Updated on March 17, 2019 by Asher Fergusson
What do I really need to pack for my Africa trip?
You may still find yourself wondering how best to prepare for your trip. To help you out, I’ve put together this packing list which includes a section on what to wear in Africa, what NOT to bring, seasonal information, and FAQs.
No matter which countries you visit, a healthy dose of patience and a strong sense of adventure should be considered Africa travel essentials.
11) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Many countries in Africa heavily censor the Internet. This means that if you plan on remaining connected on your journey through Africa, a good VPN like NordVPN is essential to prevent getting blocked.
More importantly, though, a quality VPN makes it next to impossible for hackers to access your private info. If you go on any public or unsecured WiFi such as at a restaurant or hotel, you’re putting your passwords and credit cards at risk of being stolen. With a VPN you protect yourself with one click.
Other commonly-forgotten items for a trip to Africa:
Reusable cloth bag
Steripod toothbrush cover
Sunglasses: Women’s and Men’s
Light jacket: Women’s & Men’s
Other African packing lists you may like: Kenya | Morocco | South Africa | Tanzania |
What do people wear in Africa?
First, dress modestly – especially women, but definitely men as well. Covering shoulders and cleavage is important, and don’t expose too much leg either. Second, dress more nicely than you’d expect. Overly casual clothing is seen as disrespectful! And finally, avoid white clothing, as it’s almost impossible to keep clean.
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
The general rule of thumb is to make sure that you have your shoulders and knees covered, but that doesn’t mean your sense of fashion needs to suffer. Knit capri pants can pair well with flowing t-shirts that can be cute for a day out and easily dressed up for an evening meal. For those who are planning on taking a safari, a simple cotton shirt paired with breathable cargo pants are the way to go.
Most resorts and major cities have a wide variety of nightlife options, so make sure to pack going-out outfits that are both fashionable and dance-able. Protection from the sun is also important, so polarized shades and a wide-rimmed hat are must-haves. Finally, a comfy-pair of shoes and a cute pair of sandals will keep you comfortable and stylish.
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Men should be following the same conservative rules as women when it comes to preparing their wardrobes. A quick-dry convertible shirt is convenient for safaris, while a loose-fitting causal button-down is ideal for the nights out. Don’t forget a classic t-shirt! Jersey t-shirts are great for keeping excessive sweating at bay. Cargo shorts are a safe bet for cruising around major cities, as well as the more remote areas that you may visit on safari. Pants that can be converted to shorts are perfect – you can wear them as pants when you need to be conservative, and transition them to shorts for the more casual areas.
Don’t be afraid to show off some personality; a colorful and fun shirt will be well-received and keep you from feeling boring! Finally, pack shoes that can last the long days. Some breathable sandals and a comfortable pair of sneakers will save you trouble and pain while exploring.
The climate throughout the huge continent spans many different types, so research is needed to see exactly what you are dealing with once you’ve booked your precise location. Seasons vary widely on each side of the equator, and rainy/dry seasons vary from each region. You’ll find more temperate-style spring, summer, fall, and winter in this north, but in most of Africa’s countries there are just two seasons: dry and wet. Try this website for more specific temperature estimates, or research the current and upcoming weather forecasts before your trip.
Dry Season – April, May, June, July, August, September, October:
Most regions in Africa – especially south of the equator – experience a dry period for about half of the year. This time of year is drier but can sport some intense heat. It’s a popular time of year to safari because scarcity of water forces animals to group around watering holes, which means they’re easier to see. Travel conditions are also a bit easier when it’s dry.
Layers are perfect here, as the temperature change can be dramatic from morning to night. A light jacket or fleece will do nicely. Convertible pants are also ideal, as you can adapt them to fit any weather. Be sure to pack good hiking shoes if you’ll be doing anything even remotely active – sneakers won’t cut it. Walking sandals are a great idea as well. If you plan to go out (most people find at least one occasion to do so) bring a knockout outfit and some comfortable but cute flats to dress up. Temperatures vary widely by region, but average between 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 27°C).
