A trip to South Africa is bucket list worthy, the type of trip that you plan and look forward to for months.
To make sure your highly anticipated adventure goes as smoothly as possible, it’s important to pack the right things.
I’ve been to South Africa twice, spending a total of 6 weeks zipping around the country on two memorable road trips.
This post details my complete South Africa packing list, with everything we brought and needed on our trips (and the things I wish we had).
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South Africa Packing List: Documentation & Paperwork
First and foremost, make sure you have all your documentation in order.
Passport, visas, etc. Nothing is more important than having all your ducks in a row.
Organize your documents and keep them together throughout your trip. I bought a large money pouch and keep all of my documents and paperwork in it for every trip, separate from everything else.
Paperwork to organize when packing for South Africa:
- PASSPORT | Make sure your passport is up to date and that it will have at least six months before the expiration date when you arrive in South Africa. This may seem excessive but it’s actually the norm in a lot of countries and something to keep in mind for all of your trips.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport separate from your physical passport, just in case the original is lost or stolen. You can also carry a scan or photo in your phone as an extra backup.
- VISA | Does your country require a visa to visit South Africa? United States citizens do not require a visa, for a complete list of exempt countries check here.
- YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION | You are required to have a yellow fever vaccination for South Africa if you’ve visited at-risk areas (mainly African and South American countries). The mosquito that can carry yellow fever is present in South Africa, so this is a preventative measure to keep the disease out. If you’re from or have visited any of the countries on this list, you need the yellow fever vaccine and proof of vaccination to be allowed onto your flight to South Africa.
- OTHER VACCINES/MALARIA | We didn’t get any vaccines for South Africa. It’s a low-risk country for Malaria, so we decided to skip any preventative medications. This is something that you should consult with your own medical doctor about (which we did). It will depend on where you’re going and your own personal health situation.
- PRINT OUT HOTEL INFORMATION | You may find yourself in areas with little to no internet, depending on how rustic you travel. In that case, it’s good to have all of your hotel names, addresses, and directions printed out. Having this information printed saved me, more than once.
- DOWNLOAD A MAP | And in the same vein as above, download a map. Data plans in South Africa are extremely expensive (and eat up data faster than you’d expect), so it’s best to have the map already downloaded onto your phone so you can always look up directions, no matter where you are. I use maps.me (download it here) and make sure to download the regions I’ll be visiting at home, before leaving.
What to Pack for South Africa
I’m not going to build your entire South Africa packing list for you.
I trust that you know how many pairs of underwear you’ll need and to pack pants.
So, rather than give you a generic checklist for your wardrobe, I’m going to list all of the essentials that made our trip run smoothly.
SOUTH AFRICA PACKING LIST ESSENTIALS
These are the things you should be sure not to forget.
1. South Africa Power Adapter
I never remember to pack an adapter and South Africa was no different.
I had to buy one on the ground in Durban, but this one on Amazon is much better than the cheap one I picked up.
It has room for a plug, of course, but also two USB outlets. With just one wall outlet you can charge your camera battery and two phones. Check prices here.
QUICK NOTE ABOUT HAIR DRYERS & ADAPTERS | An adapter is not a power converter. An adapter will work fine for your phone, laptop, and camera batteries.
However, if you’re using a hair dryer or straightener from the US (120v), it will most likely burn out and die plugged into a 220v outlet.
Most hotels provide hairdryers, so play it safe and use theirs. But if you really want to use your dryer/straightener from home, use a power converter like this one.
2. Portable Charger
I don’t even leave my house for a day in the city without my small power bank anymore, so I definitely don’t recommend running off to spend a week in the South African bush without one.
Getting a larger one like this one gives you more than 120 hours of extra battery life.
You will need those extra hours when you’re miles from an outlet.
3. Water Bottle
Reduce plastic use (and save money) by bringing a reusable water bottle. I bring this 25 oz S’Well bottle everywhere with me.
