15 Unmissable Foodie Experiences in South America

This post comes to you with a dash of denial and a spoonful of sadness. It has been four months since we left South America, and we are still not over it.

They (who?) say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and they’d be right. SIDE NOTE: We can relate to this on many levels, having spent every waking minute together for the last ten months. It’s been a joy, but we are both looking forward to going to the loo without having to announce it to one another.

Aaaaaanyway, the fact remains that the more distant our adventure in South America becomes, the more we appreciate it.

Through the blog we’ve kept the South America spark alive, reliving foodie experiences from Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and beyond. But, the time has finally come to move on. Physically, we have done so but – despite being balls deep in South East Asia – emotionally I’m still longing for the Latina lifestyle.

South America has a lot to offer those in search of exciting foodie experiences. Whether you are a hardcore meat eater, insatiable wine guzzler (moi?!) or an experimental fruit gobbler; South America has something for everyone. From the famous culinary corners of Peru and Argentina, to unexpected gems in Bolivia and Colombia. Unmissable foodie experiences can be found all over the continent. Here’s a selection of some of our favourites.

Foodie Experiences in South America: Argentina

Wine tasting in Mendoza:

Wine? Wine Not! Drink all of the wine when in Mendoza
Juicy grapes ready to be harvested

Mendoza is one of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world. The city of Mendoza is a charmer, but the real magic is found in the vineyards. Maipú, Luján de Cuyo and – our personal favourite – Valle de Uco. It’s not all about the wine-necking – I mean, tasting – you might actually learn a thing or two along the way. If you are a wine-lover, we highly recommend sacking off real life and moving here. Never leave. Wine? Wine not.

Make your own empanadas:

Homemade Empanadas are the best. Don't forget to check out our recipe!
Delicious homemade Empanadas

Empanadas are a staple of budget backpacker life. They are cheap, filling, and tasty – a winning combo. Empanadas come in many shapes and sizes, and with so many fillings to choose from even the fussiest foodie will be satisfied. By far the best we tried were classic, homemade empanadas during our cooking class with Chef Norma. It was a fun experience, and with a bit of practice and patience you can make them for yourself too.

Fire up a local Asado:

Meat-lovers rejoice! The Argentine Asado is the answer to your prayers.
Meat-lovers rejoice!

The Asado is to Argentina what Pimms is to the British Summer. Ubiquitous. And absolutely delicious. Dating back to gaucho times, the raw simplicity of this tradition has barely evolved over the years. It’s about so much more than just a BBQ. It connects communities across the country. Meat, fire, wine, friends – repeat. What’s not to love?

Foodie Experiences in South America: Bolivia

Dine in the dark at a great height:

Local men and women make the back-breaking hike from the port to the top of the island every day
Local men and women make the back-breaking hike from the port to the top of the island every day

Visitors to Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol should be prepared for breathtaking scenery. Literally. Over 3,800m above sea level, Isla del Sol is both challenging and captivating. While the rest of the island provides very little satisfaction for those seeking exciting foodie experiences, nestled in the South you’ll find the magical Las Velas. It’s worth staying the night on Isla del Sol just for this. Note: don’t give in to the Pringles.

Meander through the markets and try street food:

Cakes galore in the market in La Paz.
Cakes galore in the market in La Paz.

The markets of South America can be unforgiving and unbelievable in equal measure. Fierce-looking cholitas carve up pigs like they’re cutting butter. Llama foetus’ are strung across the streets. Toothy market-traders holler for your attention. But the star of the show is the food. Fresh juices. Kooky vegetables. Giant potato balls filled with meat for less than 50p. All delicious. It takes some practice to become a master of the markets, but failing is all part of the fun – right?!

Combat the altitude with Coca Tea:

Coca leaves are commonly chewed or stewed in hot water to prevent altitude sickness
Coca leaves can be chewed or stewed in hot water

This foodie experience isn’t exclusive to Bolivia. Coca leaves can be found in lofty neighbour Peru, particularly around Cusco, and some parts of Northern Chile. We’d acclimatised to the dizzying heights of Bolivia by travelling first through Northern Chile and later through the salt flats before arriving in La Paz. By the time we reached Cusco we were running up those Inca steps. Ok, well, maybe not running… but for many visitors the altitude is a bitch. If chewing dried leaves isn’t really your thing, then pop a few in a brew and that’ll do.

