Are you trying to decide what to wear in South Africa, and can’t make up your mind? Worry not, I have been a bunch of times and in this post I will help you put together the perfect South Africa packing list.
People in South Africa are generally quite relaxed in the way they dress for everyday activities, and perhaps they dress a tad more conservatively than what we do in North America or Europe. Casual dress is acceptable in most places, including most restaurants, except for a few fine dining places where smart casual attire is more acceptable.
Don’t get me wrong though: the fact that most people in South Africa dress casually doesn’t mean that the country doesn’t have a place in the world of fashion, particularly in Cape Town which is recognized as the fashion capital of the country.
So whether you feel like dressing down or dressing up, both are perfectly fine as long as you remain tasteful in doing so. The most important thing when deciding what to wear in South Africa is that you are comfortable. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and exploring so make sure you take this into account when packing for South Africa.
Not sure where to start? Continue reading then. Having been to South Africa three times (yes, that’s how much I love it) I am ready to tell you what to wear in South Africa, and will also share a few items to add to your South Africa packing list.
Make sure to read my post The Best Places To Visit In South Africa.
Things To Consider When Planning Your South Africa Packing List
Deciding what to wear in South Africa is easy if you know what you need to pack for! By that, I mean the weather and the type of activities you’ll be doing. These things should be taken into consideration when deciding what to bring and what to leave behind. Let’s look at that in a bit more detail.
One of the most important factors that’ll determine what to wear in South Africa is the country’s weather, which can vary a lot across the country no matter what season it is.
South Africa does have four distinct seasons which occur at opposite times from the northern hemisphere. Due to the ever-changing conditions, it’s a good idea to download a trusted weather app to your smartphone to monitor conditions as you travel around the country.
You are better off checking your weather app nearer to the time of your visit, to have a clearer idea. Having said that, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect in any season.
Summer is hot and mostly dry, but some areas do see rain showers in the afternoon. Average temperatures in summer are around 29°C (85°F) with February being the hottest month.
In fall, you can expect warm and dry conditions in most areas of the country. Mid-spring is a very pleasant time to visit if you don’t like very hot weather. The temperatures are warm in most areas this time of year, but some areas do get hotter than others the later it gets in the season.
Winter in South Africa is usually cool and dry in most areas except in the mountainous regions where snow is common. Although rare, snow does fall in lower areas from time to time. Clear skies and sun are common in winter which makes it another great time of year to travel but be aware that temperatures sometimes drop to the freezing mark when a cold front moves in.
With this in mind, it’s important to underline that the weather varies throughout the year depending on where you are. You could be in one place where it’s sunny and hot and be in another place the next day where it’s cool and rainy.
You could also experience multiple conditions on the same day, especially in coastal areas.
Having been there three times and pretty much in any season (once in June, once in October / November, and once in August) I can attest that Cape Town sees cold temperatures and lots of rain in the spring and fall months; whereas other areas such as Kwazulu Natal, where Durban is located, are quite warm compared to the Mother City, even in the winter months.
You should also read my posts The Best Things To Do In Cape Town and The Best Things To Do In Durban.
The type of trip
Are you planning to hit any beaches? Will you be exploring cities on foot or doing any hiking? You’ll need to pack for the type of trip you plan to take.
What about taking a safari? Particularly when it comes to going on a safari, which is a one of the best things to do in South Africa.
If you are planning on doing a safari, you’ll need to pack accordingly! Pack neutral-colored clothing. Black or dark blue are the worse colors you can wear when going on a safari or doing any kind of outdoor activities in South Africa because dark colors attract annoying Tsetse flies.
If you are going on a safari in Africa, you should actually read my dedicated post on What To Wear On Safari as this will include all the items you should take.
If you are looking for a fabulous safari destination in South Africa, you should read my post A Guide To Phinda Game Reserve.
If you’ve ever traveled with heavy, bulky luggage you’re well aware of the hassle of walking long distances or using public transportation with such a burden in toe, not to mention those pesky airline baggage fees you have to pay for every checked bag!
