Khaki, tan, gray, beige, olive green? Um, no. My wardrobe has always consisted of bright colors, vivid florals, and crazy patterns. Perhaps you’ll have it better than me, but I had to put my personal preferences aside and buy some new safari clothes so that I could blend in with the bush, comply with safari PC, and yet….still look cute. 🙂
Packing for a safari isn’t as easy as other trips where I’m a master at traveling light and taking only a roll-aboard suitcase. There are many limitations and restrictions that you don’t run into on other trips. Added to that challenge is the fact that because I’m a travel blogger, I also had to maintain my branding image for social media. I was able to accomplish both, so I’m sharing these tips as well as other important info on what to pack, as well as places to buy everything to save you days of searching online and/or weeks of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Trust me, I did both.
It’s important to check with your lodge to see what they provide because the luggage weight limit is tight.
Also, a lot will depend on whether you are on a luxury or budget safari. I was on a luxury safari that supplied a lot of extras that I did not have to pack. They also provided free daily laundry service which enabled me to get away with bringing just two pairs of shorts, one pair of safari pants, one pair of leggings, and one pair of PJs. I did bring quite a few tops but they didn’t take up much room in my luggage.
The word safari means “journey” in Swahili. Don’t forget these important items for your journey!
Naturally, you need a passport. Make sure that it is valid for at least six months prior to your arrival and it also must contain a minimum of two blank pages for stamps. It’s easy to overlook this requirement, but I can tell you first-hand, Africa is a stickler on this. Earlier in the year, I was on a cruise from the Seychelles –> Madagascar –> Reunion –> Mauritius. When I left home, I had three blank pages. However, because there were so many ports in Madagascar, they stamped the heck out of my passport and I did not have a single blank page left when I tried to leave Mauritius. They detained me for a short time but were able to get a special transport allowance only because I was going home.
Americans need a visa to enter Kenya. This can be obtained at the original point of entry, or you can obtain an e-visa online to save time. A single entry visa costs $50 per person.
A Yellow Fever immunization is required if you will be traveling from Kenya to Tanzania or South Africa. An official (yellow) card should be kept with your passport and presented along with your visa.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you are up to date on immunizations for Hepatitis A and B, tetanus, and meningitis.
While not required, the Center for Disease Control suggests that you consider getting a prophylactic prescription for malaria. My go-to for malaria prevention is always Malarone because there are no side effects for me (some of the other malaria drugs are reported to have some bad side effects). Dosage begins two days before you enter the country and continues for one week after you return.
DO NOT TRAVEL TO AFRICA WITHOUT TRAVEL AND/OR EVACUATION INSURANCE. You never know what can happen – of this I have first-hand knowledge having survived a devasting car crash in South Africa in 2014.
Click here to find travel insurance that fits your needs.
BEST TIME TO GO
Our Kenya safari was in October, which turned out to be a fantastic time to go. It was warm during the day and cool in the evenings. It was sunny every day, although there was an occasional shower during the night.
If you are going to the Maasai Mara, June to October is the best time to see the migration of the massive herds of wildebeest.
Mosquitos and tsetse flies can be a big problem in Africa. Tsetse flies are reportedly not deterred by bug spray, even DEET, and their bites are painful and itchy. However, we did not see a single one of either.
A medium-sized soft duffel will usually be required because it can be manipulated into the small luggage holds in the bottom of the plane. While some recommend against wheels, that’s a nonstarter for me. I’m not that strong, and the thought of carrying a 33 lb. duffel from airport to airport, lodge to lodge, isn’t even an option. Yes, the weight limit for the small commuter planes was a maximum of 33 lbs. which included both your duffel and any other carryon, backpack, or purse.
The small commuter planes that you will take if you’re traveling from one camp to another also require your bags to be soft-sided.
I never go on a trip without using packing cubes. Never. They allow me to keep my clothing organized by color, type, day/night, etc. And don’t forget to tightly roll your safari clothes to save room and avoid wrinkling.
The number one item you’ll need on a day-to-day basis is a daypack (small, lightweight backpack). In it, you can easily stash your camera bag, reusable water bottle, smartphone, sunblock, mosquito repellent wipes, camera lens wipe, and journal.
Jostling is the normal ride of the jeep on the very bumpy paths around the national parks and conservancies. Having your camera stowed in a padded camera bag inside your daypack when not using it will protect it from getting bumped and damaged. The type to get is dependent on the size of your camera, but I’d opt for the smallest, tightest one for best protection as well as to take up less of the valuable space in your daypack.
