Solo female travel expert, focusing on travelling around a 9-5 job, getting the most bang for your buck and soft-adventure experiences.
24th February 2019
PACKING FOR 3 MONTHS IN SOUTH AMERICA
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (however affiliate links may be used, including Amazon Associates, which mean I earn commissions on purchases at no extra cost to you) and all thoughts are my own.
How do I begin packing for 3 months in South America?
If there’s anything that the above two photos prove, it’s that South America is a diverse continent with various landscapes, climates, altitudes and terrains to conquer! Given the variety, packing for 3 months in South America can be very daunting, but do not fear, it’s super easy!
Considering this was my first time packing for a trip longer than 3 months, I think I did pretty damn well! Of course, everyone makes a few errors in their packing (did I actually wear that super pretty dress for Instagram photos? Absolutely not!) so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!
Take your route into consideration carefully – Before using my packing list as your bible, check out my3 month South America itineraryto see what I got up to! If you’re heading to places like Patagonia or doing hikes that require you to bring your own camping equipment, you will of course need to factor this into your packing plans.
The hard and fast rule when it comes to packing for a trip of any length is that you don’t need half as much as you think you do. Make a list of everything that you think you will need, get everything ready to be packed and then re-assess and put half of it away!
Laundry is not an issue in South America. As long as you’re not in the middle of an arduous trek, you will be able to find a launderette on every street corner! What’s better is that all of your laundry will be done for you, dried and neatly folded for just a few dollars.
Make sure that there is some spare space in your bag. While it may be tempting to pack that extra pair of shoes, I can guarantee that you’d rather bring home some souvenirs (no backpacker manages to leave South America without a fake Alpaca wool jumper).
Remember that you can buy items along the way! Unless you have very specific requirements, all toiletries can be purchased as and when you need them. In respect of cheaper items that you only need for a brief period of time, buy them en route and then gift them on to a fellow backpacker – I purchased a woolly hat for my time in the Uyuni Salt Flats but barely wore it, so ended up gifting it to a fellow traveller who was heading to colder climates than me.
Without further ado, here’s everything how I tackled packing for 3 months in South America!
A comfy backpack and daypack – I highly recommend theOsprey Fairview 70 which is a 57L backpack with a detachable 13L daypack. For men, the equivalent is the Osprey Farpoint 70 (both of which are very popular on the backpacking scene – and for good reason)! The best thing about this backpack is that it opens up fully like a suitcase, so you don’t need to stick your arm the entire way into the bag to find the thing you were looking for at the bottom. You’ll be the envy of everyone in the hostel!
Small Cross-Body Bag – When travelling in cities, I preferred to use a small cross-body bag like this one. When travelling between destinations, it slotted nicely into my day-pack and didn’t take up any extra room!
Packing Cubes – Packing cubes will become your BEST friend. This was the first time I had used them and now I won’t travel without them!
Bum-Bag – Okay, a bum-bag (or “fanny-pack” for all the Americans reading this) isn’t the most stylish item you can bring, but it is very handy! I brought mine with safety in mind (i.e. keeping some cash close to me in case of being mugged – which thankfully didn’t happen) but I ended up using it as a place to handily store my camera while hiking!
Clothes – Outerwear
Your choice of outerwear will be fundamental given the range in climates. Packing the wrong outerwear could leave you extremely cold or the complete opposite where you end up carrying around a huge coat that never gets worn.
If you really don’t have enough room in your bag to bring outerwear from home, you can find lots of outdoor clothing stores in places like Cusco (your base for starting the Machu Picchu trek) but be aware of inflated prices.
A good quality rain jacket – It can rain a lot in the Andes, so a good quality rain jacketwill be your saviour (no matter how ugly it may be). Pick something lightweight that will break the wind to keep you warm but be easy to pack away when not needed.
A warm fleece/hoodie – The comfier and warmer, the better. I tried to pick a fleecethat was a bit more stylish so it didn’t feel like I was just wearing ugly hiking gear all the time!
