70 – 80 Litre Rucksack
Invest in a good quality rucksack, you'll need it! The last thing you need is a tear or a problem with the zip when you’re in the middle of a 5 day trek! Having a rucksack with hidden zip pockets always comes in handy too for the likes of your money and passport. Make sure it is either Waterproof or has a Rain-cover - this is an absolute must particularly during raining season which is generally November to February. Pack as light as possible. You will no doubt end up buying clothes and a few souvenirs along the way.
Similar to a Rucksack proper quality and comfort is required. Ensure that the material is Gore-Tex to keep your feet dry, that the boot has good grip and most importantly is comfortable to wear . If the material is not water-resistant, you’re in trouble! Trainers are no use for mountain treks. When I was on the 5 day Salkantay trek in Peru I witnessed other backpackers who wore trainers and it was a disaster for them. Trekking through mountainous terrain and through the muddy jungle in heavy rain wearing trainers probably isn't a smart move. A few of them took heavy falls slipping on wet rocks, constantly fell flat on their face in the mud and spent most of the time limping their way through the trek in wet trainers. Save the trainers for the cities!
A basic medical kit will always come in handy. Also add in anti-biotics, antiseptic cream, Lomotil for diarrhoea, Aspirin for the altitude headaches, oral rehydration salts (Dioralyte) and water purifier tablets for all those treks. However, you can stock up on more antibiotics and diarrhoea tablets in Cusco Peru where walk in pharmacies are scattered throughout the city. The pharmacy I used was directly opposite Jack's Cafe with an address on Choquechaka where the guy spoke perfect English.
Do not take your Malaria medicine unless you are travelling into a designated Malaria zone. So many people take these tablets unnecessarily and suffer bad side-effects, the main one being trouble with sleep . Toiletries, cosmetics, razors, insect repellents etc can all be bought throughout your travels so there is absolutely no need to stock up before you go. Asthmatics be sure to bring your inhalers, particularly when travelling to Bolivia & Peru and in high altitudes. Do not forget to use sun cream in the snow and ice regions, bad sunburn is always a threat in these areas despite the cold. Like myself, be sure to visit your own doctor before you go on your travels to help advise you.
If you plan on travelling all over to sandy beaches, climbing snow capped mountains and traversing through rainforests there are certain necessities you require. Buy a good quality fleece jumper for the cold climates, a few pairs of hiking trousers (Waterproof if possible) and a raincoat/jacket for the occasional downpours & colder regions. T-shirts, hats, jumpers and other bits can all be bought during your travels for cheap so don’t be over-packing. To lighten your load you could invest in a good quality poncho, this will eliminate the need for a rain-jacket and waterproof trousers providing you wont be going near any of the colder regions. Ponchos can be purchased on your travels and are particularly handy on long treks and in the rainforest regions. Flip flops are always good to have on treks to give your feet a break during the evenings.
South America Travel Guide & Phrase Book
I’m personally not a fan of Lonely Planet’s ‘South America on a Shoestring’. It led me into a few major tourist traps and found that it often recommended more expensive hostels & restaurants rather than cheaper ones. Not sure where the whole "Shoestring" part comes in. Generally most backpackers follow this book’s path like the bible. They will only stay at their recommended hostels and only eat at their recommended restaurants. These places are often overcrowded and over-priced. I had the most up to date version but so much of the information was inaccurate, out of date and the maps were wrong. Don’t be afraid to discover and create your own path, so many quality hostels & local restaurants never make their book. If you insist on buying it, like I did, do not buy the book, get it in PDF. The book is heavy and needlessly adds to the weight of your rucksack. Another alternative is Footprints. Also be sure to download some free travel apps before you go such as Tripadvisor, Hostelworld, Booking.com, and especially Maps.ME. Most hostels have Wi-fi and computers, be sure to research your next destination before you move on, it pays off trust me! Buy a pocketsize Spanish phrasebook. You’ll need it for the basics, this doesn’t have to be expensive either. I was rarely seen without my phrasebook in my hand!
This is dependent on your travel plans. If you only plan on camping once or twice dragging camping gear with you around South America is probably not a good idea, however it is a good idea to bring a light sleeping bag with you throughout your travels. It's great to have one when you’re slumming it in a cheap ‘hospedaje’ or when you stay in ‘Refugios’ on treks. Personally I found it to be one of the most important items I brought with me. If you do decide to rent camping equipment like I did in El Chalten, Argentina, be sure to check the quality of EVERYTHING first. The zip on my camp was broken which caused me a few problems with insects and the rain! Check the gear! You can usually rent everything including pots and gas cannisters, just have your own sleeping bag.
It’s best to bring your ATM card and only take out what you need. However, only certain banks accept European & North American ATM cards dependent on your location. If going to remote areas remember to stock up on funds these places normally have no ATMS, don’t be caught out like I was. Stranded, twice, in El Chalten in Argentina and Chile Chico in Chile with no money due to the fact they had no working ATM machines. It is always a good idea to have some US dollars with you, it is accepted everywhere and can always be easily exchanged in any town, especially if you are traveling to Argentina. You can change your US Dollars on the streets of Buenos Aires for example with the 'Blue Dollar'. It offers a far better rate. At the time if I withdrew Argentine Pesos from the ATM I was receiving 8.5 Pesos for 1 Euro. On the Blue Dollar Exchange I received 14 Pesos for 1 Euro. For me its a no brainer, get the better rate! Alternatively, you can always exchange your money at your hostel, where the rate will always be somewhere in between (in my case the rate was 11 Pesos). Just be sure to bring enough CASH with you to Argentina to exchange.