari? Well, we hear this question quite a bit, so it prompted us to create this thorough article on the subject matter.

Getting your safari packing list in order can feel like a daunting task, especially if this is your first safari. How to prepare for a trip to places like nowhere else on the planet?

Not to worry—the trip planners at Penwell Safaris can help you pick out everything you need to succeed in the wild landscapes of East Africa. From recommendations to restrictions, we’ll help you sort out what to put on your safari packing list, what to pack it all into, and what to leave behind.

Luggage at security checkpoint in an airport
Luggage at security checkpoint in an airport

Safari Travel Luggage & Baggage Requirements

We expect that it’s a big ol’ jet airliner that’ll carry you to East Africa. But once you’re here, you’ll be hopping from spot to spot in more compact quarters: journeying by jeep and lifting off in light aircraft. And as neither of those adventurous modes of transport are known for their luggage capacity, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

The first consideration is weight. Light prop planes can only lift so much between passengers and cargo, and strict regulations on luggage keep the whole kit and caboodle safely in the sky. There are some slight variations from country to country and plane to plane, but the general rule across East Africa is this: two bags per passenger (one stowed, one carry-on), and no more than 33lbs total luggage between the two.

Traveler measuring their luggage before packing for vacation
Traveler measuring their luggage before packing for vacation

The second part is the luggage itself—nothing with a rigid frame, hard shell, or wheels. In East Africa, you want things you can cram into tight compartments and toss into stuffed trunks. Plus, you want the grab-and-go ease of bags that you can lug about with minimal fuss and as few hands as possible—light hiking backpacks and rugged duffel bags are where it’s at. Restrictions on dimensions vary, but most medium to small bags will fit the bill. Aim for a form factor of 24 inches by 18 inches by 13 inches or smaller and you’ll be good to go.

The great news is that these two requirements combine well—if you’re leaving your standard roller suitcase at home, you’re freeing up about 10 pounds of weight. And it gets better: thanks to East Africa’s climate, you’re not going to need a great variety in your wardrobe. With a few sensible outdoors standards on your safari packing list, you’re all set to go out on the game drives.

For some additional information around airlines and their luggage size rules, here’s a list of the most common airlines traveling from the U.S. to East Africa and their respective baggage allowance travel guidelines:

East African Weather Climate and What to Expect on Safari

Your luggage choices are all sorted out—but what goes in those appropriately selected packs and sacks? For that, we need to have a little climate chat. 

The Earth’s equator runs right through East Africa, which causes a unique seasonality. While you’ll hear November through March referred to as “summer” and May through August as “winter,” you’re also certain to hear time spans named with the more straightforward descriptors of “wet” and “dry” seasons.

Seasonality of East Africa Weather
Seasonality of East Africa Weather

In Kenya and Tanzania, June through October make up a reliably dry season of abundant sunshine and very little rain. Summery November to March means a mix of rain and sun, and March through May is a time of soaking rains and swampy humidity. You’ll encounter much the same in Uganda and Rwanda, with the exception that the expected rainy seasons start about a month earlier, and surprise rain showers can pop up just about any time of year—especially in the rainforests.

East Africa also boasts relatively stable temperatures thanks to its equatorial locale. It’s not unheard of for parts of northern Uganda to tiptoe over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest parts of July, nor for daytime temps along the Ngorongoro Crater rim to bottom out in the low 60s—but for the most part, year-round and across the whole area, daytime temperatures tend to bandy about the 70s and 80s. Nights and mornings are often about 20 degrees cooler. (As you’ll likely be out and about during those times, that’s something to take into account.)

Penwell Founder Kathy with friend on Gorilla Trek safari
Penwell Founder Kathy with friend on Gorilla Trek safari

Clothing to Pack for an African Safari

All of this adds up to needing about three or four outfits that can mix and match to cover a variety of fairly comfortable outdoor conditions. Let’s take a look at the particular must-haves that you’ll need for a safari in the summer months:

