South America is one of the world’s most fantastic regions. Visit the “city at the end of the world” in Patagonia and attend the lively Carnival celebration in Rio de Janeiro. From spectacular landscapes to rich local cultures, this continent has something for every traveler.
With such a wide variety of things to explore, you’ll need a comprehensive South America Packing List like this one. We will also touch on what to wear in South America, what NOT to bring, and other FAQs.
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What to Pack for South America – 17 Essentials
1. Neck Wallet
A neck wallet is an invaluable item to bring with you on your trip to South America. Keep yourself safe from pickpockets and petty theft by wearing this handy neck wallet beneath your clothes when visiting crowded or touristy areas. We love this one because it’s large enough to carry your cell phone, passport, credit cards and more and has several pockets to keep your belongings safe and organized.
Another essential item when traveling to remote locations is a lipstick-sized portable charger. You don’t want to be stuck without a GPS, camera, or ability to call and text if your smartphone runs out of battery at an inopportune moment. This one is compact and reliable, and will easily fit in your daypack, purse, or even pocket.
Though you may not realize it, using a VPN can do wonders to keep your personal information private and secure when traveling. A VPN will keep your passwords, credit card information, and identity safe when you connect to WiFi in public places, such as cafes, airports, and hotels. We prefer to use this one because it’s low cost and efficient.
A continent renowned for fantastic outdoor adventure, a waterproof phone case will certainly come in handy at least once throughout your trip. Whether you’re rafting down the Amazon River or snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands, you’ll want to be sure your smartphone is protected. This one is great because it enables you to use your camera and even take video under water!
Packing cubes are a must-bring on my own backpacking trips. They keep you extremely organized, and make quickly packing and unpacking super easy. These come in a set of three different sizes and a variety of bright colors, and also include a separate laundry pouch, and a shoe bag. I like to use a medium-sized cube for my clothing, and a smaller cube for socks and underwear.
A good windproof umbrella will surely prove invaluable during your time spent in South America. Depending on which season you choose to visit, you may experience significant bouts of rain regardless of which country you’re in. Be prepared to face the elements with this sturdy, windproof travel umbrella.
Depending on your preferred travel style, you’ll need to decide whether you’d prefer a suitcase or backpacking pack. I prefer a backpack when hopping around from place to place because it’s much easier to transport, and saves me time and money in airports (no checked bags!). This one is great because it comes with a separate daypack that clips on and off for your shorter single-day excursions.
Great travel insurance is especially important when going overseas. With unfamiliar terrain and experiences, you’ll want to be sure you’re protected in case of emergency. We always use travel insurance because it can cover the costs of lost luggage, stolen items, flight cancellations and medical emergencies. We find our plans on TravelInsurance.com where you can compare plans from the top companies to find the one that best fits you and your travel plans. You won’t want to travel without it!
Merino wool is the miracle fabric of the traveling world. It keeps you cool when it’s hot out, and warm when it’s cold out. It repels the growth of fungus and bacteria, so it will never stink, which is an invaluable quality in travel clothing! This merino wool pullover is perfect for backpacking in South America.
A universal adapter will undoubtedly come in handy as you make your way through the many countries of South America which use varying outlet styles. My favorite thing about this one is that it has two USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices at once. It also comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee!
Pack your swimsuit and get ready to paddle board off the coast of Chile, raft down the Amazon and swim in all sorts of magical swimming holes. Bring a swimsuit that is suitable for athletic activities as well as beach bumming.
If you’re not wandering around the coastline, getting lost in rainforest, or trekking through salt fields, you’re missing out on the best of South America. Walking shoes are an absolute must for any trip to the region. If you plan on doing a bit of hiking (which you definitely should!) bring some walking and hiking shoes like these.
A great item to pack for a South America trip is a trusty sleeping bag liner or travel sheet. Use it in questionable hostel beds or as an extra layer of warmth inside your actual sleeping bag. These are also excellent for preventing bed bug bites. This one is lightweight so it won’t weigh you down, and you’ll definitely be glad to have it when you need that extra layer of comfort and security.
