What To Pack For South Africa 2023 (+ What Not To Pack)
If you’re reading this, it means you’re probably planning your South African adventure and have a lot of questions about what to pack for the occasion.
South Africa has an incredibly diverse climate, with everything from sweltering deserts to lush coastal forests. With this in mind, bringing along the right clothes and equipment might feel a bit daunting.
But don’t worry! We’ve provided a comprehensive list of everything you should bring to South Africa (and a few things you should leave at home).
What To Pack For South Africa Checklist
In this checklist, we will cover everything from clothes to cash to camping gear, so that by the time you board the plane, you’ll be ready for your adventure through the rainbow nation.
Although you could certainly travel through South Africa with a suitcase, we recommend a backpack. Backpacks are easy to carry, especially when you end up at some of the more remote guesthouses (which are often the most beautiful).
This Osprey Kyte 46-liter pack has served me well over the years and traveled through over 15 African countries. The external clips are really useful to attach lightweight camping gear!
Bring along a daypack for your daily excursions. When choosing the right daypack, we recommend getting one with inside pockets, rather than one big pocket on the outside. This makes it harder for pickpockets to get to your valuables while you’re wearing the bag.
✔️ Your Phone
Okay, this one probably seems pretty obvious. But really, your phone will be one of your most powerful tools for navigating South Africa. Aside from all of the usual uses for having a phone, the GPS and ability to call Uber is great!
It will also come in handy as a camera. Many of the most avid photographers opt to use a more discreet cell phone when walking the streets of South Africa, rather than bringing their bulky and obviously valuable cameras out.
✔️ Camping Gear
South Africa has amazing hostels and guesthouses throughout the country, so you could easily get by without bringing any camping gear. However, you’d really be missing out if you didn’t take advantage of the epic camping spots that are scattered throughout the country.
Pro Tip: You would mainly need a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag, but a small cookware set might come in handy as well.
Not only will you be able to wake up to some scenic views at designated campsites, but opting for the tent life could save you money as well. Many hostels have designated areas for campers, often at a fraction of the cost of a room or dorm bed.
✔️ Power Bank
Power banks have really become a necessity for any backpacker who uses technology. Aside from wanting to keep your phone charged throughout the day as you explore the different places, you might need a power bank if you’re planning on camping anywhere or going on a safari.
South Africa also often faces load shedding, or scheduled power outages, which can make life inconvenient for just about everyone. A power bank could save you some stress if the lights go off. This power bank from Amazon is affordable, will keep your gadgets charged, has a flashlight, and is solar-powered too!
South Africa is a land of epic beauty and vibrant culture. You’ll definitely want a camera around to remember the experience.
So you can capture all of your most thrilling moments in South Africa. Check out our top adventure activities here!
✔️ South Africa Power Adaptor
Although you can easily find power adaptors and USB charging plugs in most shops around South Africa, you can be extra prepared by bringing along your own. South Africa mainly uses types C and M, which can also be used in many countries throughout Africa.
✔️ Charging Cables
Like power adaptors, charging cables are widely accessible in South Africa and you can often even buy them from vendors on the street! However, they don’t all work the same and will often creep to a slow charge after only a few uses. I always buy a pack of cables like these fast-charging cables and bring a few along as a backup. The long cords help if you end up on the top bunk in a hostel!
✔️ Emergency Cash
This one is really important. You never want to be stranded in a foreign country without any money. That’s why I always hide US dollars (preferably in $20 notes) in a separate part of my luggage.
On top of that, I keep a backup credit card as well. On two separate occasions, I have had to request a new card to be shipped from the US, which is already stressful and disruptive to travel plans. It would’ve been a lot worse if I had to worry about paying for food and lodging while I waited.
A sarong is one of the most useful things you can bring with you on your travels, especially in South Africa. On any given day, you might use your sarong (or any other versatile fabric) as a beach blanket, towel, protection from the sun while hiking, a shawl to keep you warm during a night out, and scrunched up as a pillow on an overnight bus.
