What You Should (and Shouldn’t!) Pack for South America

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For anyone interested in planning their own backpacking trip to South America, you might like to have a little read. Before I set off in July I made a post about what to take away with me for three months. You can read the original post here and compare it to my reflections on coming home in this post…

Some things I took with me were incredibly useful. Some not so much. Some things I wished I had a lot more of. And inevitably some things I packed way too much of. Let’s see…

Most Useful

  • My purple shirt. Bought in Primark for about £8 this was my most versatile piece of clothing. Worn with black leggings and sandals it was good for a night out. Layed over a bikini and shorts it was a good cover-up for the beach. A thin material, in the jungle it protected me from bug bites without being too hot. And on hikes it was a great layer to add warmth, as well as having a handy chest pocket for a tissue or two!

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  • Microfibre towels. I took a large body towel and face towel. Both were great, quick drying and foldable to a very small size. Did not smell throughout the three months.
  • A small camera. I took two on my trip, but my smaller one proved most useful. It was great to slip into my handbag and take photos around towns without looking too conspicuous. It also had a great panaroma setting (which I unfortunately didn’t discover until Machu Picchu).
  • Small crossbody handbag. I was glad I packed this. Useful for wandering around cities where you want to blend in more without carrying round your daypack. Doubles up as a night out bag.
  • Battery charger. My battery charger originally came with a solar panel which I left at home. It was great though as it had a USB slot, meaning I could charge up my MP3 player off of it anywhere on the go, just by using the battery power.
  • Blister plasters. You cannot bring enough of these for hikes. Difficult to find in South America.
  • Card reader. Handy for copying photos from my memory cards to hostel computers.
  • Leggings. Great for trekking and general day to day wear. Super comfy for long bus rides.
  • Flip flops. Great for slipping on in a hostel or campsite when you’re tired of your whiffy walking boots.
  • Compression sack. Stored my clothes in this and it saved valuable room in my backpack.

Not So Useful

  • Waterproof over trousers. I took these because I thought they’d be useful on treks and during activities like whitewater rafting in Peru. In the end I never wore them. When it rained on trek I just wore my leggings, which dry very quickly. When it came to whitewater rafting for the first time I realised you actually wear a wetsuit (I had no idea). I could have worn them for ice climbing, but in the end I went with the over trousers offered by the company I did my climb with.
  • First aid kit. Did I really need all that stuff?
  • Lush shampoo bar. Everybody recommends this for travelling but I didn’t get on with it. Found it difficult to wash my hair with and was slightly annoying that you had to leave it to dry out before packing away. I ended up losing mine halfway through my trip and subsequently just bought a bottle of shampoo – didn’t really take up any room and did a much better job.
  • Skirts. Took two with me, a full length floral one and a short black one. Over the course of my travels I wore the maxi skirt maybe twice and the short skirt about the same. Stick to leggings and jeans –  you’ll feel much more comfortable and realise that you can still have fun without looking as dressy as you do at home.
  • Wind-up head torch. Do not buy one if you intend to do hikes in the dark! Used mine for Colca Canyon and ended up having to borrow a team mate’s to be able to see. Definitely recommend a head torch with AAA batteries.
  • Aluminium water bottle. I took this with me for treks but kept topping it up with bottled water. It was only useful in the fact that it kept the water slightly cooler but was bulky and annoying to fit in a bag. No need for it really as you can just as easily refill a cheap plastic bottle and change it every now and again.
  • Microfleece. I only ended up having this for about three weeks as I lost it somewhere between Potosi and Sucre in Bolivia… Yes it was warm, but when I discovered I’d lost it the day before I began a four day high altitude trek in the Cordillera Real I had to make do with my hoody and a llama cardigan I’d bought in La Paz. I survived!

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Wished I’d Had More

  • Tissues. You can never have enough tissues or toilet roll to slip into your pockets when you travel around South America! You’ll understand when you go. There is a distinct lack of toilet roll in most Andean countries and so you will need your own supply.
  • Wet wipes and anti-bac gel. You can’t get enough of this stuff either – especially when camping with no facilities of any kind.
  • Socks. These kinds of things have a habit of mysteriously vanishing when you get your laundry done. Had to re-use pairs of socks more often than I desired on treks.

And Wish I’d Taken Less

  • Moisturiser. Took two small tubs and didn’t even finish one. Your routine changes from day to day and fitting in moisturising is a luxury.
  • Insect repellant. Took three bottles and didn’t finish one.
  • Sunscreen and facial scrub. Should have bought just travel sized versions for the trip. Had more than enough left of both on return.

And there you have it – what to take and what not to take for three months in South America. Just a few realisations upon returning home.

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3 thoughts on “What You Should (and Shouldn’t!) Pack for South America

  1. Great tips! I did not travel with a microfleece base layer and simply bought something cheap in Bolivia (plus knee-high alpaca socks which I still rock at home when it’s cold) when I was getting ready to do the 4-day jeep trip to the Salar de Uyuni.

    • Bolivia was great for cosy clothing! I wear my alpaca socks almost every day now it’s getting on for winter. I also switched to wearing them to hike the Inca Trail – much comfier than my actual walking socks!

  2. Questions, questions, questions!
    I’m leaving for a year-long trip through south america in January. I plan on going as many places as I can so packing seems practically impossible. But after reading a few of these it sounds like clothing packing is practically unnecessary. Bring basics and buy as you go through the different climates.
    BUT, leggings are a definite must. What leggings do you buy? I’ve never found a pair that completely satisfies me.
    And what did your shoe situation look like? I was thinking of just bringing a pair of good boots and a cute/functional pair of sandals. But how do the boots work in rainforest climate?

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