Updated December 7th, 2020.
Fancy a tipple? Head to one of the local watering holes and sample a few South American drinks. From spirits so strong that they’ll make your eyes water to the world’s finest coffee, this continent has something for you.
After bringing you our favourite street foods in South America, we decided we couldn’t stop there. After all, what is the ultimate compliment to a good meal? A nice drink to wash it down with of course! Here are our favourite drinks in South America, broken down into alcoholic and non-alcoholic to make it easier for you to find your drink of choice!
Best South American Drinks
South American Cocktails
1. Singani Chuflay
The Chuflay cocktail is made from Bolivia’s national liquor Singani. This liquor has to be made with grapes from elevations above 1600 m.a.s.l, making it an official altitude product. Singani Chuflay is traditionally served in a tall glass and is affordable to buy in bars around the country. Singani Chuflay is easy to make at home too.
Put ice cubes, a slice of lemon and a shot of Singani into a glass. Top up with ginger ale or Sprite for a sweeter taste. We learnt to make this cocktail during a cooking class with La Boca del Sapo in Sucre. Off to Bolivia? Check out our guide for Bolivia guide backpackers!
2. Pisco Sour
Invented in Lima in the early 1900s (though don’t mention this to Chillenos, it’s a sore spot) this cocktail is now found all over Chile and Peru. The Pisco Sour has been christened the national drink of both Peru and Chile but there is an ongoing feud over ownership of the Pisco liquor base. It’s now so popular that both countries have their own National Pisco Sour Day, 8th February in Chile and the first Saturday of every February in Peru. The drink is made of Pisco with the sour part coming lemon juice, syrup and in Peru, egg whites. Trust me, it’s nicer than it sounds!
There are plenty of variations of the Pisco Sour, the most delicious of which is the Passionfruit Sour. To learn how to make this cocktail under the guidance of a talented chef, why not enrol in one of Peru’s top cooking classes? This session ran by Cusco Culinary will teach you how to make Passionfruit Sour and ceviche, Peru’s national dish! Book your cooking class here. Read more about backpacking Peru!
3. Fernet and Coke
Fernet is an aromatic spirit made from distilling Italian grapes. It tastes a little bit like Jägermeister but more bitter. It’s usually paired with Coca Cola, just ask for a ‘fernet con coca’ if you are in a bar. According to travellers, the first time you drink it, you’ll hate it. The second time, it’s better and by the third time, it’ll be your drink of choice! Although fernet is actually European, the Argentinians have adopted it as their own and it is consumed three times as much as in Italy. It is one of the easiest cocktails to make, just combine one part fernet with one part Coca Cola and serve with ice. Easy! Check out this guide to backpacking Argentina!
Translating to ‘very hot’ or ‘big hot one,’ this Brazilian cocktail is served, you guessed it, hot. Quentão is made from red apples, fresh ginger, cloves, cinnamon, sugar, water and cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane alcohol similar to rum). To make this cocktail, first caramelise the ginger, apples and sugar before combining with the cloves and cinnamon. All the ingredients are then boiled slowly.
The drink is traditionally served in ceramic mugs and garnished with the peel of an orange or lemon. Sometimes the cachaça is replaced with red wine, giving the drink a taste similar to that of mulled wine. It is very popular in the south of Brazil and consumed most often during winter. Check out our Brazil Backpacking Guide.
Translating to ‘earthquake,’ it is fair to say that this South American cocktail will leave you feeling a bit shaky, especially after one too many! The drink is a mix of Fernet Branca, pineapple sorbet/ice cream and Pipeño (a kind of fermented sweet white wine). It has a unique and sweet taste. Aside from Pisco, it is probably the drink that Chile is most famous for and is easily found at most bars across the country.
Although Terremoto is consumed all year, it is most popular around the Fiestas Patrias, the celebration which marks Chile’s independence from Spain. To make a Terremoto, grab a litre glass and fill with Pipeño nearly to the top. Add a shot of Fernet Branca before topping off with a scoop of pineapple ice cream. Now get ready to hold on for dear life… Heading to Chile? Take a look at our backpacking guide.