Gloves– Gloves will definitely come in handy on high-altitude hikes where temperatures drop (or if you’re clumsy like me, it will save your hands from scratches and cuts if you fall over…).
Multi-use scarf – I purchased atravel infinity scarfwhich turned out to be a great investment! Not only is it an additional layer to brace the cold with, the secret pocket means you can keep your valuables (phone and credit card etc.) close to you and I used it as a pillow on bus journeys!
Headband – A cute headband is super handy to cover up greasy hair on multi-day hikes where showers are a distant dream!
Sunglasses – While they are the polar opposite of the last few items, make sure you have some quality sunglasses for your trip. And make sure you don’t sit on them and break them within your first week of travelling (speaking from experience here).
Clothes – Bottoms
When it comes to bottoms, variety is key. Bottoms can be hard to layer so you need to be prepared for a multitude of different climates, I survived just fine with the following:
2 x shorts – I packed two pairs of lightweight denim shorts (blue and black) for the warmer climates. If I could do it all again, I would probably swap one pair for a sportier style – cycling around the vineyards of Mendoza in denim shorts wasn’t particularly pleasant!
2 x jeans– I stupidly bought two pairs of jeans with me. In cooler destinations, I lived in my trusty black jeans (the ASOS Rivingtonare my jeans of choice) and the grey pair lived at the bottom of my bag for the entirety of the trip. Unless you’re a jeans lover, only pack one pair!
2 x sports leggings– South America is filled with incredible hikes, so make sure you’ve got at least one comfy pair of leggings. If you’re going to do the 4-day Inca Trail, don’t worry about only having 1-2 pairs, everyone is in the same stinky boat!
1 x thermal leggings – If you’re planning on spending time at high altitudes, it’s advisable to have some thermal leggings to sleep in! These were extremely useful during my Uyuni Salt Flates experience (some of the accommodations were COLD at night)!
1 x lightweight flowy trousers – I am very glad that lightweight flowy trousers seem to be all the rage right now – these are dreamy if you are in a warm destination but want to be a bit more covered up – plus they take up no room in your backpack!
Clothes – Tops
Packing clothes for your top half is much easier. Essentially, you need to pick items that are easy to layer. Don’t bother bringing your favourite jumper as a warmer layer, you’re bound to pick up a “backpacker jumper” whilst on the road!
3 x normal t-shirts – In hindsight, 2 t-shirts would have been fine but female t-shirts tend to be so lightweight an extra one doesn’t hurt! I ordered this ASOS multi-packfor 3 cheap and cheerful t-shirts that I wouldn’t mind damaging/losing.
2 x sports t-shirts – Of course, you need some sports t-shirtsto go with those sports leggings while you’re hiking!
2 x vest tops – The art of layering requires some basic under layers – I recommend thisASOS multi-pack.
1 x long sleeve top– This will come in handy for layering on cooler occasions. While on the Uyuni Salt Flats, I think I wore 5 layers of tops throughout the day so I could adjust as necessary!
4 x lightweight “nicer” tops– So far my packing list has been very very bland. To save my sanity, I chose to pack 4 lightweight nicer tops which I could wear with a whole range of bottoms to feel a bit fancier for dinners/nights out/exploring cities!
Clothes – Other
Now for all the added “extra” bits and bobs I included in my bag while packing for 3 months in South America:
1 x lightweight Summer dress – This is a real necessity in warmer destinations! Pick a lightweight dress that you can both wear in the cities or use as a cover-up on the beach.
1 x playsuit – Here’s where I admit my stupidity. I had visions of being “that girl” who had a change of outfit and wore beautiful clothes for Instagram. I packed a lovely red playsuit that sat at the bottom of my bag for the entire trip because let’s face it, I’m not “that girl”.
