Going on a safari is one of the best experiences one can have while visiting the African bush. Having a memorable encounter with any type of wildlife in some of the most untouched stretches of nature is just unforgettable.
There are various ways for going on a safari. All will depend on the country you are in or which game reserve you are visiting, public or private, and the activities they have on offer. In most of the larger wildlife reserves, self drive safaris are possible. In others, you will have to go with a certified field guide in their vehicle. The most important thing is to fully enjoy your safari trip and to take back home the most memorable experiences of the African bush and the majestic wildlife one can see.
Read more: Safari in South Africa: A practical guide
What to pack for a safari in Africa?
However, for many people, the most difficult thing will be what to pack before going on your safari trip. Which items should you take, or just not pack, or are indispensable for any safari? Also, it is important not to take too much stuff with you, but just the essentials. Having done so many safaris over the last years that I’ve spent in Africa, I will list the most essential items that I would take on any safari in Africa.
Keep in mind that this is a packing list for a one day safari, not a multiple day one.
Essential items to take on your African safari
Binoculars are a very essential item for any safari in Africa. The reason is that animals can be pretty far off and you cannot always get close to the wildlife. You will have to follow the main roads and only in very exceptional occasions, like in a private game reserve where the guide is allowed to drive off road, but in most of the cases you are not.
This means that in order to really see a smaller animal or when it’s far away, you will enjoy it so much better with a good pair of binoculars.
Protection against the sun
Africa can get very hot during the day and on your safari you will be either sitting in an open vehicle or driving with the windows open. Do not underestimate the strength of the African sun.
Bringing a good sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is highly recommended. In our case, Sean and myself will always take a sunscreen with an SPF 50.
Another item that will help against the strong sunlight is a good and decent hat. Because you will be driving in the open wind, the best hats will be the ones that you can tie with a cord. You will not want to loose your hat while driving and the wind catches it.
A good pair of sunglasses
Not so much during the early and late hours of the day, but during the day the sun will shine really bright. Looking for animals can be tiring, especially when staring in the bright light the whole day. Wearing a good pair of sunglasses will be such a relief to your eyes. The best sunglasses that I recommend to use are polarised ones.
Good camera gear for photography
Very often when going on a safari, we see people taking pictures with a small camera or even an ipad. In that case, I would not even worry about taking a photo, but to rather enjoy the moment. Unless it’s a huge elephant or giraffe standing next to your vehicle, the photo won’t be very nice. Believe me, on my first safaris I did not have a large zoom less and most of my pictures were blurred. However, some of the latest smart phone cameras are quite good and are capable of getting you the proverbial money shot.
A good zoom lens is essential for taking any decent pictures on a safari. It does not have to be an expensive and off the limit zoom lens of let’s say one meter in length. Admittedly, they will be able to make a great shot, but good is also enough.
I use a DSLR Canon 650D combined with a wide angle (Canon 15-85mm) and two zoom lenses. One is a Tamron 18-270mm which is really good value for it’s price. The advantage with this one is that it has a very wide range and you don’t have to switch lenses very often for wide shots and zoom shots. When I was working as a guide, I did not have time to change lenses. The clients had first priority for taking photos.
The other lens I use is the Canon 70-300mm. This one comes in the normal version as well as the Canon 70-300mm L version. The advantage of the L is that it is more weather proof, which is really good as most nature parks tend to be either really dusty or quite wet.
This is just the camera gear that I use, but I can say that today’s point and shoot cameras or smart phones with extra attachable lenses will do for a safari. You stand a very good chance of getting nice, good quality photos as well. I just like playing around with a DSLR and the possibilities with the different lenses.
Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all ~ Brian Jackman
Extra memory cards and batteries
You know the feeling that when that perfect shot comes in sight, your camera dies. When I was working as a guide, it happened to so many people. The camera was not properly charged, or the battery power was just not enough. Make sure you always have some spare batteries and extra memory cards. You never know, it can be one of those days that you will see every animal you want to see. Especially when you love photography, be prepared for power and memory space.
An animal guide book
In order to truly enjoy your game drive, especially when doing a self drive is to have a good safari book with you. At the entrance of most parks you will be able to buy a map of the area which includes pictures and info about the most important animals in it, so it will be easier to spot them.
A good guide book will also explain in more detail about the animal you are seeing and will include the lesser known ones.
A safari is not only about big mammals, but also about the smaller animals, such as insects, birds and reptiles like monitor lizards. I also always use a bird book, which makes it pretty easy to recognise most birds.
Read more: Spotting the Big Five on your African safari
Water and snacks
There won’t be a whole lot of shop stops while in a safari wildlife reserve. Make sure you carry enough water with you. You will normally be able to buy more water or fill up a water bottle (only where the water is clean to drink) at a picnic stop.
Watching for animals can be energy consuming. Or sometimes due to an interesting sighting, you will not make it in time for lunch or a random spot for eating something. Make sure you always have some snacks with you. It can be some (dried) fruits or nuts, or biscuits.
Wear different layers of clothes
Most wildlife will be active during the hours of the early morning or late afternoon. That means you will start driving just before the sun comes up. Even though temperatures in Africa get very high in the day time, during the winter months it can be really cold. It is not nice to sit in an open vehicle freezing, you will not enjoy anything you see. Make sure you wear layers of different clothes. Warm enough for the early or late hours and which you can take off during the day. Often, safari vehicle will have warm blankets available, but warm clothing is so much better.
It might also be possible that it rains the whole day. No problem for spotting animals, but bring a raincoat, just in case. The best would be a windproof rain coat.
Read more: Etosha – A waterhole safari
Safari journal and a pen
It will not be easy to write things down while driving, but you will have stops at the picnic sites, where you can write down specific sightings or just general musings about the beautiful hours you’ve spend in the African bush.
A good and easy travel bag
You will not have a lot of space when you will be going with a safari company. A small daypack will be perfect. If you have a lot of camera gear, be sure to have a sturdy camera bag with you. There will not be space to lay out all your gear on the seat. Moreover, other people might not be as careful as you are with your expensive gear. Also when it’s raining or there is a lot of dust, some additional items will have to be stored away properly, but at the same time in easy reach, like extra batteries or memory cards.
Most game reserves have rest areas where they sell food / snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Do have some local currency with you to get a cold drink or a nice souvenir. Pretty much all of the major game parks across Southern Africa will also accept major credit cards such as Visa or Mastercard. Some parks might also have ATM’s. In the more isolated places, the parks will power their money machines with solar and link them via satellite.
A flexible and open mood
Not one safari will be the same as the other. So have an open mind, and be flexible and open to everything you will see that day, and you will see something. In some cases you will not see a lion, leopard or other large and amazing mammal. The animals might be hiding, but you will definitely see some other less popular wildlife. Be glad with what you see and enjoy nature and the African bush.
Have you ever done a safari in Africa? Where did you do it and did you enjoy it?
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