How to Pack for an East African Safari

How to Pack for an East African Safari

How to Pack for an East African Safari

Planning a safari adventure and don't know what to pack? We've got you covered.

Many wildlife lovers spend a lifetime dreaming of (and planning for) an East African safari. And with good reason: From the famed “Big 5” mammals and vast herds of Kenya and Tanzania to the apes and gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda, there’s a remarkable array of species to see in the region.


But with airline weight restrictions and the need to take enough clothing and other essentials for a week or two in the bush, many travelers find packing for an East African safari to be a challenge. Fortunately, after going on safari at more than a dozen national parks and private game reserves in three different countries, we’ve developed a quick list of absolute essentials.

 How to Pack for an East African Safari

Check out our recommendations on must-pack items for your once-in-a-lifetime East African safari:




Pants- When it comes to clothing for an East African safari, the most important things are that they be light, breathable, and offer UV protection. When it comes to pants we prefer convertibles that can be zipped off easily when the day gets too hot. We always look for brands that are made with InsectShield technology (which binds a permethrin formula to fabric fibers), such as ExOfficio, Orvis, and Craghoppers. These pants provide effective, odorless protection against mosquitos, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers, and midges that lasts up to 70 washes. (Note: Avoid wearing blue in Tanzania, as it attracts tsetse flies!)


Shirts- Depending on what time of year and which countries you visit, East Africa can be blisteringly hot or surprisingly chilly. Long sleeve shirts (preferably those with InsectShield protection) are generally essential for protection from the sun and bugs. But you also want them to wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly. If you’re headed to Mount Kilimanjaro or the chillier climates of Rwanda and Uganda, you’ll want to dress in laters. When we trekked to see Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, some people in our group started the morning in jackets and stripped down to short-sleeve shirts by midday.


Hat/Sunglasses- The sun in East Africa can be brutal, and you may find yourself hiking or in a safari vehicle without a roof. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses will provide protection from the sun’s harsh rays, and also keep the dust out of your eyes and hair.


Hiking Boots- If you’re planning on doing any hiking whatsoever in the East African bush, a good pair of lightweight, waterproof, mid-length hiking boots is a must. Not only for ankle support and traction on slippery or uneven terrain, but also to protect you from thorns, vines, and abrasions. Look for sturdy all-terrain boots with a moisture-wicking footbed and a breathable liner. And make sure to break them in before your trip.


Jacket- You might not think you would need a jacket for an East African safari, especially in dry, hot places such as Serengeti National Park. But I distinctly remember waking up freezing the September night we camped on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, and my wife got cold during a tour of a coffee farm in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. For Kenya and Tanzania, a mid-weight jacket will probably do the trick. But for Uganda and Rwanda, you may want something even warmer, particularly if you visit in June and July (when temps can dip down into the 50s).

 How to Pack for an East African Safari



Cash- You’ll be hard-pressed to find an ATM during your East African safari, and the trips into towns tend to be few and far between. But you’re likely to spend time visiting local villages with distinctive handmade crafts on offer, and no way to pay by credit card. We recommend taking enough cash along to cover your souvenir and snack purchases, plus tips for your guides and trackers. But be forewarned that many businesses in Tanzania will only accept US bills released after 2006 because those made earlier were much easier to forge.


Visa- Every nation you visit during your East African safari will require a visa for entry. You can avoid the often long lines by applying for one before you leave, but getting one on arrival is easy enough. The cost of the visa varies from country to country– Kenya’s is $51, while Tanzania charges US citizens $100 for a single-entry visa. If you’re visiting multiple countries and want to save money, the East Africa Tourist Visa costs $100 and allows 90-day multiple entries to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. Unfortunately, Tanzania is not a member of this newly formed union yet, so there’s no getting around their entry fee.


Yellow Fever Health Card- Spread by mosquitos in certain parts of South America and Africa, Yellow Fever is no joke. Symptoms (including fever, chills, and aches) take 3-6 days to develop and can lead to bleeding, organ failure, and even death. Tanzania is among the countries that require all visitors to show proof of vaccination, which is often referred to simply as a “yellow card.” Fortunately, most primary care physicians and clinics can administer this shot, and its effects last 10 years!

 How to Pack for an East African Safari



Camera Gear- If you’re into nature/wildlife photography, there’s no better time to invest in good gear (or improving photography skills) than before you leave for your East African safari. The photo possibilities are incredible, from close-ups of baby Lions and Cheetahs to wide angle shots of the vast herds that traverse the Serengeti. We use a Canon 70D body, with a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens for landscape and scenic shots, and 70-200mm f/2.8 with a teleconverter for long-range and close-up shots. Whatever gear you use, be sure to spend time getting comfortable with settings for various situations (especially low light) before you leave.


International Adapters- Though some people use their East African safari as a chance to unplug, most of us need to recharge our smartphones, cameras, laptops, and/or tablets on a daily basis. Different safari camps offer varying levels of access: We’ve stayed in somewhere you could only charge devices a few hours per day, while others had electricity available 24/7. Regardless, we always pack a few international adapters to make sure our electronic devices can get juiced up in whatever time is allotted.


Memory Cards- The first time I went on an African safari, digital photography wasn’t a thing yet. Over the course of two weeks, I shot a whopping 76 rolls of 36-exposure film! These days you can fit hundreds of pictures on a single 32 GB memory card. But for serious wildlife photography buffs , who tend to shoot in hi-resolution RAW mode (around 23 MB per photo), that memory can get eaten up pretty quickly. Memory cards are relatively inexpensive in the US, but more difficult to find in the African bush. Take twice as many as you think you’ll need: There’s nothing worse than having to delete pics as you miss a perfect photo opp!




Medicines- When you’re on an East African safari, you’re often hours away from the nearest town. In addition to the obvious prescription medications, it’s a good idea to take a first aid kit that includes any basic essentials you might need along the way. We always pack things like antacid, aspirin, Band-Aids, Benadryl, Immodium, Neosporin, etc. We also ask our doctor for a Cipro prescription, which helps with “Traveler’s Diarrhea.”


Insect Repellant- The Yellow Fever immunization mentioned above is great for keeping mosquito bites from turning into serious disease. But we recommend a strong, 100% DEET insect repellant to keep them from biting in the first place. We’re usually very environmentally conscious and have tried just about every eco-friendly bug spray on the market. Unfortunately, none of them worked well for us. Many safari camps will provide spray for you to use, but we always pack our own just in case.


Shampoo & Conditioner- Most safari camps will have some sort of shampoo and conditioner available for you to use. However, most of them are fairly low quality, and your hair is likely to get covered in dust from traveling down dirt roads in an open vehicle. We always pack travel-sized versions of our favorite brands: my wife uses an extra moisturizing line, while I use a Tea Tree line for my dry scalp.


Sunscreen- If you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind covering yourself in clothes from head to toe, you might not need sunscreen for your East African safari. But for those hot, sunny days when shorts and t-shirts are more comfortable, a good slathering of SPF 50 works wonders to ensure you won’t miss a single moment due to scorched skin.  –Bret Love


BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media. 

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