What to Pack For a Trip to South Africa

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Quick facts about South Africa:
  • Language: many, but English is widely spoken
  • Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • Time zone: GMT+2
  • Capital cities: Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein
  • Climate: Subtropical, dry
  • Safety: Safe for tourism, although there are still internal tensions caused by apartheid
  • Vaccines: Yellow fever, if you have traveled to a yellow fever area
Blyde River, Mpumalanga, South Africa. August 2013

Blyde River, Mpumalanga, South Africa. August 2013

5 Essential Items to pack for your trip:


1. Passport & travel documents

American citizens can enter South Africa visa free. However, please do not assume that because you are a United States Resident (Green Card Holder) you will be able to enter visa free with a passport from another country!

Check the current list of visa requirements to travel to South Africa on this Wikipedia page. If you need a visa and don’t have one, you will be turned away at the boarding gate, or worse yet, prohibited from entering South Africa after a very long flight!

The South African embassy is located in Washington, DC, and there are consular offices in New York, Chicago, and Los AngelesResearch your visa requirements with plenty of time just in case you need to make a quick trip to one of these cities.

Travel Tip:  Print your important travel documents:

  • Flight itinerary
  • Hotel and/or AirBnb reservations
  • Car rental reservations
  • Travel insurance
  • Any important medical history
  • Copy of passport (identity page & visa page)

It’s great to have email confirmation of all this, but remember when traveling overseas, you may not have access to Wi-Fi, or even to a cell phone charger, when you most need it!

Chapman's Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa. August 2013

Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa. August 2013

2. Camera

I am one of those people who always is going to be an aspiring photographer, but just never have the time to learn how to really use a DSLR.  So I can’t really justify the luggage space (or the expense!) for a bulky camera and additional lenses.  But I’m also not happy with the pictures from a cell phone.

That is why we love the(or the latest & greatest, 20.3 megapixel, 40x optical zoom,).  This little camera takes very good pictures on its own, but it also has Manual settings, so you can learn or practice how to use these before making a big investment on a DSLR.

Travel Tip: We’re all for buying used stuff.  But if you’re going to buy a used camera, make sure you have it at least 1 month before your trip and test it extensively in a variety of situations! (Yes, we learned that lesson.)

Kruger National Park, South Africa. August 2013

Kruger National Park, South Africa. August 2013

3. Plug converter/ Electrical adapter

South Africa officially has the World’s Weirdest Electrical Outlet This adapter is not included in the usual Plug Adapter Kits. 

We stayed at one hotel and maybe a hostel or two that had a European outlet, but for the most part we had to ask the AirBnb host or hostel owner for an adapter.

Usually the adapters they had available were to adapt the South African plug to a European plug, which meant that we had to add our own European to American plug adapter, then the voltage converter.  Balance that rig on a stack of books or clothes, and then plug your cell phone; wiggle so it will sporadically charge, and try to pretend that “tzzzzz tzzzzzz” sound is nothing, really.  Or just invest in a plug adapter specific to South Africa.  And don’t forget you will also need a travel voltage converter to step down from 220V to 110V.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga, South Africa. August 2013

Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga, South Africa. August 2013

4. Light jacket & scarf

… especially if you’re traveling to South Africa in the winter.  Their winter.  Remember, since you will be in the Southern Hemisphere, winter months are June, July, and August.

Best case scenario, in Johannesburg or Kruger National Park, nights will be chilly.  If you are further south, as in Cape Town, nights will be outright cold and it will be chilly in the daytime.  Near the ocean – Chapman’s Peak drive, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, etc. – the wind will be bitterly cold even in bright sun.

South Africa 1101

5. Medicine & First Aid Kit

South Africa is a modern country with everything you need.  Take only some basic, common sense, first aid supplies:

  • Prescription medication
  • Immodium / Pepto-Bismol (pill form – less hassle)
  • Ibuprofen and/or some other analgesic
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent (try this DEET-free repellent)
Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa. August 2013

Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa. August 2013

Have you been to South Africa?  Or is it on your list of places to visit?  It’s one of our favorite destinations! Let us know how you enjoyed your visit, or what you look forward to doing there, in the comments below:

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