Five (Alcoholic) Drinks to Try in South America

Five (Alcoholic) Drinks to Try in South America

For better or worse, one of the most popular activities among backpackers in South America is drinking. With Irish bars and traveller dives springing up across the continent, it seems impossible to avoid. But instead of paying extra for imported beer at the hostel bar, why not drink like a local and get to know the culture, by following this guide to the national drinks of each country…

Peru – Pisco

First up it’s the backpacker’s favourite cocktail, Pisco Sour – made from Pisco, egg white, lemon juice and sucrose. Sounds disgusting, but I assure you they are amazing when they’re done right (when done wrong they can give you serious tummy issues) and you can’t travel in South America without trying at least one!

Peru’s national spirit of Pisco is made from various types of grape, and is also claimed by Chile as their own invention, sparking an ongoing feud between the two countries which still hasn’t ended, despite a recent international court case confirming that the spirit was indeed created by Peru! Peruvians love their Pisco so much that they hold two days a year to celebrate it: National Pisco Sour Day is the first Saturday of every February, while the forth Sunday of every July is Día del Pisco.

Try if for yourself: Follow this recipe.

Brazil – Cachaça 

The national spirit of Brazil, Cachaça, is a liquor made from sugarcane juice which is similar to rum and comes in clear and golden varieties. It’s the cheapest drink available at every supermarket, where you can buy this 40% alcohol in small plastic bottles for around £1! One of the best places to try the spirit is Paraty, a town a few hours south of Rio where dozens of Alambiques (stills) can be visited for tasting sessions and tours.

Cachaça is the main ingredient in the Brazilian cocktail Caipirinha, which is starting to pick up popularity in the UK. The liquor is mixed with limes, sugar and ice for a sharp and super refreshing drink – not to be missed when in Brazil!

Cocktails in Brazil
Caipirinhas with a splash of passionfruit

Try it for yourself: Follow this simple recipe.

Argentina – Torrontés 

It’s surely impossible to think of Argentine cuisine and not think of wine and steak! Some of the best wines in the world come from the fertile soils of Argentina’s wine regions, particularly Mendoza, where more than 60% of Argentine wine is produced – and where wine can be bought for about £2 a bottle. The best known is Malbec, but the grape native to Argentina is Torrontés, which produces a fruity, floral and quite dry white wine which – if you’re serious about wine – has distinctive peach and apricot aromas. If you’re not a wine connoisseur, all you need to know is that this is a lovely, fresh white wine that goes well with seafood and spicy food.

Drinking wine in Argentina
Wine Tasting in Mendoza

Bolivia – Singani

Heading north into Bolivia, the national drink of choice is Singani, a brandy grown from Muscat grapes in a specific region of the country. The drink was originally developed by Spanish missionaries, who imported the grapes to make wine for mass and decided to distil a spirit, as well, to sell to the silver-rich landowners in the then wealthy mining town of Potosi.

Singani is smoother than most other spirits native to the continent, and it’s low methanol content means that it can be drank straight quite easily – if you like that kind of thing. If you don’t, just mix it with Bolivia’s other favourite drink, Coca Cola, and a slice of lemon to make a Poncho Negro.

Bolivia national drink
Casa Real Singani

Colombia – Aguardiente 

Colombia’s national spirit, also distilled from sugarcane juice like Cachaça, is one of the most disgusting spirits I’ve ever had the misfortune to drink! It has an aniseed flavour like Sambuca or Ouzo and packs a serious, firey punch to the back of the throat – the name literally means “firewater” in Latin! Although it is awful (sorry, Colombia) many travellers make aguardiente their drink of choice simply because it’s the cheapest alcoholic drink on offer: a 70cl bottle can be bought for about £2 in most supermarkets, and a cheap soft drink can almost disguise the flavour of the spirit.

Aguardiente, however, can be redeemed in the form of Canelazo – a warm cocktail which mixes the spirit with agua panela (a hot sugarcane drink) and cinnamon, served with sugar around the edge of the glass/mug. Perfect next to a roaring fire on a chilly evening in the Andes!

Try it for yourself: Pick up a bottle of Aguardiente and follow this recipe.


  1. rlishman84

    This has made me thirsty! I love all your choices, however think Pisco Sours (the authentic ones made with egg) should probably come with a warning – spent a very unpleasant day in Peru after indulging in one too many!!

      1. rlishman84

        I love Caprinhas and as you say they’re now available in the bars here in London. I spent a week in Argentina and don’t think I ate/drank anything other than steak and red wine! (my favourite is Malbec) but I hadn’t heard of the Bolivian one – will have to try and hunt it down over here!

        1. Emily Luxton

          I had SO much steak and wine in Argentina! I didn’t even like red wine before I went there – it’s kind of impossible to visit Mendoza and not be at least slightly converted!

          Singani is ok but I don’t love it – and I hate aguardiente (except in Canelazo). Caipirinhas are my all time favourite – drank so many in Brazil 🙂

  2. Pascal Christiaens

    Maybe an idea for your next article: combine this one and the article about the soft drinks and you have a great cocktail article 🙂 Personally, I only know Cachaça… this is great stuff 🙂 Going to try the other spirits one day 🙂

    1. Emily Luxton

      A lot of these ones are already cocktails! Might be interesting to combine dome of the drinks – I feel like I might have enjoyed aguardiente much more if it was mixed with Inca kola!

      Glad you enjoyed the post – perhaps I should do appetisers next, to go with the drinks 😉

  3. Claudia

    I absolutely LOVE Pisco and Pisco Sour. I could not get enough of it. The only problem is that when it is properly prepared, you don’t taste the alcohol and can drink waaaay too much of it!!

  4. Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee)

    That last one you lost me at egg white. I think its a mental thing. I just cant take raw eggs or the smell. It looks good in the picture…I dont know if pretending not to know whats in there would work…?

  5. Sandra @ Tripper

    Ah cachaça! The stuff that grows hair on your chest lol Portugal does caipirinhas properly now but the Portuguese don’t. A lot of Brazilian immigrated to Portugal 10/15 years ago so it became common to see this drink in many bars. But trust me, if it’s not done by a Brazilian there will be something missing.

  6. twomonkeystravel

    We are just starting our South America trip and we only tried the Pisco Sour! Did you go to Arequipa too, any bar or place do you recommend for us to try it? And thanks to you, now I know what to order when we go to Bolivia and Brazil this Christmas!

    1. Emily Luxton

      I did visit Arequipa, the only bar we went to was Dejavu but they did amazing pisco sours. If you want to do a free walking tour, I recommend the Arequipa Downtown Walking Tour – they finish in Dejavu where the bar staff teach you how to make a pisco sour and let you try a small one for free. Plus it’s a really cool tour.

      How long are you in Peru for?

  7. I wasn’t so keen on Pisco sours when I was in Peru – much too sour for my liking! I loved the Caiprunhas in Brazil and Argentina though! So strong but yummy especially with sugar coating the rim of the glass. I absolutely hate Sambuca so I will stay well away from Aguardiente!!

    1. Emily Luxton

      I loved Pisco Sours! But they are pretty sour, so I can see that they wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Definitely avoid Aguardiente – some people love it but I hate the aniseed flavour 🙂

  8. veronikatg

    I’d love to try them all..! Had only cachaca, and far from Brazil.. The pisco sounds interesting, it reminds me Singaporean breakfast.. heated egg (boiled but still fully liquid) mixed with soy sauce.. sounds wild but it tastes good too!

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