What To Pack for South Africa

10 January 2023

Packing List South Africa

From world-renowned safari sites to secluded, white-sand beaches - South Africa has it all. Its diverse landscapes and changing seasons coupled with a mixed itinerary means that you’ll no doubt need to pack for a range of activities and climates.

At Scott Dunn, we’re committed to curating experiences that go beyond your wildest expectations, and part of that means listing out things to pack for South Africa and making sure you have everything you need. We’ve thought of every single detail – from safaris to beach days – so you don’t have to. So join us as we uncover what to pack for South Africa. 

South Africa Packing List

Whether you’re wine tasting in Western Cape, stargazing in Sutherland, or planning to feast your eyes on the Big 5 - some South African packing tips are universal.  

The Essentials 

You won’t get far without these essential items.

  • Passport - this must be valid for at least six months from your arrival date. 
  • Visa - as a US citizen, you can travel to South Africa for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without a visa. 
  • Travel insurance - It’s always wise to make sure you have some form of travel insurance when going on vacation, especially to a destination as action-packed as South Africa. Feel free to get in touch with us if you’re looking for advice about this.
  • Yellow fever vaccination - US citizens do not need a yellow fever vaccination to enter South Africa. However, if you have been to any of the countries on this list then you will need one.
  • Malaria vaccination - Most parts of South Africa present a low risk of malaria. However, it’s advised that you have a risk assessment before traveling as some parts, such as Kruger National Park, do pose a degree of risk.
  • Travel documents and tickets - Make sure you have your e-tickets downloaded and physical copies printed out.
  • Currency/bank card(s) - It’s always advisable to exchange some currency before you go on vacation so you can benefit from the best exchange rate. Alternatively, let your bank know you will be traveling abroad so they don’t block your card.  

Travel tip - Put together a travel wallet containing your passport as well as physical copies of your itinerary and other important documents. That way everything is in one place and even if your phone runs out of battery, you’ll have access to them.

An image of South Africa’s mountainous landscape 

Clothes To Pack for South Africa

When it comes to packing clothes for South Africa, you’ll be influenced by the seasons and your itinerary. You might be spending your days cruising in a classic car along the coast of Cape Town and your evening's fine dining at the Belmond Mount Nelson. Equally, you could be traversing the wild grasslands of Kruger National Park while staying at Garonga Safari Camp. So given that your itinerary might be pretty diverse, you’ll probably need quite a mix of clothing.

Clothes:

  • T-shirts  
  • Tank top
  • Shorts/skirt
  • Pants
  • Dresses
  • Jacket/fleece 
  • Waterproof coat
  • Swimwear
  • Nightwear 

Footwear:  

  • Hiking boots
  • Sneakers
  • Sandals/slip-ons/flip-flops

Accessories:

  • Scarf  
  • Sunglasses  
  • Backpack/handbag
  • Hat  

Travel tip: Think about the materials of your clothes. For the summer, opt for light fabrics, like linen, while packing a pair of denim jeans for any chilly nights. And remember, versatility is key. Choose items that you can dress up or down to match your array of activities.

Electronics 

Though we’d love to tell you to ditch the electronics completely and fully immerse yourself in South Africa’s beauty - we understand that’s just not possible, and of course, you’re going to want to capture some of those special moments on camera. When considering what to pack for a trip to South Africa, here are a few tech essentials you might want to bring with you:

  • Phone  
  • Laptop/tablet 
  • Camera 
  • Adaptor plug  
  • Chargers  
  • Power bank 
  • Memory card  
  • Binoculars 
  • Flashlight

Travel tip: Consider the type of material of your clothing. If visiting during South Africa’s summer season, opt for linen and cotton clothing that’s looser fitting so your outfits feel lightweight and breathable. Also, pick versatile items that can be dressed up or down to match any occasion.

Toiletries and Medical Essentials

No South Africa packing list would be complete without a mention of essential toiletry and medical items.

Wash bag: 

  • Shampoo and conditioner 
  • Body wash 
  • Face wash 
  • Moisturizer 
  • Sunscreen
  • After sun
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Make-up

Medical bag:

  • Anti-malaria tablets  
  • Insect repellent  
  • Anti-sickness tablets
  • Antihistamine tablets
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Regular medication
  • Painkillers (ibuprofen/aspirin)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Band aids
  • Small pair of scissors

Travel tip: Regional Destination Manager and South Africa expert Harriet Whitmarsh says, “if you want to avoid Malarial areas in South Africa during a safari, then perhaps consider Madikwe Game Reserve, the Waterberg region, or the Eastern Cape. Also, a lot of people don’t know this, but Avon’s Skin So Soft dry oil is a fantastic mosquito repellent, I swear by it.

