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The ultimate African safari packing list

Today’s guest post is from Ziara Safaris, a Kenya safaris tour operator that specialises in custom and private trips around all of the major National Parks and Game Reserves. This will most certainly be the first article of a long series…so stay tuned for other exciting tips in the near future! 😉

Packing for your safari should be a truly exciting experience. You’ll start to feel butterflies in the stomach and that familiar twinge of anticipation as you pick your clothes and pack your outdoor essentials, and of course your trusty camera for snapping an ungainly hyena or a soaring fish eagle. It’s certainly easy to get carried away, but stick to our carefully considered safari selection and you won’t go wrong!

1. Clothing

OK, so you know you need clothes. Nobody wants to get that close to nature out in the African wilderness. But what kind of clothes? Most people find shorts or trousers the most comfortable on safari, depending on the time of year and your exact safari location.

You should also take some loose-fitting, comfortable shirts or t-shirts – maybe not your absolute favourites though, since they’re likely to get a little creased and more than a little sweaty!

One long-sleeved shirt – possibly with inbuilt insect or sun protection – is also very useful. Moreover, you’ll need a wide-brimmed hat which covers both your face and the back of your neck.

It’s also worth taking a warm fleece with you – yes, Africa is a hot country, but early morning game drives can be quite chilly, and you’ll feel the bracing breeze once you’ve got the windows and roof open! You’ll also appreciate it on the cooler evenings, especially if you want to take an al fresco drink or sit at the camp fire if you’re staying at a tented camp.

Take some sturdy walking boots with you, and some thick, comfortable socks to wear underneath. These will be particularly useful if you want to go on a nature walk, a walking safari or a mountain hike.

Ladies may also wish to take a sarong or khanga with them – these multi-purpose garments can be used as a headscarf to keep hair out the way if it’s particularly windy, a scarf if it gets chilly, or a lightweight shawl to protect shoulders from the sun.

It can also be folded nice and small to fit in your day bag (we recommend a small backpack) when you’re not using it!

2. Healthcare Essentials

First on the list is some very high SPF sun cream. Even if you consider yourself used to the sun, the sun is extremely strong in Africa and it’s simply not worth getting burnt – you don’t want any distraction from your game-viewing! Factor 50 is recommended.

It’s also useful to bring an extreme/sports sunblock. These are very small – usually the size and shape of a lip balm – and can be taken in a day bag or pocket for reapplication to sensitive areas whenever you feel it’s necessary.

You’ll also need some good quality sunglasses. The reason sunglasses come under healthcare essentials and not clothing is that you will need sunglasses to protect you, not just as a fashion accessory! Physicists recommend you choose sunglasses with at least 99% UVB protection and 95% UVA protection.

Instead of offering proper protection, cheap sunglasses will simply darken you vision, meaning your pupils will dilate to allow extra light in. Without proper UV protection, your dilated pupils will also take in more harmful UV rays and could cause extensive damage to your eyes.

Take some mosquito repellent with you. If you don’t want to carry a large bottle when you’re out on game drives, just bring some wipes in your day bag. They come in tiny sachets and are very handy – especially if you’re out on an evening game drive when the sun has started to set and the mosquitoes are at their most active.

3. Interactive

First on the list has to be a camera, and all the stuff that comes with it! Depending on how much of an amateur or professional you are this could be anything from spare batteries or a charger, to extra memory cards, a zoom lens and a dust-proof camera case! Whatever your level, a little beanbag is always useful for resting your camera on and steadying hands. It’s the safari-friendly alternative to an unwieldy tripod!

Even if you have fantastic eyesight and the world’s most observant safari guide, a pair of binoculars will enhance your safari experience immeasurably. Using binoculars is often the only way to take in those tiny details – examining the differences between a plains zebra and a Grevy’s zebra, marvelling at the sheer size of a black rhino’s horn, even staring into the golden eyes of a hungry lioness.

Of course, you’ll want to know exactly what it is you’re looking at through your fantastic binoculars. Was that a ground hornbill or a Kori bustard? A masai giraffe or a Rothschild’s? Doing a bit of research in some bird and wildlife books is worth every minute. It’s no use your guide telling you that today you might spot a rare beisa Oryx if you’ve got no idea what these beautiful creatures look like!

The enthusiastic botanists amongst you might even want to take a guide to the plants, trees and vegetation you might encounter. The landscape of Africa is hugely diverse, from the riverine forest to the open savannah to the reed-spotted marshlands. And you wouldn’t want to confuse a doum palm with an oil palm, would you?

4. Safety, Security and Practicality

A torch is always useful to take on a safari holiday. If you’re staying in a campsite, a large torch and a head torch will of course be a blessing. Even many luxury tented camps and permanent lodges turn off the power, usually from around midnight to five in the morning, either for practical or environmental reasons. In this case, a wind-up torch is useful for any late night trips to the toilet! NB – you can usually arrange to have the power turned on before the scheduled time in cases of early departure etc.

A Swiss army knife is a marvellous miscellaneous tool for any occasion. The bottle opener is there for opening cold drinks bought at road-side cafés on long journeys. The scissors are handy for snipping off loose threads. And of course if you’re camping, the various knives and tin-openers will be invaluable.

Although they may not be entirely practical for wear during your actual game drives, a money belt is undoubtedly the most secure way to keep your money, passport and other important documents to hand when you’re in transit. They are particularly useful if you are flying through large and busy airports such as Nairobi or Johannesburg, or if you have to take coach or train transfers anywhere.

So, that’s our fairly comprehensive list of necessary safari items. This article focuses mainly on items you’ll need whilst actually on safari, so don’t forget the things you’ll need to actually get to your safari destination – like visa, passport and local currency! We hope you’ve found the article helpful, and remember the most important thing – safari njema!

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