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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.