From the Amazon Rainforest and coastal beach towns to the Andean Mountains, South America has much to offer, but this diversity in geography and climate make packing a challenge. Hot and humid days on the coast can be followed by bone-chilling nights in the mountains. I found that in a day’s time it was not uncommon to experience both temperature extremes. (This was especially true on busses that would begin and end in the mountains but would wind down near coast for part of the journey.) So layers are the key to survival in South America.
Here is a packing list to get you started.
Backpack – My daughter and I both used a G4Free 50L outdoor backpack on this trip. Ilove the size of this backpack; it’s small enough to not be too heavy but big enough to fit everything I need. And at just $39.99, it’s won’t blow your budget. Plus it’s considered a carry-on.
Day pack – I use this North Face backpack as my day pack. It has a pouch for my laptop and is big enough that I can slip my messenger bag and camera in the larger pouch.
Messenger bag or purse – I prefer to carry a messenger bag when I’m out in the city. I like I can fit my camera inside and that I can easily keep it in front of me on public transportation.
Packing cubes – This trip was the first time I used packing cubes, and I loved them. They were a great help keeping my clothes and undergarments organized.
Laundry bag – I like to keep my clean clothes away from my dirty clothes as much as possible. This laundry bag is smaller in size and so it doesn’t take up much space.
Luggage locks – I keep locks on my backpack and day pack. This pack of cable locks allowed us to keep all our bags secure on all our bus rides. I also bought an adjustable cable lock but never used it. I thought I’d include it because I know some people swear by them.
The key to traveling with so little clothing is to pick items that work together. I tend to wear a lot of solid colors that easily work with other pieces. The key is making several outfits out of the same items of clothing. These are the items that brought along with me, but I was honestly so cold for most of the trip that I’m wearing my fleece in nearly all my photos.
Fleece – This Patagonia fleece ended up being the most important piece of clothing I had on the trip. I was always cold, so I had this near me at all times. I also bought an alpaca sweater in Ecuador that is a fun keepsake and was an alternative to wearing my fleece everyday.
Cardigan – I like cardigans because they look a little nicer and can keep you warm if you have a slight chill. I brought a black one with me because of its versatility.
Pants (3) – I brought a pair of linen pants for hotter climates and two pairs of hiking pants for the other days. I loved these pants; they looked nice and were super comfortable.
Shirts (5) – It’s important to have a variety of shirts. I brought two short sleeve, two long sleeve, and one dressier top.
Dress – I packed a black sundress. It worked during the day at the hotter destinations but could also be dressed up for an evening out.
Rain jacket – This is an essential item (much like the fleece). Rain is sporadic in South America, so you need to be prepared. I bought this jacket and was really pleased with how well it kept me warm and dry on rainy hikes.
Skirt – I always travel with a long skirt to provide another dressy option.
Shorts – I only brought one pair of shorts because I don’t typically wear shorts. I know others tend to pack two pairs.
Undergarments – I generally bring a week’s worth of underwear and two or three bras, one of which being a sports bra.
Socks (5) – I brought two pairs of hiking socks and three pairs of low-cut socks.
Swimsuit – I knew we wouldn’t have many opportunities to swim, but being able to cool off at the Rosario Islands made carrying a swimsuit worth it.
Scarf – This is one of my most important items when traveling. Scarves have so many useful purposes: a head cover, swimsuit coverup, a shaw, a makeshift skirt for religious buildings. I never travel without one.
Hat – I always travel with a hat. For South America, my hat of choice was a North Face beanie.
Gloves – To be honest, I didn’t think I would need gloves. That changed one early morning in Cusco. We bought gloves before we found our hotel.
Sunglasses – Essential for every trip, regardless of the location.
Jewelry – I keep jewelry to a minimum. I wear one of my simple chain necklaces, stud earrings, and my everyday rings. I love to buy jewelry while traveling, so I know that I’ll have more options before the trip’s end.
Keens – It took me a long time before I decided on a shoe to bring on the trip. I debated hiking boots but ultimately went with the KEEN – Women’s Rose Sandal. They were the perfect shoe for the trip. I have sensitive feet and never had any issues with these shoes.
Tennis shoes – I brought an old pair of tennis shoes for muddy hikes.
Flip-flops – I love flip-flops. They are a necessity when you don’t have private showers, and I like having them to slip on when walking around your hotel.
Sandals – I bring a pair of nicer sandals that can dress up an outfit.
Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash – You can buy travel sizes of each of these items, but I just use refillable containers. I bought these leak proof travel bottles.
Toothpaste and toothbrush – Travel size toothpaste doesn’t take up too much room and can be replaced if you run out.
Deodorant – I recommend the regular size here; the travel size doesn’t last long.
Brush and hair ties – I personally like
Nail clippers – There have been times where I have forgotten to bring clippers, and I always end up buying them.
Q-tips – No need to buy the travel containers; just grab a handful and put them in a small ziplock bag.
Sunscreen – Don’t be deceived by the cool temps. The sun is strong when you’re high up in the mountains.
Bug spray – Keep the bugs at bay.
Razor – You can bring this in your carry-on so don’t worry.
Tylenol, band-aids, and other needed medicine – It’s important to have any medication you need and band-aids for potential blisters.
Tampons or other sanitary items – I think it’s good to bring some from home, but you can alway replenish on the road.
Make-up – I keep things simple with mascara, Burt’s Bees chapstick, and a little eye shadow.
Convertor – For South America, you will encounter different types of outlets, so it’s important to have a converter and adapter kit.
Laptop (and charger) – This may not always be a necessity. For me as a blogger, I need my computer to write and upload photos. I travel with the MacBook Air because of its small size and weight.
Phone (and charger) – My phone has many purposes when I travel. I use it for communication, taking photos when I don’t want to carry my larger camera, GPS, to play music. It’s one of the most important things I pack.
Headphones – I travel with apple earbuds. They are easy to pack and work fine for me.
Kindle (and charger) – I have long been one of those people who carried a stack of books on trips, but for this trip I broke down and bought a kindle, and I loved it. It was light weight and easy to carry in my smaller backpack. It hasn’t been charged since I got back from my trip because I just love the feel of books, but for traveling, I think I’m sold on the ease of the kindle.
Journal and pen – I love the Moleskine Classic Notebook.
Two debit cards and a credit card – Always bring extra ways to access cash in case of an emergency. I had one of my debit cards disappear on an overnight bus (sadly, it was my error), but it was easy to call the bank the cancel when I had another to use as a backup.
$200 in emergency cash – You should always carry a small amount of cash in case of emergency.
Don’t forget to pin for future reference.