Updated: May 15, 2020
Before heading to SA
I knew absolutely nada about what to bring with me. This lifestyle was totally foreign. I began doing lots of research online, spending hours at REI, and even harassing José on what hiking boots he owned so I could get the same ones, LOL. I couldn’t fathom the idea of taking only the “necessities.” I learned a lot on the road, and most of what you need can be found in the bigger cities. I put this post together to share some insight on my experiences and to help you better prepare for your journey.
Let’s start with a brief on preparation. Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations such as hepatitis a & b, yellow fever, and typhoid. When I was doing my initial research, some people were saying they got lucky and weren’t checked for their yellow fever paper, but I neither wanted to risk that nor risk actually getting yellow fever, since we were going to parts of Colombia where it's very prevalent. The vaccines were expensive, and yellow fever was difficult to come across. But if you can plan enough time in advance, get it over with. Be sure to check which countries require you to have your vaccines.
Depending on what country you’re from, look into the visa situations for each country you plan on traveling to. For example, I needed to go to the Bolivian consulate in my city to get my visa stamped into my passport. They had to keep my passport for a few days as well, so plan accordingly. I also applied for my Brazilian visa online. When you finally receive it via email, PRINT IT OUT. We crossed over by bus from Argentina and they didn’t require it to be printed, but I could’ve possibly just been lucky. If you’re flying in, it’s more likely they’ll want a physical copy. In any case, have it printed and keep all of your files and papers organized in one safe little envelope or wallet.
Now on to my backpack. I had this irrational fear of not being able to store my bag as a carry-on, so I went with an Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack which was supposed to hold my entire life. The backpack is awesome as it comes with a daypack, and totally worked as a carry-on, but 10 months down the road, I’ve only taken it on 4 flights. A round trip from the US and a round trip from the Galápagos Islands. It is no way near big enough for my current lifestyle, and every time I put the over-encumbered beast on my back, I’m in full regret of making my decision based around being able to carry it on flights. For the shorter term traveler, it’s great, but for long term, I’d recommend something bigger with better ergonomics. Decide if you’ll just be carrying it to hostels or if it’s something that you’d be taking on hikes as well. *Please note: This backpack doesn't technically meet airline carry-on requirements as it is a few inches longer than a standard carry-on, but it usually passes through.*
I learned a lot on the road, such as, not to compromise quality because of the price. Quality counts especially when you’re using the same item over and over. This was going to be my first time doing intensive hiking, yet I was so concerned with keeping my outfits cute. I initially considered purchasing a pair of black leather “hiking” boots accompanied by a tiny heel. I ended up going for more heavy duty Timberland hiking boots and I’m so glad I did. Two weeks into the trip, I was enduring the most intense (at the time) 4-day trek to the Lost City in Colombia and I probably would've died with those other boots. Another example would be my Eddie Bauer puff jacket. I wear it so regularly, it's a phenomenon the thing hasn't ripped to shreds already. It's been worn in extreme environments, thrown around, used as a rain cover, and more.
We arrived to Cartagena in April and exited the plane into weather that reminded me of a sauna. A month later, we were hiking up Cotopaxi volcano in the middle of a snowstorm. The weather is drastically different all over SA, and I recommend being prepared for all kinds. The key thing is layers. Being able to add or take layers off is more practical than having one extremely warm jacket that is overkill at times (and that probably takes up too much space anyway). Luckily most major cities here have plenty of hiking stores, but I’m always an advocate on planning ahead because it will be cheaper. Just make sure everything you bring with you is easy to pack and able to roll tightly.
Now for Everything I Actually Carry:
-1 Osprey 55liter Backpack with included daypack that I carry separately.
-1 set of packing cubes (I use 3, different sizes)
-1 rain cover
-Set of bungee cords (compress the backpack, attach anything to the exterior, or bundle items together)
-1 sleeping bag (Degrees depend on the weather you’ll be sleeping in. Note: the warmer the rating, the bigger the rolled bag will be*)
-1 sleeping pad
-1 1.5liter hydration pack
-1 plastic rain poncho (we bought these for 50¢ in Ecuador for the Devil's Cauldron waterfall)
-1 dress for partying with hostel friends
-3 more dresses for photo props (if you can avoid this, do so for weight reasons)
-1 pair of jeans
-1 pair of jean shorts
-1 alpaca scarf (plan for extra space ahead of time if you know you'll be making purchases along the trip!)
-5 crop tank tops (the ones that are always featured in my photos)
-1 bathing suit
-6 comfy underwear
-1 sports bra
-2 pairs of leggings
-2 pairs of Smart Wool socks
-1 pair of hiking pants
-1 pair of gloves (my fingers nearly froze off during many of the treks we did!)
-1 pair of long underwear
-1 pair of Timberland hiking boots
-1 pair of flip flops
-1 pair of comfortable sneakers
-1 Gravel toiletry bag that includes: 3 razors, 2 tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoo, conditioner, leave in conditioner, face wash, mouth wash, floss, deodorant, brush, baby powder (used as dry shampoo), bar soap (cheaper, lasts longer)
-1 Sony a6500 camera
-2 backpack locks
-1 Fanny pack ($4 purchase in Chile)
-Earphones (Have music handy for all the crying children you'll encounter on the bus rides)
-1 pair of Ray-Bans
-Anker external battery (I recommend something higher than 5500mA so it doesn't drain too quickly)
-First aid kit
-Exercise or resistance band
-1 neck Buff
-Instant coffee (way cheaper than coffee shops in Chile, Argentina & Brazil)
Hope this helps you guys prep for your SA trip! I'll end this one with telling you that comfort is everything and less is more! Thanks for reading.