To be clear, this is not a first-time cruiser packing guide but the ultimate packing list for those embarking on a South American Cruise around Cape Horn. For many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And like anything you’ve never done before you are starting at a disadvantage. Sure, you can research the heck out of it and you should. But no matter how much you study the destinations you will be visiting on the cruise you will likely be stumped on how to effectively pack for every situation you will encounter. And there are many considerations.
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In order to prepare you for this adventure, I will highlight the most important conditions you can expect and the situations you should consider when packing for your South American Cruise around the Horn. If you want more details I’ve written about that too. At the end of this post, you will have the opportunity to receive a FREE printable cruise packing list you can use as a guide for your upcoming cruise around the Horn of South America.
So, there are no unrealistic expectations of what you will find in the following paragraphs, I should make it clear that this is not going to be a guide to an Instagrammable wardrobe. This packing list for your South America and Cape Horn cruise is a practical how-to.
Sure, you will still look cute for photos but I’m not going to tell you to pack flowy dresses you will wear once. No cutesy hats. You won’t be packing 15 pairs of shoes or different sunglasses for every day. But we’re Gen Xers, so we probably aren’t that concerned with the Insta-worthy shots. Ah, the beauty of not being so young!!
Know what to expect before embarking. Read my guide to preparing for your South American and Cape Horn cruise.
Things to Know Before Packing for Your South American Cruise Around Cape Horn
Probably the most important thing you should know is that most South American Cruises are scheduled for the southern hemisphere’s summer month, beginning in November through early March. This makes a South American cruise ideal for those of us in the Northern hemisphere looking to escape the cold winter weather.
However, despite it being summer in South America you are going to need some winter attire because it gets quite chilly at the “End of the World.” But no worries, it won’t be cold the entire time. On this cruise, you get to experience all four seasons over the course of your sailing. You should expect the daytime South America temperature to range from the upper 80s and 90s in Buenos Aires and as low as the 30s when sailing through the Strait of Magellan.
This being the situation, you are going to need everything from swimsuits, sunscreen, and sandals to hats, scarves, and mittens.
Most South American Cruises around the Horn are 10-days to 2-weeks in duration. On a cruise of this length, you can expect two formal nights. This means you will need two outfits that fit the occasion. But formal nights are nowhere near as buttoned-up as it once was when sailing. This is good news in terms of packing.
Excursions in the ports of call range from city walks involving museums and cultural sites to trekking on glaciers and kayaking. Expect to do walking in a variety of conditions including uneven cobblestone streets and hiking trails. But don’t fret. One good sturdy pair of walking shoes will do the job for most conditions.
Packing Light for a Cruise Around Cape Horn and the Chilean Fjords
One challenge I have found when packing for any cruise is they often depart from cooler climates to a warmer destination. On this cruise you can expect just the opposite, you’ll go from warm to cold and back to warm again. These weather extremes make packing for a Cape Horn cruise especially difficult. No worries as I’m here to help. But let me be candid: you will likely need something larger than a carry-on. And if you don’t, then you should be writing this post.
The key to packing light for a cruise is layering and clothes that do double-duty. That means packing sleeveless or short sleeve knit tops. They are great for warm days and can act as a base-layer when you arrive at those cooler destinations. Plus, if you have the right pieces you can dress them up for dressier occasions like dinner in the main dining room or the club at night. Also, typically, they are packable and require little or no ironing. If they do need some attention, usually hanging them in the bathroom while showering will steam out most of the wrinkles. If you need more, a spritz with a bit of Downy Wrinkle reducer.
I recommend packing skirts rather than shorts as they are super versatile. Wear them instead of shorts on hot days then pair them with leggings on cold days on land and nights on the ship. The right skirt will take you from day to night and even double as formal attire. Pair a black skirt with a simple top and pretty accessories to dress it up for the evening. (More about accessorizing in a moment.)