Foodie Experiences in South America: Chile

Learn the nuances of Pisco-production:

Local Pisco from the famous Mistral distillery
When it comes to Pisco, a friendly(ish) rivalry exists between Chile and Peru as to where the distilled spirit originated. A Pisco-tasting tour is a welcome refuge from the searing heat of the Elqui Valley in Northern Chile. While the Pisco production process shares similarities with wine production, culturally it holds more significance which makes for interesting stories.

Taste Llama in San Pedro de Atacama:

Llama Empanadas washed down with artisanal beer in the desert!
Llama Empanadas washed down with home brew

The Atacama Desert is the driest in the world, surrounded by other-worldly landscapes and framed by the starriest of skies. It’s also home to some of the most interesting foodie experiences that South America has to offer. Don’t believe us? Read about our food tour or get in touch with Nora to find out for yourself.

Cooking class and market tour in Santiago:

Vibrant La Vega Market in Santiago
Vibrant La Vega Market in Santiago

Chilean food is culturally fascinating, if not as revered as Peru or Argentina. It’s a bastardisation of many world cuisines, presenting a perfect balance of familiarity and excitement. Santiago boasts some of South Americas oldest and most interesting food markets, and Filipe from the Uncorked Cooking Workshop showed us nooks and crannies we might not have found on our own. Did I mention he’s a fabulous chef? You will not go hungry, no siree.

Foodie Experiences in South America: Colombia

Stay the night on a Coffee farm:

Slurp on local coffee in the peaceful town of Salento
Slurp on local coffee in the peaceful town of Salento

Coffee junkies, rejoice. Caffeine-fiends, gather round. This one is for you. Even if you are not a coffee aficionado, there’s plenty of reasons to visit the famous coffee triangle in Colombia. Hike through the Valle de Cocora, beneath the worlds’ tallest palm trees. Drink beer and play with gunpowder in the quiet town of Salento. Take a closer look at the production process of the world’s second biggest commodity. Or just slouch around in a hammock, enjoying a welcome break from the crazy, colourful cities of Colombia.

Try unusual exotic fruits from the Caribbean and beyond:

Fresh and funky fruits, packed full of flavour!
Fresh and funky fruits, packed full of flavour!

Unlike the rest of South America, fresh fruit and veg is widely available in Colombia. A trip to the local market is a fruit-lovers paradise. Bright colours, interesting textures and seductive smells lure you in. The best exploration is done with a guide in tow, to help you pick the ripest fruit – and show you how to eat it!

Indulge in Bandeja Paisa:

Beastly Bandeja Paisa - hope you are hungry!
Beastly Bandeja Paisa – hope you are hungry!

Bandeja Paisa is way more than a meal. It’s practically a religion. Most meals in Colombia reflect the carbs-meat-carbs-moremeat-morecarbs philosophy. In terms of hierarchy, breakfast and lunch rule the roost and the Bandeja Paisa is the lifeblood of many locals. With so many tasty treats to try in Colombia, make sure you leave room for this absolute beast of a dish – you won’t regret it.

Foodie Experiences in South America: Peru

Make your own hot chocolate in the jungle:

The best hot chocolate in the world.
The best hot chocolate in the world

The Amazon Rainforest, or the lungs of the world as it’s affectionately known, covers roughly 40% of South America. Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon is found in Brazil, but the Peruvian Amazon is fast becoming a fave for backpackers. During our short trip through the Peruvian jungle, we stayed the night with a local family. No electricity. No running water. No wifi (I know – the dream right?). Instead, we entertained ourselves the old fashioned way. With the help of Esther, we toasted fresh cacao beans, ground them to a fine paste and then made them into the sweetest, purest hot chocolate we’d ever tasted.

Eat cake on Machu Picchu:

Foodie Experiences in Peru
Nothing quite like a sugar-fix to get you moving faster!

Is a guide about South America even a guide if it doesn’t mention the granddaddy of all experiences? Machu Picchu is the popular kid at school. The prom king, queen, and everything in between. While Machu Picchu is the star of the show, it was our journey to get there that really impressed. Over five days we trekked the Salkantay route – yes, you read right, we DID NOT DO THE INCA TRAIL – to reach Machu Picchu. It was challenging, inspiring and – quite literally – breathtaking. And, there was cake!