Wet Season – November, December, January, February, March:
The wet season is, predictably, wet. Rain and humidity dominate the forecast, though you’ll find that certain months have much less rain than others. Heat doesn’t let up – in fact, the humidity can intensify it so plan accordingly.
Quick-dry clothing is essential – think athletic tops, a breathable rain jacket, and convertible hiking pants. Waterproof hiking shoes are non-negotiables, along with a windproof travel umbrella. I also highly recommend bringing a water-resistant daybag to store your daily belongings in. Temperatures vary widely by region, but average between 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 29°C).
Safari, in Swahili, means “vacation” and it is the quintessential experience when visiting Africa. Your wardrobe will be contingent upon what season you visit, between rainy and dry seasons. For the rainy seasons, a downpour is never ruled-out so it is imperative that you bring quick-drying clothes and lightweight raingear, as well as hiking shoes that you are not afraid to get muddy. Nights during both the rainy and dry seasons can become chilly, so be sure to pack long sleeve shirts, sweaters, and pants. Layering is your friend, as layers can always be taken off as the day progresses and gets warmer. A daypack is also advised to keep valuables close to you while not obstructing movement or getting in the way.
The African coastline is a haven of beautiful beaches and resorts, from Zanzibar to South Africa. There are many beaches that lay in countries that practice Islam and Christianity, and so it’s best to plan to dress conservatively – even at the beach. One-piece bathing suits and swimsuit cover-ups are always a safe bet. Resorts usually have private beaches, in which case it is not necessary to be as conservative, but it’s always a good idea to ask the front desk if you have any doubts about how to dress appropriately.
Africa as a continent is rich in beauty and culture, and religion is a major driving force behind those factors. The most prominent religions are Christianity and Islam, while more traditional African religions differ but have been strongly influenced by the two. When visiting mosques or any other traditional Islamic sites, it is important that you fully cover your shoulders and have garments that fall to at least your ankles. For women, it can also be necessary to wear a headscarf. Visiting churches requires less modesty, but it is still advised that you have a least your shoulders covered and pants/skirts that fall below the knees. For both mosques and churches, you should wear closed-toed shoes to not offend anyone. The severity of these traditions varies by location, so it is recommended that you consult with a local guide about what is appropriate before visiting any religious sites.
What NOT to bring to Africa
With Islam and Christianity being major influencers in Africa, spaghetti straps, halter tops, short skirts, and plunging necklines should be avoided for women. These garments could be worn around resorts during your downtime, but should not be worn visiting religious sites, taking public transportation, or strolling through markets and/or cities. Clothes that keep you overly warm should be left at home, but layering is always a great idea. A lot of walking will be done during your trips, so uncomfortable shoes that leave blisters and/or are not broken in completely should be left at home. Statement shirts should be avoided as well – it’s never a good idea to deliberately flaunt potentially offensive or inflammatory language or images.
FAQs about travel in Africa
1) Is it safe to travel to Africa?
There are risks involved with traveling to certain areas, but visiting Africa is in no way inherently unsafe. Remember that most countries are vastly different from how they’re portrayed in the media or pop culture. Over 65 million people from other continents visit Africa each year, and very few of them have any major problems. If you’re concerned about safety, it’s always best to check country-specific travel advisories while planning your trip.
2) Is it safe for women to travel to Africa?
Women are pretty safe in Africa. This huge continent contains a lot of countries (54, to be exact!) and so you may find that certain areas are a little less comfortable for females and solo travelers, but for the most part it’s about as safe as most other tourist destinations. Unlike many other parts of the world, however, Africa is a place to watch for travel warnings, as the political and social climates in African countries can be tumultuous at times. This isn’t unique to Africa, of course, but it’s always best to search for the countries you plan to visit on the US Department of State website to be sure there aren’t any out-of-the-ordinary threats to tourists at your time of travel.
3) How can I stay healthy in Africa?
