You may be wondering what to pack for South Africa? This vibrant and versatile country has everything from gorgeous beaches, desert dunes, breathtaking mountain ranges and large, modern cities.
While generally quite hot, there are also arid and tropical regions as well as cold, high altitude mountainous terrain, there’s frequent thunderstorms and there’s cooler climates in coastal areas during the winter months.
So whether you’re planning a short beach vacation in Cape Town, or a long road trip exploring the different regions and doing activities like trekking the Drakensberg mountains, swimming in Durban, camping in Graskop and going on a safari at Kruger National Park, this post covers absolutely everything you need to pack.
Something to bear in mind – since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere, so summertime in South Africa is winter in North America and Europe.
Plus, if you’re concerned about safety you’ll find a section that has all the security items to bring for that extra peace of mind.
PS: Remember to download your FREE packing checklist PDF near the end of this post!
Scroll on to read: Ultimate Packing List for South Africa (+ FREE Checklist)
Table of Contents
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Essential South Africa Travel Resources:
For more useful travel information on South Africa, check out these articles:
Ultimate Packing List for South Africa (+ FREE Checklist)
First of all, here’s a list of important documents you absolutely must bring on your South Africa vacation:
1. Passport and Itineraries
2. Travel Debit Cards
3. Driver License
4. Travel Insurance
For added security and peace of mind, don’t leave home without good travel insurance by World Nomads. Take it from me – what’s the worst that could happen? Well, on my first trip to Mexico I got electrocuted in a hostel. I flicked a light switch in a dark bathroom and felt a sharp burn travel from my finger all the way up my arm, as if it caught fire (you can read about that in this post).
Travel Gadgets & Electronics
These are more travel essentials to ensure you’re connected to power and have access to the internet and to contacts during your trip, as well as gadgets to keep you entertained on long journeys – you won’t want to leave home without these:
1.Pre-paid SIM Card
2. Multi Plug Outlet / Universal Travel Plug
4. External Battery (Power Bank)
5. Wireless Noise-canceling Earbuds
6. Trtl Travel Neck Pillow
7. Windproof Travel Umbrella
8. Bendy Tripod Phone Holder
9. Compact Digital Camera
10. VPN (Virtual Private Network)
South Africa Travel Safety Items
Given the negative reporting about high crime rates in South Africa, it’s easy for most people to feel concerned about visiting the country, but I can honestly assure you that in 3 weeks of travel in Southern Africa, I never once encountered any problems.
A question many people ask is: Is South Africa safe? The answer to that is, South Africa is no more dangerous than most other places, as long as you avoid getting involved in drugs or gangs, and heed caution in certain areas. Indeed, your main concern when traveling anywhere, is pickpockets and theft of valuable belongings. The following list has everything you need to ensure you don’t encounter these situations:
1. Travel Money Belt
This is super handy when you’re walking around larger cities with cash and other small valuables – I recommend keeping these either stashed away in your hotel/airbnb, or stored securely on your body in a money belt.
2. Anti-Theft Book Bag
3. Anti-Theft Travel Purse
If you’re after the ultimate theft-proof purse, I highly recommend the Anti-Theft Travel Purse – it consists of five measures of theft prevention including:
- Slash-resistant straps: straps with stainless steel wire inside, protects against grab-and-go thieves
- Slash resistant fabric: the whole bag is made with a slash-resistant mesh barrier inside for extra layers of protection
- Lockdown straps: the strap lock secures bag to a stationary object, protecting against grab-and-go thieves
- Locking compartments: locking zipper pulls that prevent pickpockets from getting into your bag
- RFID blocking pockets: protects against electronic identity theft with RFID blocking card slots and pockets
5. Portable Door Lock
6. Security Travel Scarf
Eco-Friendly Travel Packing Essentials
These days most of us try to do our bit for the world around us, and with air travel, we become more conscious of our carbon footprint. So with the items below, you’ll be making a difference in protecting wildlife, nature and the environment.
1. Lifestraw Filter Waterbottle
2. Reef-Safe Sunscreen
3. Eco-friendly Bug Spray
There’s loads of bugs in South Africa, and if you’re in the north-east of the country you’ll want to heed caution when it comes to malaria. So you’ll definitely want to cover up with this eco-friendly REPEL Insect Repellent, and not only ‘cause it’s environmentally friendly, but avoid getting a blown-up arm from a Mexican mosquito infection, as that’s what happened to me on my second trip to Mexico! The bug spray is plant-based, DEET free, and smells of lemon and eucalyptus.
4. Anti-Mosquito Bracelet
5. Reusable Shopping Bag
Toiletries & Medicines
This list features a cool travel hack as well as important travel essentials that you can’t leave home without. A popular question asked is: do I need medicine for South Africa? Well, there are extreme climates around South Africa including tropical jungles and high altitude terrain, and many parts of the country are hot year round, hitting 45C (113F) in the summer.
