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…
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1x Waterproof & Windproof Jacket
The Andes can get wet … a lot, especially if you are travelling there between the months of November – February, technically the rain season.
As such, I highly recommend taking a waterproof with you.
I love my Berghaus Stormcloud Jacket and think it would be a great choice.
Otherwise, check out this article for more good ideas.
1x Puffer Jacket
It can also get cold in high up in the Andes at any time of year!
As such I highly recommend a light, puffer jacket that can add some serious insulation, which you’ll likely need when you’re anywhere above 3500m!
This lightweight, packable, hooded down jacket is a superb option for your South America packing list.
2x Hoodies / Fleeces
Essential for evenings and cooler days, something light and quick dry would also be helpful.
This women’s breathable fleece by Columbia would do brilliantly.
2x Thin Long-Sleeved Tops / Base Layers
Good for cooler days or when hiking / travelling and you need layers.
My recommendation is always for a natural fibre like Merino, which will keep you toasty, as well as sweat and smell free!
Check out Meriwool’s great range.
7x Singlets / Vests / T-Shirts
Choose a range of colours that match the trousers / shorts you’ve selected.
Dark, neutral colours are always my go-to.
1x Pair of Long Jeans
Great for going out in the evening or wandering around cities when you don’t feel comfortable with bare legs.
2x Pairs of Hiking / Thin Cargo Pants
Any pair of loose-fitting pants will be ideal for your South America packing list, both for travel days as well as if you plan to undertake any volunteer work.
These Columbia Sportswear Women’s Saturday Trail Pant are great.
When it’s really cold, you can even wear some leggings underneath them.
2x Pairs of 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.
Take 2 pairs, including one of my new favourite discoveries… bamboo leggings!
2x Pairs of Shorts
You’re going to need something for those beach and warm desert days!
1x Light Dress
Again a good item for beach days or if you want to dress up a bit during the evening.
Easy to pair this over leggings too.
7x Pairs Underwear
Small and compact, 8 pair of undies will get you through a week without having to wash them!
Try to go 1 if you think you can ladies and make extra use of your bikini or sports bra instead!
1x Sports Bra
Small and great for hiking or those bumpy bus journeys!Nike are my go to here because I find they last a long time.
You can’t take enough sarongs travelling in my opinion and, as they are so light, I recommend at least 1 as a minimum!
Perfect for using as a beach towel, a scarf, a beach dress, 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 ideas!
1x Scarf / Buff
Again a crucial one for the cold, or even at night in the desert where it also gets freezing, taking at least 1 scarf or buff is a must for time in Andes, when hiking and if you’re heading out of an evening.
A must for Andes times!
1x Beanie / Warm Hat
Great for when you’re at altitude, camping or hiking as it will keep you amazingly warm.
Check out this fluff-lined, insulated one to combine style and warmth!
1x Sunhat / Cap
And just to confuse matters, not only does it get cold and wet in the Andes, but also hot and sunny.
And at this altitude, it can be really easy to get sunburnt so taking some protection for your face and head is key for your South America packing list.
1x Bikini / Swimwear
You’ll need something to enjoy the ocean or swimming pool with!
5x Pairs Socks
Make sure you take ones of various lengths / thickness, including ankle socks for city days and thick warm socks, like these, for camping and hiking nights.
You can always double up on your daywear here to save room!
1x Pair Hiking Shoes / Boots
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.
Otherwise, I highly recommend the Keen Targhee II’s.
1x Pair Flip Flops / Sandals
Essential!Havaianas are always a winner, or for a bit more support I never go anywhere without my trusty Arizona Birkenstocks.
1x Pair Day Shoes
Either converse, pumps or sneakers for exploring cities and towns on foot are a must on my South America packing list.
1x Thin Toiletries Bag
To hook or not to hook, that is the question!
Either way, just make sure it is light and thin.
1x Shampoo & Conditioner
Small travel bottles are available, or even better, grab a shampoo and conditioner bar for a spill-free delight and to help your eco-credentials.
I always prefer a natural crystal deodorant as they last forever!
1x Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Keep in a ziplock bag!
1x Razor & Spare Blades
1x Nail Scissors, Nail File & Tweezers
1x Travel Handwash
Great for doing emergency washing, such as underwear in a sink!Sea to Summit do a good-sized one.
