An African safari is like no experience you will ever have again. Despite having travelled almost constantly for the past year and a half, my safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania remains one of the most exciting and uplifting events of my life. Imagine giraffes striding across the main road before you’ve even reached the National Park. Think about how fast your heart would beat if you woke in the night to the sound of a lion’s roar through the thin mesh of your tent. Picture yourself standing on the back seat of a jeep, your upper body leaning out through the roof, feeling the African sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair as your guide chases after hunting cheetahs. It really is incredible.
If you’ve never had the chance to visit Africa, I’d strongly recommend you consider it for your next trip. If you’re reading this post because you already have a safari on the agenda, I hope it helps you prepare. It’s important to remember that, while you will be taken care of by your tour company, the savanna is a place fraught with potential danger. Some of the world’s deadliest animals reside there, from the obvious (lions, hippos and threatened elephants) to the insects that spread malaria and sleeping sickness.
That’s where a well-thought-out packing list comes in handy. With suggestions from the people at Port Lympne Safari Park, here are some tips on what to take.
Zip-off trousers will never be stylish (especially if you try the one-leg look above…), but you’ll be glad you bought them. Due to the fluctuating temperatures in Africa, you’ll want layers with you. Leaving the camp at 6 am, the weather can be pretty chilly, but you’ll want to be wearing a lot less by lunchtime. Don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s constantly hot in Africa. Even with leggings on under my combat trousers I was shivering by a camp fire the night we stayed on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.
Light Hiking Boots Or Walking Sandals
Your footwear should be comfortable since you’ll be on your feet for a long time each day. As you might imagine, most of your time will be spent in a jeep, so there’s minimal walking involved. However, you need to be prepared for any eventuality. You might find yourself hiking to a lookout point or navigating small patches of forest to get to the campsite washrooms. It’s best to play it safe and wear something light, comfortable and sturdy.
High SPF Sun Cream
Get the highest SPF sun cream you can find and apply it often. The sun is very powerful in Africa and sun protection should be one of your main priorities. It’s easy to forget when you’re mostly covered up and not baking yourself on a beach, but you’ll probably be outside for a few full days in a row, so it’s more important than ever to protect your skin. A bush hat and some good sun glasses are also a good idea.
Insect Repellent and Marmite
Many safari camps will have insect repellent, but it’s always worth taking your own, especially if you’re travelling during the rainy season. Itchy insect bites are annoying, but, more importantly, mosquitoes and tsetse flies are the vectors of malaria and sleeping sickness. Tsetse fly bites also sting more than you’d imagine. An additional tip to avoid them is to not wear black or blue clothing, as this attracts them. I’m also a firm believer that a daily helping of marmite on your toast keeps biting insects at bay!
If you’re camping, as many people do on safari, a torch is a necessity. Head torches are the best as they keep your hands free. It’s a scary prospect going to the bathrooms in the black of night knowing there’s a very real possibility that a wild elephant or wildebeest is only feet away, so it’s definitely an advantage to have the chance to check first with a light beam. Often, you’ll also get up before sunrise, which will mean eating breakfast, using the washrooms and packing up camp before daylight comes. Make sure your torch has good batteries too.
Bring an e-reader or a paper book with you. There will be some quiet times in the evenings and you will probably have to travel quite far before you reach the safari park. My safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater included transport to and from Moshi, where I’d been staying. It was at least a few hours’ drive, and more in between each of the parks. A small pack of playing cards is also a great way to bond with other tour groups.
Zoom Lens Camera
This is one of those times when you will kick yourself if you don’t come prepared with a good camera. Of course, there’s an argument for living in the moment and not being distracted by technology, but I actually found that the zoom and LCD screen on my camera enabled me to see much more than I would have by eye. Your guide should have spare pairs of binoculars for you to borrow, but there’s something much more satisfying about capturing those magical moments and knowing you can come back to them later. As well as a good camera, bring as many fully charged spare batteries as you can. There probably won’t be many opportunities to charge them. Your jeep may well be equipped with a charger that runs when the engine’s on, but you don’t want to have to wait in line behind the rest of your group. Camera cleaning equipment is also very useful as the savanna can get very dusty.
First Aid Kit
You really shouldn’t ever travel without one, but when you know you’ll be out in the wilderness for a few days, it’s common sense to pack the basics. Don’t forget your anti-malarials, if you’re taking them, as well as any prescribed medication, birth control, allergy treatments, spare contact lenses, antiseptic wipes, ibuprofen, bandages and plasters.
In addition to these essential items, I’m also a very big fan off animal print attire. If you can’t go to town with it when you’re on safari, then when can you?! These multipurpose headscarves are perfect for keeping hair out of your face, sweat out of your eyes and, if need be, dust out of your mouth…
Above all, remember to have fun and savour the moment. It’s a privilege to be able to see these animals, some of which are highly endangered, in their natural habitats. As one sign at Lake Manyara said, ‘Remove nothing from the park except nourishment for the soul, consolation for the heart and inspiration for the mind.’