1. Dry Shampoo
2. Dry Conditioner
3. Hand Sanitizer & Pouch
4. Small Pack of Tissues
5. Facial Oil Blotting Rice Paper
6. Hangover Cure Tablets
7. General Medications
8. Massaging Shoe Gel Inserts
South Africa Beach Packing Accessories
Now here’s a list of items specifically for the beach, but also useful for the following: watersports activities, waterparks, and outdoor tours/excursions:
1. Beach Bag
2. Waterproof Phone Case
3. Microfiber Towel
5. Underwater Camera
6. Beach Coverup
7. Other Beach Accessories
Clothing / Attire for Mexico
For the image conscious and those looking to save packing space, it’s well worth having a capsule wardrobe for your South Africa vacation so that you can interchange and mix up items of clothing, in order to wear a different look each day.
1. Hiking Boots
4. Light Jacket
5. Rain Jacket
What to pack for South Africa safari
Now we come to the South Africa safari packing guide. There’s a few extras here, as much of what you’ll need is already covered in this post (ie: hiking shoes, day pack, sunglasses etc.):
1. Safari hat
2. Cargo pants (or shorts)
5. Zoom lens DSLR camera
Luggage/Baggage and Packing Items for South Africa
Lastly, here’s a list of the packing items and baggage that I use to encase and carry all my stuff when I go on a backpacker type of trip. It’s well worth investing in a trusted brand to ensure you have reliable gear that will last you years of travel.
2. Hardside Suitcase (if not the backpack)
4. Travel Laundry Bag
5. Space Saver Packing Cubes
Another must-have packing essential, these packing cubes are a smart way of keeping your clothes well organized in your backpack whilst also saving tons of space, and giving you peace of mind. The Space Save Packing Cubes come in three different sizes, so you can put your pants in one, and shirts in another etc. The double zipper design ensures the pack shrinks down as small as possible when filled, leaving you with plenty more bag space for all your Mexico souvenirs and new attire.
6. Hanging Toiletry Bag
7. Travel Medicine Kit
So there you have it – my ultimate packing list for South Africa.
Take it from my 9+ years of travel around 47 countries, this list was created from trying and testing countless items and finding the most reliable and convenient gear, with the addition of specific items suited for a 3-week backpacking trip around South Africa.
- Going abroad soon? Check out my post: How To Plan For A Vacation (and download my FREE printable travel checklist)
- Read up on my Top 10 Ways To Save Money For Travel to learn how I saved over $1K in one month
South Africa Packing Checklist
Download your FREE printable, South Africa Travel Checklist PDF here:
You can print it out and use it to tick off the boxes while packing for your South Africa safari vacation!
Here’s 10 tips to prepare for your first South Africa trip:
- Learn the local lingo – South Africa has 11 official languages that include Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and more, as well as English.
- Pack according to your itinerary – bring warm clothing for cool nights and extra layers if you will be hiking.
- Buy travel insurance before you go.
- Buy a local SIM card.
- Eat Braai during your trip.
- Tip the staff – tipping is common practice, 10-15% is considered normal.
- Use Uber in towns and cities.
- Tap water is safe to drink in South Africa.
- Keep cash on your person.
- Have an open mind and enjoy the experience.
For a 2-week trip to South Africa, allow for R18,000 (1,050 USD) per person. This is based on 2 people traveling and using local local transport. If renting a car, eating more expensive meals and/or staying at luxury accommodation, add R8,500+ (500+USD) on top. If backpacking and traveling on a budget, you can comfortably travel on R12,000 (700USD) per person.
You’ll likely do a lot of walking and maybe even hiking while in South Africa, so a good pair oof strong and sturdy walking shoes are an absolute must. Pack in flip flops and sandals for sunny days and beach trips, and a pair of heels or smart/casual footwear for nights out.
The following items and gods are strictly prohibited from bringing into South Africa:
- Narcotics and addictive drugs in any form
- Fully automatic, military and un-numbered weapons and firearms
- Explosives and fireworks
- Poisons and other toxic substances
- Livestock, fauna and flora and their products
- Cigarettes with a mass of more than 2kg per 1000
- Unprocessed mineralsgold coins
- Excess currency
Cash is widely used all over South Africa and is especially useful when traveling to rural and off the beaten path areas where electronic payment methods may not be common. Take only the amount that you need each day.
As of fall 2022, South Africa no longer requires tourists entering the country to present a PCR test or a vaccine certificate on arrival.
Book Your Trip: Budget Tips & Tricks
SIM cards: DrimSim is a universal SIM card that isn’t tied to an operator and works in any country/region.
Travel Insurance: Stay protected from theft, injury, illness, and cancellations. A safety net in case anything goes wrong, I never leave without it. World Nomads is my favourite agent for total peace of mind.
Need to store your luggage in a locker? Use Radical Storage to store your stuff in a locker in any city for just $5 per day.
Head over to my Travel Tools page for all my best travel tips & advice and everything you need for your trip.