The most important thing to keep in mind as you pack for an African horse safari, like mine in Botswana, is that you may be limited to a total of 44 pounds of luggage, particularly if you will be taking small charter planes between camps. This doesn't seem like much, but most camps are very casual and offer free daily laundry service. Clothing in natural colors is most appropriate for safari, though brighter colors are fine for in camp. Avoid white and camouflage.
- Medium size soft-sided duffle bag without wheels. Must meet airline carry-on requirements, even if you are checking it. I took the medium Adventure Duffle from LL Bean.
- Carry-on. I chose the Ladies Sterling Collection Tote Bag in Blue from R.J. Classics. It has lots of outside pockets to stash stuff you need to access easily while on the plane and it offers space to expand for your souvenirs on the way home.
- Camera bag. If you have a DSLR camera and several lenses, you'll want to bring a camera bag. A backpack-style or sling camera bag will hold all your gear and leave your hands free.
- Approved helmet. Helmets are required at all horseback safari camps. I brought Troxel's Dakota Traildust. It's beige with cool graphics and leather trim, VERY lightweight (important when you have weight limits) and a flexible, extended brim to protect your face and eyes from the hot sun.
- 2 pairs of breeches. I brought my favorite pairs from RJ Classics, one beige and one navy, which held up great despite riding in thigh-deep water and through acacia trees with their 3-inch spikes. You can wear jeans if you prefer, however, remember that you'll be in the saddle for at least 3 hours a day so you don't want to risk getting rubs.
- Riding shoes and half chaps. Tall boots will get wrecked so riding boots and half chaps are ideal. I brought the Ariat Terrain boots and matching Terrain half chaps. The chaps are ventilated, which kept my legs cool, and helped them dry out quickly between rides. The elastic gussets are a nice feature, particularly when your legs are swollen from sitting on a plane for 14+ hours. Take a second pair of boots if you can fit them, unless you don't mind wet feet when your boots don't have a chance to dry out completely. These boots will do double duty as hiking boots if you do walking safaris.
- Shirts. 3-4 short-sleeve cotton or cotton-blend shirts in neutral colors, such as browns, beige or leaf green. Polos are ideal. If you are visiting during the winter season, bring a lightweight long-sleeved shirt with cuffs you can roll up.
- Jacket. Mornings and evenings can be chilly, particularly when traveling in open four-wheel-drive vehicles. I brought the Ariat Portola in brown. I don't believe they have that color available anymore, but they do have black. It fit great, was the perfect weight and easy to pack--not to mention very flattering. The Ariat Vechta Softshell jacket is another good option.
- Socks. 3-4 pairs. I recommend those that will dry quickly.
- Bandanas. 2. I wear them under my helmet to absorb sweat and keep my helmet from getting stinky.
- Gloves. I brought a pair of crochet-back gloves but unfortunately lost them before I got to use them. I was fine without them and probably better off, particularly when photographing from the saddle.
- Sandals. I brought the Explorer Sandal from LL Bean. It provided plenty of coverage while being lightweight and very comfortable. In addition, they can be worn in the water or in the shower.
- Pants. 2 pair of lightweight khaki, brown or tan cargo pants that can be rolled up into capris or zipped off into shorts. I kept mine rolled during the day and down at night to protect my ankles from mosquitoes.
- Shirts. Your riding shirts will probably be all you need.
- Hat. Bring a ballcap or packable hat with a brim.
- Underwear. 3-4 pairs are sufficient. I brought several quick-dry nylon pairs that I could rinse out, if necessary. Be aware that the staff at some camps will not wash underwear due to prevailing local traditions, though I did not encounter this in any of the camps I visited.
- Belt. Useful to attach a small point-and-shoot camera case while riding or during other activities.
- Swimsuit. Most camps have at least a plunge pool. Most pools I encountered were not heated, but were comfortable once submerged.
Bring anything you might need as you are not going to be able to purchase it in the camps. Here are a few things you should be sure to bring. Also, you will not be able to plug in a hairdryer at most camps, so get a haircut that will air dry well.
- Medications (I brought enough for an extra two days in case my flight home was delayed). Instead of bringing a number of large bottles, I purchased plastic medicine organizers with slots for each day of the week. Do bring a list of the medications you're taking.
- Small first-aid kit. I purchased a premade kit from a camping store that included basic items like adhesive bandages, blister patches, gauze pads and tape, antibacterial cream, alcohol wipes, etc.
- Sunscreen. Don't forget lip balm with SPF as well.
- Mosquito repellent with 25 percent DEET. Most camps provide a can of "Peaceful Sleep," but bring your own if you prefer. You can purchase a pump spray with a DEET alternative, which is effective and more environmentally friendly.
- Trial-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner and any other hair-care products. Some camps provide shampoo, but don't count on it.
