Essentials – Packing List for South America

South Ameria

What do you bring on a season-spanning trip to a continent when your daily outings could be in tropical rainforests, on beaches, climbing ridiculously high mountains or traversing glaciers? Here are our essentials!


  • Packing Cubes. I used 3 packing cubes (similar to these) and rolled everything into them and they slotted perfectly into the backpack. I don’t think I’d travel again without packing cubes; you can fit so much into them and you can pack and unpack them really quickly.
  • Venturesafe Pacsafe 25 litre daypack – we chose this as our day-to-day bag; it was comfortable enough to wear sightseeing every day, strong enough to withstand a 3 day adventure in the torrential rain and humidity of the Colombian jungle and is supposed to be slash-proof (thankfully, I can’t attest to this but that’s actually why we bought it).
  • Water Bottle/Flask. We went with this one from Hydro Flask, great for keeping glacial water cold and boiling water hot (tea time!)
  • Travel Hairdryer. I had to pick one up on our travels. BIG mistake not packing this first day…it warmed me up after many a cold shower!
  • Eye Mask – Papinelle in Australia have the loveliest eye masks made with Liberty of London fabrics (filled with lavender and complete with silk ties which won’t ruin your hair – since you’ll obviously be spending hours straightening your hair whilst backpacking…)
  • Ear Plugs – I’m what I would honestly call an ear-plug connoisseur (can I put that on my CV?) and definitely recommend Ohropax wax earplugs – there’s no noise getting through these babies.
  • Portable Battery Pack – we used this one by Anker, you won’t have electricity everywhere in South America and it’s really handy to be able to charge your phone or camera in your backpack whilst you’re on the go.
  • Universal Adaptor Plug. Non negotiable.
  • Neck Pillow – I brought a velour one with me on this trip (thanks Mum); last time I had one of those blow-up ones which was definitely easier to carry but way less comfy. You need some comforts on this type of trip.
  • Travel Towels – you know those microfiber ones you can pick up Penneys (or Primark or any sports store actually) – they fold up really neatly but get so manky – they’re the one thing you’ll want to get rid of the second you get home!
  • OzForex Travel Card – we used this for currency in a few countries (you can only have a certain number of currencies on it) but we found it had the best currency conversion rates around (from Australia) and all the ATMs we went to accepted it.
  • Ziploc Bags (medium and large size) – probably the most useful thing you could pop in your bag – great for preventing spillages, keeping passports dry, storing coffee beans, keeping wet clothes separate – the list is endless!
  • TSA approved travel locks – we used these as a deterrent more than anything but if you stay in hostels you’ll need them for the lockers provided.
  • A Pen – don’t overlook this one; you’ll need it at every border crossing.
  • Bose Travel Speaker; we used this with our phones and iPad to listen to music and watch movies. Surround sound in a tent baby!!
  • Tea. I brought a box of Harney & Sons Paris Tea along with us and savoured each and every single cup of tea.
  • John’s Aeropress has to be included on this list – I think he used it along with his mini coffee grinder more than he changed his socks. True story.


This isn’t the entire list but the pieces I’ve pulled out over and over again:

  • Rain Jacket – unfortunately this one’s a necessity. We needed these every single day down in Patagonia. John bought a Mac in a Sac on Amazon and mine is from Marmot (a wind-breaker is a great idea).Black Leather Trousers – I couldn’t believe how many times these came out. John doesn’t want to see me wearing them every again but I care not!
  • Jeans – I went with a deep grey pair (only 1 pair of jeans, yes!) and I wore them all the time. Do not travel without jeans, seriously.
  • Hiking Boots – these are not a luxury, particularly in wet season – there are slippery stones and mud all over South America. You’d be crazy not to pack these! Mine were by Merrell and John’s were by the North Face. If I never see mine again I’ll be happy though…yep, don’t think I’ll be getting over all that climbing any time soon…
  • Trainers – good for days you’re not doing a major hike. I brought Nike Lunar Flyknits (like these) and got a lot of wear out of them.
  • Converse – way nicer than wearing your hiking boots or trainers with your jeans, and good if you want to look a bit more dressed up than trainers allow.
  • Havaianas – absolutely essential (for the beach and manky showers alike)
  • Sun Hat.
  • Bikinis – I brought 2 but Colombia is a fantastic (albeit expensive) place to pick up really pretty swimwear.
  • Pashmina/Scarf – great for all modes of transportation (why are aeroplanes always freezing?) I had a light grey one with me but also purchased a warmer scarf in Otavalo, Ecuador and wore that a lot.
  • Yoga Pants – not for morning yoga sessions (way too disorganised) but they’re great for hiking/trekking/keeping warm/relaxing and…sleeping in a tent! I packed 2 pairs.
  • Sports Top – I just brought one but could have used two; especially useful for trekking as they dry really quickly.
  • Sunglasses – not sure it’s necessary to actually mention this but John left his in the car in Ireland so just in case…

First Aid Kit

  • Plasters/Band-Aids
  • Paracetamol
  • Malaria Tablets – we went with Malarone as they’re the only ones that don’t seem to have any after effects. However, we brought a ridiculous amount with us – I don’t know what some doctors are doing recommending malaria tablets for everywhere in South America (our doctor in Dublin did); it’s just not necessary – check out the WHO website for where you actually them.
  • Insect Bite Cream – I’d recommend a proper one instead of just a normal cream – those mozzie bites can be seriously bloody annoying…and scarring.
  • Anti-histamines – as above.
  • Nausea Tablets – boat trips and long bumpy bus journeys. Enough said.
  • Eye Drops – you can get these along the way but it’s always nice to be able to read the packaging in your own language!
  • All Purpose Balm – I used C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve but Lucas Papaw lotion or Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream would be good too.
  • Little Scissors (absolutely indispensable)
  • Tweezers
  • Sun Lotion – SPF 50 – the rays are incredibly strong in this part of the world
  • Bug Spray or Lotion with Deet to keep the mozzies away (OFF! is good as is Nopikex which you can purchase in Colombia)

3 thoughts on “Essentials – Packing List for South America

  1. When I went to South America for a month with a traveling theatre company, my most valuable items were:
    – A bunch of plastic grocery-store bags. Seriously. Stuff them inside shoes to prevent anything from crawling in, and later you can use them to carry or wrap souvenirs.
    – Packets of hot cocoa. We spent most of the time away from large cities where the food all kinda tasted the same, so a little flavor was good every now and then.
    – Sheet of Spanish words and Quechua words. In the Andes, where no one spoke English and some people didn’t even speak Spanish, I became among the most popular in the group because I had gone to the library before the trip and photocopied two pages of basic Quechua words. I memorized them all on the plane so that by the time we got there, I could just pass them around (I became known a “Jacob, where’s the sheet? Who has the sheet? I need the sheet!”) 😉
    – Small toys to give to children and adults. I brought sparkly pencils and mini gel pens, socks, and Mardi Gras beads. The older ladies in the Andes loved wearing the beads, and their kids loved the dollar store socks that I bought in blue and pink, some solids, some striped. One shy little girl, whenever I saw her, would lift the hem of her skirt whenever I saw her to show me that she was still wearing the fluffy pink and black striped socks I gave her. Pink is not a commonly worn color there, and all the girls got so excited at having something pink to wear.
    – Crossword puzzles, for long bus rides.
    – Small bills. I never had any denominations larger than about 10 dollars, which made life so much easier.

    Have fun!


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