Latin America is a HUGE region with many different climates and ecosystems that neighbor each other, so we don’t blame you if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of what to pack.
One day you could be sunbathing in Colombia and the next trekking through a rainforest in Peru – with 20 different states and territories, Latin America makes up nearly 13% of the Earth’s total land surface area!
So, how can you pack for such a diverse continent in one backpack? Read on for our top packing tips for your upcoming Latin / South America trip.
What to Pack for a Trip to Latin America
Which Countries Are in Latin America?
Latin America means all of the Portuguese and Spanish speaking nations south of the United States. This region stretches from Mexico, to Argentina, incorporating all of Central and South America, as well as many nations in the Caribbean.
These are the countries that were colonized by Spain or Portugal, and while there are similarities in culture, religion, and colonial architecture, when it comes to their landscapes they couldn’t be more varied.
This makes it somewhat complicated when it comes to packing for a Latin / South America trip if you’re planning to criss cross the continent!
While each country will have their own specific packing advice, the following is a general guide for everything you’ll need if you’re thoroughly exploring the region, and not just sticking within the borders of a single country.
Clothing – Think Layers
When packing for a trip to Latin America think function rather than style. Don’t try to dress in the latest fashion just to look good in photos, instead, think light, multifunctional layers.
Sports wear is a must when travelling through South America – shorts/leggings and light cotton t-shirts will be your go-to. Remember to always pack layers in your day bag though.
A roll-up raincoat and light, long-sleeve layers are things that are always good to have to hand. With changing altitudes and unpredictable weather these are a savior on so many occasions.
Another top tip for packing for a long trip is not to attempt to pack new clothes for each day. Remember that there will be a laundry service in most hotels/hostels that you can make use of for a small charge.
Try to pack for about one week, then at the end of the week you can have your clothes washed and ready to wear again.
Footwear for Latin America
Just like with clothing, you need to pack shoes for various circumstances. Although you may wear heels every day at home, forget about them when it comes to packing for your trip to Latin America.
Comfortable sandals are a must for long days on your feet walking around cities and markets. Evening wear is generally pretty casual too in South America so flats are always acceptable whether it be day or night.
Of course you shouldn’t forget hiking boots or good runners. Even if you are not the hiking type, a trip to Latin America won’t be complete without some form of walking, whether this is a day trip to Machu Picchu, or some full on Andes climbing.
There are various Peru luxury tours and day trips available which culminate atop Machu Picchu, for example, and even if you opt to take the bus up the mountain, there is still some uphill walking involved inside the ruins to get to the beautiful viewpoints.
The third and final pair of shoes you should also be sure to pack are flip-flops. They are lightweight and take up very little space, so flip-flops are a must for days spent relaxing at one of South America’s many stunning beaches.
Gadgets & Electronics
You’re going to want to record your adventures athrough this breathtaking continent so make sure to pack some good quality equipment.
Sure, your smartphone camera is certainly good enough quality to capture the day-to-day life of South America as you ramble through cities and markets but for the more adventurous type this just won’t cut it.
A Go-Pro durable, waterproof camera is a must, and a pre-loaded smart tablet can be great for traveling light and not needing a laptop; download your favorite books to save unnecessarily weighing yourself down with heavy hard-backs.
If you haven’t already planned out every aspect of your trip, tablets can be used to book tours and plan your next stop. Most hotels will provide free wifi and if not, there is sure to be a cafe nearby where you can use your device online.
Explore the wide array of luxury South America tours available to get an idea of popular routes and must-see tourist attractions if you’re still unsure of where to stop next.
Don’t forget to check what type of power adapters you need in order to charge them up in the evenings. A small pre-charged power bank is also very useful to have in your day bag in case your phone or camera dies while you are out and about.
Toiletries for Latin America
If you’re not fussy you’ll be able to buy shampoo, conditioner, shower gel etc. in any local supermarket in South America, though if you’re visiting parts of the Caribbean, like Cuba for instance, toiletries and Western brands may be in short supply.
If you prefer to stick with familiar Western brands, we advise you take them with you as they are much more expensive and can be difficult to get hold of in Latin America.
Areas in or near the jungle are (as is to be expected) plagued with bugs and mosquitos. You’ll want to try to avoid being bitten of course, so be sure to come prepared with strong DEET repellent.
Sunscreen is also an essential when it comes to packing for South America, and you can actually buy suncreen loaded with DEET. It’s so important to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days in Latin America as you are more likely to burn at higher altitudes.
If traveling through high altitudes you should be keenly aware of altitude sickness, and the dangers of not properly acclimatizing. This is a potentially serious disease, though is preventable with proper acclimatization.
It’s also a good idea to stock up on Travelan to avoid Travellers’ Diarrhoea while you’re overseas – an all natural, gluten free prevention.