This is another Brazilian cocktail which is made using cachaça. In Portuguese, batida literally means milkshake or shaken so it will come as no surprise that this cocktail is blended or shaken with ice. Batida is made with cachaça, coconut milk or fruit juice (passionfruit is popular) and sugar. Sometimes sour cream or condensed milk is added.
Although popular in Brazil, this cocktail is not yet widely consumed out of the country. If you want to make it at home but don’t have any cachaça, substitute for vodka. To make, combine 2 parts cachaça, 1 part fruit juice (or coconut milk) and 1 tablespoon of sugar, a handful of ice cubes in a blender. Serve in a tall glass.
This hot alcoholic drink is a mix of agua de canela (water boiled with cinnamon), sugar/panela and the spirit aguardiente. Aguardiente is made from distilling fruits or sugar cane and can be anything from 28% to throat-numbing 60%. A few shots of this would earn you big respect from heavy drinking locals. Trust me it can burn!
Canelazo has long been consumed in the Andes in both Colombia and Ecuador. This is because it is served hot and it helps to keep the locals warm high in the mountains. This drink is a must for a cold weekend in the Andes and is the perfect cure for a sleepless night from altitude sickness. Don’t drink too much though, alcohol can have some nasty effects at altitude!
Brew up a Canelazo cocktail by mixing 200 ml water, 50 ml sugar, 30 ml aguardiente and a cinnamon stick and heating for around 10 minutes. The liquid must not boil but the sugar should dissolve completely. Serve with a slice of orange. Read more about Ecuador and Colombia in these backpacking guides!
Brazil’s most famous cocktail is made from cachaça, sugar, lime and ice. Even though it’s hard to find elsewhere, Brazil’s national cocktail can be found almost anywhere in the country for a decent price. There is no excuse not to drink one during your time in Brazil!
To make a caipirinha, you will need 2 ounces of cachaça, half a lime and 1 teaspoon of sugar (although you can add up to two teaspoons if you have a sweet tooth). Simply chop the limes and add the ice and sugar into the glass. Top up with cachaça, adding more sugar if required.
South American Beers
Brewed in Cusco, Cusqueña comes in four varieties. There is Roja (a fruity beer), Negra (a dark beer), Trigo (a wheat beer) and finally, Dorado (a golden lager). Dorado is the most popular of these but all varieties are easy to find across the country, especially in the south. Look out for their distinctive bottles which feature Peru’s most famous landmark: Machu Picchu.
Started by a German immigrant to Buenos Aires in 1888, this light, blonde beer has become a national institution in Argentina. Quilmes beer is the official sponsor of the Argentinian football team (The Albicelestes) who plays in blue and white. Three out of every four beers bought in the country are Quilmes which means it’s hard to get away from the blue and white labels that meet your eyes at every bar!
The Cerveceria Nacional Ecuador brews the country’s most popular beer Pilsener. It is a fairly standard lager which is light in flavour and much less hoppy than traditional ales. The craft beer scene is growing rapidly in Ecuador. This is especially seen in Quito with the opening of bars like Bandidos Brewing.
South American Non-Alcoholic Drinks
12. Inca Kola
Originally from Peru, this sugary sweet soft drink is a yellow colour so artificial you may worry it shouldn’t be ingested. Flavoured to taste like bubble gum, the first sip can be slightly alarming, but give it a fair chance and you’ll be stopping by every street car looking for another bottle! You can find Inca Kola in many of the fast-food chains (including McDonald’s) across the country. It has long had a fierce rivalry with Coca Cola and repeatedly outsold the fizzy drinks chain. This led to Coca Cola purchasing half of Inca Kola. After all, if you can’t beat them, you better join them!
