Affordable Travel Guide to What to Pack for South America

Weather Extremes Will See You “Sent Packing”

What to Pack for South America

Parts of South America lie in range of the Equator and are purely tropical; others are verging on the Antarctic and are seldom warmer than about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Valleys can be dry, hot and dusty; mountains snowy and cold. Days may be warm and nights quite chilly. The continent is long and in places wide, with terrain from the Andes to desert flats and ocean beaches. So, what does a traveler pack for a junket to South America? It depends where you are going and what style of South American vacation you have chosen.

Each type of travel requires specific attire and equipment, on top of which the geographic location must be taken into account. This study of how to pack for South America tours does not include the obvious basics, such as personal toiletries, bottled water, undergarments (with an exception), cameras, insect spray and whatever prescriptions drugs or vitamins travelers may consume; it is about attire that needs to be in your suitcase to ensure your South America trip is spent in comfort. Here are some examples.

A hiking trek to Machu Picchu or Inca Trail walking tour requires two sets of seasonal clothing, whether the tour is taken in summer or winter:

  • T-shirts and long shorts or trousers  
  • fleece tops
  • waterproof jackets (and pants during the rainy season) • complete long underwear • warm socks • a woolen cap and mittens (a woolen scarf, too)
  • sturdy hiking boots or shoes
  • warm pajamas

Don’t bother with:

  • dresses or skirts (a long skirt might be useful if you are staying at one of the lodges, or taking the train to the site, rather than hiking)
  • dressy shirts and pants

A cruise of the Galapagos Islands involves largely summer clothing, but nights out in the Pacific Ocean islands can be chilly:

  • T-shirts and shorts
  • lightweight slack
  • a swimsuit
  • a sunhat and cover-up, such as a tunic or light cotton long-sleeved shirt
  • comfortable walking shoes
  • a pair of sandals, preferably those that can be worn in water
  • a windbreaker or other jacket with dense weave in the fabric

For on-board attire:

  • upscale casual dress for dinner on the larger boats and ships; a casual shirt or top and trousers for the smaller, more casual vessels
  • for ladies, shawls are always practical and versatile

An ecotour of the Amazon River and rainforest commands limited clothing, protection from sun and ample insect repellent:

  • shorts and T-shirts or tank tops
  • a light-colored, light weight cover-up such as a long-sleeved shirt or wrap
  • depending on where the ecotour goes, sturdy walking shoes and/or submersible sandals; possibly unlined rubber boots
  • a sunhat, preferably fairly wide-brimmed
  • carry cloth (cotton, not linen) handkerchiefs to cope with sweat, or to wear around your neck to protect from the sun
  • lightweight cotton socks
  • lightweight long trousers

Don’t bother with:

  • formal clothing or dressy clothing
  • a lot of jewelry and accessories
  • swimsuits; there are few safe places to swim in this part of South America

Experienced, quality South America tour operators should provide a suitable attire list when vacations are booked; if not, travelers should ask well in advance of departure so that required items may be purchased, cleaned and packed. When loading your suitcase for South America tours consider not just the latitude, but the altitude and topography of where you are going.

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