The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Amazon

I have a couple of posts I wanted to direct specifically to people heading down for future volunteer trips with Amazon Cares, since I know there are multiple people reading this who are planning on going to Peru. Please feel free to e-mail me directly with questions if you are considering going! The rest of you, sorry, this might be dull.

Before I headed off to Peru at the start of the month, I really had no idea what to expect. I’m not much of a backpacker or camper so I was starting off from scratch when it came to what to pack. We were sent a general sort of packing list which I used to plan what to bring, but after being there for 2 solid weeks and wishing for certain things and seeing what others had brought, I wanted to provide you with some more specific items that I think will help. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but more of an addendum to the generic lists you might find.

If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have a roomie like Nikka Harvey, who arrived with 5,000 pounds of luggage, 5 scents of hand sanitizer, a bath mat, and a flat iron to help you manage with all the things you didn’t bring. If not, you’re on your own.


Bottoms: I brought 4 pairs of shorts and 1 pair of pants, thinking hey, it’s the Equator and all. In retrospect, 2-3 of each would have worked much better. In Iquitos, shorts are fine, but in the jungle, you get eaten alive by bugs. During the second week I was washing my one pair of pants in the sink every night, leaving them up to dry in the soggy rainforest air, and putting them on wet the next day. Ever been covered in chigger bites? I hadn’t, till now- and they are still bothering me. They are much worse than soggy pants.

Tops: At least 2 lightweight long sleeved shirts. Bring extra scrub tops as well (2 would suffice.) Then a bunch of t-shirts or tank tops. Everyone had at least one decent looking outfit for going out to dinner on one of the nights, so don’t forget to pack at least one ‘normal’ outfit amid all the Jungle Jane stuff from REI.

Shoes: I brought Tevas, some $2 flip flops from Target, and a pair of hiking boots and that was fine. You could get away with sneakers instead of hiking boots. Whatever you bring, make sure you have something you can wear in the shower because trust me, you’re not going to want to go barefoot in some of those shower stalls.

Miscellany that I am really glad I had on hand:

A Camelbak or other lightweight plastic refillable bottle, big enough to hold a day’s water supply.

Granola bars (you can get snacks in Iquitos, but the selection is pretty limited.)

Hand sanitizer- preferably in small containers you can stick in your pockets

Charmin wipes- For the many places with no bathroom tissue, for wiping DEET off your hands in places with no running water, and for dabbing the sweat and grime off your brow after a day of surgery.

DEET. Jungle Juice all the way. I was covered in it and still got demolished, but without it, God only knows how much worse it would have been.

Stuff Other People Had that I Wish I Had Too

PacSafe– not necessary but nice to have. We put passports, ipads and laptops in them while we were out for the day (the ExplorNapo lodge rooms are not lockable when you leave.)

Cocoon sleep sack: Another thing I didn’t have and coveted mightily. Several of the nights were spent in hostels, and while they were clean, you just never know. Plus it’s one more level of cloth between you and the mosquitoes.

Dry bags: The book I brought was so wavy by day 2 it looked like I had dropped it in the tub. The humidity is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. If you’re bringing masses of electronics like I did, this would be really nice to have as it can affect electronics.

Vet Essentials

Headlamp is essential. The ambient light is not sufficient for surgery even at high noon. Bring extra batteries. A small handheld flashlight is also vital for stumbling to the outside bathrooms at 2 am.

If you have suture you like, bring it. We had 0 catgut and vicryl on those massive 1.5 inch needles.

I debated bringing a Plumbs Drug handbook and decided against it. Big mistake. It would have helped a great deal when we were out there with random drugs I wasn’t familiar with.

And my number one, Don’t Panic Item for the Amazon- NOT a towel, which after all of that I didn’t even use! If you want to be the handiest survivor on the trip, don’t forget these:

Ziplocs, in assorted sizes.

  • Small ones to keep your DEET away from your toothbrush
  • Medium ones to keep your appallingly pungent dirty laundry separate from your not-yet-mildewed clean clothing
  • Large ones to sequester your souvenirs in at the end of week one. We all left half of our items at the jungle lodge in Cabo Lopez before heading into the Amazon for Week 2. When we returned, everything that had not been sealed away was mildewed.
  • I happened to find some 2.5 gallon jumbo Ziploc bags right before I left. This became, along with a bag of rice from the kitchen, an emergency dehumidifier when a glass of water ended up on Patrick’s MacBook Pro. ZIPLOCS ARE YOUR TOWEL.

I’ll do another post in the future about the medical supplies, but I wanted to get a packing list essentials for the June trip people. If you have been on a trip and have something to add, please do! Don’t forget you can e-mail me with questions as well!

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Daily Life, Pet Gear Tagged:
  • ProTip for electronics: that crystal cat litter in an old tube sock knotted/sewn shut works just as well as those more expensive desiccant packages you can buy from photography stores to keep your electronics (specifically camera gear) dehumidified in humid places. I did this when I went to Costa Rica last year, and it was great for storing with my camera at night to help dry it out after a daytime rainy rainforest hike. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That is an awesome idea!!!

  • Pants are definitely a must! Aside from the bugs, pants will also protect you from thorns and plants.

  • Petie the Cat

    an excellent post for anyone even considering travelling to Central America on a normal vacation. we learned the hard way too

  • Daisy and I enjoy reading about your adventures in the comfort of our home! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lindsay

    Having spent 3 months camping in Tanzania and 3 months doing research for my MS in the rainforest of Costa Rica, I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Before leaving for Costa Rica, I went to all the retail stores around me and requested that they save any desiccant packages that they received with their shipments. I had two gallon ziplock bags filled after a month or so and used them to keep all my electronic research gear (along with my passport and money) dry the entire time I was in the rainforest.

    I also packed myself a mini first aid kit that included an anti-fungal cream. It’s so humid in the tropics that you can get some funky fungus growing on your skin. The over-the-counter athlete’s foot cream usually took care of it in no time.

    I also made sure to pack all synthetic clothing. It dries MUCH faster than cotton and will still keep you warm if you get wet (nights in the rainforest can get surprisingly cool!) I also only wore close-toed shoes (wellington boots specifically) because of the pit vipers. They can sense the heat of your exposed feet and I didn’t want them to accidentally think my big toe was a small mouse!

    As far as insect control is concerned I am in love with these:
    They work incredibly well and you don’t have to worry about any harmful chemicals (both for you and the environment).

    Sorry this was so long, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned during my travels. =)

  • JaneK

    Travel Smith has some great items. They have some very lightweight pants that would do the trick to keep you covered but not hot. And some nice clothes that are wrinkle free. Sounds weird to say but I wish i were going to be needing these items in the near future…. what an amazing experience

  • Hi Y’all,

    What a great post. Hope it helps everyone planning to go to the rainforest.

    Try the Benadryl spray on those chigger bites. It is not absorbed in the bloodstream like the antihistamine pills. Cortisone cream or spray should help too.

    Hey, if worse comes to worse, go the pet department and buy some of our anti-itch cortisone sprays.

    I feel for you with the itching.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  • If only I had kept my laptop in a large plastic bag that fateful night! Thank you for loaning me the bag so that the rice filled microclimate could suck out the water!