13. Mate (pronounced mah-teh)
A herbal drink similar to tea that is shared around a group in a pot and drunk through a metal straw. Yerba mate, made from dried leaves from the Yerba mate plant, is the national drink in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. You’ll probably see people carrying these pots on public transport as they head off to work. Mate offers a great caffeine hit so it is often consumed by locals in the mornings! There are many traditions which come into play when drinking mate. In Argentina, saying gracias means that you don’t want anymore so don’t say thank you until you’ve had your fill! Check out our backpacking guides to Uruguay or Paraguay.
14. Chicha Morada
This soft drink is made from purple corn, grown high in the Andes Mountains. The corn is boiled alongside a few pineapple peels, quince, cloves and cinnamon. Sugar is added once the liquid is cooled and sometimes chopped fruit will feature too. The drink is commonly served all over Peru and is often provided in almuerzos inclusive of the price. As well as being homemade, it is also possible to buy Chicha Morada pre-made in the shops.
15. Coca Tea
It may have the same raw ingredient as cocaine but this tea has been used for medicinal purposes by many indigenous Andean peoples for thousands of years. With a bitter green tea taste, it is the perfect remedy for altitude sickness and perfectly legal in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Coca leaves are readily available to buy on markets and can be purchased for cheap. You can either chew the leaves (which leaves you with a tingly sensation in the mouth) or brew the leaves loose into a tea.
As well as being known as coca tea, it can also be referred to as ‘mate de coca’. As the world woke up to the dangers of cocaine, many countries banned all coca based products. If you’re flying back to Europe or the US, remember to get rid of all traces of coca leaves, otherwise, you could be in big trouble!
16. Jugo de Maracuyà
Having a detox after some heavy drinking? Nothing is more refreshing than a freshly made passionfruit juice. These are cheap and easy to find on street stalls and in markets. You may also find that if you grab an almuerzo from a local restaurant, Jugo de Maracuyà is included. Perfect!
It is impossible to talk about the best South American drinks and not mention coffee. This continent has the perfect conditions for growing beans which means that South American coffee is some of the best in the world. In tourist hotspots such as Salento, you can learn about the history of coffee production in Colombia on a coffee tour.
This food tour in Bogotá also offers coffee tasting as part of its exploration of the local cuisine. If you want to make sure you always have your favourite brew close to hand, why not invest in a travel coffee maker? You’ve got access to the best coffee beans in the world, you may as well enjoy them as much as you can!
18. Colada Morada
This thick, syrupy juice is made from purple corn, local fruits, cornflour and spices. It is an aromatic drink which tastes similar to mulled wine, probably because both orange and cloves are used to make it. It is drunk warm. Colada Morada dates back to pre-Colombian times when it was brewed by indigenous people from the Ecuadorian mountains. It is traditionally consumed on the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) on November 2nd but is usually available to buy in the lead up to this too.
19. Limonada de Coco
Essentially a coconut and lime smoothie, this drink is the ultimate in refreshing taste! You can buy Limonada de Coco from street vendors and also in upmarket restaurants. To make Limonada de Coco, blend together two-thirds of a can of coconut milk with fresh lime juice (from 3 limes), 4 tablespoons of sugar and a handful of ice cubes. Serve cold, ideally one of these sun-drenched Colombian beaches!
Other South American Drinks
Originally consumed in the regions of the Andes around South America, chicha is an alcoholic beverage made from corn. Traditionally, the corn is chewed by indigenous women before it is spat into a bucket to ferment for a few weeks. Gross… The consumption of chicha has long been a rite of passage for indigenous people. It was often used in coming of age ceremonies, especially by the Incas.
Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world, mainly producing red wine from the Malbec grape. Most of this wine activity happens in the Mendoza area which has more vineyards than the whole of Australia and New Zealand combined! The best way to get into Malbec isn’t just buying a bottle from the supermarket but visiting Mendoza for yourself and spending a day on a bike exploring each winery. There’s no better way to get giddy with black teeth than stumbling around theses incredible vineyards at the foothills of the Andes on a sunny afternoon.