14 x underwear – I decided to take 2 weeks’ worth of underwear but I know a lot of girls who travel with a lot less! As already mentioned, laundry facilities in South America are plentiful, so don’t pack too many, it’s just a waste of space.
4 x hiking socks–Hiking socks are a necessity if you plan on doing any walking. No matter how comfy your shoes are, the socks can make a huge difference!
4 x bras (2 normal + 2 sports) – I packed one nude bra, one black bra and 2 sports bras to cover all bases.
1 x bikini – I spent more time in the mountains than by the beaches, so 1 bikini was more than enough for me!
Sleepwear – Take some dedicated pyjamas if you want to… or just use your leggings and normal t-shirts to save space in your bag!
I took a very limited shoe selection. While it was absolutely fine, I would consider packing a pair of lightweight comfy trainers so that walking shoes weren’t my only sensible option!
Walking boots/shoes – I opted for walking shoes rather than boots as I wanted to be able to wear them in cities too. I opted for a super comfy North Face pairwhich I highly recommend! To save room in your bag, always wear these when moving destinations or tie them to the outside of your backpack.
Flip-flops – I picked up a £0.90 pair of flip-flops from Primark which I intended to mainly use in the hostel showers but I ended up living in them for most of my trip! Finding a pair of comfy flip-flops is fundamental!
Sandals – I packed one pair of nice sandals which I intended to use as my everyday shoes in the warmer destinations. Unfortunately, they gave me HUGE blisters on day 2 and I never wore them again!
This is the one section where I probably did over-pack. Luckily all of the items are very small and I didn’t know what to expect from my trip, so wanted to be prepared for all outcomes!
Currency, Debit & Credit Cards – I took some Chilean Pesos for the first leg of my trip alongside a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (I opted for the Santander Zero card) and my normal debit card for backup.
Passport and ID – While your passport is a given requirement, I also took my driver’s license to use as ID without the risk of losing my passport while out and about!
Copy of Documents – Keep a copy of your passport and your travel insurance documents
Torch – This is a necessity on some hikes which require very early starts. Most people opted for a more convenient headlamp, but I found a torch to be just fine!
Water bottle – I bought thisincredible Brita water bottle which filters dirty water before my trip and LOVED it. Unfortunately, a rather violent horse ride saw it fly from my bag and into the wilderness never to be found again.
Travel microfibre towels – Okay, they aren’t the nicest things to dry yourself with but amicrofibre towel is a MUST while travelling. My towel was accidentally taken by another traveller while I was in Chile and I learnt they are a lot harder to find and much more expensive overseas! Take two just in case!
Padlocks – Invest in some good padlocks to keep your bag safe on long bus journeys and also to keep your locker safe in hostels.
Medication – Be sure to bring enough of your normal medication to see you through your journey. as well as some precautionary tablets such as painkillers and Imodium. Check with your doctors to see if you need any other medication for your trip – I brought malaria tablets for my trip to the Amazon Jungle. If you are affected by altitude sickness, it may be worth getting some Diamox before your trip too (I didn’t).
Insect Repellent – Mosquitoes LOVE to bite me, so insect repellent is a must for me!
Electronics are a very personal matter, so take as many or as few that you think you need. As a solo traveller, I tried to keep my “flashy gadgets” to a minimum and opted to take my point-and-shoot camera as opposed to my DSLR. I thought about bringing my kindle but instead downloaded the Kindle app on my phone which worked really well!
Phone + charger + sturdy case
Go-pro camera + charger + spare batteries
Normal camera + charger + spare batteries (the Canon G7X is my weapon of choice)
Various memory cards
Universal plug sockets
Toiletries / Cosmetics
The thing to remember with toiletries is that you can usually find whatever you’re looking for whilst travelling. So unless you have very niche needs or requirements, bring the bare minimum to get you going and then re-stock when necessary.
