Ultimate Packing Guide for Backpacking Around South America

What to pack for a backpacking trip around South America.

How to choose your clothing

  • Do take old clothes – your clothes will get grubby and worn out. I take clothes that I won’t mind giving away at the end of my trip to make room for souvenirs and gifts


  • Do not take anything white. When you send your clothes to a laundry service your whites will come back grey.


  • Do pack layers – for more options take a vest top, a t-shirt and a long-sleeved top, with a few jumpers that you can layer up according to the temperature.


  • Do not take anything delicate. It will get ruined.


  • Do pack a good rain mac – MooseJaw stock many well-known brands like The North Face, Patagonia, and always have great discounts.
rain mac
My trusty rain mac
  • Do make sure that every top goes with every bottom, so you don’t end up carrying clothes you won’t wear.


  • Do pack things with multiple uses – for example a plain dress that you can wear at the beach and at night if you suddenly need something smart.


  • Do take a sarong – possibly the most useful item that a woman can possess. Lay on it at the beach, wear it as a skirt, use it to cover your shoulders if you go into a church, wear it as a scarf, the list goes on! Airy Mary has a wide collection at good prices.
Playa Ancon Cuba
Me in a sarong at Playa Ancon, Cuba
  • Don’t take pyjamas as you can’t wear them in the day. Take instead clothes that can serve for both like a comfortable t-shirt and leggings.




If you are a hiker, a sturdy pair of boots is a must. MooseJaw have a wide range of options and prices.


Personally I don’t really like hiking, so opt for a springy pair of running trainers that are great for walking all day


Always take flipflops, even if you are not heading to the beach. They are handy to wear around the hostel and you’ll probably want them for the communal bathrooms!




Sun screen, especially important at high altitude


A strong insect repellent (try to get one with DEET) and bite relief cream


Medical kit – don’t rely on always having access to a pharmacy. Think plasters, antiseptic cream, wound dressings etc. Take a stock of medicines you know you use from time to time


Sterile needle kit – if you need medical attention you’ll want to know that the needles are clean. Take your own! Gap Year Travel Store offer a complete kit.


Feminine hygiene products – these are often hard to come by outside of big towns, (I never saw any in 6 weeks in Cuba) so take a stash


Hand sanitiser – for the frequent occasions when soap is not provided


Other useful things


Ear plugs and an eye mask to sleep undisturbed on night buses and in dorms Travel towel – hostels generally charge you to rent a towel, so take your own fast drying towel and save this cost


A torch – to see your way to your dorm bed without turning on the light and disturbing your roommates, and for tiny towns with no street lights


A padlock for your locker. Choose one with a combination rather than a key as the tiny keys are easy to loose.


A money belt to carry your cash, cards and passport out of sight. See my post Staying Safe to find out more about the importance of money belts.


A visa card and a master card, incase one isn’t accepted. For example Mastercard is not accepted in Cuba


One last packing tip:


Put all important medication and a clean pair of underwear in your hand luggage whenever your fly or are separated from your main luggage. At least you’ll have the essentials if your bag goes missing!


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