Packing List for Central America

This afternoon I will be catching my flight to Central America, thus I have just done my packing.  I’ve never done these types of posts before since I would never want to risk my website looking like a (gasp) blog. However, if I’m being quite honest I’m low on material, lacking the will to write what I have in cue and, well, really excited about my trip to Central America.  You’ll notice that my packing list is extensive, but not overboard.  I think that over three-quarters of the weight of my bags is electronics.  I am leaving my big bag behind in Medellin and packing just my very small light weight Mountain Equipment backpack along with my camera bag (which is starting to get to be too small to pack all my gear). The reason I am leaving my big bag at home is that I’m planning on crossing a part of the Darien Gap and may need to hike several hours.  If you’re interested in where I’m going on this trip you can see my schedule at the bottom of the post.

Pre-packing spread


I’ll admit that when I came down to South America this time I packed far too many clothes, and not exactly travel clothes.  I had been planning on living either in Peru or Argentina and, thus, all my clothes are related to living in the city.  I have lots of collared shirts and blue jeans.  I’m going to leave most of my clothes behind to save room for important stuff like camera lenses and laptops.  Besides, you can wear underwear 4 ways and socks 2 ways before you have to clean them can’t you?

Clothes to be packed

  • 6 shirts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 swim trunk
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 light rain jacket
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 5 pairs of unmentionables
  • 1 pair of running shoes
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 toque (outside of Canada known as a beanie)


I am a digital nomad of sorts.  I need my electronic gear to earn a living.  As such, the greatest value I have placed on items for this trip are my electronics, and electronics related items.

Electronics gear minus the Canon T1i and 18-55mm lens that shot this photo

  • 1 Canon 60d body
  • 1 Canon T1i body (will be my video camera)
  • 1 Canon Point and Shoot camera
  • 1 Canon 70-200mm f/1.8 lens (my baby)
  • 1 Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens (brand new)
  • 1 Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (I hate this lens, but don’t tell it I said that)
  • 1 Really Good Travel Tripod
  • 1 Manfrotto Monopod (for shooting animals… with the camera of course)
  • 1 Camera cleaning set (blower, lens glass cleaner, lint free paper wipes, soft brush)
  • Filters (3 UV filters, 2 Polarizing filters)
  • Zeikos extension tubes for macro photography: 12mm, 20mm, 36mm (also new, I’m excited to play with these)
  • 1 Samsun R440 Laptop with an extra battery
  • 1 320 GB external hard drive
  • Camera bag and cover


I tend to pack very few extras since I can always buy things along the way.  You’ll notice that I don’t pack a first aid kit or anything like that.  Those things are a waste of space in my bag.  When I get off the plane and to Playa del Carmen I’ll head to the grocery store to pick up some ziplock bags (good for storing shampoo/sunscreens/etc but also for protecting camera gear) and duct tape which are invaluable.

My bags and some extras

  • Non-aerosol shaving cream (better for the environment, less likely to explode)
  • Razors
  • Aftershave cream
  • Toothbrush, paste and floss
  • 2 in 1 shampoo conditioner.
  • Pocket knife (after watching 127 hours I always make sure mine is sharp)
  • Sunglasses (not to protect my eyes but to look cool)
  • Sunscreen
  • Money pouch
  • Wallet
  • Book: “Memorias de mis Putas Tristes” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Zip-able leather binder

Am I missing anything you think I should be packing with me? Oh, and here’s my schedule for Central America if interested:

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Hi Brendan. Great blog and interesting to see your planned itinerary for the next few months. That’s a lot of electronic gear to cart around!

    You spend a lot of time in Medellin – is that your base/adopted home?

    I have not been there but it must be specical to lure you there for so long.

    Good luck with your Central American jaunt. Look forward to the forthcoming posts.

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    • Hi Mark. Yeah, Medellin has just become my base for the next couple of months. I love the city not because it’s a big tourist attraction or anything, but because the people are amazing… it really does feel like home. Thanks for your well wished 😀

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  2. It’s just amazing the change in perception of Medellin I’ve seen in my lifetime – actually, perhaps not so much for people who don’t read travel literature/blogs because Spanish TV showed a docu recently centered in the violence – but I read such wonderful things. It’s ok for female solo travelers too you think?

    Looking at all your camera gear is a bit depressing for me, makes me realize why I will never be able to get to the level I’d like to achieve! Apart from the cost I simply don’t think I could carry it all around! One laptop and one Canon SLR was quite enough last time!

    The thing which surprised me, though, was jeans? I’d love to live in jeans if I could, but summertime here in the Canary Is I just find them too warm. Also if I do get wet they absorb moisture and retain it something rotten. So I’m curious, why jeans and not something more lightweight, quicker to dry and with more pockets too?

