Ancient history and modern marvels come together on the continent of South America. It’s a destination where your mornings can be spent exploring ancient ruins, towering waterfalls, and wonders of the world, while your evenings may find you embracing the vibrant cultural rhythms of its cities and dining in world-class restaurants. Spend enough time in South America, and you’ll discover everything from tropical rainforests to colossal glaciers — and amazing photo opportunities at every turn.
The varied terrain can make traveling long distances by car or bus a challenge. So, there is no better way to see the continent than by cruising!
You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for the trip of a lifetime- here are my best tips for planning and packing for South America.
When is the best time to travel to South America?
Because South America is so large, the average temperature and weather can vary considerably from one destination to the next. Still, in general, the best time to visit is from November through March. Seasons in the southern hemisphere occur at different times than in the northern hemisphere, which means this time of year roughly corresponds with the South American summer and autumn.
The further south you travel in South America, the more likely you are to find seasonal climates. In fact, southern Argentina and Chile have more in common with weather patterns in countries like Norway and Sweden than they do with their closer neighbors to the north. If you cruise in January or February you may find temperatures of 75°F to 92°F in Rio, and 60°F to 44°F in Chile.
The important takeaway is this: be prepared for different weather at every stop of your voyage.
What to pack for a South American voyage?
When you cruise to South America, you’ll have opportunities to partake in unforgettable experiences. You can swim in the waters off Patagonia or learn to surf on the beautiful beaches Brazil. If wine is your passion, you’ll find an endless assortment of wineries (complete with tastings, of course). There’s incredible architecture, from beautiful churches to famous film locations, and the mysterious and magnificent Machu Picchu. And if natural wonders call to you, they don’t get any louder than Iguazu Falls- the largest waterfall in the world.
What does this mean for your luggage? It means your best bet is to pack clothing that is light, breathable, and easy to layer — so no matter the temperature or location, you’ll be comfortable.
A lightweight jacket is essential, especially if you’re planning on trekking through national parks or visiting the penguins of Magdalena Island. And since the temperature in some parts of South America can cool off at night — both onboard and on land — consider packing a casual jacket or sweater for warmth.
If exploring is on your itinerary — be it on hiking trails or around South America’s urban centers — you’ll want a quality, temperature-regulating base layer to keep you dry when the weather gets warm. Long sleeves will provide sun protection. Hikers will also want to ensure they bring proper hiking footwear.
Of course, it’s also important that you pack basic travel-friendly clothes for going ashore to visit South American cities and towns. Classic cotton tops are easy to layer up depending on the temperature and your destination. You’ll also want to pack comfortable walking shoes for exploring cities and towns. Be sure to break in new shoes ahead of time.
While it’s easy to take one look at Carnival in Rio and think anything goes when it comes to South-American style, much of the continent — especially outside of the major cities — tends to dress fairly conservatively. It’s worth keeping this in mind when you’re packing.
Finally, while entirely optional, I encourage guests to pack some fancier clothing as well. It’s always fun to dress up for a nice dinner out or onboard, and to get a photo of yourself and your travel companions dressed to the nines for your photo album.