Many of us dream of taking an African safari at least once in our lives. Though packing for a safari is totally different than packing for a normal vacation.
After-all, you’re spending time in extremely different climates, maybe even camping in the wild, and have to ensure your gear is wildlife friendly, while still being safe and comfortable.
While you may not need all the technical outdoor wear shown in the glossy brochures, you will have to pack strategically, and with special thought to your activities. Kenya safari holidays are a once-in-a-lifetime experience – but are only enjoyable if you pack the right gear!
Here’s what you need to pack.
What to Pack for a Kenyan Safari
It’s a given that you’ll need to arrange your passport in advance of your trip to Kenya (noting that the passport you enter on must have at least 6 months validity), but the second thing you should confirm is whether or not you require a visa.
If you don’t ‘pack’ your visa, it’s not the end of the world, as you can get one at the airport upon arrival (citizens of these 43 countries can visit Kenya without needing a visa). Coordinating your paperwork in advance however means you’ll have less stress once you land at the airport (get your visa online using the above link, or at your local consulate).
Upon arrival in Kenya you’ll also need to show your itinerary, return tickets, and proof of insurance. Our preferred insurance for both travel and medical coverage is with SafetyWing (who also cover COVID-19).
If you’ve recently spent time in a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission, you also may need to travel with a completed International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis card to prove you’ve had your immunization.
Make electronic copies of all your documents, though also pack paper copies to travel with and store in your hand luggage. A digital copy of your passport and other travel papers can be stored in your email or mobile phone.
The official currency in Kenya is the Kenyan shilling (which is different from the Tanzania and Ugandan shillings), though the preferred currency used by tourists is US Dollars.
When you book a Kenyan safari, most of your costs will be paid up in advance, ie your accommodation, your group tours, food if you’re going all inclusive. But cash will come in handy for tipping, shopping, and restaurants.
You’ll always have the option in Kenya of paying in local currency, but the conversion rate will work against you, so we highly recommend exchanging US Dollars at home before you leave the country.
Make sure you have notes which are not ripped, or they may not be accepted. You can use credit cards throughout major cities (Mastercard is more available than Visa), though in remote regions you’ll need to rely on cash only.
It’s not uncommon for credit cards to be refused in Kenya for payments of under $50, so we recommend packing cash. This will also mean you save on the often 5% to 7.5% surcharge which many places add to a bill for use of credit card.
Kenya is a relatively cheap country by Western standards of living, and if you’ve already paid for your safari, you shouldn’t need more than $20 a day for extra spending money, depending on your buying habits.
First Aid / Personal Medication
It’s prudent to carry a suitable collection of personal hygiene and first aid medication when traveling to Kenya, as it may not be easy to find once you’re there.
Beyond the basics of a travel first aid kit, and any personal prescriptions, for Kenya we specifically recommend a travelers’ diarrhea antibiotic (we recommend Travelan), and medicine to prevent malaria.
Malaria is a serious and potentially life threatening infection spread to people by mosquito’s. It is present in Kenya (though more prevalent in rural areas), so you should obtain an anti-malaria medication from your doctor before you go overseas.
While not a vaccine, preventative medication is very important, and some medications must be started two weeks before departure, so plan this out well in advance. Anti-malaria medications vary, as do their side effects, so it’s important to consult your doctor.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer or or antibacterial hand wipes should be included, especially if you’ll be on a camping safari. You might also consider taking water purification tablets, a bed net for protection against insect bites while sleeping, and insect repellent.
Clothing you take on a safari to Kenya can greatly influence the entire trip. Packing the right clothes will not only protect you from the dust and sun, but will also blend you with the surroundings so as to be less noticeable to local wildlife.
Don’t pack bright colored clothes for Kenya. Neutral colors that blends in with the bush are best, and the ideal clothes will be breathable and lightweight, that covers the maximum amount of skin to avoid mosquitoes.
Pack loose long-sleeved shirts and trouser pants. It’s worth spraying down your clothes with insect repellent before you wear them, though wearing light shaded fabrics will also be less of an attraction for mosquitoes to begin with.
In spite of its closeness to the equator, the Masai Mara lies at an elevation of 5000 feet, as such temperatures can change quite rapidly. During the day it might be hot and arid, though it can become very cool at night, so you may need to pack layers.
Laundry on safari isn’t always immediately available, so the clothing you take should be able to last you a few days, and be quick drying should you need to do your own washing.
Footwear for a Kenyan safari will depend on the purpose of your trip, and the activities and destinations you’re taking in. You should pack comfortable walking boots for exploring the bush, but casual sandals are fine for the beach, or around camp.
The normal time spent on a safari in a day is roughly eight hours. Most of this time is spent inside the vehicle, but when the sun peeks through the roof, things can become uncomfortably hot.
A wide-brim hat, with a strap which can be fastened on the chin to make it stay in place in windy conditions is ideal for a Kenyan safari. This not only affords protection from the sun but also covers the back of your neck from sunburn.
A good sunscreen is an absolute must in the bush, as when you’re in the savannah there is hardly any shadow during the long game drives. Take separate sunscreen for the body and the face (though ideally you’ll have long clothes covering most of your body).
Kenya also happens to fall in the malaria zone, so to be safe carry a mosquito repellent with a minimum 50% DEET for the most effective protection. As mentioned, you’ll want to spray this on your clothes, shoes and around the ankles to protect from any insect bite.
Sunscreen should go on first, and then insect repellent. Keep in mind that certain sunscreen formulations decrease in their ability to screen out ultraviolet (UV) radiation when used with DEET, so you may need to reapply.
UV protection is a must when choosing a pair of sunglasses to travel with; our eyes are particularly susceptible to sun damage, especially light-colored eyes. Long hours in the sun on game drives can all lead to eye complications if you don’t have glasses.
Camera Equipment & Tech
If you only have a phone camera it may not be worthwhile taking pictures – the zoom won’t be good enough for capturing wildlife, and you may miss what’s happening in front of you because you’re too busy trying to line up the photograph.
Photography is a big part of Kenyan Safaris, and everybody wants to return home with beautiful wildlife shots. A mirror less camera with a good zoom lens is a necessity, because you may be close to the wildlife but you’ll always maintain a safe distance.
Try to strike a balance: take a couple of photographs, then put the camera down and admire what is in front of your eyes. Or you can take this a step further and invest in an action camera such as a GoPro which you can attach to your head and let it film everything you see without missing a thing.
Binoculars are another essential item to pack for optimum wildlife viewing on a game drive. While most vehicles carry an extra pair, they are constantly changing hands so it is better to have a good pair for your own as it will make a huge difference (minimum magnification of 8×10 is best).
Make sure you travel with enough camera accessories like additional batteries, chargers, and several memory cards so you don’t run out of space the moment you’re viewing an exciting animal encounter. You know it’ll happen!
We also recommend packing a flashlight (if you’re camping this is a must). Even though some hotels will provide you with one, it’s much better to be self-sufficient. An LED miner’s light is a good option as it fits on the head and leaves your hands free.
Safaris are often very limited on space, especially if you’ll be traveling on light aircraft once you arrive in the country, so it’s important to pack as lightly as possible. Most light aircraft will have restrictions of 15 kg.
It’s best to pack a soft bag instead of a hard suitcase, which means it can be moulded easier to fit within the limited storage space (just don’t pack any breakables!
Do you have anything to add to our packing list for a Kenyan safari?