South America

Your Comprehensive South America Packing Guide

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  19 June 2018

Packing for South America 

Your South America tour is booked, insurance bought, time off work all set up and now all you have to do is pack. Fun! Or is it?! Packing for a whirlwind tour across South America is one of the most daunting aspects of your trip. We totally get it. But with a little help and a lot of inspiration we can make your packing life much, much simpler. No matter where in this grandiose continent you plan to go or what kind of activities you’re dreaming of partaking, our comprehensive South America Packing Guide ought to give you the head start you need to ensure you have all the essentials, minus all the superfluous.

Given the sheer size and diversity of South America, there will always be a few unique essentials that are specific to certain destinations. Our Patagonia Packing List, Amazon Packing Guide and Antarctica Packing Guide, for example, are dedicated guides which, combined with this much broader South American Packing Guide, ensure our guests are well equipped for all eventualities. As most visitors tend to include several highlights on the one trip, it helps to think of packing in terms of overall essentials and specific destination must-haves.

Rio de Janeiro is a must-see

What to pack for South America? 

Here’s all you need to know and the best items to pack (or not) for a rewarding, comfortable and hassle-free South American tour.

How much should I pack? The 3 + 1 rule

Click here to see all amazing destinations of South America.

Whether or not you plan on taking small ship cruise in South America, there’s really no need to go overboard. See what we did there? No matter where you plan to go (and this pertains to any destination in the world) you’ll discover that you’ll invariably lean a preference to about three complete outfits which include undergarments, tops, pants and shoes. Given the abundance of laundry services in hotels all over the continent, this means that most travellers – irrespective of trip length – will mostly rotate only three outfits with the addition of one fancy outfit for a lovely dinner in a nice restaurant, usually worn once a week.

When travelling (especially in a laid-back continent like South America) it simply isn’t all that important to have a new outfit for every day of the week. Given the active essence of all destinations, moreover, you’ll likely stick to comfortable, functional clothing and accessories. To this end, we recommend three full outfits plus one elegant choice with a pair of lovely but flat heels, a warm sweater, one waterproof jacket and a pair of comfortable, well-worn shoes that you’re happy to walk in every day plus a pair of flip-flops or soft ballerinas for lounging about in your hotel.

What can you rent, where?

Explore South America through Vivas website here.

Need a sleeping bag and walking sticks for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, down jacket for an Antarctica cruise or gumboots for an expedition to the Amazon? Don’t pack them…rent them! You’ll be surprised to know there is a lot of specific gear you can rent, on site, for distinct journeys. If your Antarctica cruise, Amazon jungle j aunt or Machu Picchu hike  is only a part of your entire journey, save yourself the hassle (and packing space) and ascertain what you can borrow directly at your destination. Just tell us where you’re going and we’ll advise you on all your rental options.

Choose a soft suitcase, with wheels

Find out where you can travel in South America.

Sure, you need to be able to pull your suitcase around but you also need to fit into small packing spaces (on a boat, private car or train) and negotiate cobblestone streets in South America. Make your life – and that of your guide – much easier by choosing a soft suitcase rather than a rigid one. We can pretty much guarantee that no fancy-pants Samsonite rigid suitcase is a match for the rigours of a whirlwind tour of South America!

Choose neutral colours in soft, stretchy fabrics

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Comfort is essential but so is not standing out too much in a tourist crowd. Keep the colours of your gear neutral and you’ll avoid disastrous laundry mishaps (yep, they happen) and glow-in-the-dark stains. Moreover, we always recommend our guests not pack their most beloved designer clothing item, lest it get lost or ruined. We’re also quite partial to stretchy fabrics, which are super comfy on long drive days, extensive hiking trips and even lounging about.

Pack safe 

Choose your dream destination of South America here.

Safety is paramount when it comes to travel packing and never is this more pertinent than when planning a trip to South America. Leave the jewels at home, keep your camera gear as small and compact as you can, pack a small cross-over bag for daily sightseeing excursions and make sure your gear is packed in separate bags (perhaps packing cubes) so you can unpack in a tidy manner. The great majority of ‘misplaced’ items are simply random ones that get left behind in hotels, so be mindful of tidiness and you’ll have your battle half-won already.

What is good to pack, what’s better to buy at your first point of entry?

Visit South America with Viva Expeditions. 

Insect repellent and sunscreen are notoriously expensive in South America but everything else is not. Start your trip with travel-size toiletries you can easily replenish and don’t forget to pack any script meds you must take, along with sunscreen and mozzie spray.

The wonderful Iguazu Falls

Mind the little things 

Get your best South America experience with Viva. Click here to book your trip.

From emergency sewing kits to over-the-top medical kits, swiss army knives, separate washing bag and lifetime supply of spare batteries…you’ll be surprised to discover just how much space all the little items take up when combined. And do you actually need them all? Hardly ever! Take some ibuprofen for middle-of-the-night headaches, by all means, but all the other stuff can be left at home, especially if you’re planning an organized tour of South America, staying in gorgeous hotels and being guided by an experienced guide. Save the space for souvenirs or extra underwear (the one item you can pack liberally) and pick up whatever incidental you may need, when the time comes.

Research your destination in South America and its climate 

South America travels can see you experience a mind-numbing night-time temp of -20C (across the Bolivian Altiplano) and scorching daytime temps in the high 30sC (summer in Rio de Janeiro) within just a single week of touring, so it’s imperative you know what to expect on your tour so you can make all your packed items multi-functional. Understanding the geographical diversity of South America means realizing the numerous climatic zones you’ll likely encounter and knowing what kind of temperature range you ought to expect.

Whilst you’re researching, you may want to consider a few excellent reads. Leisure gear for afternoon offs are a genius idea and packing a destination-specific book will undoubtedly make your travel experience all the more insightful. Check out the list of our fave Latin America Books to Read.

South America Packing list (H2)

For your packing joy, find your essential packing list below and an easy to print PDF, right here

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Please note that if you’re heading up to the high Andes, visiting Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia, you can easily and inexpensively pick up essentials like alpaca sweaters, gloves and scarfs, saving you packing space from home and doubling up the convenience of your souvenir shopping!

We hope our South America packing guides will help you on your way to your dream adventure.

Need more help? We have plenty of advice on offer! Visit our Viva Expeditions Blog for more fantastic guides, our extensive South America Tours page for travel inspiration and, as always, contact us here for bespoke torus and more personalised tips.


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