The best thing about travelling in South America is that fact that it’s one heck of a diverse continent.
And one of the worst about travelling in South America is that it’s one heck of a diverse continent.
That’s because packing for such a broad range of climates, altitudes, terrains and activities can be a nightmare, especially if you’re a backpacker.
Yes, good old South America can put even the most hardcore and /or experienced backpacker’s skills to the test when it comes to making sure you’ll have everything you need.
But don’t worry, be it dancing tango in Buenos Aires, hiking in the Andes or sunbaking on the Brazilian beach, I’ve got you covered with this ultimate backpacking South America packing list:
1 Rain Jacket – The Andes can get cold and wet … a lot! I love my Berghaus Stormcloud Jacket
1 Thick Hoodie / Sweater / Fleece – Essentially for evenings and cooler days
1 Thin Long-Sleeved Top – Good for cooler days or when hiking / travelling and you need layers
1 Cardigan / Shirt – Helpful in the evening if you want something a bit dressier. Also provides another layer in emergency
1 Long Jeans – Great for going out in the evening or wandering around cities when you don’t feel comfortable with bare legs
1 Hiking Pants / Cotton Trousers / Thin Cargo Pants – Any pair of loose-fitting, thin pants will be ideal for hiking, also for travel days and if you plan to undertake any volunteer work. These Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail Pant are great
1 Pair Leggings – One of my travel essentials and so helpful for putting under trousers if cold, for hiking or exercising, for being comfortable, for extra nightwear or for under a casual dress. If you have room. Take 2 pairs!
2 Pair Shorts – You’re going to need something for those beach days!
1 Light Dress – Again a good item for beach days or if you want to dress up a bit during the evening
2 Sarongs – You can’t take enough sarongs travelling in my opinion and, as they are so light, I recommend 2 as a minimum. Perfect for using as a beach towels, a scarf, a beach dresses, a sheet, a laundry bag… the list goes on. Check out my post about the 20 reasons why you should always take a sarong travelling for more details
1 Beanie / Warm Hat – Great for when you’re at altitude, camping or hiking as it will keep you amazingly warm
5 Singlets / Vests / T-Shirts – Choose a range of colours that match the trousers /shorts you’ve selected
1 Sports / Quick-Dry T-Shirt – Good for hiking / exercising / volunteer days, I love my Nike Miller Dri-Fit T-Shirt, it’s ideal in humid locations
6 Pairs Underwear – Small and compact will save you a lot of washing to have a few extra pairs
2 Bras – Try to go 1 if you think you can and make extra use of your bikini or sports bra!
1 Sports Bra – Small and great for hiking
1 Bikini / Swimwear – You’ll need something to enjoy the ocean with!
3 Pairs Socks – Make sure you take ones of various lengths / thickness, include ankle socks for city days and thick warm socks for camping and hiking nights
Nightwear – You can always double up on your day wear here to save room!
1 Pair Hiking Shoes – Depending on your plans either hiking boots, hiking shoes or trail runners. See my post about how to choose the best hiking footwear for some top tips
1 Pair Flip Flops – Essential
1 Pair Day Shoes – Either converse, pumps or sneakers for exploring cities and towns on foot
1 Pair Evening Sandals – Nonessential, but many people like to take them
1 Thin Toiletries Bag – To hook or not to hook, that is the question! Either way, just make sure it is light and thin
1 Shampoo & Conditioner – Small travel bottles are available, or even better, grab a shampoo bar for a spill-free delight!
1 Deodorant – I always prefer a natural crystal deodorant as they last forever!
1 Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
1 Soap – Keep in a ziplock bag
1 Razor & Spare Blades
1 Nail Scissors & Nail File
1 Travel Handwash – Great for doing emergency washing, such as underwear in a sink!
1 Natural Sunscreen – Choose a 30 SPF or higher
1 Aloe Vera – This doubles as a great moisturiser, soother and aftersun
1 SPF Lip Salve –Very important for those high-altitude conditions
1 Tiger Balm – An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites
1 Tea-Tree Essential Oil – A powerful antiseptic, anti-mould, anti-fungal cleaning agent. Also great to throw in a few drops with your washing and ideal for freshening up smelly bags / dirty laundry etc
1 Eye Mask & Earplugs – Key for sleeping on long bus journeys, in tents or at hostels
1 Box Paracetamol
1 Box Band-Aids – The only medicine you need to take!
Safety Pins – Always handy
1 Camera, Lens, Memory Card & Charger – Take a large memory card if possible
1 Headlamp & Spare Batteries – Never travel without a headlamp and try to choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red night light function
1 Adapter – How are you going to charge anything otherwise?! I love the Skross MUV World Travel Adapter, which even has a USB charger port too
1 USB Stick – Very helpful for backing up photos and important info
1 Travel Towel – It has to be Sea to Summit. These are the only brand of travel towel I’ve found that don’t get smelly and mouldy
1 Day Pack – Good for hiking and beach days
2 Books – Swap them when you are travelling to keep your bag light
1 Phrasebook – Having a little bit of Spanish under your belt will go a long way and you can’t beat the Lonely Planet Phrasebooks in my opinion
1 Notebook & Pen
1 Combination Padlock – Very useful for locking up bags while hiking or when staying in hostels
1 Multi-Tool – Lots of people say you don’t need this, but I find it very helpful. Choose a light, inexpensive one, like the Gerber Suspension Multi-Plier for example
1 Pair Sunglasses
1 Water Bottle
1 Silk Liner & 1 Blanket – If you’re doing any hiking or going remote, these will come in very handy. They are more compact than a sleeping bag and the blanket can double up as a clothes layer too
Passport & Photocopies – Photocopies are always the best backup idea
Flight Tickets – You may not get far without these and even if you have an email copy, I suggest a paper duplicate somewhere
Visa Documentation – Research any visa requirements well in advance and have the necessary paperwork on you
Vaccine / Immunisation Documentation – Great idea to carry with you, especially in the case of Yellow Fever certs or rabies information
Travel Insurance Policy – If you’re backpacking in South America for a long time, the definitely check out my advice for long term travel insurance. On top of this, it is always helpful to carry a paper copy of any policy with you for easy reference
Credit Card and Debit Card – A great idea to have at least 2 cards with you when travelling, preferably stored in different locations on your person!
Cash in Small Thin Purse – Don’t worry about a money belt, just make sure your purse is discreet, thin and unassuming! It’s a great idea to arrive in South America with a little bit of currency you can use to buy small things immediately such as food or buses fares.
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So there you have it, the ultimate backpacking South America packing list.
Have you been to this incredible part of the world?
What did your packing list look like? And what may I have missed?
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