You absolutely must bring a camera (or a phone with a decent camera feature) on your South American adventure. A GoPro is a great option for shooting video and capturing rugged excursions. A point-and-shoot style camera like this one is great for capturing everything else.
Its smart to keep a small first aid kit with you whenever you travel or do anything outdoors. This will definitely come in handy when you need to take care of things like hiking boot blisters, scrapes, food poisoning, allergies, splinters, and so much more. Pack a small and convenient kit like this one to give you peace of mind and to keep you safe on your journey.
A good headlamp is a true necessity for backpacking trips, and you’ll use it much more often than you think. A headlamp is invaluable for early mornings or late nights in dark hostel rooms, camping, and night hikes. This one is durable and reliable which is perfect for a South American adventure.
A quick dry towel is a must. Regular towels take forever to dry, and if you need to pack up your things and move to your next destination before your towel is dry, you’ll end up with a damp and mildewy backpack. We like this one because it’s compact and dries super fast so you can fold it up and stash it away moments before traveling to your next destination.
South America boasts the full spectrum of landscapes and climates, from snowy mountains to sunny beaches. When deciding what to wear, be mindful of the season in which you’re visiting (remember that seasons are flipped in South America). Be sure to check what the weather will be like in your destination before you go.
Pack clothing that can be layered and repurposed, and try to think in terms of functionality rather than style. Try to blend in by wearing clothes that aren’t too flashy – you don’t want to stand out as a tourist!
What should WOMEN wear in South America? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
What women should wear in South America will depend on the season and weather in the destination. In most scenarios, casual hiking pants, neutral-colored t-shirts, and leggings will be a good bet to keep you comfortable and blending in. Bring quality, multipurpose clothes instead of trying to bring something for every scenario. Don’t forget sunglasses, a packable down jacket, and your swimsuit.
What should MEN wear in South America? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Men should be sure to dress for the season and weather in the destination they’re visiting. Typically, bringing versatile hiking and traveling clothing such as shorts, t-shirts, wool socks, and hiking shoes will be best. Bring plenty of clothes for layering and swimsuits, too!
Packing for the Seasons in South America
Keep in mind that in the southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed. Summer takes place from December to February, and winter from June to August. Also note that the further south you go, the more extreme and fluctuating temperatures you can expect. You will experience milder temperatures the closer you get to the equator throughout the year. Be sure to Check the weather of your destination before you go!
SPRING – September, October, November:
Spring in South America is one of the best times to visit the continent, as temperatures are pleasantly warm and there are fewer crowds of tourists. In regions where it’s relevant, the spring months also constitute dry season, which is ideal for hiking, sightseeing, and viewing a variety of wildlife.
SUMMER – December, January, February:
The summer months in South America are hot and humid throughout the continent. Consider visiting the region’s beaches and coastal cities to help beat the intense heat. Regions nearby the equator will also experience wet season during this time, so if you plan to visit countries like Peru or Ecuador, be prepared with a raincoat and umbrella. Regardless of your destination, be sure to pack plenty of lightweight clothing and use layers to adapt to changing temperatures.
FALL – March, April, May:
Fall in South America is another wonderful time for a visit, as temperatures are mild and you will experience fewer crowds of tourists. This is a great time to visit the larger cities, like Buenos Aires and Santiago, where you will still be comfortable dining outdoors and exploring the abundant rooftop terraces. Bring plenty of lightweight clothing for layering, and prepare for relatively warm days and cooler evenings.
WINTER – June, July, August:
Winter in South America runs from June to August. Temperatures throughout the continent will be mostly mild during the winter months, unless you visit the Andes Mountains, which are popular for skiing and wintertime activities. In high altitude destinations, prepare for cool days and very cold nights. Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes for layering so you can easily adapt to changing temperatures.
