Tap Water in South America – Is It Safe to Drink?

Outdoor Tap South America

Tap water in South America varies from city to city, let alone country to country! As a general rule, big cities in mountainous regions tend to have potable tap water but near the coast, you should avoid it. Most rural communities in South America are unlikely to have clean drinking water from the tap. 

Here at South America Backpacker, we’ve spent years travelling across the continent and have learnt a few things about where it’s safe to drink tap water. While we don’t want to get into too much detail here, let’s just say we have spent a lot of time on the toilet, so you don’t have to! 💩

Some accommodation options in South America offer clean drinking water to their guests but this isn’t always free. Expect to pay a small amount per litre – especially if it’s from a water dispenser and not filtered tap water! 

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Is Tap Water in South America Safe?

The safety of tap water in South America is dependent on exactly where you are. In some countries, you can drink tap water almost anywhere. In others, tap water is only potable in specific cities. And in some, there is no real access to safe water from the tap at all! 

Refilling water bottle with tap water
Sometimes you can drink the tap water, sometimes you can’t!

To help you plan your travels, you’ll find the most popular South American countries for travellers below, complete with a quick overview of safe tap water uses. 

Tap Water in Argentina

  • Potable: Generally, yes but be careful in rural areas.
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes.
  • Ice: Safe to consume. 

Tap Water in Bolivia

  • Potable: Generally no – especially outside large cities. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: In built-up areas, yes. In more remote areas, stick to bottled, filtered or boiled water. 
  • Ice: Ice in Bolivia is only safe to consume if it’s been made with clean water – always ask. 

Tap Water in Brazil

  • Potable: It depends where you are. Ask at your accommodation to be sure.
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Only in built-up areas. Avoid it in rural locations. 
  • Ice: Okay in cities but should be avoided near the coast or in more remote places. 
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Avoid tap water when near the coast in Brazil!

Tap Water in Chile

  • Potable: Yes, tap water across most of Chile is safe to drink. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes.
  • Ice: Safe to consume. 

Tap Water in Colombia

  • Potable: Only in mountainous regions. Avoid it when near the coast. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes. 
  • Ice: Safe in most places but ask how it’s made if you’re near the coast. 

Tap Water in Ecuador 

  • Potable: No. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes. 
  • Ice: Only if it’s been made with clean water. 
Tap running
Don’t drink tap water in Ecuador!

Tap Water in Guyana

  • Potable: In Georgetown, yes. Throughout the rest of the country, it should be avoided. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Only if you’ve been in the country for a while. 
  • Ice: Should be avoided. 

Tap Water in Paraguay

  • Potable: In Asunción only – be careful in the rest of the country. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes, unless you’re in very remote locations. 
  • Ice: In Asunción, ice is safe but avoid it in other places. 

Tap Water in Peru

  • Potable: No. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes. 
  • Ice: In popular tourist locations, ice is usually safe to consume. In more rural areas, it should be avoided. 
11 Mouth-Watering Peruvian Drinks
Only take ice in your drink if you’re in a popular tourist destination in Peru!

Tap Water in Suriname

  • Potable: Only in Paramaribo. It should be avoided in the rest of the country. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes but be careful in very remote areas where you should stick to bottled, boiled or filtered water. 
  • Ice: Should be avoided outside Paramaribo. 

Tap Water in Uruguay

  • Potable: Usually yes but in times of drought, it should be avoided. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes. 
  • Ice: Safe to consume except in times of drought. 

Tap Water in Venezuela

  • Potable: No. 
  • Okay for tooth brushing: Yes but only in built-up areas, stick to bottled, boiled or filtered water in Venezuela. 
  • Ice: Not safe for consumption. 

How to Ask for No Ice:

In Spanish: “Sin hielo por favor”
In Portuguese: “Sem gelo por favor”

Bottled Water in South America

No matter your feelings on single-use plastics, bottled water is ubiquitous in South America and generally very cheap. Expect to pay around $1USD for a litre bottle. It’s much cheaper – and uses less plastic – to buy big 5-litre bottles and top up a reusable water bottle when possible. 

Can I Filter Water in South America?

Yes, you can filter water in South America. When choosing a filtered water bottle, opt for a purifier like the Grayl UltraPress or one of the Grayl alternatives, rather than a standard filter. Water purifiers remove viruses, as well as heavy metals and other elements from your water, making it safer to drink. 

Grayl purifiers make water from almost any source potable!

Brushing Your Teeth in South America

You can brush your teeth with tap water in most of South America but in some more rural locations, you should stick to bottled, boiled or filtered water. Brushing your teeth with tap water in South America is a good way to slowly introduce local germs and bacteria to your immune system, which will help protect you over a longer trip. 

Boiling Water to Drink in South America

You can boil tap water to drink in South America but beware that boiling water only kills off pathogens. It won’t remove metals, chemicals or particulates from the water, so should only be done in a pinch. 

Ensure you bring water to a rolling boil for at least a few minutes before allowing it to cool and be drinkable. If you’re in the Andes, boil water for longer. Water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, so a longer boil is needed to ensure you’ve killed off any nasties. 

Boiling Tap Water In South America
Boiling tap water is one of the best ways to make it safe to drink!

If the quality of the water you’re boiling is super low, you can add three drops of bleach or a pinch of salt per litre of water to make sure nothing nefarious survives the boiling process. Most travellers won’t need to worry about this step but it’s good to know just in case! 

Top Tips for Getting Clean Drinking Water in South America

  1. Ask at your accommodation whether the tap water is safe to drink or whether they offer clean drinking water to guests. 
  2. Watch what the locals do. If local people drink the water, this is a good indication it’s relatively safe, although it may take your body a while to build up resistance to the local germs and bacteria. Brushing your teeth with tap water is a good way to introduce these pathogens to your system slowly. 
  3. Make sure your travel insurance covers medical costs in case you do get really ill from contaminated water!

The most popular backpacker insurance!
SafetyWing Nomad Insurance

SafetyWing is the travel insurance of choice for scores of backpackers! 

  • Subscription style insurance
  • Cheap and flexible
  • Available after your trip has started

Drinking Water in South America – A Round-Up

Potable tap water in South America is impossible to find in some countries and ubiquitous in others. It can also vary from city to city, so ensure you know where you can and can’t drink tap water while travelling in South America. Ask locals and listen to what they say – they are best placed to help you! 

Bottled water is common across the continent, so you’ll rarely be without clean drinking water but, if possible, use a filtered water bottle to reduce your plastic footprint and keep your costs down. While the initial investment can feel like a lot, over a long trip you’ll save plenty of money on bottled water!

Tim Ashdown Bio Pic
Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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