    Post a Reply
    • @Linda – Yes Medellin has gone through a great transformation over the past 20 years. It has gone from being one of the most dangerous cities in the Americas to one of the most livable. It is absolutely safe for female travellers. They’ll be treated like queens. Most of my camera gear is fairly new, I shot most of my photos with a basic DSLR. The trick to everything photography is shooting in the right light, with the right settings, on a stabilizing device. You can do that on a point and shoot. Yes, I pack a lot of camera equipment, but that’s just me. I wear jeans for the cities. Tourists wear khakis, shorts, etc. In Latin America jeans are the pants of choice. If you’re not wearing jeans, or dress pants, in the city you are automatically seen as a tourist, and increase you chance of being targeted. Besides, you can wear jeans 4-5 times before people notice they’re dirty!

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  3. Seems like the majority of your luggage is electronic. I’m thinking of ditching my old macbook and just run off my wife’s netbook once we begin to travel, that or my own. Only downside is that my hard drive is formatted to my mackbook so I need to find a way to switch it back and not loose everything.

    Is the tripod worth it? I found a dinky thin travel friendly one, only it isn’t very sturdy and I think a large one like yours would be too much to carry.

    Post a Reply
    • @Cornelius – I would go with a netbook if I didn’t need the bigger one. I have a hard time editing photos on the netbook. Otherwise, the netbook is brilliant for travel since you get such great battery life. The tripod is absolutely necessary for me. I couldn’t get 90% of the shots I get without it. It allows me to run long exposures, get sharp images, and even to use as a weapon in case of attack 😉

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  4. OK, one pack? Seriously? You tote a LOT of gear – Got me intrigued though and now I’ll follow just to see if you use it all.

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    • Haha… I really should take a picture to show it all packed shouldn’t I?

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  5. LOL, I love how most of your bag is pretty much digital nomad gear. My bag doesn’t look much different. I carry a 18-250mm & 50mm f/1.8 – that beast 70-200mm f/1.8 is a ‘SERIOUS’ lens!!! I have ‘glass’ envy 😛

    Post a Reply
  6. Wow, 3 cameras!! Hardcore. 🙂

    I used to carry a full tripod, but switched to a heavy-duty GorillaPod.

    I can usually find something to attach/put it on 80% of the time. I miss my full-size tripod occasionally, but not enough to go back.

    Can I offer a suggestion? Skip Manuel Antonio and go to Corcovado instead. 300x better. Way more animals, less people, amazing beaches, a real Costa Rican adventure.

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Matt – Yes, I love Corcovado. I hike through 3 days and it was incredible. The reason I am going to Manuel Antonio is to see a friend I stayed with when I was there. If I have time I’ll try to get back to Corcovado but the sched is already jacked.

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    • fowards, backwards, inside out, and inside out and backwards…. duhhhhh

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    • It’s in my bag now… I didn’t want to pack it, so I just bought some when I got here. It comes with me everywhere.

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  7. I’m curious about the Darien Gap – I’ve only heard scary, scary tales about that place! How are you planning on crossing/hiking it? Solo, with a tour company?

    Post a Reply
    • @Tom – Yes crossing the Darien is very dangerous. I’m planning on cutting some corners by doing a route that only involves minor time in the gap itself and the rest of the time taking little boat trips. Should be interesting.

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  8. Hi Brendan. Thanks for the packing list. It’s really helpful. Although how big is your pack?! That’s a lot of electronics!

    Love that you pack jeans. Everyone seems so against it but I don’t travel without them. And I thought wearing underwear was limited to 2 ways! You’ve opened my eyes! 😉

    I’m heading to South America for a couple of months starting early October. We’ll actually be in Medellin at the same time. Maybe we’ll get a chance to say hi!

    Looking forward to hearing about your plans for the Galapagos. I’ll be there in early December and not quite sure of my plans yet.

    It’ll be great to continue to follow your adventures!

    Post a Reply
  9. Just spent 5 weeks in Nicaragua and hit up all the places on your itinerary. Looking forward to seeing some good pics from you from there!

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  10. Looks like you’re all set! I like how you put your itinerary/calendar at the bottom of the post. Good idea!

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  11. Cool trip coming up man! And no offense, as I’ve done Medellin, but isn’t the Darian Gap still considered ‘dangerous’? I know we can’t buy into all media hype, but from what I understood that was more legitimate than hype.

    Post a Reply
    • @Chris – Thanks man… and yeah, the gap is dangerous. It might sound stupid, but I’ve been feeling a little bit like I need a new challenge… “let’s get it!” 😀

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  12. Good luck and safe travels, I’ll def. watch out for updates!

    Post a Reply

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