South Africa isn’t hot and sunny year round. Shocker. When I was planning what to pack for South Africa in July I looked up the weather, obviously, and decided that 14C there wouldn’t be like 14C in England, it’d be hot. I decided to invest in a few key pieces from ASOS and New Look to keep cool in the sun – shorts, little tops and dresses.
– Pic by Marta from a-girlwhotravels.com
Turns out 14C is kinda the same, and that was probably top temperature, and I’m an idiot. It was winter. I probably should’ve looked that up before and then I would’ve known 14C meant 14C. During winter the average temperature is around 1f3C, depending on where you are, while in the summer (December) you can expect around 22C.
Keep that in mind!
What to Pack for South Africa
South Africa is cool. The big cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg call for the usual city clothes. Pack jeans, relaxed tops, comfy shoes to walk around in, and then something a little more dressed up for the evening. You don’t need disco clothes or anything, just as smart and cool as you want to be.
One of my South African friends I met on my travels told me how people arrive at Cape Town and Johannesburg airports wearing full on safari gear, that made me laugh, definitely no need for that. You know you’ll still be a few hours away from any kind of safari…
Winter tips: When I visited Knysna, it soon became apparent they didn’t have much central heating in the restaurants and it was perfectly normal to sit and eat dinner in your coat, or coat, a fleece and a hoody, as I did. Pack options. A popular look seemed to be a puffa jacket with a scarf, for the ladies, minus the scarf for the lads.
If you’re visiting the likes of Kruger National Park, Plettenberg Game Reserve or Shamwari Game Reserve, you’re going to need to pack a few safari essentials so you’re comfortable out in the jeep.
I wanted to look a little ‘safari chic’, but also be comfortable sitting for ages and be warm. I went for a white chilled shirt I bought a while ago from Oasis (first outing!) and these khaki trousers from New Look. I also, thankfully, took a hoody I’d bought from H&M and wore a plain white tshirt underneath my shirt, which I’d bought cheap from Primark.
You might feel warm in the sun but when the jeep gets going it gets a bit nippy. There were blankets in the jeep, but I wanted to be agile for getting up and looking at animals so I didn’t really use them.
Remember that you shouldn’t wear bright colours on safari, and definitely no red. That’d be like showing a red rag to a lion, danger, danger.
Opt for khakis and browns – anything white may get dirty, although there’s not a fleck on my shirt. Probably due to the fact I was huddled in my hoody.
I actually ended up wearing my Fat Face sandals but I had packed hiking boots. I was only out there for a half day, and I knew I wouldn’t be getting out the vehicle. If you’re going on safari in Kruger, or any of the bigger national parks I’d suggest you wear the hiking boots, or at least some sturdy trainers.
Winter tips: even if you’ve got your safari chic on take a hoody or two to wear as you go in the jeep. It can get pretty cold and windy as you travel, and you don’t want to be distracted.
I travelled a bit of the Garden Route, from George Airport to Tsistsikamma, mostly staying in Knysna. Knysna is a relaxed coastal town with lots of festivals, watersports, extreme sports and an incredible coastline. Looking around, the clothing vibe was pretty chilled.
READ MORE: 11 Reasons to Visit Knsyna in South Africa
Because I’d packed so inefficiently I kind of ended up wearing the same thing most of the time – black jeans from H&M, my black trespass hoody fleece, the aforementioned H&M hoody, a tshirt and Vans trainers on my feet. I fitted in fine.
The fashion seemed to be K-Way jackets, a scarf for the ladies, jumper, jeans and boots, if you want to really look like a local.
When I went to the Comedy Night at the Knysna Osyter Festival one of the comedians joked about all the white people in their K-Way jackets – they’re everywhere!
Winter tips: No heating in some of the restaurants and hotels, pack a few different warm layers if you don’t want to look the same every night!
For the activities
There are so many activities to do in South Africa you need to make sure you’re prepared so you don’t get turned away. We’ve covered the Safari, so we’ve got shark cage diving (swimsuit), zip lines and canopy tours (hiking boots or trainers, jeans, tshirt, hoody), kayaking (lightweight shorts, tee and hoody) and whale watching (warm jacket). If you take the right things to be prepared for those activities, then you’ll be dressed for the 100s of others South Africa has to offer.
You’re also going to want some comfy shoes to walk around in.
Winter tips: If you do the activities, like the RIB boat or the Canopy Tour, do not forget your warm layers – that wind is cold. Don’t be fooled by locals walking round in shorts. They’re tough!
For your hotel and the beach
You can wear what you like on the beaches in South Africa, there’s no judgement. My hotel, the 5-star Pezula Conrad Hilton, had a spa and steam rooms, which required you to wear a swimsuit. No European-style nakedness here. Thankfully.
At breakfast anything went – including my fleece, jeans and trainers – and then in the evening it was a bit of a classier affair, with people dressed for dinner in the hotel.
Winter tips: find out if your hotel has central heating before you book!
For the evening
I’ve been to Cape Town and to Knysna and the evening life is whatever you want to be. You can dress down and get into most places, or dress up and not feel out of place in the same ones. I went to the number one restaurant in Knysna, The Olive Tree, in jeans and a fleece and fit right in.
In the summer you might want to pack something different. I would’ve worn the dresses and skirts I’d packed, if it wasn’t so cold. What would you wear in the summer in England? Yeah, that.
Winter tips: take your coat, and drink a nice red to stay warm.
Whatever the time of year I’d suggest taking flip flops – always essential – hiking boots, light trainers and nice evening shoes, dependent on the season. That should cover everything you do, and if not, you’re never far from the nearest shop. It’s a good excuse for a little holiday purchase.
Although I felt perfectly safe both times I visited South Africa, pick pocketing is always a risk in cities and you don’t want to let that ruin your holiday. I’d suggest taking a sturdy bag with a good strap and a zip to keep your essentials in. Make sure to lock your stuff in the safety deposit box at the hotel and just keep your possessions close. Don’t show off your riches, if you have any…
Clothes to pack for South Africa
– Jacket (season dependent)
– Jumper (good for chilly nights whenever)
– Fleece (great for safari and dries quick)
– Comfy tees and tops
– Light scarf
– White shirt
– Khaki trousers
– Hiking boots and / or sturdy trainers
– Evening outfits to mix and match
– Strappy tops for vests and sunshine
– Sun hat
– Another scarf for the dust on safari
– Sun cover ups
– Warm pyjamas
Other stuff to pack for South Africa
– Good camera
– Zoom lens
– Spare batteries
– Maybe a tripod?
– An adaptor
– All your beauty and hair stuff
– Sun cream