When it comes to planning your trip to South America, you’ve probably done your research on safety, vaccines, visas, flights and things to do…But what do you need to pack?! We’ve compiled a travel packing list for South America in this post, but as climates and conditions can vary throughout the continent we’ve left out clothing. Maybe you’re headed for tropical climates or high altitude trekking adventures, either way the clothing you require can vary from destination to destination and activity to activity, so it’s best to do a bit of research before you travel to determine which clothes to pack! Here are some of the travel essentials we recommend you pack for backpacking in South America.
Travel Backpack – Of course you’re going to need something to pack everything into for your trip. The duration of your trip (and how light you can pack) will determine the size of the backpack you take with you. We recommend a backpack with a detachable daypack, especially one that can be clipped to the front of the main shoulder harness when necessary. This is great for keeping an eye on your valuables in areas with a high crime rate. You can also use the daypack for daily carrying and hand luggage on flights.
Daypack – If you decide to take a traditional rucksack (likely if you’re doing some trekking in South America!), you’ll find these don’t come with detachable daypacks. If this is the case, a packaway day pack is a great alternative, as it will fold into a compact pouch and store easily inside your rucksack.
Dry Bags/ Rucksack Liner– This one applies when travelling to South American countries during the wet season, or for those embarking on treks through the Amazon. If you’re planning on taking part in treks such as the Inca Trail, you’ll find that weather conditions can vary, protect the contents of your rucksack by storing them inside a dry sack or by buying a waterproof rucksack liner.
Zip Lock Waterproof Bags – These can be used for anything from storing toiletries to gadgets and important travel documents. Zip lock bags make it onto many travel packing lists, and once you’ve used them for a trip you’ll understand why. Not only do they help organise your stuff, but they keep it dry and clean, too.
Packing Cubes – Opt for some lightweight packing cubes, as these will keep clothing neat and compact inside your backpack, without adding too much weight. Packing cubes are great for compartmentalising your backpack, so you could have a cube for underwear, a cube for t-shirts and so on!
First Aid Kit – This by no means has to be an extensive medical kit, but ensure it has the essentials, including bandages and dressings. You will also want to add any prescription medication you’re taking to last the duration of the trip. Other items to consider are diarrhoea relief, anti-histamines, paracetamol and oral rehydration sachets if your first aid kit doesn’t contain these. For adventure travel and trekking, consider a specialist trek first aid kit. If you’re travelling to remote parts of South America, which may be lacking in medical equipment, you may also want to pack a sterile needle kit. This is just in case you need emergency medical treatment and don’t want to run the risk of being treated with equipment that isn’t sterile.
Water Purification Bottle– The quality of the drinking water in South America varies from country to country, so many travellers opt to drink bottled water. Recycling isn’t common in many parts of South America, so you can either buy larger bottles of water to help reduce waste plastic, or invest in a re-usable water purification bottle. Water purification bottles can be filled up with water from almost any source (tap, stream etc) and the built in filter will remove most harmful contaminants and make it safe to drink. This is a much more eco-friendly option compared to buying bottled water.
Mosquito Repellent – For travel to South America, we would recommend using a mosquito repellent with no less than 50% deet due to the risk of Dengue Fever and Zika Virus in many countries, such as Brazil, Colombia & Ecuador. Parts of some countries have a high risk of Malaria, so using a deet mosquito repellent is imperative. You should consider anti-malarial medication if you’re travelling to South American countries with a high risk of Malaria. There is currently no medication or vaccine to help prevent Zika Virus or Dengue Fever, so preventing mosquito bites is your only defence. A mosquito net is also recommended for areas with a risk of malaria, dengue fever or Zika Virus.
Travel Adapters – The plug types used in South America vary, with Type A, B, C and I plug sockets found throughout the continent. If you’re not just travelling to one country, you may want to consider packing a universal travel adapter, as this features the majority of plug types found in South America. You may also require a voltage converter in some countries to use certain appliances, as the voltage may not be the same as in the UK.
Travel Charger – A portable travel charger is a handy accessory to have with you in hostels, as you can’t always claim a plug socket in order to charge your mobile phone or camera! These are also great to have in your daypack in case you’re out for a long time during the day and want to charge your phone or camera on the move.
Head Torch – This one makes it onto many travel packing lists, regardless of destination, as it’s a handy accessory for dark hostel dorms. If you’re backpacking around South America, you’ll find a head torch useful when it comes to not waking your hostel room mates. A head torch is also great for camping and multi-day treks, if you’re of the more adventurous persuasion. Or perhaps you’re travelling to a remote area, such as an Amazon rainforest lodge?
Pillow, Eye Mask & Ear Plugs – Essential for flights, hostel dorms and overland bus journeys, which are a popular and cheap way of travelling from country to country in South America.
Travel Clothes Line – Although you can probably find cheap laundry services throughout South America, you can save yourself some money by doing your own laundry by hand. Use a travel clothes line to help dry your clothes and use laundry leaves to save space in your bag. You’ll want to fill the sink too, and finding a plug isn’t always easy, so pack a travel sink plug too.
Money Belt – Security is a key concern for travellers heading to South America, as many countries have high crime rates and pick-pockets in tourist hot spots. Storing your cash out of sight in an under clothes money belt is a wise move, unless you fancy losing it to local thieves. We’d also recommend storing money in different places during your trip, so if you’re unlucky enough to get your cash stolen, you won’t lose it all!
Padlocks – Bring enough padlocks to secure backpack zippers and for your hostel locker. Combination locks are preferable as you don’t have to worry about losing your keys.
Cable Lock – These versatile locks have a flexible coated steel shackle, which can be used to lock backpack zips. It can also be used on lockers and to secure your backpack to hostel bunk beds, railings and other hard to move objects to prevent theft.
Travel Towel – Another travel packing list favourite, regardless of destination! Compact, lightweight, quick drying and a fraction of the size of a normal towel from home, travel towels are a must have when it comes to travelling.
Wash Bag – Carrying your toiletries to the hostel showers is much easier with a travel wash bag, choose a hanging wash bag for easier access to your stuff. A travel wash bag will also help to keep your wash gear organised and separate from the rest of your luggage inside your backpack.
Essential Toiletries – You can get most toiletries throughout South America, so there’s no need to pack a 6 month supply of shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste! Bring enough to last a week or so, then replenish your supplies when you’ve got to grips with the local area.
Sun Protection – Make sure you pack a good quality sun cream for your trip, with high SPF, UVA & UVB filters. You should also pack after sun to help rehydrate your skin after sun exposure.
Rachel has worked for the company for 9 years and as one of our buying team, has a wide knowledge of travel gear. She has travelled in Europe and Southeast Asia, but her dream destination would be South America to experience Carnival in Rio, unleash her inner Attenborough in the Galapagos and sip on Colombian coffee in colonial Cartagena.