If you forget yours at home, you can find beautiful traditional African fabrics for sale in the markets throughout South Africa. They also make a great souvenir to bring back home with you.
✔️ Silk Sleep Sheet
A silk sleep sheet can be a lifesaver while traveling. This one from Amazon is perfect for use in hostels, hotels, camping, or any place where you might not trust the bedding that is provided (it happens!).
✔️ Microfiber towel
Many hostels (and even guesthouses!) in South Africa do not provide towels, so it’s always a good idea to bring your own. These quick-dry towels come in a variety of sizes and take up minimal backpack space.
Although you can easily find sunscreen at stores throughout South Africa, it tends to be expensive, so it is better to bring your own. Apply sunscreen always, even on cooler days. The South African sun is hot!
✔️ Mosquito Repellent
South Africa has a very low risk of Malaria, but that doesn’t make mosquitoes any less annoying! Bring your own Mosquito repellent with extra DEET or buy some from the local shops if you forget. The brand “Peaceful Sleep” works well and is found in most grocery stores in South Africa.
✔️ Luggage locks
Use these luggage locks to keep your valuables safe in hostels, hotels, on buses, or pretty much anywhere. While they won’t stop someone from tearing your bag completely open, they might prevent someone from discreetly going through your possessions.
Full disclosure: I have never had to use this rubber doorstop in all of my travels. However, it has given my family peace of mind knowing that I carry a mini doorstop, just in case the locks in my hotel room seem sketchy, especially when traveling alone in countries with a reputation for being “dangerous.”
✔️ Windproof Jacket
Contrary to images of a sweltering African climate, South Africa is not hot all of the time. There are moments when you will feel chilly and downright cold. It’s important to have a warm or windproof jacket handy for those moments.
✔️ Walking Shoes or Sandals
You’ll probably end up walking a lot while exploring the cities, so having a good set of walking shoes is essential. And even if you’re not a hiker, you won’t want to miss some of the more famous hikes like Table Mountain or Lion’s Head.
If you’re looking to save on space in your luggage, you might opt for lightweight walking sandals instead of hiking boots. Teva sandals are comfortable, last a long time, and also work well for the beach.
✔️ Nice Outfit
The larger cities in South Africa, like Cape Town and Johannesburg, have fabulous nightlife scenes. You’ll be so glad you packed that one Nice Outfit when you’re out on the town in these trendy cities. A stylish cocktail dress with a cute jacket goes a long way.
Bring a swimsuit for the hundreds of pristine beaches, waterfalls, rivers, and swimming pools you will encounter on your South African adventure. Cape Town alone has dozens of amazing beaches that you’ll want to soak up!
Although many travelers are against bringing jeans on a backpacking trip because of their bulkiness and because they take forever to dry, having a pair of good old blue jeans in South Africa is quite nice because of their versatility across many situations. They are also far more fashionable than safari pants.
✔️ Neck Wallet or Money Belt
Because of South Africa’s notorious reputation for crime, some travelers may feel better having a neck wallet or money belt to keep their valuables safe while they are sightseeing.
Additional Things You’ll Need For South Africa
✔️ Paperwork/Vaccines Needed
Although there are far fewer requirements to enter South Africa than in many other African countries, you still need to meet a few requirements to enter.
Of course, you need a passport to enter South Africa. But fortunately, you probably don’t need a visa! Americans and most Europeans are allowed to enter South Africa for 90 days at a time visa-free.
As of March 2022, you also need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or to provide a negative PCR test (not antigen- speaking from experience!).
Fortunately, unlike many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa poses a low risk of Malaria and other diseases, though you should always check with your doctor prior to traveling.
It is always smart to have both paper copies packed separately in your luggage and scanned copies of all paperwork saved onto your cloud storage in case of emergency.
✔️ Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is always recommended, regardless of where you travel or for how long. When shopping for insurance, be sure to check your policy closely, as many policies have limited medical care. Look for one that covers medical care as well as all of the usual travel problems like lost luggage, theft, travel delays, etc.
We recommend SafetyWing, it’s what we use,
and it’s quite inexpensive.
