Packing light is key when deciding what to bring on safari in Kenya. When my best friend and I traveled around Kenya straight out of Peace Corps, we crammed ourselves into overstuffed chicken busses, rode on the back of motorcycle taxis, bike taxis, and flew on tiny charter planes.
Fortunately, we both hover at just over five-feet tall and were traveling with only a small carry on each, so we were able to squish, easily, into any mode of transportation that East Africa threw at us.
Whether you’re roughing it while on safari in Kenya, or puttering around in a jeep with a guide, use our safari packing list for Kenya and Tanzania to help you pack well and pack light!
The Outbreaker travel backpack is the perfect bag for a safari. With plenty of room for the essentials and carry on sized dimensions it will save money on checked bags on international flights and save space as you’re moving around Kenya. The ability to be hands free and carry your bag will be an asset when you move off of the smooth sidewalks and into the wilderness.
Pack for Variable Temperatures
For clothes, prepare like you would for any other warm weather vacation, but there are a few safari-in-Kenya specific items you’ll want to remember:
Outdoor gear & rain jacket that you’re OK with getting dirty
I usually go for older clothes rather than a full on khaki wardrobe that makes me look like a character from Out of Africa. Yes, khaki colored clothes hide the dirt, but they’ll also make you stand out even more than you already do for being a muzungu (foreigner). Khaki or not, make sure you include:
- Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts: to keep mosquitoes off you at night and for layering if the weather gets cold.
- Lightweight pants/capris: especially for women, knee-length clothing is always a good idea in conservative Africa.
- A rain jacket: unless you’re traveling in the reliably dry season.
The quintessetional brimmed hat
Floppy hats, like the guide-recommended Tilley Hemp Hat, are the quintessential safari accessory, and not without reason. You’ll need one to protect your face against sunburn.
Personally, I’m not a fan, but the experienced have spoken: protect your face with a floppy hat, and protect your floppy hat from being blown away by buying one with a strap!
Bring a warm outfit and an easy-to-stuff down jacket
Temperatures can go from 90 degrees during the day to 50 degrees (or less!) at night. Be prepared, bring warm layers, especially if you’re camping.
I was shivering in fleece-lined sweatpants, a thermal top, and a warm jacket while camping in Hell’s Gate National Park last September!
Don’t forget a nicer outfit
By nice, I mean something other than your North-Face-and-Mountain-Hardwear ensembles. You’ll want it to wear while in Nairobi, in the evenings at dinner, or for any other non-safari excursions you go on!
Consider Your Footwear
Bulky, over-the-ankle hiking boots are rarely necessary for the type of hiking/walking the average person does.
So unless you’re hiking Mount Kenya (and maybe even then even then…), wear a pair of trail runners that are much lighter to pack, easier to move around in, and much, much, much, more breathable. C’mon, do you REALLY want to wear hiking boots in 90 degree Fahrenheit weather?
I love Merrell’s line of trail runners for both men and women. If possible, go for a waterproof or water resistant pair — popular safari spots in Kenya tend to be in drier climates, but if you hit them in the rainy season, you’ll appreciate this feature!
Pro-Tip: If you get them dirty, find a shoe-shine guy who’ll wash them for you for less than a dollar. Good as new!
On Bug Spray and Sunscreen
As far as toiletries go, there’s not much I’d change from my usual packing habits. I usually bring a bar of soap instead of shower gel (can be used to hand wash dusty clothes) and a Diva cup to avoid buying pricey tampons abroad — but neither of those are for everyone.
No matter who you are though, definitely DO bring sunscreen and bug spray — both are pretty pricey in Kenya. Plan to pack these rather than buying them in country.
Amp Your First Aid Kit
Safety and health is a huge concern for anyone going on safari in Kenya. Though I’d generally say you’ll be fine, there are a few first aid items I’d throw into my pack in addition to my usual bandaids-and-sunscreen kit:
- Antidiarrheals – Like Imodium and Pepto-Bismol
- Malaria prophylaxis – Whichever was prescribed by your doctor
- Coartem – The medicine you take if you get malaria
- Hand sanitizer – Sometimes, there’s just no water or sink
- Optional- A steripen for sanitizing water if you don’t want to spend money on bottled water throughout your trip. Do keep in mind, however, that almost all guided tours will provide you with clean, bottled water.