If you’re taking a short trip and will be moving around a lot, consider packing less. With a well-thought-out plan based on what you’ll be doing in the county and the season, you can easily get your baggage down to a carry-on only!
If you’re taking an extended trip and will be traveling in a rental car, you may need to pack more but it’s a good idea to try to only pack what you absolutely need and leave anything else behind.
You should also read my posts A Guide To Driving In South Africa, The Best Road Trips In South Africa and A Guide To Renting A Car In South Africa.
When you’re on a tight budget, airline baggage fees can really cut into your funds! Take less, spend less! It’s possible with some strategic planning and you’ll also save the hassle of carrying more than you need and struggling to find things in your luggage among the things that should have been left behind.
One way to save on space and therefore save money on baggage fees is to plan and pack full outfits rather than just throwing in a pile of unmatched items with the hopes you’ll be able to put something together when you’re at your destination. Planning like this will ensure that you spend less money – not to mention less time trying to figure out what to wear!
For more tips on how to travel light, read my post How To Pack Light.
What To Wear In South Africa
What to wear in South Africa in Spring / Fall
The most important thing to consider when deciding what to wear in South Africa in the spring and fall is the weather. It changes from day to day and even hour to hour depending on where you are.
When I visited Cape Town, there were days that I woke up to beautiful sun and warm weather, but throughout the day it changed and became cold and wet! Think layers and always be prepared for rain!
A waterproof / rain jacket
It doesn’t have to be heavy or bulky but a light waterproof or rain jacket that can fit in your daypack will save you from getting wet if there are rain showers on your outings. There are lots of good rain jackets you can buy online. I recommend Kuhl as they are super sturdy and comfortable.
Jeans / comfortable pants
Jeans are a popular choice during cooler weather because they’ll keep you warm, but they’ll also keep you cool during spring or fall days when the temperatures rise during the afternoon.
Jeans are also easy to dress up in a pinch, so I always recommend packing a pair. Just add some accessories and a nice shirt and you’re ready for anything!
For girls, I recommend checking out Kuhl as they make some really nice skinny jeans – they are stylish, but also very comfortable!
One or two pairs of leggings
Leggings are a great item to add to your South Africa packing list because they’re so versatile, comfortable, and easy to take from day to night.
Wear them with a sweater and trainers, and you are ready for a day of exploration. Put a nice pair of shoes and a nice shirt on, and you are ready for a night out. In fact, they are great to use as pajamas when needed!
Long sleeve t-shirts
A few long sleeve t-shirts will go a long way in spring and fall in South Africa. They’re easy to layer over and under other items so you can take off and put on more or fewer items as the weather changes throughout the day.
If you are looking for comfortable, easy-to-wash and to wear long-sleeve t-shirts, check out Kuhl’s website.
A couple of lighter sweaters
Pack a couple of light sweaters for those cooler days. Make sure they are loose enough to be able to layer over t-shirts or even over another sweater if the day starts warm but cools off later.
A warm sweater
It never really gets too cold in the spring and fall months, but early mornings and evenings can get cold, and if it rains it’s actually quite cold too. For those occasions, you will need a nice, warm sweater.
If you pack one in neutral colors – such as grey; or even blue or black, it will be easy to match with almost anything else in your suitcase.
A nice dress for the evening
People do tend to dress up for evening outings in South Africa so be sure to pack a nice dress to wear to restaurants and clubs.
Men are expected to wear a nice pair of pants and a shirt with a collar when going to clubs.
What to Wear in South Africa in Summer
It gets quite hot during the summer months in South Africa so it’s best to pack clothes that are lightweight and made from natural fabrics such as linen, silk, or cotton. Here’s what to pack for South Africa in the summer.
A knee-length or mid-calf skirt is definitely what to wear in South Africa in the summer. If you get one in a neutral color, it will match most of your tops. A skirt can also easily go from casual to dressy, and it’s a more conservative piece that’s acceptable to wear anywhere.