What Not To Pack For South Africa
Although many people swear by filtered water bottles during backpacking trips, this can be a bit of an overkill for South Africa. Tap water in South Africa is perfectly safe to drink, so unless you are planning on taking part in a multi-day hiking trip, a regular reusable bottle is sufficient.
Travel Tip: South Africa has a high crime rate and petty crime is not unheard of, especially in tourist hot spots. It’s better to be safe and leave any unnecessary valuable possessions at home.
Don’t take up precious luggage space by bringing a mosquito net. If the mosquitos are a problem where you’re staying, then your accommodation will likely provide one.
South Africa Basic Outfit Ideas
So far, we’ve mostly talked about what to put in your suitcase (or backpack!), but you’re probably still wondering what to bring and actually wear while you’re there.
Fortunately, South Africa is pretty progressive, so you don’t have to dress as conservatively as in other parts of Africa. You will see people wearing all kinds of styles, so you have a lot of freedom to dress the way you like.
Because of South Africa’s varying climate, packing clothes that can be layered makes the most sense to save on packing space. For example, you can wear a tank top with shorts at a beach in Durban, and then wear it under a cute sweater for a night out in Cape Town.
Shorts and tank tops are perfect for hiking and for going to the beach (wear a hat and sunscreen too!) though you should always bring something warm in case the weather changes.
A sundress is another useful addition to your wardrobe, because you can use it both for the beach, or dress it up and use it for a nice evening at a boutique restaurant or a day at the vineyards.
Leggings are also in style and very common in South Africa. They come in handy in almost any scenario you might find yourself in (brisk early morning hikes, air-conditioned buses, paired with a t-shirt and jacket for sightseeing) and they take up virtually no space in your bag.
Men’s outfits are pretty straightforward since most men in South Africa wear t-shirts and shorts or pants. But don’t forget to pack a nice shirt for special occasions too!
We should probably talk about safari pants really quickly. Yes, safari pants are lightweight. Yes, they dry quickly. They will certainly come in handy when you’re in the bush. Will you look like a tourist if you wear them outside of the bush? Most likely.
Pro Tip: If you only have a day or two of game drives, you could probably get away with leggings, shorts, or whatever else you have.
What Is The Weather Like In South Africa?
Part of what makes South Africa such an all-around awesome destination is its diversity, so it makes sense that it has every kind of weather as well. It has many varying climates throughout the country, all of which vary even more depending on when you visit.
For example, in Cape Town, you will probably encounter hot and dry summers which run from November to January, and cool, wet winters which occur from June to August, when the exact opposite is true in the rest of the country.
Durban and most of Kwazulu-Natal are known for their hot, tropical weather, while the neighboring Drakensberg mountains can be downright chilly at night and is home to South Africa’s only ski resort.
If you’re planning on touring various areas of the country (which is recommended, because it’s AMAZING), then wearing layers is key. Bring clothes that you can wear in a variety of scenarios and climates. This will help keep your luggage light and functional.
Fun Adventures To Pack For In South Africa
Safaris In South Africa
- Binoculars (to spot the lions!)
- Lightweight, neutral-colored clothing
- A flashlight (you’ll probably have a lot of early mornings)
- A warm jacket (again, early morning)
- If you are into photography, you’ll want to bring your telephoto lenses and a tripod.
Honeymoon In South Africa
Honeymooners need all of the same as any regular traveler but throw in a few more trendy and nice outfits to use at boutique hotels and wineries.
Hiking In South Africa
- Hiking Boots
- Filtered Water Bottle or water purification tablets
- First Aid Kit
Conclusion: What To Pack For South Africa
Although South Africa is a large country with diverse climates, packing for a trip here is relatively straightforward. You’ll want to bring clothing that is versatile and that can be worn in a variety of situations.
You should also take steps to keep yourself and your belongings safe, such as having travel insurance, emergency cash, luggage locks, or a money belt.
Fortunately, most western amenities are available here, so if you do forget something, you should be able to easily find it while you’re here!