15 Top South Africa Packing List Items + What to Wear & NOT to Bring (2019)

Updated on April 30, 2019 by Asher Fergusson

What do I really need to pack for South Africa?

South Africa offers environments that range from craggy cliffs, pristine beaches, lush forests, lagoons, and the bustling cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. As the southernmost country on the African continent, South Africa is a sought-after destination for tourists, travelers, and adventurers.

The below list will guide you on what to wear in South Africa, what NOT to bring, and the answers to the top South Africa FAQs. Have a great time, and make the most of this incredible destination!

1) Binoculars – If there was ever a time to bring binoculars on a trip, it’s this one. They are totally essential if you’re going on safari – you never know what member of the Big Five you might see! These ones are waterproof and can hang easily from your neck when not in use.

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2) Breezy Clothing – Peak tourist season in South Africa is during its summer months, when temperatures can reach 105 degrees fahrenheit. Generally speaking, South Africans dress casual, so go for sundresses, shorts, t-shirts and light trousers. Especially if you are going on a safari in Kruger National Park, or are planning on some midday bush walks, keep it light. These cotton shorts are perfect.

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3) Light Jacket – The evenings in South Africa can be chilly, especially if you’re staying right on the coast. Plan on bringing a light sweater or jacket along. This one has functional front pockets and a waist drawstring.

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4) Wide Brim Sun Hat – Especially if you have fair skin, a good sun hat can be a lifesaver in South Africa. This one is inexpensive, and can be worn for a day at the beach or for more athletic endeavors like hiking or going on a safari.

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5) Insulating Layer – It’s a good idea to bring some layers, especially if you are going to South Africa during the autumn or winter months. A pullover that packs down small is perfect – you can keep it in your daypack during the day then pull it on easily when the temperature starts to drop in the evening.

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6) Walking Shoes or Hiking Boots – You’ll most likely do a lot of walking when you’re in South Africa, whether it’s backcountry hiking, waterfall hunting, or big game stalking. In all cases, sturdy walking shoes are essential. These ones are my all-time favorites.

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7) Sunscreen – The South African sun can be incredibly unforgiving. Make sure to pack sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to avoid a gnarly sunburn. Apply it every few hours to keep from burning.

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8) Insect Repellent – In summer, South Africa is teeming with pesky mosquitoes. In addition to wearing bug spray, you may want to think about taking malaria drugs during your trip. Make sure to wear a bug spray like this one to keep away those mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers. It provides up to 8 hours of protection against mosquitoes!

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9) Daypack – Chances are, you’re going to want to explore one of South Africa’s national parks, or at least hit some local hiking trails during your stay. Stay organized during outdoor outings, sightseeing, and everything in between with a solid daypack. This one is well-designed, and great for a full day on your feet.

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10) Beach Wear – Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit if you’re hitting up a beach town like Durban or Port Elizabeth! Finding that one swimsuit that you feel comfortable in is key. This one is cute, versatile, and stays put so that you can swim, dive, jog along the beach or even hike through the jungle. Pack this, with a loose cover up and some flip flops.

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11) Sunglasses – The sun in South Africa is especially strong, so make sure to protect your eyes with sunglasses. Bring ones that give you true protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Wraparound glasses that cover your whole field of vision will prove comfortable and useful!

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12) Water Bottle – Drinking tap water in South Africa is perfectly safe. In fact, the tap water there is said to be some of the safest and cleanest in the world! Bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill over and over again. This water bottle is my favorite because its spout top makes it easy to drink from on the go.

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13) Solar Charger – On overnight safari or trekking trips, it will prove handy to bring your own solar charger from home, so you’ll never have to worry about your phone or camera running out of battery.

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14) Crossbody Bag – Keep your hands free and your stuff safe by using a cross-body-style purse. This type of bag is extra helpful to use during everything from wine tasting in Stellenbosch to a night out in Cape Town. This one is simple and cute.

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15) Bandana – Bandanas are incredibly useful while traveling. They can serve as headbands, face masks, napkins for snacks, and so much more. They can be used to protect your neck from the sun, or as a scarf to keep warm when it’s cold. Tie one of these to your daypack before leaving home.