Whip up a traditional meal with a local family:

Delicious and traditional home-cooked soup
Delicious and traditional home-cooked soup

Delicious street-food can be found all over Peru. Punchy ceviche, giant corn, freshly-roasted Guinea Pig… ok, perhaps it’s not all delicious! Street-food, however delicious, tells only one small part of the cultural story of cuisine in Peru. The other side is all about family, tradition, resourcefulness and comfort. And alllllllll the potatoes. Airbnb, homestay.com and travelling spoon are all excellent resources which connect you with locals. Our Airbnb host Kettlin taught us some of her favourite family recipes, Sopa de Choclo and Guiso de Pollo. Try them for yourself.

15 Unmissable Foodie Experiences in South America. What’s your fave?
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And there we have it. Six and a half months. Seven countries. Countless amazing memories. South America has set the bar HIGH for foodie experiences, so now it’s over to South East Asia to show us what it’s got. Bring it on.

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Planning your own trip, and wondering how much it’ll cost? Drop us a line for exclusive access to our expenses for (just over) six months in South America.

32 thoughts on “15 Unmissable Foodie Experiences in South America

  1. Your list is a perfect guide. South America’s culinary looks so yummy and #musteat. Dining in the dark is the highlight for me. I’ve never done it before and I’d like to. Empanadas looks yummy too

  2. I have always wanted to go to a coffee or tea plantation and make my own drink. I am not a big drinker of either tea or coffee but I really want to go. I will be hiking Machu Picchu soon and I will have to try the altitude sickness prevention that you suggested with the cocoa leaves.

  3. Ugh I am sooo hungry after reading this. We had a little trouble in South America because of how neat heavy the cuisine was, but we ♥️♥️♥️ the sweets and the coffee!

    If you’re back in the region, I totally recommend Guyana and Suriname – amazing food that combines Caribbean/Indian/Indonesian cuisines!

    And now I need to go find something to eat.

  4. Street food in La Paz, asado, amd empenadas… All things I cannot wait to try when I head to South America. Thank you for the recommendations!

  5. 0k, so I really wish I didn’t read this post! – Haha, You have taken my mind back to South America and the wonderful food and drinks. I taste a meat Empanada in my mouth and the smell of coffee. Although I only made it down as far as Bolivia, I am planning on going back for Argentina where I cannot wait to taste a famous Argentinian Steak 😀

  6. It’s basically impossible to find good empanadas in Italy and I was salivating just by looking at these! I’d love to learn how to make them myself and I’d definitely give them a try! Hubby on the contrary would die for some asado: we need to schedule a trip in South America, pronto!

  7. The food choices in South America are totally up my alley. I’m perfectly fine with the carbs-meat-carbs-moremeat-morecarbs philosophy… plus booze haha! how do people stay slim there?!

  8. I see a lot of options for vegetarians too. Especially the fruits of Columbia. I can surely survive on those. I also, would not mind the Sugar Rush that you speak of. Thanks for demystifying the local food for us. Cheers

  9. Colombia has been calling my name for quite some time. My friends just back from Medellin and are saying they will retire there. I could totally eat a bandeja paisa every day!

  10. I have been a fan of South American wine for sometime now. You have the quality of a fine wine at a reasonable price point. What surprised me was the make your own coco in the rain forest. That is an experience I’ll have to try for myself. I’m a big time chocolate fan.

  11. Reading this past midnight is not a very good idea because it makes me crave and hungry at the moment! I haven’t been to South America and just wow, I would travel there for food in a heartbeat! One day, perhaps. Fingers crossed 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  12. While not a foodie, I would love to try the empanadas and Colombia’s fruit. Local food is normally appealing, but chewing on leaves or dining on small pets are not!

  13. All of these South American dishes look so appetising and I’m already convinced that food will be a highlight of our trip to the continent. Bandeja Paisa is a religion, not just food, you say. That is so intriguing.

  14. I’m so hungry now 🙂 Anyway thank you for this. I do have a wish to go to South America, and if i get there i will taste all of this dishes definitely. It’s quite expensive from my country (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to go to South America but i will save enough money one time to visit.

  15. Is the llama empanada made from llamas? I need to know? :/ Thanks for the great food feature, I can see some connections between Philippine and South American food. We also love our empanadas here.

    1. The llama empanadas were, indeed, made of llama. And they were delicious! You can read more about them if you check out our review of the food tour: a bite of the Atacama desert 🙂

  16. What a great food experiences! The photo of the Bandeja Paisa looks like a centipede!😂 This reminds me of my husband story of when he was backpacking in south america 18 years ago. He was in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia eating a bowl of rice soup when he found a chicken feet. He though it was mistake so he went to tell the vendor. Everyone was laughing at him and he didnt understand why at first!😂 Coming from Thailand, I love chicken feet!

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