We spent hours in the car in South Africa, many of those hours were spent cooped up on a self-drive safari in a game park nowhere near a shop.
It’s important to bring lots of water with you on these drives!
Also, equally important, the 32-ounce size fits an entire bottle of wine and will keep it chilled for 24 hours.
This made many a sunset more enjoyable. Check prices here.
4. Baggu Tote
I always bring one of these Baggu bags with me everywhere I go (at home and on vacation).
We packed most of our lunches for safari days and days on the road, so we used this a lot in the supermarkets.
It was also useful in the markets while shopping for souvenirs.
We changed hotels and cities a lot in South Africa and often ended up using it to avoid completely re-packing by just tossing toiletries or shoes into it and throwing it in the car for the next stop.
These bags are heavy duty and can lug anything!
5. A Bandana
This may be the Texan in me, but I always travel with a bandana like this one.
I keep it tied to my backpack and always end up needing it.
I’ve used it as a napkin. I’ve soaked it in water and tied it around my neck to keep cool on unexpectedly hot hikes.
For only a few bucks it’s served a lot of purposes for me, get a few bandanas here .
Photography Gear for South Africa
This is the time to invest in a good camera and zoom lens. A smart phone can get great photos these days but on a safari you’re going to be grateful for a proper zoom and professional equipment.
Here is a breakdown of the camera equipment that I packed for South Africa.
Cameras to pack for South Africa
- Canon EOS 6D: I shot all of my South Africa photos with this camera body. I got this complete package at B&H Photo, but you can get it on Amazon as well.
- Beginner? If you’re just starting out with photography, a Canon Rebel is the best kit to start with. It’s very affordable and will ease you into DSLR photography. It’s what I used for years before upgrading to my 6D. Get this kit for the best deal. It comes with two lenses, one being a 300mm zoom (what I used for all my wildlife photos in this post).
- Canon Rebel Kit: You can also get it on Amazon here (pictured below). You get everything for less than $700. That’s half the cost of a smartphone.
The Lenses on my South Africa Packing List
Here are the two lenses I packed for both of my South Africa trips, as well as a Nikon alternative.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
This is a pricey lens but it’s professional-grade glass and is my absolute favorite lens! It’s wide-angle and shoots great landscape, city, and portrait photography. (But If you’re on a budget, stick to the kit lens and save for the telephoto for safari.)
Get it on B&H Photo or Amazon. Here’s a Nikon equivalent.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6
This is a powerful zoom for the price. For under $400, it’s impossible to beat!
Toiletries to Pack for South Africa
Luxurious days in Cape Town aside, we spent a lot of time outdoors in South Africa.
Here are some South Africa essentials to make sure you get through your trip healthy and pain free.
- BUG SPRAY WITH DEET | South Africa is low risk for Malaria and only in certain areas of the country. But if you’ll be on a safari or outdoors, it’s always a good idea to protect yourself against mosquitoes. We brought this OFF Deep Woods, with nearly 100% DEET. (Using this much DEET at home on a regular basis isn’t a good idea, but is worthwhile in areas with any risk of malaria). I also packed a few of these repellent coils to light in our room.
- SUNSCREEN | Sunscreen is often cheaper at home so be sure to bring it with you to save a few bucks. Use it every day, everywhere (not just for those days on the beach). One day, I didn’t think to put it on my legs since we’d be in the car all day. Bad decision, the tops of my thighs were lobster red for days. Get your sunscreen now.
- CHAPSTICK WITH SPF | My lips burn, badly. So badly, that I can’t find the words to express it. I forgot to protect my lips from the sun on our first trip to South Africa and went home with painful blisters. A lot of sunscreen companies have a chapstick version of their product, but this Blistex (with SPF 15) is what works best for me.
- FIRST AID KIT | I always fill a small pouch like this one with a homemade first aid kit. There are a few things I never travel without, such as band-aids, antibiotic ointment, a painkiller like Tylenol, Benadryl, and stomach medication (both Pepto Bismol and Imodium, because you can never be too safe in that department).