Vaccinations: Beyond making sure you’re up-to-date on basic vaccines – MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis), polio, chicken pox, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B – both yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for travel to most African countries. The rabies vaccine is only needed for visitors planning to take extended trips to remote areas or come into contact with animals.
Malaria prevention: Malaria prophylaxis is recommended in almost all African countries, and it’s a good idea to use insect repellent and to sleep under a mosquito net, as well.
Food and drink: Tap water in Africa is generally not safe for Westerners, so be sure to only drink water that has been treated and to avoid beverages made with tap water or ice. Make sure your food, especially meat, is thoroughly cooked, and skip raw fruits or vegetables unless they can be peeled.
4) What is the weather like?
While large parts of Africa are stereotypically hot, the weather varies across the continent and throughout the year. For planning travel, one key thing to understand is that most of Africa doesn’t have four seasons, but instead has two: rainy and dry. The exact timing of the seasons varies by region, and some experience two rainy seasons and two dry seasons per year. An exception is Southern Africa, where the seasons more closely mimic those in Australia: summer is December-February, and winter is June-August.
5) How much does it cost to travel in Africa?
Africa is generally cheaper than Europe or North America, but it’s not an extreme budget destination. However, travel costs vary significantly by country and region, as well as by travel style. You can spend thousands of dollars per person on luxury safaris, or travel independently for around $50 a day. As in most places, living like a local makes travel quite affordable: stay at basic guesthouses, eat at local restaurants or markets, and use public transportation and shared taxis.
6) How can I access cash or pay for things in Africa?
While credit cards are accepted at major resorts, large safari companies, and some upscale restaurants, cash is definitely king in most parts of Africa, especially outside of Southern Africa. ATMs that dispense local currency and accept international debit cards are common in cities and large towns but don’t be surprised if you have to try a couple before you find one that’s working. Most cities also have forex bureaus where you can easily exchange cash.
7) What kind of adapter will work in Africa?
Several types of electrical outlets are found throughout Africa, but a universal adapter will work in most places. However, if you’re visiting Southern Africa, it’s a good idea to bring a South Africa-specific adapter in addition to the universal one (see #3 in the first section of this article).
8) Where should I go on an African safari?
When people talk about safaris, they’re almost exclusively referring to East and Southern Africa. Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa – home to the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti, and Kruger National Park, respectively – are the most popular destinations for safaris, but there are also many excellent safari options in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
9) What can I do in Africa besides go on a safari?
There are plenty of things to do throughout Africa besides safaris, especially for adventure junkies. Many of the continent’s coastal nations and islands boast picture-perfect beaches and offer an array of water activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking. There are also hiking opportunities in most countries, including world-renowned hikes in Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. Scenic helicopter, micro-light, and hot air balloon rides are available in a few places in East and Southern Africa, and there are even opportunities to skydive, bungee jump, and zipline. Beyond all the adventure activities, though, the chance to simply explore and experience the local culture is one of Africa’s biggest draws; visiting local markets, taking a walk through town, and talking to the people you meet might end up being some of your most memorable experiences.
10) Which African airlines are the best?
Among the continent’s major airlines, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways are widely considered the most reputable and are known for operating at Western standards, though many smaller airlines are perfectly safe as well. I advise avoiding any airlines that are under European Union restrictions or that have an extensive list of recent incidents, which you can view on Wikipedia.
11) Can I visit Africa if I only speak English?
Yes! English-speaking visitors can get by in most parts of Africa, though it’s decidedly easier in the half of African countries that use English as an official language (mostly former British colonies). The average person you encounter on the street probably won’t be fluent in English, especially outside the cities, but many people working in tourism and hospitality do speak it. Compared to the rest of the continent, English is much more prevalent in East and Southern Africa.
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Guest Author: Jen Ambrose
Jen Ambrose is a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about making travel a force for good. Originally from Montana, she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda and has a Master’s degree in International Development. She has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Jen and her husband recently left their jobs and their home in Boston to travel the world, working as freelancers and bloggers from the road. They blog at Passions and Places, focusing on responsible travel, outdoors adventure, and getting off the beaten path.