Safari Packing Tips

Safari Packing Tips

Light luggage, light heart

The rule “less is more” definitely applies when packing for an African safari.  Unburdening yourself from the usual travel trappings is liberating.   On our recent family trip to South Africa we journeyed from city to safari and back again hopping from lodge to lodge by bush plane (click here to read my recent posts).  Not worrying about our “stuff” added to the spirit of adventure.  Need advice on what (or what NOT) to pack for your safari?  Here are my top tips:

Thank you Micato Safaris for the great duffle bags

WEATHER:
Weather can vary based on the country and the time of year (seasons may be opposite of your home country). Wintertime in the southern hemisphere (June through September) means as you travel north (towards the equator) temps go up, with the reverse being true in their summer (December — March).  Kenya and Tanzania, located in East Africa, have milder, spring-like weather year-round verses South Africa, which has much greater temperature swings.  No matter the destination, early morning and late evening game drives can be cooler than when the sun is high in the sky.

LUGGAGE SIZE:
Luggage requirements (weights and measurements) vary by airline carrier, so check these in advance, especially the baggage allowed on small bush planes. For our safari, a medium sized rolling duffle bag with exterior zippered pockets to store non-valuables worked perfectly.

SHOES:
Shoes take up lots of room, so choose carefully. Hiking boots are only necessary if you plan on trekking or mountain climbing. On safari, you are traveling mostly by vehicle, but hard soled, comfortable shoes are a must for bush walks.  Over the ankle hiking boots are bulky, so a better option are walking or hiking shoes (preferably with waterproof Gortex, like North Face or Merrells).  Flip flops come in handy for the lodge pool or Jacuzzi.  And, slip-on style leather sneakers are convenient for airport security and work well for “in between” weather patterns. Touring Johannesburg and Cape Town during their winter?  Pack a pair of light weight leather ankle booties with rubber soles for cool or rainy days.

CLOTHING:
Layers, layers, layers.  Simple and neat, casual clothing, whether you are in the city or on safari, always works best.  Even in warmer weather, long pants and long sleeve shirts made from quick-dry or dri-FIT material will protect you from strong sun and mosquitoes. Wear a short sleeve shirt or tank top underneath for quick changes en route when the mercury rises.  Leggings or jeans are okay, but leave the trendy, ripped ones at home.  Ventilated trousers (like REI, prAna, or KUHL) are a great option and will keep you cool and dry.

Sabi Sabi Safari

As the sun sets, long sleeves and trousers work best

Pack clothing that can be washed (not dry cleaned) since many lodges provide complimentary same-day laundry service).  Pick neutral colors and leave the brights at home.  No camouflage patterns – it is simply not acceptable.  And, keep away from brash, logo t-shirts – it’s best to blend in.

When temps drop, most lodges will provide warm blankets or hot water bottles in the open-air vehicles, but come prepared with scarf, wool beanie, glove liners, fleece jacket, and light-weight quilted vest, because when the sun sets it gets cold!  Heavy winter boots and coats are not necessary — but I definitely appreciated my flannel pajamas during our visit in July!  In the cooler evenings in Cape Town and Johannesburg, I made good use of light weight merino wool cardigans that were easily layered (and didn’t take up much room in the luggage).

Sabi Sabi Safari

Dress in neutral attire that will not “attract” animals, especially when spending time outside the vehicle during a “Sundowners” break

Outdoor dining at the lodges is very popular, but dressing up for dinner is generally unnecessary; it’s more relaxed than you think, even at the luxury tented camps.  Usually, we went right from our evening drive to our al fresco dinner.

Other important items?  A brimmed hat and bathing suit for warm, sunny days and rain shell and collapsible umbrella for rainy days.  And, if you have read my previous packing article (click here) you will know I never travel without a wrap or Pashmina!

Mini surge protector

ELECTRONICS:
Bring extra batteries, memory cards, and lens cloths for your camera (dust gets everywhere) plus power packs for your phone. Converters and adapters will be required for most electronics, and a mini surge protector always is useful in any hotel room where outlets may be few and hard to reach. During game drives, my boys also made good use of binoculars — great for children who may not be using a camera or spotting wildlife through a zoom lens.

This adapter kit works with all Apple devices

Many lodges provide flashlights, but pack one of those mini mag lights just in case — lodges can be pitch-dark at night (although for safety reasons, you are usually escorted back to your tent by a guide). Most lodges include a hairdryer so skip packing this heavy item (and wear that hat you packed!)    Make sure to download books to your e-reader in advance because wifi and cell service can be unpredictable, or better yet, bring an actual book or travel-sized board game – since being “off the grid” is really the point.

SAFARI DAY-PACK:
Take a tote bag or a light weight backpack to use in the safari vehicle to store your camera and the extra layers of clothing you may shed (it can double as your carry on).  Make sure it has a zipper to keep your items dust-free (the bag usually winds up on the floor during all that off-road driving).

MEDICINE & FIRST AID:
Assemble a well-stocked first aid kit in a Ziploc bag. Include extra prescription medications (an antibiotic script, just in case) plus over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen, allergy and diarrhea tablets, cortisone cream, motion sickness pills, dry-eye drops, hand sanitizer, bug spray, sunscreen, and adhesive bandages.

