Just back from her thirteenth African safari in fourteen years, traveler Cynthia Tuthill shares three compelling reasons to follow safari packing tips and wear neutral colors while on safari. Here's how to dress for success on your safari -- and for safety and respect, too.
When we excitedly packed for our first Bushtracks safari, fourteen years (and thirteen safaris!) ago, we read in our packing tips that “neutral colors” were important and rushed out to REI to find appropriately-colored zip-off pants and long-sleeve expedition-style shirts. We were surprised to find that most women’s exploring garb was brightly colored (for example, instead of forest green, all the shirts were neon green). Furthermore, when I asked for “beige” the employee insisted that white was essentially the same color.
But no! White is NOT the same as beige, and neon green is NOT the same as forest green. You really DO need to search harder for those “neutral” colors, for three major reasons: safety, success and respect.
Elephants, as all wild animals, can be dangerous when irritated or frightened. Some safari guides believe that elephants may be provoked by the color white. Guides will never allow a guest to wear white (even a white baseball cap; even a white undershirt that shows at the neck or sleeves; even “off-white”) while on a walking safari, because angering an elephant encountered on foot can lead to disaster. I have noticed that guides are less strict about clothing worn on game drive vehicles, but this is mostly because they really don’t feel comfortable correcting guests. However, it’s never a good idea to infuriate a large wild animal.
A somewhat less serious, but not less important, fact is that tsetse flies are attracted to the colors blue and black. In fact, the tsetse “traps” used by some national parks are colored blue or black. The only consolation when someone in my vehicle is wearing blue at a time of year when the tsetse abounds (August and September), is that they will be bitten more than I!
We go on safari for many reasons, including the wonderful food, hospitality, and relaxation of the delightful African safari camps. But primarily we are in Africa to experience the wilderness and the animals, and therefore appreciate anything that we can do to increase our ability to spend time with animals. However, most wild animals are wary of humans; many of them have been hunted and when nervous, they hide. Therefore, the people who blend in to the surroundings are the ones who find more lions, leopards, and elephants, and spend more time watching these creatures. Neutral colors are hard to see in the bush; they blend in. Bright colors stand out. We have seen humans from miles away when they are wearing white or bright colors; animals have much keener eyesight. I’m disappointed, therefore, when someone on our vehicle is wearing a pink shirt or a yellow hat, knowing that this may cause the leopards to melt into the bush or the lions to leave when we arrive.
As mentioned before, it’s uncomfortable for guides to be the arbiters of guests’ clothing; they know that we are on holiday and don’t want to be demanding. It’s counter to their desire to show hospitality. Therefore I think it’s important that travelers arrive well-informed and properly dressed. It’s respectful of the camp staff and guides. It’s also respectful of the other guests in camp; one person improperly dressed on a walk or a vehicle can be disappointing to the other folks who’ve perhaps saved for many years to afford this trip, or are on the trip of a lifetime, and want to see as many animals as possible. It’s also jarring to be accosted by the sight of brilliantly colored urban clothing after spending the day looking out into the wilderness and thrilling to the sights of animals, trees, and savannah. This is a safari in Africa; this is not a resort in Mexico. I think the distinction is important.