Pack your aloha shirts and Caipirinha coolers, this guide to the best party destinations in South America has a pretty darn epic selection of towns and resorts and cities. It’s a one stop shop for hedonists heading to the continent who want to ensure that their itinerary has just a whiff of Pisco sours and sunrise dancing.
The good news is that there’s plenty to get through in these parts. Some places are obvious, like Rio de Janeiro, where you can join two-million-strong crowds in the annual carnival parades. Others are a bit more secret, such as the salt-washed surfer escapes of the Ecuadorian Pacific or the hiker bases of the Peruvian Andes.
Some of the best party destinations in South America are year-round affairs. There’s never a dull night along Copacabana Beach in Rio, for example. Then there are the ones that rely on certain dates and holidays and seasons, like the surf towns and the sand-side escapes of Buzios. You’ll need to time your trip right to experience those at their wildest.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Shock. Awe. Amazement. None of the above are expected when Rio de Janeiro reigns supreme on a list of the best party destinations in South America. The city is known around the globe for its no-holes-barred nightlife and its colossal carnivals, which draw upwards of two million (yes, that does say million!) people each year. To put it simply: If you’re looking to party, party, and party some more then there’s basically no better place than this.
The most legendary areas to let loose in are the beachfront districts. Chief among those has to be Copacabana. Songs and ditties have been written about that mile-long arc of pearly white sand and its endless Caipirinha-soaked kiosks. But then there’s Ipanema, a place of moody Bossa Nova jazz joints and stylish retro cantinas on the shoreline, to boot.
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s one party in Rio to beat all other parties: Carnival. Although Rio isn’t the official birthplace of the tradition (that honor goes to Salvador), it does lay claim to the biggest carnival event in South America. It’s a whole week of action-packed street parades and sleepless nights that usually takes place in mid- to late-February.
Surf’s up in Montañita, Ecuador’s premier beach town. Yep, ever since the first wave hunters discovered this one back in the 60s, it’s been a major stopover on South American surf trips. But, like Tamarindo in Costa Rica before it, it’s also been transformed into an unabashed party center, where you can cap off days of sliding on the swells with raucous drinking sessions.
The vibe is just what you might expect – salt-washed surfer shacks selling cold beers and rum cocktails overlooking the main beach. They’re now backed up by about two or three blocks of Ecuadorian cantinas and disco bars, where you’ll find body-shaking dancefloors in places like the Lost Beach Club and Poco Loco.
And there’s more good news because the peak season here in Montañita is between December and May. That’s got the driest, hottest weather, and the best northerly swells for surfers. It also happens to be when the chilly winter months are in full swing in Europe and North America. Who wouldn’t want to escape those for some partying, Ecuador style, eh?
Cusco is probably best known as a base for hitting the jagged spires and enthralling historical sites of the Peruvian Andes. People flock in to join the Inca Trail (arguably the most bucket-list trek on the globe) and gawp at the ruins of mighty Machu Picchu (an ancient Incan citadel in the clouds).
That steady stream of trekkers has also had a knock-on effect on the nightlife scene here. A high demand for shot bars and beer halls to celebrate hike completions means that there’s been an explosion of places to drink. Most of them congregate around the Centro Historico area, which is the lovely heart of the old city.
Go there and you’ll find traditional Peruvian cocktail lounges like El Viejo – perfect for those compulsory Pisco sour samplings – and quirky music halls like El Muki – a bit of a local legend!
Of all the amazing nightlife destinations in Colombia, it’s Cartagena that comes up trumps for us. This rambunctious city of coral-stone forts and colonial palazzos channels the good vibes of the Caribbean region and mixes that with the penchant for samba and sleepless evening hours that the Latin folk of this country are known to love. The result? Somewhere pretty darn wild indeed!
The Centro area of the city is where you want to be when the sun sets. Specifically, the upcoming hipster quarter of Getsemani. There, you’ll find edgy boho bars that spill onto the cobblestone pavements and moody jazz bars that beckon from spaces underground.
Further down the coast, the historic buildings are swapped for skyscrapers and beach-side condos in Bocagrande, the modern part of Cartagena. That’s more of a classic resort scene, getting packed to bursting with tanned bodies when the holidays swing around. It’s also a great place to stay if you want to sample some of the best urban beaches in Colombia.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
No list of the best party destinations in South America could possibly skip out on the big, boisterous, handsome, and proud capital of Argentina. This is one seriously electrifying city; a place that artfully fuses the elegance of European architecture with a dose of proper Latin energy and flair.
There are a couple of distinct nightlife areas but there’s no doubt that the main one is Palermo. Chic and happening, it’s a shopping haven filled with big-name fashion brands by day. But, when the retail therapy is done and dusted, the resident crowd retreat to uber-sleek mixology bars for Spritzes and champagne cocktails. It also has a gritty side, with open-air beer halls that converge on huge disco venues where you can dance to sunup.
Buenos Aires is likely to be most travelers’ initial intro to Argentina as a whole since this is the home of the country’s largest international airport. It also happens to be the best place in the nation to hit traditional tango bars and explore real Gaucho steakhouses and whatnot.
The sole party destination in South America on this list to hail in from the long, thin nation of Chile comes in the form of Valparaíso. Eulogized by Sting and famed as the goal of brave seafarers once traversing treacherous Cape Horn, it’s now a lively modern town with all the grit and energy you’d expect of a major trading port.
Most of the party places cluster around the western end of the main promenade, a couple of blocks’ walking from the seafront and the port. That puts them in the labyrinthine middle of old Valparaíso, where cobbled alleys weave and wiggle past sidewalk pubs and suddenly reveal trumpet-echoing jazz bars.
What we really love about the nightlife in Valpo (as the locals like to call their home) is how so many of the venues artfully blur the boundary between bar and café, restaurant and discotheque. Settle down and you can be sampling tasty Peruvian ceviche tapas one moment, glugging rich red wines the next, and shin-digging the evening away with an international crowd the next. Who knows what will happen on a night out here?
Even the name is a little boozy in Buzios. Yep, you’ll drink from morning until night and then through to the morning again if you want to in this sun-splashed resort town on the Brazilian Atlantic. Close enough to aforementioned Rio to draw big crowds of city slickers on weekends and holidays, but upscale enough to ensure everything stays swanky, it’s a great spot for the jet setters and A-listers out there.
Mhmm…Buzios has been dubbed the South American St Tropez for its monied vibe and loyal following of beautiful people of Hollywood pedigree. The trio of towns that make up the place exactly reflect that, offering crooked cobbled lanes and high-class boutique hotels. It can all feel like something plucked off the French Riviera for sure.
Armação is probably the wildest of the main areas in Buzios. The main drag there – R. Manoel Turíbio de Farias – is a 350-meter run of buzzing beer bars, elegant cocktail spaces, and Brazilian grills. For some quieter time and a break from the partying, hop in a boat taxi to secret coves like Amores Beach and Praia das Virgens.
The best party destinations in South America – our conclusion
South America doesn’t just have great party destinations. It has some of the greatest party destinations in the world. Period. We’re talking the likes of Rio de Janeiro, the epic home of the Latin carnival, a party that pulls in two million revelers, crowds the Full Moon Parties of Thailand could only dream of. Then come the sun-kissed beach resorts of stylish Buzios, the rum-soaked Caribbean escapes of Cartagena, and the cool surfer town of Montañita. There are oodles of options!