There should be something in your daypack to protect your technical equipment if it starts raining. You can pack a small dry bag or clear stadium-style plastic bag. In a pinch, use a Ziploc.
I always bring a lightweight (fabric) crossbody purse that I can stick in my daypack, drape over my shoulder at night, or wear crossbody (anti-theft) when visiting markets. It contains such things as my phone, medications, reading glasses and cash.
To a certain extent, the colors you wear while seated in the jeep during game drives is not as important as when walking in the bush. Having said that, here’s the rule of thumb on colors:
- Blue and Black – attract tsetse flies that have a painful bite. Plus dark colors attract heat so it’s best to avoid them.
- Red – predators identify red with wounded animals.
- White – the dust of the savanna and on game drives will turn these brown in no time.
- Camouflage – it’s associated with the military; Kenya banned the sale and wearing of clothes resembling military or police uniform in 2006.
- Bright colors – can distract the game.
It’s also notable that you don’t want to be THAT person, you know, the one in the jeep that is annoying to everyone else because your neon colors seep into and ruin their “authentic” experience and/or photos. I decided to let the animals be the center of attention… just this one time.
After giving it a great deal of thought and infinite research, I decided that all my safari clothes would coordinate with dark olive green as my base color. With the weight limit on luggage, this would allow me the highest number of outfit changes because I could switch out tops and bottoms.
Pack things that you can mix and match. You can create a good number of outfits just from pairing a handful of safari clothes in different sequences. Just adding a scarf or jewelry can transform your game drive clothing into a suitable casual dinner ensemble.
You’ll want to pack safari clothes that are comfortable and fairly loose. While you won’t exert much physical exercise on game drives, it can get hot as it gets closer at midday, so breathable fabrics work great. Leave your tight skinny jeans and leather jacket at home.
Contrary to popular belief, Africa is not hot 24/7. Temperatures change throughout the day. It was pretty chilly when I woke up in the morning, and also as soon as the sun went down. You won’t always be able to go back to your tent, so dressing in or having layers with you is best.
This was the hardest for me because all the so-called safari pants I found were so ugly, especially those cargo zip-off shorts types. I finally found a pair that combined both form and function. These cute genie-style pants were also comfortable and had pockets where I could stash my glasses or phone in a pinch and then easily accessed. I like the closed-in ankles for style purposes, but they’re also good to keep out bugs like mosquitos and tsetse flies which some have reported are not repelled by bug spray.
I also brought a couple of pairs of olive green leggings which I wore on transportation days – flights, driving between camps, etc., and also on a sunrise hike in Meru National Park.
Shorts and Sleeveless Shirts
It was hot during the day, and with the casual attire of the camps, I was glad to have brought a couple of pairs of shorts, and several sleeveless shirts that I could also pair with my safari pants at night. I found that I was also comfortable wearing shorts on my morning game drives with a long-sleeved shirt and just covered my legs with the jeep blanket if I got cold.
Long Sleeve Shirts
Long-sleeved shirts came in very handy during the chilly mornings, at dinner, and tunic-length ones that I wore with leggings.
The dress code for dinner at the camps is casual, but I brought one lightweight floral silk frilly blouse that looked really cute with my genie safari pants. I was happy to have it and wore it three times during our 10-day safari split between three different camps.
My jumpsuit (or overall-style) was my favorite piece of safari clothes! I could wear it sleeveless in the warm weather, or pair it with a cropped top underneath when visiting a tribal village or other daytime activity. It was also suitable to wear to dinner at the camps.
Hooded Fleece Jacket
Most game drives are timed to follow the lifestyle of wildlife, so you’ll leave your game drive either at or right after sunrise, and again in the late afternoon and get back a little after sunset. That’s when the animals are most actively looking for food and water, so a warm (olive green, of course) hoodie is a must! You may also have an opportunity to do a night safari, which can get pretty cold. Note also that most jeeps will have blankets (which I used in addition to my fleece).
I didn’t even know what buffs were until someone recommended them. They were so handy! I used them as headbands to give a bit of style; to completely cover my hair in windy jeep rides to avoid horrific tangles; to cover my ears during cold game drives at night; over my nose and mouth when we drove through smelly animal “graveyards.”
Rain can break out at any time in the bush. I packed a compact plastic travel rain jacket into my daypack every day. It didn’t take up much room at all, and in the event of rain, I could just slip the whole thing right over what I was wearing.