  • T-shirts & tank tops
  • Khakis and trousers (jeans in dry, winter months only)
  • A few pairs of shorts (if you’re a fancy-pants with fancy pants that are shorts AND trousers, this is your time to shine)
  • Comfy walking shoes for game walks, decent hiking shoes for hardier hikes
  • Flip-flops for your room and the pool—keeps the dirt outside and the changing simple
  • Bathing suit
  • A securely fastened sun hat or a baseball cap
  • Hoodie, fleece, pullover, and/or windbreaker for brisk evenings and mornings
  • One or two long-sleeve layers
  • A waterproof outer layer or two, like a sturdy poncho or a more technical shell layer
  • Underwear and socks! (ladies: you’ll want a sports bra)
  • A bandana for sun-screening and cooling or a light scarf for layering
  • Dust bags for cameras and binoculars

Those t-shirts, khakis, and shorts are the basics that will keep you happy, and the core around which you can customize your clothing for the specific whens and wheres of your safari. Summer months (November to March) and wet seasons (the same, but through May) require more attention to waterproofing and quick-drying clothing for inland areas. Sunnier and drier winters (June through October) mean leaner outfits overall but more layering to protect from sun and dust.

Should You Pack Nice/Dress Clothes for Safari?

If you want to dress to impress, knock yourself out and slip a stylish button-down into your ensemble. Mostly, you’re going to want to look properly prepared, which means following a few basic guidelines on top of the specifics.

  • Muted earth tones are your friends out in the bush. Bright and bold colors can sometimes draw reactions from the wildlife, whether it’s a spooked savannah zebra or a biting tse-tse fly attracted to your brilliant blue shirt.
  • Layering is key, and comfort is king. It’s totally normal to have a morning chilly enough for a fleece, an afternoon hot enough for tanks and shorts, and an afternoon rain shower. You want to be able to shed and don layers with ease to keep yourself comfortable while you’re away from camp.
  • Waterproof and quick-drying clothing are great at all times, and absolutely essential for wet seasons. The old hiking mantra of “cotton is rotten” is important to remember for underlayers like socks—wool is far superior to cotton for wicking moisture, whether it’s coming from you or the sky.
Everything you need to pack for an African Safari
Everything you need to pack for an African Safari

Recommended Safari Toiletries and First Aid Products

  • Sunscreen. Recommended SPFs for safari range on personal preference, but you’ll want at least SPF 20 to be safe.
  • Insect repellant. Up to 30% DEET for skin application. Consider permethrin-based products for clothing if you’re traveling in jungles or during humid, late-wet-season months.
  • A “travelers’ best friends” assortment of basic medications: antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl), anti-diarrheals (e.g. Imodium), anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen), anti-emetics (e.g. Pepto Bismol)
  • Band-aids, blister cushions, gauze
  • Cortisone cream and antibiotic ointment
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste, floss
  • Brush or comb
  • Nail clippers, file, and tweezers
  • Antacids, cough drops, earache drops
  • Saline solution for contacts (though we recommend wearing glasses where possible due to dust)

Finally, be sure to check with your physician for up-to-date and regionally specific medications like anti-malarial tablets and antibiotic measures like Z-Paks.

Sometimes the best gift you can bring to Africa is supporting the community
Sometimes the best gift you can bring to Africa is supporting the community

Gifts to Bring for African Locals

Over the years, our travel planners at Penwell have been asked so often about the possibility of bringing gifts to donate to children and hosts that we’ve dedicated a full blog post to the topic. For reference, here’s a short list of the best gifts to bring on safari:

  • Dental hygiene and first-aid products
  • Pencils, pens, crayons, and chalk
  • Notepads and notebooks
  • Toys like soccer balls, footballs, and board games
  • Household goods like clothes and linens

What NOT to Pack for an African Safari

For a variety of reasons, there are a few items that many travelers might tote along that just don’t jive well with the environments in East Africa. To stay on the safe side, leave these items at home.

  • Electric items with large power requirements like hairdryers. Most camps aren’t equipped to power such devices.
  • Camouflage clothing or military-style outfits or accessories. They can cause trouble in some situations and big trouble in some countries.
  • Plastic bags and single-use bottles. Frowned upon in most of East Africa, plastic bags are outright banned in Kenya and Rwanda for environmental reasons.
  • US currency printed before 2006. These older bills are simply not accepted in many places, customs included.

Get Packing for an African Safari Adventure!

Ready to start stuffing duffels and donning backpacks for your safari adventure? We can’t wait to get you out there for one life-changing experience after another. Be sure to check in with your Penwell trip planners for any specifics about your exciting destinations, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have. Let’s write your safari story together.

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