What to Pack for Backpacking Around South America

What to Pack for Backpacking Around South America

Arriving at Pirwa Inclan B&B in Lima, Peru
Arriving at Pirwa in Lima- Did you remember to pack everything?


We all stress a bit about packing for trips, especially when all you’ve got is a backpack and whatever goes inside needs to last you months. If you’re struggling to compose your packing list, have a look at our recommendations on what you really should keep handy, and what it’s okay to leave behind.

What to Keep on Hand…..

If you’re planning on climbing the snowy peaks of Bolivia or Peru, or perhaps visiting Uyuni Salar, you’ll quickly discover that the sun reflecting off of great expanses of white can really hamper your ability to appreciate the landscape.

Hand Sanitizer or Antibacterial Wipes & Tissue Paper…

All day, every day. Bathrooms are often not stocked with soap and paper, and sometimes the running water’s been shut off as well- think of this as your pre-dining and your bathroom survival kit. Just bring a little so you’re not caught off-guard, and stock up as needed on the road.

Sitting at a Salt Table in Uyuni Salar Salt Flats in Bolivia
Miles of white as far as the eye can see- IF you brought your sunglasses

Seasonally Appropriate Layers…
Peru and Bolivia house dry deserts, coast, humid jungle, cold and windy highlands, and glacial peaks. You can pass through a variety of these climates in a single bus ride! In the highlands, the weather can be very variable, with frigid mornings and late evenings and hot afternoons. During the rainy season, very frequent but short rains further complicate the situation…. Basically, you will want to pack light, but pack variety. Think layers that can be piled on or pulled off as necessity dictates.

Debit Card…
In any of the major cities (with the notable exception of Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca) you’ll be able to stock up on funds along the main streets leading into the central plaza. Think about leaving it in the hostels’ safety lockboxes while not in use!

Reception at Pirwa Colonial Hostel in Cusco, Peru
Checking in at Pirwa Colonial Hostel in Cusco

Money Belt…
Yes it’s stereotypical, but at least we’re not suggesting fanny packs… Some cities are rife with pickpockets looking for cash or small electronics, so electronics and higher-denomination bills can go in inner pockets, documents and your emergency hospital/jail money in your money belt.

Adapters for your Chargers & Gadgets…
The supply voltage in Peru and Bolivia is 220 volts / 60 hertz- be careful not to fry your appliances, make sure your appliance can handle it before use. If not, grab a travel voltage converter before your leave. Most electrical sockets are configured for plugs with two round prongs, but can often accept two flat parallel prongs as well. If you have a three-pronged plug, or one where one of the flat parallel prongs is larger than the other, than your charger isn’t going to fit in the socket. You can bring a plug adapter, or buy one on the road as they aren’t difficult to find.

Things You Can Leave Behind…

Private Double Ensuite in Pirwa Inclan B&B in Miraflores, Lima
Towels provided in Pirwa Inclan’s private rooms- fancy swan formations included


Most hostels do provide towels for private rooms, and some do for shared dormitories as well. When these aren’t provided, they are often offered for rent. If you aren’t sure, check with your hostels prior to traveling to see whether you’ll need this or not.

Camping/Trekking Gear

In the gateway cities, you’ll find many a shop renting tents, sleeping bags, hiking shoes, and the like, so unless you’re a hardcore camper or hiker and want to get the most out of costly equipment you’ve invested in, just grab what you need when you need it rather than lugging all those things around

Water Purification Tablets

No, you shouldn’t drink out of the faucet, but you’ll probably mostly be buying bottled water or just boiling water in the hostel kitchens. On treks, you generally only bring water for the first day and for the following days the guide or cook boils water for everyone’s bottles. Unless you plan on undertaking an independent hiking trip, you can probably strike these from your list.

Altitude warrior on top of Huayna Potosí near La Paz

Altitude Sickness Pills

Most of the soroche, or altitude sickness, pills sold in high-altitude cities like La Paz are actually just aspirin and caffeine intended to counteract the fatigue and headaches of mild altitude sickness. In this case, you’re better of sticking with the old faithfuls, Ibuprofen or Paracetamol.

This isn’t to say that there’s nothing you can take to alleviate or present altitude sickness. If you’re are concerned about an altitude shock, or have a history of acute altitude sickness, go for Acetazolamide or Diamox, but take them starting a few days before your trip. There are lots of non-pharmaceutical things you can do to deal with altitude as well: plan your itinerary around a gradually increasing altitude, avoid alcohol the day before you travel and upon arrival, stay hydrated, plan a restful arrival day, enjoy carb-laden foods, or sample the local remedy of coca tea. Free hot water and coca tea is always laid out in each of our hostels in Cusco for this very reason.


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