Light cotton or linen pants
While it is acceptable to wear shorts in South Africa, on certain days it may simply be better to wear a pair of light cotton or linen pants – they will keep you cool but also protected from the hot sun.
Kuhl makes some great pants in a variety of colors – they are very comfortable and also easy to wash, which is important when traveling.
Cotton t-shirts and tank tops
Yes, you can wear tank tops in South Africa. However, keep in mind that spaghetti straps or anything that shows too much cleavage or midriff will likely get you some stares!
Cotton t-shirts are also a great item to have on hand and both t-shirts and tank tops are easy to mix and match with skirts, pants, and shorts.
Once again, my favorite brand is Kuhl. They make a variety of t-shirts and tank tops that are actually very easy to dress up with the right pair of pant.
A couple of pairs of shorts
Shorts are perfectly fine as long as they are not too short or revealing. Bermudas or similar longer styles are perfect to wear with a tank top or t-shirt on hot days. Pack a pair or two if you are traveling to South Africa in the summer.
A maxi-dress is a must-have item for any vacation. The flowy material is perfect for keeping you cool on hot days and these dresses are nice and practical enough to wear anywhere and are easy to take from day to evening when paired with the right accessories.
If you’ll be relaxing poolside or heading to any beaches, a sun dress makes a great cover-up when you’re not swimming. In fact, some of them are so nice that they are perfectly fine to wear when you are out exploring!
A light cardi
No matter where you are in the country or what time of year it is, the air can get cool after the sun goes down. A light cardi provides an easy fix. For a dressier, more polished look, consider bringing a pashmina, which also makes for a great extra layer when the evenings turn cool.
A light rain jacket
Rain can happen anytime in South Africa including summer – though admittedly it happens in some areas more than others. Once again, I recommend taking a light, portable rain jacket you can take along in your daypack if you are expecting showers.
One or two bikinis / swimsuits
Whether your hotel has a pool that you’ll be spending time around or you’ll be making some stops at some of South Africa’s beautiful beaches, have one or two swimsuits on hand.
Be aware that it’s frowned upon to walk around in a swimsuit in public areas away from a beach or pool so make sure to have some sort of cover-up with you.
My posts The Best Beaches In South Africa and The Best Beaches In Cape Town will be particularly useful when looking for the perfect beach spot.
Being out in the hot sun for long periods can be dangerous so make sure to pack a sunhat to protect your head. It will also protect you from getting sunburnt.
What to Wear in South Africa in Winter
Although the temperatures drop in winter, most of South Africa remains quite pleasant this time of year – though some areas are significantly colder than others. With an average temperature of 15.5°C (60°F), you’ll need to pack some warmer clothes but nothing too warm!
Here’s what to wear in South Africa in the winter.
You won’t need anything too heavy unless you’re planning to travel to the coldest areas of the country (ie the mountains, where it may snow) but make sure the jacket you do take isn’t too light either!
It was actually bitterly cold and rainy in Cape Town when I visited in June once and I wished I had a thicker jacket to keep me warm.
A pair of jeans
Once again, jeans are a must-have item in your South Africa packing list. They match pretty much everything, they’re comfortable (provided you pick the right pair), they’re usually warm and they can be easily dressed up when needed by simply adding a nice shirt, a belt and similar.
One or two pairs of pants
Let’s admit it: jeans aren’t exactly the best thing to wear when it rains – it takes a long time for them to dry. For those occasions, or simply for a change of clothes, you should pack a couple of pairs of comfortable pant.
Kuhl makes the best ones, with a selection of hiking pants and even nice, casual travel pants.
Long sleeve shirts
Long sleeve shirts are the perfect item to add to your South Africa packing list for the winter. Wear them under a thicker sweater as a base layer. Pack a few in different colors to mix and match and get a dressier one you can easily wear for an evening out.
A thick sweater
As some days and most of the nights are quite cool, you should have one or two thick sweaters packed. Contrary to the spring months when it may be a necessity, it will definitely be needed if you are traveling to South Africa in the winter.
