Essentials for South America

While there are many lists to tell you what to bring in terms of clothes, we found that  you could just purchase them on the road. You’ll find distinguished leather items in Buenos Aires, warm woollen jumpers all over Peru and Bolivia, bikinis and beautiful summer clothes in Rio, sun hats at every market no matter where you go, locally made items in Medellín and big brands in Santiago de Chile.

 

We travelled through South America for 2 months and reviewed our packed items almost every time we put the backpacks down. You really want to only carry your essentials when visiting this beautiful continent, but there are also some items you will struggle to find along the way. We have compiled the ultimate list of things you will need to bring to South America.

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Just a funky picture of a store in Santiago de Chile

The ultimate list of essentials you will need in South America 

– a well stocked travel pharmacy. [Disclaimer, we are in no way doctors or medically inclined or educated] Try to get antibiotics, pain killers, something against the common cold etc. Don’t forget to bring some good old vitamins and probiotics, travelling really stresses your body out and we struggled to find any in Brazil when we had run out.

– A washing line (like THIS ONE ) is worth its weight in gold. You can wash and dry a few things even  without having access to / time to do a big wash.

– A block of soap, yes really. Ditch the liquid body wash, bring a large block of soap and it will last you so much longer without weighing you down or causing waste. We also use it for emergency clothes cleaning (at least it improves the smell of things immensely.) This container is super handy!

Sun cream and insect repellent from a brand you know and trust. Not only are those items expensive, depending on where you are, but they also do not seem to work as well as the brands you know from home. Wish we had had our Autan with us!

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Yep, ankles can swell from mosquito bites. Buy the expensive spray!!

Sealable plastic bags (or a more environmentally friendly version) They are so handy for many things, from keeping your clothes save from spills to packing snacks for daytrips. You can buy them on the road, but you’ll obviously end up with a whole pack which is more than what you need.

Keep cups or our beloved STOJO– you’ll do the planet good when you get takeaway drinks and they double as containers for many foods such as oats on the go, minute noodles or soups.


Apple cider vinegar is great for many things, it can be used as a face toner, helps heal sunburns and stops mozzie bites from itching too much. You can also drink it, a lot of people swear by it for heartburn. We eventually found it in Brasil but would have missed it in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia.

Contact lens containers! Flo filled some with lipstick colours to save space (just smash them in there) and one with Vaseline on the one side and cream for burns and cuts on the other side. The empty ones have not been handy just yet but will be when we reach our friends in Europe to replenish the cream stock. (thanks in advance guys 🙂 )

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Lipstick colours and Vaseline in contact lens containers.

Silk sleeping liners will keep you warm but most importantly relatively clean in those less desirable hostels (or when you find yourself camping even though you had not planned on it like we did in Tayronah). We got a Cheap one like this one but the  organic version sounds awesome!

Power banks will charge your phones, do not get a solar powered one because they do not charge quickly enough even when you are hiking all day through the sunshine.  Hopefully technology will pick up but we have not been able to find a good enough one. Electronics are really expensive in South America, the bank we bought in the US was 3 times (!) the price here. This one is super similar to ours.

– A ground mat / super light weight picknick blanket can be used for its obvious tasks but it is also a great help in other situations. We have used it to keep mosquitos out of our hut in the amazon jungle by covering the floor cracks. We have this foldable one.

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Using our ground mat in Central Park, NYC

– Flo loves her stretch band – after long flights or bus rides it helps your muscles to get back to normal and also takes up almost no space or weight.

-a golf ball is a must, after long hikes (or just walking all day in Disneyland) it works wonders on your feet! Just roll it around and feel the relieve.

– a battery powered water steriliser (SteriPEN) this will save you cash and time because you don’t need to go and buy plastic bottles (bad for the environment anyways) but you can drink purified tap water wherever you are. We were super suspicious at first but it really works!

– travel pillows are your best friend on planes so make sure you invest in an awesome one. We love our Cabeau , they seem to be the most expensive ones you can possibly find but have been so worth it.

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Dead after Vegas but the pillows are the best!

– A multi function knife (this one also comes with cutlery!) is a no brainer. You can buy it abroad but if you live in Europe, Australia or America you’ll be better off buying it before you leave. A Spork also comes in handy but is not really a must, it is unfortunately really easy to get plastic cutlery from any restaurant.

– a laminated copy of your passport as well as a simple paper one means that you do not need to carry your most precious possession (OK, maybe it is on par with your phone these days) around but still have it handy.

– Flashlights, travel towels, a foldable day pack, sun hats and sunglasses and adapters for your electronics are obviously a must but can be easily purchased in any of the South American countries we have been to. This portable light bulb has come in very handy for us so far though and we have not find another one.

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We used the bulb in our tent in Colombia

And now the things you should buy on the road:

– if you love good leather shoes and can wait until you get there, spoil yourself with a pair in Buenos Aires. They will cost you quite a bit but will be locally made and sourced and so much better than a big brand version. Brazil’s “Mr Cat” is also locally made and a bit more budget friendly

– get hawaiianas in Brazil (again if you can spare them before) they are much cheaper and we thought the collection was bigger

– get a mosquito net from a market if you head into the jungle, they pack up light and small [and you don’t end up with one that could actually let a bird through, never mind mozzies like we did in the amazon jungle]

– we got our beanies and gloves in Peru, while we knew we needed them our Australian winter gear is not really made for actual winter and it was a fun experience to see the markets. You get to support the locals, you get to wear something that is definitely appropriate for the weather you find yourself in and you get to take home a unique memento to remember your trip by.

We hope this list helps you and we would love to hear from you in the comments!

**Please also note that if you follow any of the links you won’t pay anything extra but if you do decide to buy something we will get a small reward. Yay, we all win 🙂

10 thoughts

    1. Hi there! Awesome to hear, really hope it will make the dreadful task of packing a bit easier! We are working on putting out itinerary on the blog too, we planned it all ourselves (with a friend who is a travel planner but without tour groups or anything) and did it all in just over 2 months. Please reach out for questions we’d love to help ✌💜

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We will have this itinerary: Rio – Iguazu – Buenos Aires – El Calafate – Bariloche – Santiago de Chile – San Pedro de Atacama – Uyuni – La Paz – Puno – Cusco – Machu Picchu – Arequipa – Nazca – Paracas – Ica – Lima. We planned it all ourselves, and we were thinking to make it in 2 months. So if you also reached Colombia too, in 2 months, i’m not worried anymore of not having enough time :))) Where are you now?

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