Lots of tour guides for hikes will tell you that you need to bring toilet paper with you. Don’t bother bringing it all the way from home, stock up when you’re in South America (I tended to just take as much as I think I would need for day hikes from my hotel)!
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I am going on a 3 month South America trip and am so glad I found your website, your posts are super helpful!
I have quite a specific question, I wonder you could help with:
In terms of the backpack you have suggested, did you have any problems with airlines? (I.e. did you have to include it as checked luggage rather than hand luggage?) Also was this the same for domestic flights?
The standard hand luggage seems to be 55x45x25 and this seems to be a little over, so wanted to get your thoughts on this?
We are planning to fly into Colombia and work our way down (opposite way to your itinerary!) and we are looking to do a few internal flights also.
Hi Marie, firstly, I'm so excited for you!!
I checked my bag for every flight, but I didn't mind doing that as I found Latin American airlines to be very efficient overall. I think that I only had to pay a fee for a checked bag once (on a very budget carrier in Chile).
For the most part, I used the bus systems rather than flying, so I would have had to have put my main backpack in the storage anyway as it would take up too much room on my lap on a bus seat!
There are smaller versions of the bag that I had if you want to use it as hand luggage – a guy I met while travelling with had a smaller version but definitely struggled to pack all of his belongings for 4 months of travelling, whereas it was a breeze for me!
I suppose you have to weigh up where you want to "waste" time – potentially struggling to pack your things every time you move to the next destination or taking time to check your bag on flights. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer but I hope that helped somewhat!
Your trip sounded amazinggg!!
Both my partner and I are heading to South America for 3 months, we are going to be doing a lot of hiking through patagonia etc.
Do you believe the backpack you used would be suitable for this? I am very short to so trying to find a bag to suit this…
Thanks very much!
Thanks for the comment!
I met lots of people who had the same backpack as me who visited Patagonia.
I did research Patagonia briefly before swapping it with a trip to Easter Island… I think there are refugios that can store your main bag/any belongings you don't need while you hike. Then you can collect them when you're done – obviously, the lighter your bag is while hiking, the better. This bag is very light and compact (especially the sizes smaller than mine).
It's probably not the most well equipped bag for camping gear (I don't know, I didn't have camping in mind when I was bag shopping) but everyone I met made it work! There are straps the bottom where you can attach a sleeping bag etc.
You need to think about how you can utilise the entire bag, not just the space inside. For example, we would tie our hiking boots to the outside of the bag when not using them to save space in the bag (unless taking a flight where we would have to wear them).
People who had been hiking/camping through Patagonia also had pots/pans/cooking utensils tied to the outside of their bags.
I'm short – yes, if it's the bag that feels most comfortable for you and you want the suitcase style entry – go for it!
Just wanted to start off by saying your website has been SO helpful for me as I’m planning to go to South America next year for 3 months too – so thank you!
Question for you: I think I’m more of a flashpacker, and I was planning on taking a small rolling suitcase (ones you can generally store in overhead lockers on planes) and a backpack (c.25l). I know people generally use larger rucksacks instead but I’ll be doing a west coast cali/ vegas trip beforehand too and feel more comfortable with having a small suitcase. Do you foresee any issues in me doing so?
Not really intending to hike either so let me know what you think!
Hi Maddy! Glad my posts have been useful – there’s plenty more to come!
I don’t see that a rolling suitcase will present any HUGE issues… The main things I would be concerned about are:
1. Hostels rarely have lifts so you’ll be lugging that bag up and down stairs very regularly! I always find a backpack easier for stairs!
2. Bus stations aren’t always in the centre of town, so you can end up walking for a little while. I find a backpack comfier than pulling a3. suitcase but everyone has personal preferences!
3. Hostel lockers come in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes, a hard shell suitcase would be more difficult to squash into a locker than a squishy backpack.
I wouldn’t rule out a suitcase completely – if you’re more comfortable with that option, go for it!
Have the BEST time and feel free to drop me any questions that you have! 🙂