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Other often forgotten items for South Africa


What should I wear in South Africa?

In South Africa, breezy and casual is the accepted style. On beach days, plan on wearing swimsuits, tank tops, shorts, cover-ups and sundresses. When you go out for drinks or dinner, simple and cute outfits are good, so bring some simple dresses, a nice pair of khakis, and simple sandals. A hat and sunglasses are also a good idea too. For any athletic activities, shorts and a tank top are good to beat the heat. No matter what, bring comfortable walking shoes. A nicer outfit and heels or dress shoes might come in handy for going out to dinner or dance clubs in one of South Africa’s big cities.

What should WOMEN wear in South Africa? – (Click to expand)

Since locals tend to dress fairly conservatively, try to avoid wearing anything too revealing. Only wear swimwear at the beach and pool, and cover up with loose clothing or a sarong. Longer skirts and breezy pants will help you beat the heat.

What should MEN wear in South Africa? – (Click to expand)

In general, casual, versatile clothing like t-shirts, shorts, polos and swimwear are good to pack. If you’re planning on going to any nightclubs, know that men are required to wear a shirt with a collar, and no sneakers or tennis shoes are allowed.

South Africa is a year-round destination because of its fluctuating regional climates. The Cape has wonderfully hot, dry weather in its summer months (November-February). Dress in lightweight clothing and bring walking sandals, like Chacos or Tevas. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights during summer and spring. When packing for an autumn or winter trip ( June–August) , remember to pack long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, warm socks, a jacket and raincoat. Scarves, gloves and beanies may also come in handy.

How to dress for activities in South Africa

Safaris – Wear neutral, lightweight clothing on safari trips. Also bring a wide brim sun hat, and plenty of sunscreen!

Hiking – Always wear synthetic fabrics, so that they don’t trap moisture. A solid synthetic short-sleeve t-shirt is a good idea. If it’s chilly, make sure to bring a midweight synthetic or fleece long-sleeve top to layer on top.

Beach days – Bring a few swimsuits and coverups that dry quickly. Sunglasses and sandals are also a great idea.

Dining and Dancing in Cape Town – Cape Town is an up-and-coming fashion capital, so feel free to dress up! Think dresses, button downs, heels and dress shoes.

Wine Tasting – If you’re headed to the beautiful Stellenbosch to taste some world class wines, dress nicely, and wear appropriate footwear like sandals with a low heel.

Sightseeing – Casual or athletic clothing is fine. Wear comfortable walking shoes, or your hiking boots if you’re looking to save space in your backpack or luggage.

What NOT to bring:

1) 🚫 Short shorts or Mini Skirts – In general, revealing clothing is considered inappropriate in almost all parts of Africa. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your shorts reach your fingertips when your hands are hanging by your sides.
2) 🚫 Lots of Cash – Most larger towns and cities in South Africa have ATMs, so you can take out local currency once you arrive instead of carrying around all your money at once.
3) 🚫 Mosquito Net – Pretty much all hotels, hostels and airbnbs will already have mosquito nets installed.
4) 🚫 Unnecessary Valuables – Things can get lost on the road, and there’s always some risk of theft when traveling anywhere. Unless you totally, definitely need it, leave the valuables (like jewelry) at home.

What NOT to wear:

Stay away from short shorts, and revealing tank tops. Unless you’re going on a safari, don’t wear safari clothing. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you’re walking around any major cities in khaki coloured and cliched safari clothing!

FAQs for South Africa travel:

What’s the best time of year to go to South Africa?

South Africa’s summer months are December to March. Autumn is April to May. Winter is June to August, and spring is September to November. Because South Africa covers such a large area, and each region’s offerings change with the seasons. Check local weather conditions throughout the year, and plan from there.

What languages are spoken in South Africa?

There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, SiSwati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Fewer than two percent of South Africans speak a first language other than an official one. Most South Africans can speak more than one language!

What kind of adapter do I need to bring?

In South Africa, D, M and N power sockets are used.

How can I capture all my South Africa trip memories?

Bring a camera, gopro, or video camera with an extra battery to capture the special moments of your trip. If your batteries are rechargeable, make sure you bring the charger! Apps like One Second Everyday also make for good memory savers.

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