The following is a guest female packing list South America by Rosanna Bird. See all packing list posts here.
I’ve been living with this packing list for a year now, and I plan to continue with it for at least another 6 months. It’s taken me from tropical beaches to glaciers, from high altitude mountain climbing to fancy wining and dining, from woofing to working with the United Nations. It really does cover everything — and everything you will encounter in South America.
** Please note that Rosanna is working and volunteering along the way, so she needs a couple nicer looking things. You could pare down this list and go minimal, but we feel this gives readers a perspective on what to pack for all seasons and situations in one go. **
Clothes and footwear
Include a mix of nicer clothes and old stuff you won’t mind getting dirty or damaged. Depending on how active / sporty you plan to be, choose materials and styles accordingly. At least one outfit should be made of quick-dry material so you’ll have something to wear while you’re trying to dry everything else during a downpour.
Slip on flats
Optional: another pair of flats
Convertible, quick-dry pants
Cargo / tough pants
Comfy pants / pj bottoms
>>Read about the best pants for female travelers.
2 Jumpers / hoodies / cardigans
6 vests / T-shirts
4 long sleeve tops
3 dresses (at least one casual beach dress and one smart evening dress)
6 pairs of socks (at least a couple of thick socks for hiking and warmth)
3 bras (two comfy and easy to wash, one ‘nice’ one)
2 leggings (one pair of thermals, one regular)
Think about the route you’re taking because you’ll be able to buy some things along the way. For example, cheap wool hats and gloves are sold all over the Andes so you could wait until you get to a cold climate before buying. Accessories also make nice souvenirs so don’t go overboard with bringing things from home as you will definitely be picking up more along the way.
Jewelry (2 necklaces, 3 or 4 earrings)
Warm scarf, hat, gloves
Sun hat and glasses
Optional: waterproof trousers
You can get hold of basic toiletries everywhere in South America, although if you want well-known brands you’ll have to pay more. Be prepared with sun lotion which you’ll need not only on the beach but also in high altitude climates where you can burn more easily. For those who wear contact lenses, I’ve found the quality in South America varies a lot and they’re pretty expensive (the cleaning solution also), so try to bring enough pairs to cover your trip and mix and match with glasses to make your supply last longer. Regarding makeup, I find eye liner, mascara, mini eye shadow compact and tinted lip balm is enough. (See our low-key traveler’s beauty kit.)
Basics: shampoo, soap, moisturizer, lip balm, feminine hygiene products
Exfoliating mitt / scrubber (for getting clean after a trek or reducing unsightly dry skin)
Sun lotion (and maybe After Sun)
I can’t stress how important it is to have some basic medicine available at all times (trying to find a pharmacy when you’re sick is neither fun nor easy!). I haven’t been anywhere I needed a tent or sleeping bag that I couldn’t rent them, but if you’re planning on a lot of camping then you could bring your own gear. Lastly, I found the food to be lacking in spice in some places (Argentina and Uruguay especially), so if you like spicy food then bring your own flavourings to add.
Chargers / batteries
Reusable water bottle
Sleeping mask and ear plugs (See our post, What to Pack to Help You Sleep)
Travel clothesline and laundry soap (See our hand washing travel essentials.)
Mini first aid kit
Energy bars (if you’re at all like me and get grumpy when your blood sugar is low)
Optional: sleeping bag, tent, water purification system, mini portable speaker (for nights around a bonfire if no one has a guitar), computer, chili powder or chili flakes
There are a couple of language apps I would recommend for travel in South America. The Spanish-English dictionary by Ascendo Inc Education is quite good considering it’s free. As well as a simple dictionary, it includes useful stock phrases, audio files and verb conjugation tables. Babbel make free apps for Spanish and Portuguese that teach vocabulary through flashcard-style games and listening exercises. Finally, Mind Snacks make entertaining (although not necessarily that educational) vocabulary games which are fun for whiling away overnight bus journeys. You get a few free levels with the option of paying a couple of dollars to upgrade to 50 levels.
What would you add to make this the best female packing list – South America? Add it in the comments below!
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About the author: Born in Spain but brought up in the UK, Rosanna enjoys vivid colours, ghost stories and archaeology. Having spent the last four years in Asia, she is now exploring South America. Follow her on twitter @RosannaBird and her blog Strolling South America.