Glasses / Contact Lenses if you wear them
1x Diva Cup
Oh yes ladies, you know what I’m talking about.
And if you don’t, check one out here.
KEEP A SMALL ESSENTIAL TRAVEL KIT WITH YOU
I always travel with a small bag of essentials when I take long distance flights.
Normally this is a small, plastic ziplock bag (so it passes airport security liquid checks) including toothbrush and toothpaste, floss, small facewash, small moisturiser, lip balm, tissues, wet wipes, spare underwear and compression flight socks.
Given the long distance bus rides which are a fundamental part of South America travel, and which often take place at night, I found it very handy to keep this small essential kit packed and ready to go.
Instead of packing it away, as I normally do when I arrive in a destination, keeping this small pack of essentials constantly topped up and included as part of my hand luggage in this continent, was so handy for when I had to catch long distance / night buses.
Knowing I could always brush my teeth, or have toilet paper handy, was a game-changer and I strongly recommend you having a similar, essentials kit with you constantly in South America too!
Choose a 30+ SPF or higher.
1x Aloe VeraThis doubles as a great moisturiser, soother and aftersun.
1x SPF Lip Salve
Very important for those high-altitude conditions.
1x Natural Bug Repellent
See my post about how to make your own DEET-Free insect spray or else there are plenty of ready-made products on the market such the excellent one by Burts Bees.
1x Tiger Balm
An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites.
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.
1x Box Paracetamol & Antiseptic Cream
1x Box Band-Aids
1x Laptop / Tablet
Everywhere in South America has free wifi, so bring your own device to here and enjoy netflix like you’re at home!
1x Smartphone & Headphones
Taking your smartphone to stay in touch with those at home, checking maps and uploading some pics while you’re in South America is a great idea.
Also, download some audiobooks and music onto your phone before you leave home – a great idea for travel days.
I recommend Amazon Audible and Spotify Premium for these purposes and wouldn’t travel without either these days.
Portable Power Pack
Portable power packs are great when travelling without a solidly reliable charging source, like in South America where power cuts can happen!
I recommend the Anker Powercore which is light, compact and charges like a dream – BOOM!
1x Camera, Lens, Spare Battery, Memory Card & Charger
I love my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, which is robust and small – ideal for travel.
I carry it with a 16-50mm lens and 55-210mm lens.
I also recommend at least 2x 64GB SD Memory Cards and a spare battery too.
Oh, and of course, the charger!
1x Headlamp & Spare Batteries
Never travel without a headlamp and try to choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red light function.Black Diamond are always my go-to.
How are you going to charge anything otherwise?!
I love the Skross MUV World Travel Adapter, which even has a USB charger port too.
1x Eye Mask & Earplugs
Key for sleeping on long bus journeys and in hostels.
This eye mask from Alaska Bear is super comfy.
1x 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.
1x Day Pack
Good for hiking and beach days.
I love my Bobby Anti Theft Backpack, which I would not travel without these day.
Read my full review here.
1x Latin America Phrasebook
Having a little bit of Spanish under your belt will go a long way in South America and you can’t beat the Lonely Planet Phrasebook in my opinion.
1 Notebook & Pen
1x Combination Padlock
Very useful for locking up bags while hiking or when staying in hostels.These ones are TSA-approved.
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 and then it doesn’t matter if you lose it!
1x Travel Cutlery
1x Water Bottle
Can’t go wrong with a Kleen Kanteen.
1x Sleeping Bag & 1x Silk Liner
If you’re doing any hiking or going remote, both of these things will come in very handy.
The Snugpak Travelpak is always my choice for backpacker sleeping bags because it condenses down so small.
A silk liner is great for keeping clean and sweat-free. It takes up no room and will make a world of difference.
Passport & Photocopies
Photocopies are always the best backup idea.
You may not get far without these and even if you have an email copy, I suggest a paper duplicate somewhere too.
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 certificate or rabies information.
Travel Insurance Policy
Credit Card & 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.
And believe it or not, I fitted all of this into a Berghaus Freeflow 40l backpack – my number one choice when it comes to the best backpack for travel!
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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?