South America is a continent full of interesting food and beverages that express the diversity among the countries and expresses the culture and heritage of those countries. As a traveler visiting South America, you’ll be able to discover a full flavor spectrum in the teas, cocktails, and colas you’ll come across.
Each country in South America has its own unique drinks, though many of them can be found in more than one country, often with a slight difference in the recipe. That’s what makes it so much fun to try all the drinks you can while visiting. Below is a list of some of the most popular South American drinks you should try on your journey.
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What to Drink in South America
A caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail. It’s made with cachaça, sugar, and lime. The lime and sugar are mixed together, then the liquor is poured over the top. If you’ve never tried cachaça before, it’s a spicy, sweet, and fruity clear liquor distilled from fermented sugarcane juice.
While a caipirinha is most often an individual drink, it is also served in pitchers in Brazil because it’s such a refreshing drink. It goes down fast!
Yerba Matte Tea
This South American beverage hails from the celebrated holly tree in the rain forests of South America. It’s said to have the strength of coffee along with the healthful benefits of tea, plus the whimsical effects of chocolate all in one. In fact, the Yerba Matte benefits are said to be substantial. It naturally gives you energy and nutrition with a taste that’s unforgettable.
While it’s a popular drink of choice in Paraguay and Uruguay — you’ll often see people toting it around in a gourd-shaped container with a metal straw — this tea is also popular in Argentina, some parts of Brazil, Bolivia, and southern Chile.
If you’ve spent any time in South America, you’ve probably seen advertisements for Inca Kola and not realized it. Inca Kola is often referred to as “the Golden Kola” and once you see the color of it, you won’t have to ask how it got that name.
A British immigrant created Inca Kola in 1935 in Peru with lemon verbena. The taste is sweet yet fruity. You might agree that the flavor resembles that of bubble gum, cream soda, or a mix of the two. It’s incredibly bubbly and might take a few tries before you start liking it.
Another Brazilian cocktail that you have to try in South America is the Batida, which is also made with cachaça and lime, but with the addition of coconut milk and passion fruit juice to replace the sugar.
This is the perfect beach drink and you’ll find it at mobile stands along the beach, so you can sip on it while you’re sunning.
Another variation of the Caipirinha is the Caipiroska, which mixes lime, brown sugar, and vodka. It’s a trendy beverage in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
This iconic beer from Argentina has been around since 1888. By the 1920s, it was the most popular beer in the capital of Buenos Aires. Quilmes is responsible for the majority of the market share of beer in Argentina.
If you’re a fan of soccer (or football as it’s called there) you probably recognize the logo from the national team. The delicate and creamy taste is a must for beer lovers around the globe.
Pisco is a popular South American liquor found in Chile and Peru. It’s used to make the national drink of both of these countries, called the Pisco Sour, that’s made with pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg whites. There is a bit of a rivalry between Chile and Peru over who made the first pisco sour. Both have their stories.
Before you get into a discussion about it with a local, you should also know that there are two different liquors – a Chilean Pisco and a Peruvian Pisco. Both are made from distilled fermented grapes, turning it into a high-octane spirit. The fruity flavors from locally grown produce made it a fast favorite with the locals.
Starting out as a French grape in Bordeaux, Malbec is now quite a bit more prevalent in Mendoza, Argentina, where it’s the dominent grape varietal being used to produce amazing wine at a very high elevation. Malbec wines from Argentina have a deep red color and feature an intense fruit flavor coupled with a texture that’s pure velvet on the palate.
If you’re a wine lover, Mendoza is a must-visit destination. Not only will you be surrounded by grape vines and some of the best Malbecs in the world, you’re also right in the middle of the beautiful Andes Mountains and the views are incredible.
Carménère originated in Bordeaux, but you’ll find the vast majority of it planted in Chile. Much of the countries wine is made with this grape varietal. It’s great as a single varietal, but it’s also used for blending.
The funny thing about Carmenere is that it was thought to be extinct following the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that all but wiped it out in France. However, it continued to grow in Chile because it was mistaken for Merlot.
Fernet & Coke
In America, we have rum and Coke. In Argentina, they have Fernet and Coke. Fernet is complex and a bit mysterious. A liqueur made with a lot of herbs and spices, it’s ideal for conjuring up clever cocktails. Frenet originates in Italy, but was introduced to Argentina by the Italians many years ago.
It’s now an incredibly popular drink in Argentina, where they consume almost 3 million liters per year. It’s a bitter, aromatic spirit, so it goes best with flavors that will subdue and mask the bitterness. Make sure you try a South American cocktail with Frenet while in Argentina.
If you’re in South America and find yourself wondering what to drink, you know what you have to do! Order a few of these popular South American drinks and see what they’re like for yourself. We think you’ll agree that they’re worth traveling for.
Have you tried one of these drinks, or other popular South American drinks that you think we should have included? Let us know!
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Laura is the founder and editor of the travel blogs Savored Sips and Savored Journeys. She is dedicated to sharing the best information about drinks found around the world.