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Hey good list, I was just wondering how big your backpack is though as this seems A LOT of stuff. I dunno if I could carry so much phew! Also always kindle
I have a 60L pack, but I still have room to spare – I guess my clothes are all pretty small! I rarely fly (only once so far in South America) so I don’t need to worry about being carry-on size. In cold places it’s fine as I just wear everything, but in hot places it’s a little more cumbersome. I end up packing my warm clothes at the bottom of my bag and living out of only the top half. I think that if I was only travelling for a few months I’d cut the clothes down by half, but I’m here working and volunteering too, so I need a little more wardrobe choice 🙂
This is really helpful as I am about to go to S America albeit for a much shorter time. Thank you.
You’re welcome an happy travels!
Hey Rossana! I’m from Chile, and I agree on everything you brought. Great choice!
By the way, did you like it here? 🙂
I loved Chile! I could have spent a whole gap year there because its so diverse from north to south. Where exactly are you from?
I’m glad you enjoyed my packing list 🙂
I love this list!
I am leaving for South America in 3 weeks and have been struggling with packing, but this gives me a great guideline!
You’re very welcome. Have a great time!
Thank you very much for your knowledge Rosanna!!! I’ll be going to Merida Mexico to participate in voluntry wotk, youve given me fantastic tips!! Thank you Jen xxx
I would love to go to Mexico, but I’m not sure I’ll make it on this trip. Have a fantastic time and glad I could help!
I’m going down to Ecuador for study abroad for 16 weeks I’m going to travel around for a few weeks before going home. I do like fashion, and I was wondering if you had tips for sort of compressing or creating a wardrobe snapshot that is functional AND fun for classes and going out with friends as well as backpacking and climbing and hiking?
Sounds like an awesome trip! Our biggest tip for situations like this often involve layering pieces in solid colors that can be dressed up/down with the right accessories. If you have the money, invest in a few key pieces of technical gear… so a nice merino base layer, a good pair of hiking shoes, some quick-drying/smell less shirts, that you can take with you for the big trip, but also fill out with bits and pieces from your normal wardrobe.
Brooke’s advice is great. I would just add that you should think about how much hiking/climbing you plan on doing. If it’s just day trips, then you’ll be able to get by with sneakers and regular clothes. If you’re doing multi-day trips then a couple of specialist pieces like Brook suggests will really make a difference.
I’m from Colombia, and I would recommend JEANS. Bring a nice, dark pair and you can wear them to class or to go out- I find that in South America we’re less prone to wearing skirts and dresses than in the US. That goes for daywear too; I go to college in Washington DC and see that girls there wear skirts and dresses a lot more than I’m used to. A few good quality knit sweaters wiil probably also be useful depending on where you’re going, but nights do tend to get quite chilly! I would also skip the flip-flops (unless you’re staying somewhere with communal showers) as they’ll be a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist!
The one thing I can see missing from this list is a sarong! I don’t leave home without one. Useful for the beach, shade, extra warmth & great to hang up in dorms for some privacy.
Hi There, I will be travelling for 6 months starting in October. What do you recommend for a jacket. I know if can get pretty cold at night and we will be doing some trekking.
Thanks for your help!
A waterproof jacket would be useful but you’ll need waterproof pants too if you’re trekking in really bad weather. You could buy a thick plastic rain poncho and use it when trekking (not ideal, but fine if you’re not doing anything too hardcore). Then you can take a more stylish jacket too. I found that during the coldest nights, wearing lots of layers under a thin jacket worked well. Also, check the weather for the different places you’ll be visiting as the seasons vary greatly depending on where you are.
Hi how much is it in sterling pounds, (so i can get a rough idea) to travel to south America for 7-9 days including:
transport whilst over there ETC
Rebecca Goodwin 🙂
I don’t think you can decide on a travel budget without knowing more details. Where are you flying from and to? Are you traveling alone or sharing expenses with a friend/partner? Which countries do you want to visit and what activities do you plan on doing? I suggest you look at travel planning websites to get an idea of how much your trip would cost you.
Make sure to think about not looking too conspicuous or very american. So nix the North Face jacket for a cheaper one or try to cover up the brands as much as possible. American brands are very expensive in S. America. When I was living in Lima and travelling around there, it was very obvious who the ‘gringos’ were, because they wore nicer things (which makes you a bigger target of getting robbed too), and wore shorts– not sure if that’s not normal in other parts of S. America, but in all the places I went to in Peru, shorts were not worn out by the local people.
