South Africa is one my most favourite countries in the world, so much so that I have now been twice (unusual for me) and is one of the few places that I pretty convinced everybody would like. The wildlife spotting opportunities are some of the best in the world, the food (and wine) is fantastic and scenery second to none.
If you are in the throes of planning a trip there, I am both incredibly jealous and very excited for you, however there are a few things that need to be included in your South Africa packing list that may not be immediately obvious.
On the contrary, the answer as to what to wear in South Africa is surprisingly straightforward and shouldn’t have you running out to buy a whole new wardrobe (unless you want to of course!).
For general advice on travelling to South Africa, read this guide that goes through everything from passport, visa and vaccination requirements, to safety, driving and things you wouldn’t even think to ask!
Table of Contents
What to Pack for South Africa
This is not an exhaustive packing list for South Africa; I have made the assumption you know the basics, but more the things that are particularly important for this destination.
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South Africa operate on Type C, D, M & N plug sockets. If your electrical appliances just fit one of these, you will still need a travel adaptor to cover you for the other socket types. While your universal travel adaptors will fit the C & N plug sockets, it won’t the M (and D, as generally most sockets work with both plug types), which is the one we found most common across South Africa.
Annoyingly, I could not and still can’t for the life of me find an adaptor that fits D/M plug socket that has USB charging ports, which drives me a bit crackers. We, therefore, have one like this, which is lightweight and does the job, but you need to remember to bring a plug as well as your USB charging cables.
If you (and your electronics) are coming from the UK (or most places in Europe), then good news, you don’t need a power converter as South Africa operate on 230V.
However, if your electronics are from somewhere that operates on a different voltage AND your device is NOT dual voltage, you will need an electricity converter to avoid destroying your devices.
To check if you device is dual voltage or not, the label or instruction manual should say something like “INPUT AC 120 VAC” if it is single voltage and “INPUT AC 120/240 V” if it is dual.
If you are from the US or another country that operates on 110V, try this power converter that is about as travel sized as you can get. Be aware that while this one also has an adaptor integrated into it as well, it is not one that works in South Africa across all plug types, so you will still need to purchase a separate adaptor as well as a converter.
Yes, there little buggers were everywhere we went in South Africa. They are particularly fond of me, but prevalent enough that everybody should be using repellant. Malaria is also present, check out my South Africa Travel Tips article for more information on this.
On our most recent trip to South Africa, we spent three weeks exploring the towns and beaches along the Garden Route, renting a villa in its unofficial capital, Knysna. If you plan to drive this iconic road trip during your trip, have a read of my guides to the best beaches in and around Knysna and the best places to eat.
South Africa is a really active and beautiful destination and I would be surprised if you didn’t spend a good chunk of your time exploring the outdoors. If you’re the type who always tries to wing it in flip flops, now is the time to upgrade; you will need hiking boot or a sturdy-ish trainer, which should work for most.
I fought against this suggestion and regretted it. You may have heard the rumour that the wildlife is INCREDIBLE in South Africa and it’s very true. Unsurprisingly, said wildlife rarely comply and come out and do a little dance two feet away from you, so you generally need to work a bit to spot them.
I missed dolphins in the sea, monkeys in the trees and got a less than optimal view of some lion cubs playing in the bush due to my refusal to pack these, learn from me!
These ones are compact and also work in low light, which is essential if you are on safari as your game drives will generally take place at dawn or dusk.
Lonely Planet Guide Book
I very rarely travel without a Lonely Planet for whatever destination I am travelling to as I find they are the best guidebook for helping me both choose what I want to do and plan my trip, as well as giving me some background and insight into the country’s history.
They always help me get the most out of my trip and I love reading them in the weeks leading up to my departure date to build anticipation; they will remind you why you are running around like a lunatic trying to get ready for your upcoming travels and that it will all be worth it when you get there.
Load Shedding: What This Means for Your Packing List
South Africa have a power problem, specifically that their power plants cannot produce enough electricity to meet the demand of the country. To combat this, load shedding takes place regularly whereby the power is shut off to certain districts on a rotating basis throughout the country. For more on this and how it may affect your travel, read this article.
To manage this, there are a few things I recommend packing:
This is handy when travelling generally, but it becomes essential when the power can be out for a few hours most days! I have also found them useful when you are out for the day, particularly if you are using your phone for navigation as your battery drains fast.
I have tried a few over the years and this is the one that I use currently; it has two USB charging points and I have found it to be the best compromise between size/weight and charging capacity.
I had this romantic view of candles to light our way through the power cuts, but it turns out that’s not so practical, particularly if you need to move around! Try the one below, compact, powerful and rechargeable.
Clip-On Reading Light
I am not a massive reader (I get easily distracted) but do tend to try and get through a couple on holiday (plus I constantly refer to my Lonely Planet). Unless you have one of the backlit Kindles or e-readers, this becomes tricky in the evenings during load shedding and if you’ve ever tried to read with a handheld torch, you know how impossible it is. One of these will sort you right out and you will still have a free hand to reach for your glass of wine!
As soon as the power goes out it can get hot, fast. For the shorter outages it is generally manageable, but for the longer ones a mini travel fan can definitely make things more pleasant. This one is lightweight, can convert from a handheld to a desk fan and has a decent battery life.
What to Wear in South Africa
You can wear whatever you like in South Africa (separate section below if you are specifically going on safari, which is slightly different). Covering up here is not required culturally.
South Africa is very casual though, their version of dressing up is not necessarily ours and even in the more “formal” restaurants and bars, pretty much anything goes. It is also a very active lifestyle there with some of the most beautiful scenery and I would suggest that many of you will want to experience that, so make sure you bring comfortable clothes for walking/hiking and swimsuits. Ladies, on the latter, I would make sure you have a “practical” one as well as a “pretty” one, the waves can be rough!
What to Wear on Safari in South Africa
And if you are wondering what to wear on safari in South Africa, don’t worry, I honestly don’t think it is as complicated as some may lead you to believe.
Related Post: The Best Things to Do in Knysna on the Garden Route
You Can Wear Neutrals!
Firstly, let’s dispel the commonly held myth that you need to wear neutrals on game drives. You will not leave these vehicles when near animals for safety reasons and they view the jeep truck as one unit, so wear whatever you want.
However, if you are going on bush walks, you do need to wear neutrals as animals will now view you as your own individual unit and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
It Gets Chilly & Then Hot
Other than this, make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes as you will either be hiking through the bush or sat in an open top vehicle for hours on end. Also make sure you bring layers, as even in the height of summer it can get very chilly at night and you will need a jacket.
Game drives are generally done at dawn and dusk and you can find the temperature will vary quite dramatically from when you set off to when you arrive back, so make sure whatever you’re wearing you will be comfortable in both the cold and the heat.
Check Luggage Requirements
The only other things to check is luggage restrictions, as to reach the most popular safari spots you will probably take an internal flight. While they aren’t those tiny Cessna sized planes, you often have to pay extra if you want to take more than 20kg of checked luggage.
Final Thoughts: South Africa Packing List
I hope these South Africa travel essentials gives you a really good idea of the slightly less obvious things that you need to pack to have the most brilliant trip (and it will be just that). If I’ve missed anything, let me know as we will likely be going back in the next couple of years and I do love to be well organised!
– Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner. From the UK, British Airways fly from London Heathrow to Cape Town and Durban (three times a week to each) and Johannesburg (twice every day).
– View and book accommodation in South Africa with Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com.
– Buy a Lonely Planet Guide for South Africa for the best planning and information resources.
– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.