- Hydrocortisone cream for soothing bug bites, rashes and sunburn.
- Battery-powered head lamp. This is useful for walking through camp at night as well as in your tent if the power isn't working. Flashlights are often provided by the camps for guests, but I still found the headlamp useful.
- A personal organizer or toiletry kit. I purchased a small personal organizer from LL Bean that can be hung up and includes a mirror. It was roomy enough to get me through 12 days.
- Binoculars. A small pair should suffice. Bring higher-powered ones if you are interested in birding.
- Journal and pens. Record your thoughts each day so you can reflect on them later. You may think you'll remember every detail, but I found the days began to run together after the first week. I was very glad to have made notes each night so I could read them when I got home.
- Plastic shopping bags. Put your boots in them to keep clothing clean and dry in your suitcase; you may have to leave before your boots and socks have dried out.
- Cash and a credit card. The currency in Botswana is the Pula. Banks only accept U.S. dollars, Pound Sterling, Euro or South African Rand in cash. Cash payments made to the camps for souvenirs or gratuities must be in one of these currencies.
Climate. The winter season begins in May, and temperatures can fall as low as 43 F at night in June and July. (Highs may reach the upper 70s.) This is typically Botswana's dry season. Summer is from November through March when temperatures can reach around 95 F in October, and is the rainy season. (Lows are in the mid 60s.) Pack accordingly.
Travel insurance. You will be required to take out travel insurance that will cover medical treatment if something were to happen. Travel insurance will also provide evacuation services, etc., in case of a disaster or medical emergency. Policies can also include insurance to cover your trip should you not be able to go or have to cut it short. Your travel agent will be able to recommend a company.
Inoculations. If you are traveling directly from the United States, no vaccinations are required to visit Botswana. (Other countries may have different requirements.) However, there are several recommended vaccinations including hepatitis A and B, tetanus/diphtheria and typhoid. Also consider a flu and/or H1N1 vaccine.
Malaria preventive. Discuss with your doctor or travel clinic. It was highly recommended for me to take, though many people I spoke to decided not to. I took a daily preventive, which started one day before I left and continued several days after returning. I didn't experience any side effects, though others said it made them a little dizzy.
Bring anti-diarrheal medication as well as an antibiotic prescribed by your doctor or travel clinic. Your doctor will give you instructions for use if needed.
Cameras. I brought two DSLR bodies and two lenses--a short lens and an 80-200 2.8 telephoto. These were great for vehicle game drives and during slow rides but not overly convenient for fast rides or riding through deep water. I also brought a compact digital point-and-shoot camera for convenience. Bring plenty of media cards and several batteries (you can usually charge them in camp when the generator is running).
I chose not to bring a laptop computer with me, however I still wanted a way to download and view my photos each night. I opted to bring a multimedia viewer/storage unit instead. It allowed me to download my digital media cards directly into the unit as backup. I brought the Epson P-2000, but there are other models available.
You may consider registering with the U.S. Embassy in whatever countries you are traveling in. This will make sure the U.S. government knows where you are in case evacuation is necessary or to send you updates and travel advisories before you go. You can register online at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui.
You do not need a visa if traveling from the United States (check requirements for other countries), but you do need a current passport. Your passport needs to be valid for six months after your visit. Travelers connecting through South Africa are advised to have two blank pages in their passports; one for the South African temporary residence permit sticker that is issued upon entry to the country, and an additional page to allow for entry and exit stamps for South Africa and other countries to be visited en route to South Africa or elsewhere in the region. Keep a copy of your passport in your luggage.
Tipping is not expected, but feel free to do so if you receive excellent service. Camps generally provide communal tip boxes in the main lodge. Tips in the box are split up among all the employees. However, you may choose to tip your guide at the end of your stay. Typically it's about $5/day.
Located in Bend, Ore., Natural Migrations prepares luxury and adventure trips to Africa according to your interests, needs and budget. It is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and cultural heritage in Africa through eco-tourism. Founder and president of Natural Migrations, Paul Swart, is extremely knowledgeable and well connected in his field and is personally familiar with the finest places to visit at the best time of year.
Botswana Tourism Board, North America
I would like to thank the following people for making this trip a possibility:
Paul and Caroline Swart, Natural Migrations
Leslee Hall, Botswana Tourism Board, North America
Map Ives and Wilderness Safaris
Jennifer Hellickson, Ariat
Karisa Dern, Troxel
Jamie DiGiulio, R.J. Classics
My colleagues at Practical Horseman and the AIM Equine Network
African Horse Safari Journal Entries
Part 1: Bush Magic | Part 2: Big Cats | Part 3: Delta Dreaming | Part 4: The Elephant in My Living Room | Part 5: Hidden in the Trees