Just be observant about how nicely and what the locals wear and don’t wear.
You’re right. Locals often dress quite smartly, and backpackers do stand out with all their hi-tech outdoor gear. But if you are going to be doing lots of outdoor activities, you’ll need it. Just remember that you don’t need to wear it all the time – waterproof trousers in the middle of a city are quite unnecessary! We’ve all seen travelers who insist on wearing shorts and flip-flops all the time. I’ve always assumed it’s because they only packed for warm weather and weren’t prepared for how cold it can get in places like Peru, but I think some locals too are quite traditional/conservative so wearing shorts makes you stand out even if the weather is suited to it.
Good to read this list- it’s helped me confirm I’m mostly planning the right items to take and given me a few tips.
For those who live in the U.K. Lush sell shampoo bars. They’re like small soap bars and I’ve been told can be used for up to 80 washes. They’re really good, have different types for different hair and are so much lighter and far less bulky than using normal shampoo. Plus they’re natural so far better for the environment, particularly as many other countries may not have as good infrastructures. I think they might do conditioner too- I’m about to investigate that!
Seems like A LOT of stuff to pack… Certainly don’t want to carry all of that when backpacking! Also, I wouldn’t EVER recommend bringing jewellery to South America. Leave it at home where it will be safe. I had a necklace ripped right off my neck on a bus in Ecuador by a young child. I also had a friend who’s earrings were ripped out while sight seeing in Bolivia. There is no point to bring jewellery!
Hi Bri – This guest blogger mentioned that this list was for everything, including volunteering/interning (which she also did while in SA). Yes, definitely pare down if you can 🙂
I’m sorry about your, and your friend’s, bad experience of being robbed in South America. I would only ever recommend traveling with cheap, costume jewelry that’s easily replaceable, and even then only wear it where you feel safe. In my experience, I felt safer in most of Bolivia and Ecuador than I do in my hometown, so I made the choice to wear jewelry sometimes and luckilt never had a problem. As travelers we all have to make our own decisions about these things.
Have you been to Chile in April? Anyone know what the weather is like then? I plan to backpack around Santiago, any must-see places you recommend? How much time do you recommend one travels there for? Thanks for this helpful packing list 🙂
Santiago in April is typical spring weather – although it’s fall in this part of the world! – not too hot, not too cold. If you go further south in Chile, the weather will be much colder and wetter. I would definitely recommend a couple of days in Valparaiso, which is not far from Santiago. There’s also a lot of nice countryside around Santiago with small towns and villages to explore. I think you could spend anything from a few days to a few weeks in the area. Have fun!
I’m going to be backpacking South America for 4.5 months beginning May 1. Could you please tell me what type of backpack you used? Also, any recommendations for the hiking shoes? I will be in the beaches or Cartagena down to the ski slopes of Bariloche. I definitely need to be prepared for all types of weather change.
Hi Rosanna, thanks for your list. Love how specific it is and especially love that it’s pretty in line with what was in my mind. I’ve been compiling my gear gradually over the last couple of months and feel like I have spent a small fortune to make sure I’ve covered all my bases. What I was wondering is do I need a warm jacket, like a down jacket? The coldest place I’m going in the salt flats so I thought I may need it for that or for nights at altitude like Cusco etc. I do also have a raincoat, fleece, 2x merino sweaters and 2x merino base layers. I was originally planning on layering up by a friend scared me into getting the down jacket and now I’m questioning my purchase. Plus side it packs down small and can be used as a pillow!! Cheers, Emma
When are you traveling? It does get really cold at high altitude, especially in winter (june, july, aug), but if you’re not planning on spending that long there, I think just layering up will be fine. You might be chilly, but it won’t be for that long. Since you already have the jacket though, you may as well take it (unless you’re really trying to cut down on your packing list).
Hi Rosanna, your list is just great, thanks for it. I just have a question, I am going to travel to Ecuador, Galapagos and Peru for 2 months starting in May. I am still struggeling with shoes, I have proper hiking shoes and sandals on my mind to bring, than wool jumper with another arctic thin hoodie, is this too less or enough or too much? Could you tell me please? 🙂
Thanks a lot, appreciate
plus we think to do lots of hiking, beaches and less cities ….
