Updated on May 11, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
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.
What to Pack for South America – 17 Essentials
1. Neck Wallet
2. Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger
3. Waterproof Phone Case
4. HERO Packing Cubes
5. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
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 its low cost and efficient.
6. Windproof Umbrella
7. Backpacking Pack
8. World Nomads Travel Insurance
9. Wool Clothing
10. International Power Adapter
12. Walking or Hiking Shoes
13. Sleeping Bag Liner
15. First Aid Kit
17. Quick Dry Towel
Don’t forget these other items for a South America vacation:
Swimsuit Cover Up
Makeup removing wipes
Travel Neck Pillow
SPF lip balm
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Hard Copies of Vital Documents
TSA Approved Travel-Sized Bottles
Over the Counter Medications
Steripod Toothbrush Cover
What to wear in South America
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 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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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?
- Hepatitis A & B
- Yellow Fever (Some countries require this for entry)