This self drive safari Kruger packing list was submitted by Katie Barber.
Going on safari ranks highly on most travelers’ bucket lists. There’s an indescribable thrill to spotting a lion stalking across the savannah or coming across an elephant munching on a tree branch.
A full-service safari can be an expensive undertaking. Luckily, South Africa’s Kruger National Park provides an option for budget-conscious travelers to take their own self-drive safari. Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, sprawling over more than 7,500 square miles of land in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces and teeming with thousands upon thousands of animals. The “Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffaloes) reside in the park, along with giraffes, zebras, hippopotamuses, cheetahs, hyenas, wildebeests, impala, and more.
Driving yourself is amazing, allowing you the chance to have one-on-one encounters with animals. The trade-off is that, unlike on a guided safari, you’re on your own for provisions. Once you’re in the park, you won’t want to leave to pick up something that you might have forgotten, so use this packing list to help make sure your self-drive safari is a memorable experience.
This packing list assumes you’ll spend two days and one night in Kruger. If you’re staying for a longer period of time, you can of course increase the amount of clothing as appropriate.
Fleece Jacket – South Africa can be cool in the early mornings and the evenings. The early morning is one of the ideal times for animal viewing, so wear a fleece jacket that you can shed when it warms up later in the day. You can put your fleece back on in the evening. (If you choose to sign up for a guided night drive – the only way you can see some of the park’s nocturnal animals – you should wear dark colors, so bringing a dark fleece is ideal.)
2 Short-Sleeved or Sleeveless Tops – The animals won’t care if you wear the same shirt two days in a row, but, as you will probably get sweaty from being in the car in the sun all day, it will be nice to have a fresh shirt.
Lightweight Pants – Lightweight pants will keep you warm in the cool mornings and evenings, and will help keep you cool during the afternoon by shielding you from the sun.
Pajamas – Some of the accommodations (like the safari tents) share communal bathrooms, so choose pajamas you don’t mind wearing on the way to those.
Walking shoes – During your visit, you might decide that you want to sign up for a guided walk. Be prepared by bringing comfortable walking shoes. Also, there are a couple of viewpoints and hides throughout the park where you can alight from your car, and closed-toe shoes will protect your feet from gravel, sharp plants, and snakes.
Flip-flops – Flip-flops come in handy for the shower or a midnight walk to the bathroom.
TOILETRIES & MEDICINE
Hairbrush, Hair Ties, etc. – You’ll be driving around with your windows down, and, if you have hair of any length, it’s going to get knotted.
Soap, Shampoo, etc.
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Feminine Hygiene Products, as needed – For long days spent in a car without immediate access to bathrooms, I prefer the Diva Cup.
Prescription Medication, as needed
OTC Medication, as needed – The last thing you want to do is spend the day with a headache or a sore throat.
Malaria Pills – Kruger is in a malarial area. Consult your doctor about precautions before you travel.
Bug Spray – Malaria aside, no one likes mosquito bites.
Sunscreen – You’d be surprised how much the sun can beat down on you while you’re inside your car. Stay protected!
Binoculars – Nothing is sadder than coming across a bunch of other visitors admiring a big cat in the distance through their binoculars, and having to resort to using the zoom lens on your camera to grab a glimpse. (Unfortunately, I speak from experience.)
Camera & Charger – Bring the nicest camera you have, and don’t forget your zoom lens. Half of the fun is capturing the animals on film.
South African Adaptor – South Africa uses a three-plug plug that isn’t used anywhere else in the world.
Flashlight – At night, the camps are darker than dark.
DOCUMENTS & MONEY
Passport – You’ll need your passport to enter South Africa. US citizens get a visa upon arrival.
Yellow Fever Certification, if appropriate – If you’re arriving in South Africa from a country where yellow fever is present, you’ll need to show your yellow fever inoculation certificate.
Drivers License – You will need to present a valid drivers license (with picture) to rent a car in South Africa.
Credit Card – Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the park.
Cash – It’s always a good idea to have cash, especially if you need to top up your fuel in the park. In South Africa, petrol stations are all full service. It’s easiest to hand the attendant cash for the fuel and a tip (especially if he wipes your windows or performs some other service).
Alarm Clock – The very early morning is one of the best times for animal viewing. Check what time the gates open (it varies by time of year), and set your alarm so that you can be one of the first ones on the road. I used the alarm on my iPhone.
Instant Coffee (or Tea) & Travel Mugs – Your alarm clock will go off before the camp restaurants or shops are open, but, if you have instant coffee (or tea) and a travel mug, you can make a passable cup of caffeine with the hot water available in the camps.
Breakfast – Similarly, the early hour at which you will be leaving camp means you should bring some breakfast with you. You can always stop for breakfast later in the morning, but it will still be prime animal-viewing hours. Pack some granola bars and fruit instead, and eat breakfast while you drive.
Snacks – It can be a long drive between the campsites, and you won’t want to rush through an area just to reach a place with a restaurant. Pack snacks so that you can keep yourself satisfied while out and about. You can buy snacks at the camp stores, but they’ll be expensive.
Kruger Guide – Do yourself a favor and purchase the detailed map and guide to Kruger sold in the camp stores. The guide helps you plot your route in such a way as to optimize animal sightings, and the map tells you distances between different points – imperative for when you are trying to make sure you have enough time to get back to camp before curfew.
Pen – A fun surprise in the Kruger Guide is the checklist in the back for ticking off animals you have spotted. At first, it can feel a little too much like “check-the-box” tourism, but, after a long day in the park, it can be a fun way of remembering what you have seen.
Silverware, optional – If you’re planning on self-catering in the park, check your accommodation to see if it includes silverware. During my trip to Kruger, we purchased sandwich supplies and bean salad at the camp store. We ended up spending more than we wanted on a set of plastic silverware so that we would have a knife with which to slice cheese and a fork to share for the bean salad.
Finally, a note on alcohol: Overnight visitors are permitted to bring alcohol into the park and to purchase alcohol in the park stores (after showing receipt for overnight stay). Day visitors are not permitted to bring alcohol into the park.
About the Author: Katie is a writer and recovering large law firm attorney currently backpacking across Africa with her boyfriend. Follow their adventure on their blog, Nonbillable Hours, or check out their Twitter, Facebook, or Katie’s Twitter.