[Note: Consult a doctor before deciding exactly which medications to take on your safari trip to Kenya!]
Gadgets & Electronics
In general, I’d recommend bringing as few electronics as possible when going on safari in Kenya.
Camps don’t consistently have wifi, or electricity for you to charge items, and the dusty or wet (depending on the season) weather can be rough on electronics. However, definitely DO pack:
- A flashlight/headlamp (absolute must!)
- Extra batteries
- A camera and a telephoto lens (if you’re that kind of photographer…)
- A Kindle/iPad
- Optional: Depending on how off-the-grid you want to go, portable charging cells like Anker’s mini battery pack are cheap, small, and will let you charge your electronics without bringing a whole solar panel! Also, they’re an awesome gift to give your local guide when you leave!
When getting your bags together, pack your electronics in waterproof bags. Ziplocks are good, but sturdy dry sacks from REI, which come in various sizes, are better. I have one that’s exactly the size of my DSLR, and another that fits my iPad, and can slip journals/passports/etc. into them if needed.
The hotel rates at safari lodges aren’t always budget friendly. Fortunately, a lot of the most popular destinations in Kenya offer cheaper tent camping options. Most guided tours (like those in to Massai Mara) will help you with gear — but it costs extra.
If you really want to rough it/save some money, and are willing to schlep around the extra weight, bring just a tent, compact sleeping pad, and sleeping bag and break up your tent between yourself and your travel buddies.
In my case, we also had a swiss army knife and a collapsible cup for camping, both of which came in handy, but were not absolutely necessary.
Once you’re there…
- Buy a roll of toilet paper and keep it on you.
- Get a cheap local phone (about $20) and phone credit. Don’t use iPhones in crowded public spaces.
- Ladies, get a sarong — they’re versatile, great for wrapping around you when you have to pee in the bush, and a cheap but pretty souvenir.
Each day when you head out into the field to view animals, whether you’re going in a jeep, or on elephant back, you’re going to want to pack a daypack with the day’s necessities. A well organized, waterproof (in rainy season) daypack with comfortable shoulder straps and a nice deep water bottle pocket is a necessity.
Here’s what to put into it:
- Extra camera batteries
- Water (plenty of it!)
- Insect repellant
- Wrap or light long sleeved shirt
Giving Back to Local Communities
Driving into a small village in rural Kenya, our bus immediately became swarmed when the children there realized there were two muzungu on board. “Miss! Pens! Miss! Sweets! Miss! Miss!” they shouted.
Unfortunately, children in Kenya and much of Africa — especially in more touristy areas — have come to recognize foreigners as a source of free pens and candy. A guide in rural Uganda even mentioned kids would drop out of school because they got more money begging from tourists than local jobs. Case in point: it causes more harm than good.
Even if your heart breaks at the sight of a small child with no shoes on running in the dirt, do NOT encourage dependency. Do NOT encourage children to beg by taking small “gifts for the kids” in your bag.
Instead, be a responsible traveler and give donations directly to organizations while you’re there. Alternatively, pack things like band-aids, school supplies, and such that local hospitals and schools need through Pack for a Purpose.
When deciding what to bring on a safari in Kenya, be sure to bring clothes you’re OK with getting dirty, a few warm items for cold nights, and a brimmed hat to block out the sun. Bring flip-flops and breathable sneakers/trail runners for shoes.
Pack as few electronics as possible. Add antidiarrheals, malaria medications, and hand sanitizer into your first aid kit. If you’re traveling on a budget, pack a tent and plan to camp!
Also, remember to be a responsible traveler and don’t pack gifts for kids. Donate through reputable organizations like Pack for a Purpose, instead.
Image: blieusong (Flickr)