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
>>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.
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!
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.