A beanie / hat, scarf and gloves
This is totally up to you and the kind of temperatures you are accustomed to. Personally, I was glad to have a beanie and gloves when I visited Cape Town in June, as the lack of sun and the rain made me feel really cold.
In general, you will need a hat and gloves if you plan to travel to colder areas such as the Sutherland region or the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, because these are the coldest areas of the country!
Other Items For Your South Africa Packing List
Footwear in all seasons
You’ll be doing a lot of walking, but you’ll also be going out to dinner or to clubs in the evening, so I recommend packing two or three pair of shoes (one is the pair you will wear during the flight), which will vary depending on the season.
Your first pair should be a pair of hiking shoes or very comfortable walking shoes. Comfort is everything when traveling.
In the summer, you should also take along a pair of hiking sandals or sneakers to wear during the day. Have a pair of ballet flats or espadrilles to wear in the evening.
Planning to go on hikes while in Cape Town? Then read my posts A Guide To The Table Mountain Hike and A Guide To Hiking Lion’s Head.
Spring, fall, and winter are too cool for sandals, so a pair of sneakers or comfortable ankle boots are great for daytime adventures while ballet flats remain the perfect item for an evening out.
The only time you’ll need something warmer with good grips is if you plan to travel anywhere where there could be snow and ice.
Bags and purses
During daytime excursions, you’ll find that you will be comfortable with a daypack where you can carry your cell phone, wallet, water bottle, and layers.
By evening, you will only really need a smaller purse for your phone and wallet.
Best luggage for South Africa
If you prefer traveling light, I recommend a Cabin Zero 40 liters backpack. I have used it even for 3-weeks winter trips and if you are smart about your packing, it will be just perfect.
For longer trips or if you simply refuse to pack light, you’ll need a sturdy suitcase with wheels so you can easily transport it from place to place. I have recently started using Level8 large suitcase and I love it. It’s easy to move, easy to close and open, and it fits a lot.
To keep your suitcase well-organized, try packing cubes. Just place them in your suitcase and they act as dividers so you can easily find things without having to tear everything apart!
I seriously don’t know how people travel without a toiletry bag, or how they use one where they just throw in everything they are bringing.
I am a fan of toiletry bags with multiple pockets and zippers so that I can keep everything organized. In fact, I recommend using one with a hook that you can easily hang outside the shower, so that you can easily reach out for anything you may need.
Tap water is safe to drink in urban areas in South Africa, so just take your own bottle with you and refill as you go! If you are visiting rural areas, you may want to use a filter to avoid any contamination.
Depending on where you’re traveling from, you may have to take a plug adapter so you can charge your devices. Plug adapters are usually easily found in any travel shop at the airport but they are actually way cheaper to buy online.
This is one of the most useful items to pack for South Africa. You will definitely need it when you spend the entire day out and about and use your phone camera to take pictures.
Sunglasses will protect you from sun rays, wind, dust, strong light and what know and hence are an unmissable thing to pack for South Africa.
For the same reason you need to pack a pair of sunglasses, you will have to also bring some sunscreen, no matter what time of year you will be traveling to South Africa.
When I visited South Africa in 2018, they Western Cape region was going through a severe drought and people were encouraged to minimize the use of water and to use hang sanitizer to wash their hands – even in toilets in restaurants and bars. They normally provided some, but it’s good custom to bring some with you at all times.
Conclusion On What To Wear In South Africa
South Africa isn’t one of the top fashion capitals of the world but looking good and being comfortable are equally important when touring the country. As long as you dress a bit more conservatively than you would, and appropriately for where you’re going, you’ll fit right in with the local people.
These other posts will be useful when planning your trip to South Africa:
- The Best National Parks In South Africa
- The Best Day Trips From Cape Town
- Is Cape Town Safe For Tourists?
- The Best Cape Town Travel Tips
- The Best Things To Do In Stellenbosch
- The Best Wineries In Stellenbosch
- The Best Things To Do In Knysna
- The Best Things To Do In Johannesburg
- The Best Day Trips From Johannesburg