Don't forget...

When we told you we thought of everything, we meant it.  Your packing list for South Africa should include:

  • Book
  • Travel Journal
  • Travel/safari/animal guide(s)
  • Water bottle

Travel tip: Insulated water bottles can keep your drinks cold (or hot) for an extended period and can be just the refresher you need when out on an excursion. 

An older couple packing a suitcase 

Seasonal Packing Tips

South Africa is located in the Southern Hemisphere, so its seasons work in reverse to the US. When it’s summer in the US it’s winter in South Africa. You’ll need to be mindful of this when creating your South Africa packing list for summer - the last thing you want is to arrive with the wrong seasonal attire.  

Unlike some parts of equatorial Africa which only have two seasons; wet and dry, South Africa has four seasons. 

  • Summer: December, January, February 
  • Fall: March, April, May 
  • Winter: June, July, August 
  • Spring: September, October, November  

Winter in South Africa is not like winter as we know it in the US. You can still expect blue skies and warm temperatures, but don’t go unpacking your coat just yet - South African winter evenings can still get pretty chilly. And if a cold front sweeps in causing the temperature to drop, you’ll definitely be grateful for that fleece.  

In terms of your South Africa packing list for the summer, we still recommend packing a jumper and a waterproof coat - especially if you’re going on a safari, hiking the Drakensberg Mountains, or visiting the White Desert. 

Temperatures in South Africa average between 59-97°F in the summer so whatever you do, don’t forget to pack sunscreen and we recommend at least SPF50. The sun in South Africa can be unforgiving and you don’t want sunstroke standing in the way of you and your bucket-list safari experience.

Regional expert Harriet Whitmarsh says:  

“Regardless of the season, you are getting up before the sun comes up for safari’s so you will be chilly in the back of that game vehicle. A key tip would be to pack layers that can be stripped off as the day gets warmer; two thinner layers and one fleece topped off with a scarf is often my go-to.” 

What To Pack for a Safari in South Africa

South Africa is synonymous with safari - and rightly so. With an abundance of renowned safari sites to explore, it’s only right that safari packing has its own section.  

So, what should you pack for a Safari in South Africa?  

Harriet says: 

Light neutral tones are typically preferred for safari, colors that blend well with the bush such as khaki, brown, beige/tan and green – this is especially advised for walking safaris. By not standing out you will be able to have the most exceptional game viewing opportunities, also it can get quite dusty on safari so white clothing is not advised.” 

We mentioned binoculars earlier but they deserve a special mention here, an important item in your packing list for a safari in South Africa. While your tour guide can place you in the presence of the big 5, it’s your binoculars that will get you up close and personal with them.

Harriet also advises bringing another key item… 

“Don’t forget your camera! You are going to come up close and personal with some of the world’s most beautiful animals, so you are going to want to capture it on camera. I know we all have amazing cameras on our phones now, but there is nothing quite like capturing a close-up of the face of a leopard or lion, something you truly need a good zoom lens in order to do.” 

Want to know more about the unwritten rules of Safari? Our resident expert, Bjorn, has got you covered. 

A woman holding binoculars with zebras in the background 

Tips for Packing Light

Our list of things to pack for South Africa is quite extensive. So here are some tips to help you pack light and stay within your luggage allowance.  

Only pack what you need - Perhaps you’d prefer to lay eyes on a great white over a giraffe? If exploring by sea is more your thing, then skip the heavy hiking boots.  

Sharing is caring - if you’re traveling with other people then sharing and splitting up your toiletry bag and medical kit will lighten the load. You only need one of most of the items from that section (except for the sunscreen, of course).  

Pack smart - Choose pieces that you can dress down for daytime wear and dress up for the evening.  

Travel sizes - Where possible go for the travel size options. It’ll help reduce the luggage weight for your South Africa vacation. Pick up a travel pouch containing empty travel-size bottles so you can bring your complete skincare routine without bringing your whole bathroom.

Use bag dividers - travel bag dividers can help stop you from overpacking because there’s only so much they will hold. They also keep your suitcase nice and organized.

Meet Our South Africa Specialists

Bjorn Behlert

Bjorn Behlert

Scott Dunn Travel Consultant

I was born in Malaysia where my parents used every opportunity to travel Asia as much as possible. As a child I was taken on canoes through the jungle, on trains or elephants through India and many other countries in the region. After returning to Germany, we still spent every school vacation abroad, often traveling to remote areas, which cemented my ever-growing hunger to explore.

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