Dressing in South America can vary as much as the continent’s geography. Whether you’re trekking to Machu Picchu or window shopping in Cartagena, what to wear ranges based on activity and location.
If you’re hiking, don’t forget your hiking boots. If you are exploring capital cities, do not forget to pack fashionable clothing and accessories.
To help you create a packing list for your South American adventure, we have broken down the continent’s countries into three categories: the ones that require more polished wardrobes; the ones that are more casual and outdoor adventure focused; and the ones in between.
South American countries that tend to require a more polished wardrobe:
While there are no concrete rules for dressing in Colombia, there is a rule of thumb to not stick out from the crowd: do not wear shorts. Men tend to wear trousers and closed-toed shoes, especially at night. Women should consider packing long pants, such as skinny jeans, pretty shirts and sandals (not flip flops), flats or heels. If women do wear shorts, also wear a conservative top.
A polished outfit for women includes nice pants, fashionable tops and practical but pretty shoes. Don’t forget your fashionable accessories like scarves and hats. But leave the expensive, family heirloom jewelry at home.
Other South American countries that tend to be more fashionable than practical are Venezuela and Brazil.
If you’re traveling to Brazil, don’t shy away from packing bold, bright colors and outfits! Brazilians love the beach, and love to wear the tiniest swimsuits. Pack a sarong rather than a beach towel if you are planning to lie on the beach. Also, only tourists swim (something to keep in mind.)
South American countries that are more relaxed and outdoor activities dictate your wardrobe:
If you are venturing to Peru, the home of Machu Picchu, clothing tends to be more casual. One way to make sure you are comfortable in the country is to layer. Locals tend to layer as the weather does vary throughout the day. Mornings tend to heat up to warm days.
Other South American countries that tend to be more casual include Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador (including the Galapagos), Guatemala, Nicaragua and Paraguay.
If you are venturing to South America for specific outdoor excursions, pack the required/recommended adventure gear. For a more specific packing list, check with your tour operator.
The Countries In Between:
Where you are visiting in Argentina dictates what you pack. If you are in Buenos Aires, avoid wearing shorts and opt for more polished looks. If you are visiting the countryside, casual clothing is suitable.
Other countries that fall into this category include Chile, Panama and Uruguay. When you are visiting cities, opt to wear polished outfits while you can wear more casual clothing in the countryside.
- Don’t forget to pack sunscreen! Some of these countries are located close to the equator, and the sun is fierce!
- Don’t leave home without your passport. Make sure you have it handy and ready to show before heading through airport security.
- Pack a light sweater or wrap as some hotels and restaurants really pump the air-conditioning!
- Unfortunately, there is some extreme poverty throughout South America. Try to avoid wearing clothes and shoes with logos and show your wealth. Also, leave expensive jewelry at home and consider wearing a money belt to keep your belongings safe and close to your body.
- Pack using with helpful packing accessories. Plan on buying souvenirs on your trip or are you a heavy packer? Luggage scales are helpful for the prepared traveler to make sure they don’t overpack and incur added luggage costs. Packing cubes are also handy to help compress your items and make more room in your luggage.