Packing cubes

PRE-PACKING:
Before placing items in your bag, lay out your things by item type and then remove one item from each category – you will not miss them!  If traveling between several lodges, I recommend those flat, zippered, nylon pouches to arrange your stuff.   You can lift them from suitcase to dresser drawer and back again without having to repack each individual item.

DONATIONS:
Handing out toys, pens, and candies to local children you meet along the way is strongly discouraged because it creates an endless cycle of begging. Instead, search out a “Social Enterprise,” an organization that runs as a business with profits going to support a community project or social need — buy locally made handicrafts or stop at a community-run store or café. Upon your return home, make a donation to a cause that has pulled at your heartstrings be it animal conservation, children’s charity, or land preservation.  Your dollars, euros, or pounds will go a long way to helping our planet and all who dwell on it.

Sabi Sabi Safari

During our stay in Sabi Sabi, we visited a local community and the “Swa Vana Center,” which cares for orphaned and vulnerable children by offering physical, emotional, social, and educational support.

Sabi Sabi Safari

We stopped in a local market and met the proprietor.

Sabi Sabi Safari

After shopping at a local crafts market, we were treated to a performance of music and dancing.

Sabi Sabi Safari

The local children loved “hamming it up” for the camera

Our visit to the local communities in the Mpumalanga Province was an enriching and educational experience

PAPERWORK:
Check your travel documents — having the proper paperwork is crucial.  LOOK AT YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATE: it cannot expire prior to six months from the dates of your trip. If you have LESS thank six months left on the expiration you will NOT be allowed to checkin at the airport or board your departure flight! Make sure you secured the appropriate visas to enter a country. South Africa requires all children under the age of 18 to possess a valid birth certificate with a raised seal, in addition to a valid passport (even if traveling with both parents).  Many countries may require proof of inoculations so check the cdc.gov website (or visit a doctor that specializes in travel related immunizations) to learn about recommended shots.

For more packing advice, check out my recent articles: “Twelve Packing Tips Every Traveler Should Know” and  “A Few of my Favorite Travel Things.”

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Sabi Sands Safari

Sabi Sands Safari

When visiting South Africa, the goal is to see the “Big Five” game animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The term was originally coined by hunters to represent the five species most difficult to hunt on foot, but has since been adopted by the tourism industry to denote optimum viewing experiences.  Adding in two additional animals — the hyena and cheetah –means that you have also achieved the “Magnificent Seven.” Although never a guarantee, we were very fortunate to sight all seven animals during our safari.

My recent articles highlighted my family’s adventure in South Africa — truly a trip of a life time. Our journey began in Cape Town (read recent articles here) where we enjoyed city, wineland, and national park exploration. Next, we hopped a bush plane to reach the next leg of our trip — safari in Sabi Sands (for safari planning tips, click here).  We stayed in Little Bush Camp, located in one of the great private reserves adjacent to Kruger National Park. To read about our experience at this amazing lodge, click here.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Out of the hundreds and hundreds of photos we snapped, it is impossible to play favorite. So, here are just a few that will give you a small taste of the wild and wonderful creatures we encountered during out travels in Sabi Sabi:

Sabi Sabi South Africa
Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

At a kill, a lion tends to gorge himself and can consume up to 25 percent of its body mass in only a few hours. Afterwards, a rest is much needed!

Sabi Sands South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We came upon this matriarchal breeding herd of elephants. The females can be identified by their tusks, which are smaller than the males’.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The African Buffalo, also known as the Cape Buffalo, can travel amongst very large herds and can spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and moving.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The Greater Kudu, noted for its long and twisted antlers, is related to the antelope.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The cheetah is the fastest land animal. We were lucky to catch him at rest, mid-meal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The leopard’s whiskers help guide it through the thick vegetation and compliments its excellent night vision making it a lethal predator.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We witnessed these wild dogs as they pursued an impala. Our safari vehicle could barely keep up with them as they raced through the bush —  the dogs’ initial speeds can top 66 kilometers per hour.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South AfricaSabi Sands South Africa

Despite the giraffe’s long neck, it contains only seven vertebrae — the same number as a human and most mammals.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The hyenas’ bite is the most powerful of all mammals and will crush the thick bones of their prey in order to access the nutritious marrow contained within. Seeing (and hearing!) them in action in the pitch darkness was an intense sight to behold.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

The beautiful stripes of the zebra actually serve a purpose: to effectively heat and cool the animal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

We followed along in our vehicle as this leopard, which had suffered an injury in a fight with another animal, walked the stream bed in search of water.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Wildebeest have many predators: lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

All creatures great and small are part of the safari experience. Here a dwarf mongoose peaks out of his home, a repurposed termite mound.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Hippos cannot float, which is why they are often seen resting in shallow water.

Sabi Sands South Africa

We couldn’t help but name this hornbill “Zazu” in honor of the character in the movie “The Lion King.”

Sabi Sands South Africa Warthog

And, not far away we spotted his “Lion King” companion, “Pumbaa,” otherwise known as a warthog.