While the picture below was not taken on a cruise this is something I might pack for a South American cruise. It’s a simple blouse that takes up almost no space in the suitcase, a plain black skirt that I can wear day or night, and black leggings underneath. Really, all of these items can do double duty and that’s key. Obviously, the skirt and the leggings can be worn independently giving you more options.
My second trick for minimizing the weight of my luggage is choosing neutral colors so you can mix and match. I try to stick to grey, black, white, and tan bottoms. But if you are like me, you probably like to have a splash of color too. I typically bring colorful accessories and choose brightly colored tops and cardigans.
I love cardigans because they add warmth and can usually be casual or dressy. Take a style tip from Audrey Hepburn, pair a classic cardigan with pearls and you can’t go wrong. Below are a bunch of options. One should fit your style.
Pack a couple of scarves/pashmina. One to wear around your neck on those cold days (mornings in particular) and as a sarong over your swimsuit. Another to throw it over your shoulders on a formal night.
Don’t miss my tips for packing like a pro.
What to Wear on a South America and Cape Horn Cruise in the Evening
Another challenge often encountered when packing for a Cape Horn cruise, but especially the longer ones is preparing for formal nights. If you are anything like me, it’s not so much about dressing up for dinner and photos as it is packing and lugging formal attire.
After, seven cruises I can say I have gotten better about this. And fortunately, formal wear doesn’t necessarily mean evening gowns and tuxes anymore (unless you are on a high-end luxury cruise). This helps a lot. These days you can pack a smart black skirt and a black sheath dress. With the right coordinating pieces and accessories, you’re ready for the two formal nights on these longer cruises.
I only bring a few pieces of jewelry on a cruise. A string of pearls and earrings are so elegant and can dress up any outfit. I also pack a 36 to 40-inch beaded necklace along with a shortener enhancer clasp so I can twist and shorten the strands.
For a less formal evening, pair a skirt with a simple top and pretty accessories to dress it up. This will easily take you from dinner to a show or dancing and the casino.
What to Wear During the Day on a Cape Horn Cruise
For the first few days of your Cape Horn cruise, you won’t need much more than your swimsuit, a hat to shield your face from the sun, and some sunscreen during your at-sea days. For shore excursions, you are going to want to dress appropriately for the activity you have planned. Using my packing list for South America you will have options that work for any excursion.
Capris and skirts typically make more sense than shorts with respect to packing light since they tend to be more versatile. One of the benefits of capris and skirts is they can often be dressed up a bit more than shorts. Of course, skirts and capris may not be practical for all excursions so you will need to consider this. For those ports of call, shorts, jeans, leggings, and yoga pants are a better bet.
For warm days and excursions pack a few tank tops or tees. For colder days on board and on land you will need to layer and you’re going to need to pack a few winter weather items. More on that next.
What to Pack for Cold Weather Around the Horn
I’ve already told you that you are going to have some cold days. You will need to pack for this. And as much as you will be tempted, try to avoid packing bulky clothes. Be sure to have wool socks (I like Woolie Boolie or Smart Wool), gloves or mittens, hat and/or ear warmers, and for a base layer, under other clothes, I like Cuddl Duds. They are thin, extremely packable, and warm when worn with a warmer second layer. Also, because they are thick enough not to be see-through, you can get away with wearing them as a top with yoga pants on transitional days. Another option is a long-sleeved yoga shirt.
Since you will be packing legging, there is no need to pack an extra base-layer for under long pants. Wear your leggings under your jeans or yoga pants to give you a touch of warmth.
I’ve already suggested packing cardigan sweaters. You are going to need them when you make your way around the Horn and even in Ushuaia. If you want to save the cardigan for evenings, then you may want to pack a fleece, a sweatshirt, or a pullover sweater. This really depends upon your aesthetic and space in your suitcase.
Finally, you are going to need a jacket of some kind. I’m a fan of puffer jackets that can be rolled up and packed without taking up much space. But you are going to want to make sure that your jacket is warm and will block the cold wind. It gets quite chilly standing out on deck as you travel around the Horn and through the Chilean Fjords. Of course, there is nothing saying you must stand outside but for me, it was part of the experience.