The afternoons are generally hot, and since the animals are taking a siesta, you have time to lounge at the pool. Each of our Elewana properties had a large infinity pool overlooking the savanna. So gorgeous! They also provided towels, so I didn’t need to pack that bulky item.
I never travel without a sarong. It’s my essential go-to item that I’ve used as a beach cover-up, sundress, head covering for religious sites, scarf, wind shawl, towel, pillow or seat covers, makeshift purse, privacy curtain, window shade, and packing padding.
God forbid, but it could also be used as a bandage, sling, tourniquet, or to tie a splint until you can get proper medical attention.
I love my sarongs so much I probably have at least 20. Don’t judge.
You really don’t need to wear hiking boots in Kenya unless you really want to. Even bushwalks are not extreme. Sneakers are perfectly fine and more versatile. Even if it’s warm during the game drives, you’ll want to wear closed-toe, comfortable sneakers or walking shoes. Often our guide would stop the jeep and we got out to investigate animal tracks, skulls in an elephant graveyard, and unique flora. You won’t want to get your feet soiled with dirt or worse, or hurt by thorns or sharp stones.
Eureka! I found a pair of very comfy, breathable, olive green sneakers that looked good (not clunky) with my safari clothes.
You may also want to bring a pair of good walking sandals for exploring tribal villages, lounging around the pool, or dinner at the camp which may be a little dressier. I swear by my brown leather Teva’s which I’ve had for at least 10 years and are still as comfortable and look as good as the day I bought them.
Bring socks that cover your ankles if you plan on doing bushwalks or to wear with your sneakers if you get cold easily. I even found these olive green ones!
Even if the safari camp will do your laundry, there is a cultural rule that forbids them from washing undies. I packed three of these ExOfficio breathable, quick-dry low-rise bikini undies and washed by hand in the sink every few days with dry detergent (provided by our camp). If you don’t like bikini panties, no worries, they also have thongs, hipsters, and full coverage styles.
Sports bras are also a good idea – the jeep rides are VERY bumpy. I don’t like sports bras (not a fan of the uni-boob) so I wore this comfy yet cute bralette – sort of a cross between a regular bra and a sports bra.
It was downright chilly at night, plus there was the ever-present threat of mosquitos, so I wanted to be both comfortable and covered. I brought a pair of soft leggings and soft long-sleeved T-shirt and they were perfect as they also did not take up much room in my luggage. Also, a loose-fitting pair of pj’s would also work. We also got a wake-up call every morning where our porter would deliver coffee and cookies to our tent at around 6 a.m., so keep in mind you should be appropriately modest as not to embarrass him.
Wide Brim Hat
You’ll need a hat as protection from the strong sun. I’m not a baseball hat kind of girl, but they might be okay in the jeep (your guide will wear one) as would a Panama-style hat.
However, I would recommend a wide brim hat with a tie under the chin that doesn’t fly away in the open-air jeep, or on bushwalks or camel safaris. Plus, they just plain look better than a baseball hat. I found one that looked cute, coordinated with all my outfits, folded in half for packing, and had the fastener under the chin.
The bright and intense UV sun rays on the savanna can be damaging for your eyes. Sunglasses are both beneficial plus can add a touch of sophistication to your safari look. I always make sure I wear stylish sunglasses since you can see them in basically every photo that I’m in.
A lightweight scarf serves two purposes – it can be used against the cold night, and it’s also an easy way to add a little bit of style and color to what can otherwise be a drab safari wardrobe.
I started requiring reading glasses about ten years ago. Shortly after getting my first pair, I lost them during a trip to Costa Rica. Ever since then, I leave my expensive prescription glasses at home. Instead, I buy an inexpensive package of five pairs of readers to bring with me. Inevitably, I lose or break nearly all of them, but who cares?
Many, perhaps even most, women can do without jewelry. I’m not one of those and didn’t need to be. Naturally, I never bring expensive jewelry on any trip, but because I’d coordinated my wardrobe to be olive green, my favorite olive green crystal earrings and two other pairs sufficed. My travel buddy brought just one pair of earrings and wore them every day and looked great. And to be honest, I’m the only one who knew she’d worn the same pair since we moved around so much.
Make sure that you lock up or at least hide your jewelry back in your accommodations – I understand that monkeys like shiny objects!
Also, if you have the option of visiting a tribal village or market during your safari, I highly recommend buying some of their exquisite hand-beaded jewelry that serves as jewelry to wear on your trip as well as a memento of your visit.
I also wore a large-faced inexpensive watch daily, so I didn’t have to dig out my cell phone every time I wanted to check the time. It’s my absolute favorite — I’ve had it for around 30 years, no lie. The face is large enough to read without glasses, has plain-looking numbers, and a band that I can slide on and off without having to buckle.
