First time on an African safari and not sure what is essential to pack and what is extra baggage? You’re not alone. I’ve just had to learn all about it, and I am oddly excited to share my newly found knowledge on the subject.
One of the best times to visit Africa is during the wildebeest migration season, when animals travel from the Tanzanian Serengeti eastwards through Kenya looking for food and water. I was lucky enough to have recently taken a short trip to witness what is considered one of nature’s best wonders, and what an introductory encounter that was into mama Africa. I’ve only been to the continent once before on another short hop over to Cairo, so technically it was my second time in Africa, but this was something else…
This Safari dream has taken me to some of the most beautiful national parks in the lands like Amboseli National Park, Lake Naivasha and the one and only the Massai Mara. I sure lived the dream and played the part, nothing like spending your day riding on the back of an open top jeep hunting cheetahs and giraffes, with a point and shoot camera of course.
Admittedly, this is one travel situation where it doesn’t hurt at all to dress the part. In fact, I had to find out somewhat the hard way that dressing right is essential to facilitating a seamlessly enjoyable experience in the bush.
It is no place for black or white… nor much color
When I think of Africa (fashion wise) I think plenty of color and patterns. I sure had more than enough of that in my over packed suitcase for this trip. First of all, who takes 26KGs of clothes and make up to Africa? *hand half raised. In my defense, you can’t blame me for making such a peaceful attempt to try and blend in, but I’ll allow a raised eyebrow just this one time for not being familiar with the theory that bright colors freak out the animals under the broad African daylight. This really is a double-edged sword, resulting in your multi-colors either repelling the wild beasts too far away from you, or startling them right in the opposite direction.
Black and white are bad news too. The game drives can get a bit too dusty, at the end of it neither your black nor white outfits will maintain the same shade. Anything in between should work just fine, specially if you’re on the go and don’t have the time nor resources to do laundry. When in doubt just put on some safari khaki’s. A bit too obvious?!
Better long than short
I recommend packing enough long sleeves and long trousers to cover up in the evenings, when you practically turn into a moving target for vicious African mosquitoes. Even if you’re maxed up on Malaria meds, you don’t want to be dealing with the mood shattering irritation caused by mosquito bites in the middle of having such a good time. Comfy shorts come in handy if it gets warm around midday, as long as your mosquito repellent contains “DEET” and your sunblock is trusty.
You’ll need to avoid the stinging rays!
Prepare to slowly roast if you neglect to protect your face, neck, arms and legs when the sun is in mid African skies.
I was there end of June, the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere. The weather was mostly chilly especially in areas of higher altitude like Lake Naivasha. Nevertheless, I found myself scratching my bare arms and legs having begun to burn under direct sun light systematically. Needless to mention that your choice of sunblock is rather critical here. Stick with higher UV protection, the African sun can be strong and harmful.
The good news is I finally managed to put my one silly wide brimmed hat to good use. How nice it is that these things are creeping back into style?
A good pair of sunglasses to clinically protect your eyes (while looking good of course) are also necessary given the circumstances. I wish I didn’t take my favorite Dior pair though; it broke my heart when they fell out of the safari vehicle just 10 meters away from a family of four hungry looking lions.
Take and give
If you’re feeling generous at the time of your visit, you might just get the chance to keep your charitable spirit really high. As we traveled between parks, we came across various children schools and orphanages where kids are used to tourists giving them stuff. They often chased out the vehicle and waved at us to stop. No way I could’ve said no to those huge beautiful smiles they always had on their faces.
The kids, being kids asked for candy. However this could be the worst thing to offer them, because it hurts their teeth and causes issues that their families might not afford to deal with. Instead, I thought its best to give them something more useful like cloths or school supplies. I just pulled up at one of the schools and handed them half of my luggage worth of stationary and crayons. Happy to see those extras KGs go from my suitcase!
I suggest that you don’t give any cash in hand; you never know where that will really end up. Cash is always better donated to a registered charity that knows how to put it to good use.
Keep calm and warm
Don’t forget to bring along your since of adventure, though reaching out of the vehicle to pet a cheetah is out of question. Trust me on this one! But you might want to try and see the place from a different perspective. I went for the morning balloon ride above the Mara, which for sure was the highlight of the entire trip. As the sun inched its way up into the sky around 4am, the animals came out to hunt and feed in the cool breeze.
There are few things in life that can freeze my thoughts and keep me quiet for a relatively long time. This experience for sure was awesome enough to have that effect on me. I was so appreciative to have lived and done this, however what I appreciated the most at that moment was remembering to bring a wind breaking fleece jacket to keep me warm in the air on that cold morning.
Dreams come true people, if you’re brave enough to pursue them. You’d certainly appreciate being dressed right for them when that happens though.