What to Wear in South Africa
What to wear in South Africa will greatly depend on where you’re going.
The outfit you wear wine tasting in Stellenbosch won’t be the same thing you wear traipsing along the beach on the Wild Coast.
But here are some guidelines and tips to help you decide what to take to South Africa.
- FOCUS ON COMFORT | What you don’t think of while planning that epic safari is how you’ll be spending the entire day sitting in the truck on a game drive. Be sure to pack clothes you’ll be comfortable sitting in all day (think about what you’d wear on a long-haul flight). I live in these pants when I travel (they’re made for hiking but look good enough for the city).
- LAYER UP | When we first went to South Africa, it was January and in the midst of summer. I thought it would hot but mornings and nights were chilly, especially on the back of a safari truck. On our second trip, I packed a jean jacket and it was a lifesaver. Pack layers so you can peel off as the sun comes out.
- APPROPRIATE SHOES | Bring shoes that will be comfortable for lots of walking and outdoor activities. For South Africa, I usually only pack my favorite Birkenstocks and a pair of running shoes for hikes. I only bring cute shoes if we’ll be in Cape Town, opting for a wedge heel that is more sturdy on grass and the steep hills. I have a post listing all of my favorite comfortable travel shoes, read it here.
- KIMONOS | I always bring a kimono to turn the tired tank tops I wore all over South Africa into a fancy outfit for a night out in Cape Town or Johannesburg. Pieces like this kimono, help recycle the same basics over and over so you can avoid over-packing.
- PACK A SCARF | My favorite scarf is actually a peshtamel, a Turkish towel, like this one. They are a perfect size and pretty enough to be a cute scarf for South Africa’s cooler mornings. They also double as an impromptu beach blanket or towel in a pinch.
What to Pack for a Safari in South Africa
Ok, let’s talk about what to pack for a safari in South Africa, specifically.
Going on a safari is a once in a lifetime experience, so you want to make sure you pack appropriately.
It can sound stressful but if I’m being honest, it’s not as difficult as you think in South Africa.
Duffel, Backpack or Suitcase?
I know for a lot of African countries, you may be taking a tiny jumper flight deep into the bush and this requires strategically packing light for safari in a tiny carry-on or smaller wheeled backpack.
But in South Africa, you’re probably going to find yourself in one of two situations: doing self-drive safaris in a rental car or in a comfortable suite on a luxury private reserve.
Both of these situations allow for a larger suitcase or carry-on.
So feel free to pack whichever size bag you need (unless you’re on a special tour that tells you otherwise).
South Africa Safari Essentials
Ok, now that you’ve chosen your bag, here’s what to put in it.
- WHEN YOU DON’T NEED NEUTRALS | Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wear neutrals on safari in South Africa. If you’ll be in your car or in a truck with a guide, the animals will view your vehicle as one unit (like one big scary, metal animal). They won’t see you inside in your pink tank top. So, go crazy. Pack whatever you want.
- WHEN YOU DO | Some parks, like Kruger, offer morning or night bush walks. On these sorts of safari walks, you’re exposed and animals will see you for what you are (a tiny human, aka tasty snack). It’s required to wear neutral tones for these walks, for obvious reasons. For that, I love these men’s fishing shirts. There are women’s versions but I like the roominess and pocket size of the men’s shirt.
- BINOCULARS | I can’t say this enough, pack binoculars. Squinting will only get you so far, you need binoculars to see the wildlife well. Even when the animal is right next to the road, using binoculars allows you to see every tiny detail of the fur, their scars, their claws. read my post of comparing the best safari binoculars (or skip it and get this pair, they are the best).
The Ultimate South Africa Packing List
You’ve done it, now you know what to pack for South Africa.
If I haven’t fully answered your questions and you’re still left wondering whether you should pack this or that, just ask away in the comments!