Never leave home without it, right? My Samsung Galaxy smartphone takes exceptionally great photos and it’s become my go-to camera. After many years, and many models of iPhones, I switched to Samsung after seeing how much better the photos were and I wouldn’t go back.
So many travel “experts” will tell you that only the best, high-end camera equipment and expensive zoom lenses will suffice. Hogwash! Unless you’re a professional photographer, that über-heavy equipment will take up half your luggage weight.
For me, bulky camera gear is a thing of the past. Just this year, I gave up using my big Nikon DLSR and purchased a Canon mirrorless 35mm camera. I love it! It’s so much lighter and easier to use. And because the animals came so close to the jeep, there was only one occasion in the entire ten days where I wished I’d had a more powerful zoom; and for that spontaneous wildlife spectacle, I was content to just live in the moment and observe the action with my guide’s binoculars.
Note, you can also get zoom lenses for the Canon if you so desire.
I re-charged my camera and phone batteries every night to ensure that I would never miss capturing a thing during the game drives.
If you’re traveling with someone else, a combination selfie stick/tripod is a great way to capture memories with both of you (and perhaps your guide) in it.
Electricity in Kenya is 240 V, 50 Hz. square pin, English standard plugs; Americans need an adapter/converter.
I always have a high-capacity SD card in my camera, and one extra one in case the first gets filled or damaged.
Insider’s Tip: I download the photos from both my camera and my phone to my laptop’s hard drive every night. You never know when your equipment will malfunction or get stolen and you’ll lose precious photos.
It’s so dusty out on the savanna and bush! In order to obtain the best-quality photos, clean your camera and phone lenses intermittently throughout the day. Why be boring? Check out this artsy lens cloth!
The lights in the tented camps are very dim at night, enough to see your way to the bathroom, but not bright enough to read so a headlamp is a must if you need light at night.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
I love getting my dose of Vitamin D but do not like staying in direct sunlight for long periods of time. During my sun exposure, I use an eco-friendly sunscreen that does not pollute the water or harm marine life. Win/win scenario.
Malaria is known to be a big risk in Kenya as well as the dread tsetse flies. Wear long sleeves and pants at night and pack at least 30% DEET spray or wipes. I prefer the wipes on my skin because the scent is not as strong as an involuntary inhalant. It’s easier to get full coverage with the wipes. Alternatively, the spray works on clothing or your tent. I brought both with me.
I use Malarone (see Entry Requirements above). There are several others to consider — please consult with your own physician.
If you’ve ever had Traveler’s Diarrhea (aka Montezuma’s Revenge), you know it’s terrible and can lay you up for a day or more. Over-the-counter medications like Imodium can help stop diarrhea, but I always travel with a prescription of Cipro, an antibiotic that stops the root cause.
“There’s no way, and probably no good reason, to be subtle about it — diarrhea, parasites, and other gastrointestinal unpleasantries can be part of the price travelers pay for trying to see the world. Fortunately, this frank, witty guide lets world-explorers fight back against their invisible assailants. How to Shit Around the World is the perfect, if not the most polite, traveling companion. ” ~Dr. Wilson-Howarth
Compile a first aid kit with Band-Aids, antibiotic cream, ibuprofen, cream for bites, and any medications you normally take.
All of my Elewana camps provided complimentary shampoo, conditioner, soaps, and lotions, but if yours does not, you’ll have to bring them. You might want to consider dry shampoo and a bar of soap if getting liquids through airport security screening is a problem.
Toothbrush and toothpaste are not provided at the camps.
Water Filter Bottle
First of all, disposable plastic is illegal in Kenya so plastic water bottles will be unavailable. We received a stainless steel water bottle at our first camp to take with us throughout our journey, refillable at each Elewana camp’s purified water station in the lodge’s common area.
If your camp doesn’t have that benefit, then I recommend you bring a water filtration bottle to make sure you have safe hydration. I like this one because it’s light and when empty it doesn’t take up much room in your luggage.
Certainly, makeup is not a necessity for most, but for my own personal branding (Luggage and Lipstick, remember?) lipstick is a must, as well as mascara. They don’t take up much room in my luggage, and for me, it has a positive impact on my public appearance as well as on my psyche.
Regardless of whether or not you wear makeup, do put sunscreen on your face every day on safari. I absolutely love Neutrogena Dry Touch Sunscreen. It doesn’t feel greasy, is water/sweat resistant, and is SPF 100+. I actually use it every day.
