There are plenty of articles out there about the best foods and meals in South American countries, but what about the drinks? Of course, you have to try the fruit juices and smoothies, the coffee, the wine, the pisco… but don’t miss some of these popular soft drinks as well!
Inca Kola – Peru
If you love sugary goodness, you’ll love Inca Kola, Peru’s favourite carbonated beverage. Disturbingly bright yellowish gold and packed with all kinds of tooth-rotting chemicals, this absurdly sweet fizzy drink is absolutely delicious – if you like that kind of thing. To me it tastes like old school lemon-lime flavour sweets mixed with cream soda, but apparently the flavouring is lemon verbena – from a locally grown shrub. Try it with caution if you have a sweet tooth – addiction is highly likely!
Guaraná Antarctica – Brazil
Even more sickly sweet and probably even worse for you is Brazil’s favourite energy drink, guaraná. The most popular brand is Guaraná Antarctica but there are plenty of imitators. Orangey-pink, syrupy, and very, very sweet, the energy boost is fantastic but the crash I experienced a few hours later was zombifying – I only tried it once!
Chicha Morada – Peru/Bolivia
A favourite around the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes, chicha morada is named for it’s striking, deep purple colour (morada is Spanish for purple). It’s a sweet, syrupy juice drink made from purple corn ears boiled with pineapple rind, cinnamon and cloves. I know it sounds dreadful but it is, in fact, pretty tasty! Want to see for yourself? See the recipe here.
Coca Cola – Bolivia
Bolivians really love Coca Cola. A lot. So much so, that they even take it with them when they die: we frequently saw bottles of Coke alongside the flowers in graveyards. At the infamous San Pedro prison in La Paz there are three lorry-loads of the stuff delivered every week. No exaggeration, these guys really love their Coke!
Mate – Argentina
This Argentine hot drink, very similar to tea, is as much about the ritual as about the drink itself. It’s made from an infusion of dried yerba mate leaves – a species of the holly family. The drink is brewed and served in a hollow calabash gourd called a mate (drink, cup and plant all helpfully have the same name), which is filled almost to the top with the dry leaves, then topped up with a small amount of hot water. In a traditional mate ceremony, the drink is prepared by the Cebador (or Cebedora), who drinks first, using a silver straw called a bombilla, then tops up the water and serves it to the next person. The bombilla has small holes or a filter, so it acts as both a straw and a sieve. A complex but fun way of making tea into a social occasion!
Mate de Coca – Peru
Coca tea, or mate de coca, is popular all over the Andes and is a much nicer way of getting the benefits of coca leaves than chewing them. Coca leaves, the main ingredient for cocaine, are still legally grown across South America because of the popularity of the tea, which apparently has great medicinal value – especially for the digestion – and which really helps with altitude sickness. In Cusco, the altitude nearly knocked me out, but a mug of coca tea was a real pick me up.
Limonada de Coco – Colombia
One of my favourite drinks in the whole of South America, coconut lemonade is exactly what it sounds like. Fresh, homemade lemonade (not carbonated) mixed with coconut milk for a delicious, creamy dink. Like a non-alcoholic piña colada, this gorgeously tropical soft drink is, like most fresh juices in Colombia, often cheaper than bottled water or coke in restaurants. If you want a taste of Colombia at home, why not make some using this super simple recipe?
Aguapanela – Colombia
Another one from Colombia, aguapanela is a super sweet hot drink made from panela, which comes from hardened sugar cane. They simply boil the panela, which looks like pieces of caramel, in water to make a sugary hot drink often served with cheese. Those crazy Colombians dunk cheese in the sweet aguapanela before eating – sounds disgusting, but it works!
Hot Chocolate – Peru
Specifically, the make your own hot chocolate at the Chocolate Museum in Cusco and Lima. Peru is where some of the world’s finest cocoa beans are grown, and the Chocolate Museum uses locally sourced fairtrade beans to make all their chocolate. Order the Mayan hot chocolate and mix together chocolate paste, hot milk, chilli and honey for the best hot choc of your life!