How to dress for different activities in South America – (Click to expand)
Hiking and Trekking – Athletic clothing like shorts, leggings, tank tops, and t-shirts are ideal for these activities. Whether you’re doing three days on the Inca trail, or just a day hike through part of the Amazon rainforest, be prepared with broken-in hiking shoes!
Mountain and Rock Climbing – For climbs in Patagonia and other popular tourist destinations, you’ll be able to find tour companies and outfitters that can loan you any technical gear. Bring your own climbing shoes, and plan on borrowing a harness, helmet, crampons, etc.
Sightseeing – Keep it casual with comfortable, neutral-colored clothes or be a bit trendier with a sundress and sandals. Be respectful when visiting religious sites around South America, such as churches and cathedrals, by covering your shoulders and chest with a shawl or light sweater. Consider bringing a long skirt or maxi dress for these occasions, and avoid wearing anything too tight or short!
What NOT to bring to South America
1.DON’T PACK too much stuff
Especially if you plan to backpack through South America, the last thing you’ll want is a bulky, heavy, overstuffed pack to lug around. Bring only the essentials and versatile, multipurpose clothing to ensure you have a comfortable and manageable trip.
2.DON’T BRING extra toiletries
No matter where you’re going, you can usually find the toiletries you need locally. Bring enough soap, toothpaste and other essentials to last you a week, then buy as you go to cut down on weight. We recommend bringing TSA approved travel-sized bottles and refilling them cheaply throughout your trip.
3.DON’T TAKE unnecessary valuables
Leave behind valuable items like expensive jewelry and electronics to avoid making yourself a target for pickpockets. It will also ease your mind knowing that your important things are safe at home.
4.DON’T PACK jeans
Heavy denim clothing and backpacking endeavors do not mix. Jeans are bulky and slow to dry, which is the opposite of what you’ll want to fill the precious space in your backpack or suitcase. Instead, opt for leggings or other lightweight pants; we guarantee you’ll be much happier in the long run!
5.DON’T BRING anything white
Wearing dark-colored, patterned clothing will help disguise the fact that you haven’t done laundry since you landed in Iquitos three weeks ago. You’ll be much better off leaving your white and light-colored clothing at home to avoid having it stained and ruined during your trip.
6.DON’T TAKE multiple books
Save on space and weight by bringing a Kindle. If you must bring a book, walk into a hostel anywhere on the continent once you’re finished and exchange it with a new one for free.
What clothing should I NOT wear in South America? – (Click to expand)
Don’t bring too many changes of clothing. Keep your backpack light by re-wearing your clothes multiple times. Stay away from white clothing and items that wrinkle easily. When hiking, trekking or climbing, wear only synthetic fabrics that dry easily, especially in colder temperatures. Avoid flashy accessories or expensive-looking jewelry that will make you stand out as a tourist.
FAQs about traveling in South America
1. What are the cheapest airports to fly into in South America?
The three cheapest airports to fly into are
Caracas, Venezuela (Simon Bolivar International Airport) *Though given the current political climate we would not recommend flying into Caracas as of 2019
Quito, Ecuador (Mariscal Sucre International Airport)
Lima, Peru (Jorge Chavez International Airport)
2. Which languages are spoken in South America?
Spanish is widely spoken throughout the continent. Portuguese is also quite common as Brazil is the largest country in South America. Some level of English is spoken throughout the majority of countries in South America, though you would be wise to learn some basic phrases in Spanish (and Portuguese if visiting Brazil).
Other native languages and dialects such as Quechua are also spoken regionally throughout the continent.
3. What are the best, safest, and cheapest ways to get around South America?
Although the roads are not in the best condition in most places in South America, there is a huge network of bus routes that can easily take you from country to country or city to city if you have the patience and the time. Busses are by far the cheapest way to get around the continent, though flying is certainly safer and more comfortable. Flying is also the quicker option, though it’s much more expensive.
4. Do I need to get any vaccines before I go?
The following vaccines are typically recommended before visiting South America, though you should always check with your local healthcare provider before traveling:
Hepatitis A & B
Yellow Fever (Some countries require this for entry)