Actually, within the first week of my trip my slip on ‘smart’ shoes got ruined with mold growth (it’s a long story!) so I ended up with only my hiking shoes and flip flops. I didn’t replace them until six months later and actually could have got by with just the two pairs. If your sandals are supportive enough, I would say for only two months you don’t need any others.
If you’re hiking a lot at high altitude, on multi-day trips, you might want more warm layers because it can be really cold. Maybe another base layer and thermal leggings?
This list has been very helpful! I leave for a 3 month backpacking trip through Ecuador and Peru in 3 weeks.
Because we will be spending quite a bit of time in cities, and our only major trek will be at the end of the trip (Macchu Picchu), I’m wondering if I really need actual hiking/quick dry pants. What do you think? Right now, for pants, I’m planning on taking a pair of jeans, Nike Pro Hyperwarm leggings, and a pair of pants made of Tencel (very comfy and dries fairly quickly).
As long as you have something you could change into in case you get wet during the hike and something clean to wear at the end of the hike, I think you’ll be fine.
Hi Rosanna, I’ll be in South America for 3 weeks over the new year period (Dec/Jan), seeing all the highlights. I’ve been told it will be pretty hot, but what clothes should I bring for Patagonia/Perito Morena Glaciers?
In Rio/Leme, is it safe for a girl to walk alone and explore? Will I get approached even with a hidden money pouch?
Hi Mimi, sounds like you’ll be having a busy three weeks!
It will be nice and warm, but in Patagonia the weather is always unpredictable. If you’re not doing too much hiking, then you won’t need any special clothing; wear layers to combat the wind and changing temperatures (probably won’t get much more that 70F/21C).
In Rio, like any big city, just be careful and stay aware of your surroundings. If you can travel with another person or group, especially at night, that will help. Also, ask your hostel/hotel for advice about specific areas to avoid. They’ll probably be able to give you more up-to-date information about recent crime problems.
Have a good trip!
Thanks for the list – it’s very helpful. I see you didn’t include a money belt, would you reccomend bringing one? I’m spending 3 months backpacking in Ecuador.
Hi Melinda – I personally would recommend a money belt or some sort of secret stash pocket (check out bra stashes, clever travel companion underwear, or even the Speakeasy travel scarf on our site), but every traveler is different 🙂
I find money belts uncomfortable and they never seem to be as ‘concealed’ as I would like. But that’s just me. I just make sure I never take my passport, bank cards etc out with me if I feel it’s too risky. I’ve also been known to hide cash in my socks (!) so as Brooke suggests, some kind of hidden pocket can be really useful.
could you advise what to take in clothes for a tour around South America in november 2015
Thanks for this great post!
I have big troubles deciding if I should bring a sleeping bag. I’ll be traveling in South and Central America for about a year, also doing some volunteering.
Also, should I bring a rain jacket or a soft shell ?
You can almost always rent a sleeping bag on location if you need one, so personally I think a rain jacket is more useful. But it depends how often you’re planning on using your sleeping bag and whether in the long term its cheaper to bring your own. Depending on where you are traveling, it may be warm even at night so I sleeping bag may not be necessary. Or you could take a sleeping bag liner for warmer climates and then use it with a regular sleeping bag if you rent one.
Thanks for the tips! I´m heading to Colombia for a month in a few days and have been struggling to decide what kind of shoes (well clothes in general) to bring to such a diverse climate. I am used to backpacking in South-east Asia, where I usually dress down a lot, but when reading travel blogs on South America I realize that I should probably pack some more “proper-looking” clothes and shoes aswell as a jacket 🙂
This has been a very useful list of travel tips. I’m studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro for 6months, I was wondering if you knew more or less how university students dress like at school? I’ve heard they’re more conservative/dressy-casual. Has anyone (who’s visited or lives there) seen them wear long “beach” type dresses or shorts?
Great list! Thanks so much for sharing, I was really struggling with my own list for the month of August this year as I’m going right across the continent & it seems as if I’ll meet every season possible!
great packing list, thank you and quite similar to mine 🙂
Just wondering if you would recommend to take a light down jacket in addition? And I have a rain jacket on my list as well that I plan to wear when it’s raining (obviously 🙂 ) and when it’s just a bit colder…. Any thoughts?