Most of the camps will not have a hairdryer in your hut or tent, as you’d probably guess. You can usually find one for public use in the spa (if your camp has a spa). I just did without a dryer and did not find it a hardship at all, even with my very long hair.
It’s really windy in the jeep! If you don’t want impossibly tangled hair, cover it up in a buff (see above) or make sure you bring covered elastics to braid it.
US Dollars were accepted everywhere in Kenya. Take a stash of small bills – $1, $5, and $10. I used up all my cash tipping our well-deserving guides and purchasing souvenirs at the Samburu and Maasai markets.
I can guarantee you will be amazed at the wealth of knowledge your guide has about the flora and fauna of Kenya. And the personal stories of their encounters with wildlife are incredible! Make sure you have a safari journal and pen to jot down the names and tales that you will want to relate back home. Believe it or not, the details are easy to forget, but writing them down will help transport you back to your journey in Africa.
You’ll have around six hours during the middle of the day for free time. In addition to exploring your camp, taking a nap, or lounging by the pool, there’s time to read. With a kindle, you don’t have to bring multiple books in your luggage. You can load your Africa guide books to educate yourself about your surroundings, animals, and culture, or favorite fiction all on one device.
Hot Water Bottle
This will depend on what time of year you go, but even so, the temperature does plummet after sundown. I didn’t need one at Meru National Park, but at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Loisaba Wildlife Conservancy, it was colder at night. When we returned to our tented camps at night, we discovered hot water bottles in our beds. I have to admit, I was concerned about the drop in temperature at night because I get (and stay) cold really, really easily and was anxious that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. But this old-school remedy was amazing! I sleep on my side so I curled my legs around it and I stayed warm and toasty all night. If your camp doesn’t have them, I highly recommend that you bring one.
I can’t sleep unless it’s pitch black, and the camps have solar powered outdoor night lights around the tents and paths. Plus we were on safari during the full moon. I only enjoyed good nights’ sleep because I wore my sleep mask which blocks all light as well as keeps my eyes closed.
If your travel companion snores, these are irreplaceable.
There will likely only be WiFi in the common area in your camp, not in your tent/hut and certainly not on the game drives. Guide books can come in really handy for quick research. Also, a Swahili translation book can be a fun addition to enhance your experience.
WHAT NOT TO BRING
I didn’t bring these they would have put my luggage over the weight limit, but our guide always had a pair for me to use. However, if your lodge/camp doesn’t supply them, here’s a compact and lightweight pair of binoculars you might want to consider.
Some camps, like Elewana, have a solar-powered flashlight in every tent. But if not, no need to bring an extra piece of equipment – there’s a flashlight function on most smartphones.
It can be a challenge to hoist yourself into and out of the high safari vehicles. Dresses are just impractical and even a tripping hazard. If you have room in your luggage and want to bring a dress or two to lounge around the pool or dinner at night (although it gets chilly), you can certainly do that.
Flowy dresses look great in Instagram photos such as exploring old towns and ancient ruins. But in a safari setting, that would just look silly. IMHO.
You can wear your walking sandals at the pool. If you have extra room in your luggage, pack a pair of pretty flip flops if you feel you can’t live without them.
Plastic bags are illegal in Kenya. We were advised of this as we were arriving into Nairobi International Airport and the flight attendants went through the aisles accepting bags people wanted to get rid of rather than have them confiscated at customs.
I panicked and emptied six Ziploc bags that I had in my carryon which organized a lot of my smaller things, e.g. chargers, medications, snacks, jewelry, etc. and disposed of them. I needn’t have though! Shame on the flight attendants for not being more specific! Ziploc bags are okay, it’s the disposable shopping bags that are not.
During your safari, you will see virtually no plastic at the camps – no plastic water bottles and shampoo and conditioner are in glass dispensers, etc. You can use these reusable shopping bags.
We had the extra complication of traveling to tropical Zanzibar after our safari – which would require 100% different apparel than safari clothes. How did we do it with the strict baggage weight allowances?
I packed everything I needed for Zanzibar in a separate packing cube which I took out and left at Wilson Airport. After the safari, when we returned to Wilson to fly to Zanzibar, I simply retrieved my extra packing cube and stuffed it back in my duffel.
Note: our Elewana representative took our packing cubes and then returned them back to us, but Wilson also has lockers you can rent.
When in doubt, follow this advice from Susan Heller:
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
Hakuna Matata! Enjoy your Kenya safari!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.