Sabi Sands South Africa

Impalas are known for their characteristic stripes, but only the males have horns.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Unfortunately, rhinos are being hunted into near extinction. More about this in an upcoming article highlighting our visit to Tinstwalo Safari Lodge, located in the Manyeleti Private Preserve.

 

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South African Safari Logistics

South African Safari Logistics

When planning a South African safari, the name Kruger immediately comes to mind.  This National Park (the size of Wales) is located in the northeastern part of the country, with neighbor Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.  It offers popular camping spots and self-drive tours with a variety of accommodations (mostly run by the National Parks board).  However, if you are looking for a more unique, intimate safari experience in South Africa, a stay in one of the adjacent, private reserve areas is the key to a memorable trip of a lifetime.

Map of South Africa

Sabi Sands Private Reserve is a wildlife conservation private reserve, (the oldest privately owned reserve in South Africa) which means it is not available to day-visitors.   Considered part of the Greater Kruger Wildlife Enclave, it covers roughly 250 square miles. A reservation for one of the lodges is required for entry. Sabi Sands derives its name from the two rivers, River Sabi and River Sand, which flow through the savannah and woodland areas that sustain the diverse flora and fauna.   The western perimeter is fenced, however the eastern perimeter (which adjoins Kruger) is 50 kilometers of unfenced border allowing wildlife to roam freely.  This is not a “zoo” – animals are not “fed.” They are existing in their own biodiverse and natural environment (except for water sources that were part of the original agricultural land).  It’s home to the most sought after animal sightings: the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard), the Magnificent Seven (Big Five plus the wild dog and cheetah), and 300 species of birds.

Sabi Sands South Africa

A safari in Sabi Sands gets you face to face with the the Big Five

Sabi Sands Reserve Map

Sabi Sands Reserve map

Sabi Sands lodges include meals and off-road safari privileges with an experienced guide in a designated Jeep or vehicle. (In Kruger National Park, you must stick to paved roads, which means you cannot follow a stalking leopard into the bush or an wild dog pursing its prey).  It is divided into several privately owned game reserves including Sabi Sabi, Ulusaba, Singita, and Londolozi, each with its own set of individual lodging areas from modest to luxury.  Some are more child-friendly, while others cater to honeymoon couples or small groups.  Some come equipped with private pool, private deck, or connecting suites. Some lodges have only six or eight villas – a more intimate experience – while others offer amenities like a spa, resort pool, or kids club. All provide other activities besides safari, including visits to the local communities and bush walks.

Sabi Sands rhino

Up close and personal with a rhino, one of the Big Five

Leopard in Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands is well known for its leopard sightings

Our stay this past July was in Little Bush Camp located in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.  Sabi Sabi has four lodges, each with its own distinct style and flavor: colonial themed Selati, family-friendly Bush Lodge, ecofriendly Earth Lodge, and Little Bush Camp, which features six individual huts all nestled on the banks of the Msuthlu river.

How to get to Sabi Sands? There are several choices including taking a scheduled commercial flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to local airports in Nelspruit (towards the southern area of Sabi Sands) or Hoedspruit (closer to the northern part of Sabi Sands) then transferring to your lodge by vehicle or “bush plane” depending on travel distance.

South Africa, Federal Air

Boarding our bush plane in Joburg

The most efficient way is by chartered flight on Federal Air, based out of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which takes you directly to the various private reserve landing strips (some paved, some not so much) all within Sabi Sands.

After spending several days in Cape Town, (check out my recent articles here) we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a scheduled South African Airways flight then transferred by minivan to a Federal Air flight. Located a short drive from the main airport terminal, Federal Air has its own dedicated lounge with beverages, snacks, and bathrooms.  The aircraft are parked right outside the lounge — no jetway or staircase needed.  Our flight was 1.5 hours nonstop to Sabi Sabi, (there is a possibility for one or two quick stops to drop off or pickup other passengers staying in other areas within Sabi Sands). Be aware that time of flight departure is not confirmed until 24 hours prior, so make sure to include ample layover time in Joburg if making a connecting flight post safari.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

From the Sabi Sands landing strip it was a quick ride by Land Cruiser to Little Bush Camp

Micato Safaris, South AfricaAlso note that the luggage limit is 44 pounds per person (including carry on) since these are small bush planes (Cessna Grand Caravan or Beechraft 1900 are typical). We used soft-sided, rolling duffels (thank you Micato Safaris!) – hard-sided luggage is not allowed onboard.  Our plane held about 12 passengers and two pilots and was a smooth flight – the only real discomfort was from the lack of bathroom on board, so plan accordingly!

As you plan your South African safari, make sure to check government websites for information on proper shots and malaria pills, or consult with a travel doctor several months prior to departure in order to educate yourself on immunization recommendations.  Also, the South African government now requires that all children under the age of 18 must possess an unabridged version of their birth certificate (along with their passport) reflecting the particulars of the child’s parents. For more information (including documents required for children traveling with only one parent), click here.

Sabi Sands South Africa

More about Cape Buffalo in my next article

Stay tuned for my upcoming article and photos from our stay at Little Bush Camp and Sabi Sabi safari including notes on weather and packing.

 

 

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