What Shoes Should I Pack for My South America Cruise?
This is something I always struggle with but don’t go crazy with shoes. At most, you will need four pairs and you will be wearing one of them.
Wear a pair of sneakers. You will want them for excursions and by wearing them you will not be using up valuable space in your luggage. Although this is a Patagonian cruise, you will not be doing serious hiking unless you are on a true adventure cruise, so there is no need to pack them.
For the warmer weather, on deck, and even dinner, I recommend a slide-on sandal with a low or wedge heel. I find them to be versatile and comfortable. You can wear them with dresses, shorts, pants, and swimwear. Also, if you have the right brand, you can wear them for sightseeing. I like Aerosoles.
As for dressier shoes, the ballet flats are probably more practical but I like to have a pair of shoes with heels. While Ballet flats can be dressed up but I like a pair of heels for formal nights. They just make me feel more put together.
What to Pack in Your Cruise Carry-on bag.
If you are coming from the Northern Hemisphere you have probably endured a long flight and will want to have the ability to clean up a bit when you get on board. After boarding the ship, it could be several hours before your luggage arrives at your cabin. Typically, it gets to your cabin by 8 P.M. But you will definitely want to pack a small bag that will go to your stateroom with you when you arrive.
For a carry-on, I suggest a small backpack. It is something that you can use throughout your trip. It can be used to tote camera equipment on excursions. And, it’s also handy for carrying the layers of clothing you strip off as the day wears on and the temperatures rise.
Your carry-on luggage list should be short. You don’t need a lot in your bag but you will want some basic toiletries such as deodorant as well as a toothbrush and paste to freshen up. Don’t bother with soaps and shampoos. You will have those in your stateroom. As women, we usually have some form of cosmetics we don’t go out without. For me that is mascara. If you have one of those items, toss it in your bag. It won’t take much space. If you absolutely must have some color try something compact like Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Origin All Aglow Lip & Cheek Stick.
It should be hot when you arrive and you may want to have your swimsuit and a cover-up. Dinner that first night will be casual. Many people opt for the buffet, therefore there is no need for any special attire. Even if you choose the main dining room you are not expected to dress up. Maybe pack a clean shirt and shorts or a skirt.
If you have brought any valuables such as laptops, cameras, or jewelry you want to be sure to carry it on to the ship.
Also, be sure to have any medication you may need. On rare occasions, luggage gets misplaced and doesn’t find its way to your stateroom until the following day. I’ve personally never had this experience but I’ve heard of it happening.
What Not to Pack for a South America and Cape Horn Cruise
Avoid packing a lot of valuable jewelry. It’s just something to worry about losing or having stolen. Also, if you do bring jewelry of value, you may want to consider only wearing it on the ship. I was warned about the security of the gold necklace I had around my neck during a walking tour of Valparaiso’s Street Art.
Don’t pack your hiking boots. You won’t need them unless you are doing pre-or post-trip activities where they are necessary. The excursions in port are not significant enough to warrant them. Sneakers will be just fine. If you do have activities planned that will require them, I recommend wearing them so they do not take up valuable real estate in your luggage.
Also, there is no need to pack gear for excursions such as waterproof clothing for kayaking or spikes for walking on glaciers. Necessary, activity-specific gear will be provided by your tour operator.
A final note about packing for your South American cruise adventure: don’t forget you have laundry service available to you on the ship. However, you may want to avoid it as much as possible as it can get costly. However, there is usually one or two days when the cruise line offers a special deal for laundry service. Typically, it is a flat rate for as much as you can stuff in a bag. This is when you will want to use it. And, although dry cleaning service is available to you as well, try to pack clothes that will not require pressing. Knits are typically the best for this.
Because so many of the clothes on this list can do double-duty, you will find that following this South American Cruise Packing guide will give you plenty of flexibility.