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While we all might like to kid ourselves that we’re travelling merely to get immersed in culture, make connections with locals and see the wonders of the world, few of us are strong enough to turn down a good bit of nightlife when it’s offered. Luckily, there are party destinations in South America’s every corner, so you’ll never be short of somewhere to let your topknot down, especially around the time of New Year’s Eve. Obviously I’m not encouraging you to go and join in the parties before coronavirus has been fully controlled, but in the meantime there’s no harm in you getting your plans in place.
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Below is the list of my favourite party destinations in South America, and since no nightlife is the same, I’ll let you know the general vibe of the parties found in these places, too. I’m bloody helpful like that. But first, some FAQs.
South American nightlife FAQs
What should you wear for nightlife in South America?
If you’re wondering whether I packed a full dress-up wardrobe in my backpack to frequent some of the more high-end party destinations in South America, the answer is a solid ‘no’. Coupled with some over-the-top makeup, a summer dress or jeans & a nice top with sandals (plus a leather jacket if in one of the colder party destinations in South America), I could make my usual backpack stuff work for most situations. I was lucky that wearing bright-white trainers with a small platform (Fila Disruptor-style) was in fashion for most of the time I was in the region, and I do love me a bright-white trainer! Bringing small accessories like hoop earrings or a choker could turn a daytime outfit into a nightlife banger fairly easily. Here’s me in Punta del Este, Uruguay, having had a full 6 minutes to get ready in a hostel:
For guys, jeans, an ironed t-shirt and trainers is fine for most party destinations in South America. Never, ever turn up to a nice establishment in shorts or flip-flops.
What’s the drinking age in South America?
The legal drinking is 18 in every country of South America except Paraguay, where it’s 20. You very rarely get ID’ed as a foreigner in South America, but the upper-end places tend to be a lot stricter, and while pueblos are generally fine it’s not unheard of in bigger cities that police patrols are out looking for a reason to fine an establishment. Either way, it’s best to always carry an ID with you – take your driver’s license, NOT your passport. Passport always stays in your hostel locker or behind reception.
So, the best party destinations in South America:
While there is obviously nightlife in Chile’s capital, Santiago, no one would argue that the place in Chile to go and party is Valparaíso, which is known for its young hipster population and bars with views over the whole bay. It tends to draw a youthful crowd, and it’s famed as one of the best party destinations in South America on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks that night are spectacular!
Party vibes: intimate bars with great views before heading to sticky-floored clubs
It’s no secret that one of the best things to do in Medellín is to party the night away. Various sectors of the city offer different vibes, with the most popular being the lofty heights of Parque Lleras in El Poblado barrio. This is crazy-gentrified and heaving with both tourists and rich locals, but its bar-lined streets guarantee a raucous nightlife experience. Alternatively, there is the much less polished and way more local-feeling La 70, an area in Laureles known for its cheap drinks and salsa DJs.
Party vibes: everything from slick city rooftops to neon-lighted salsa bars
Cartagena is less of a party city and more of a city where you can always find a party. As if things weren’t hot enough on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the temperature gets turned up in many of Cartagena’s best bars, clubs and rooftops of an evening.
Party vibes: Salsa and bachata with a vibrant Caribbean twist
Peru isn’t really known for its beaches, which is surprising for a country with 1,500 miles of South Pacific coastline. What Peru does get talked about for though is Máncora, a growing beach town that attracts thousands of party-going surfers every year. The parties tend to revolve around some of the larger hostels like Loki, but there is also a small Magaluf-esque strip to the south of the town. There’s still plenty of peace to be had along the sand, though!
Party vibes: 18-34 style surfer hostel bars with just a sprinkle of tackiness
This is another of the surf-town party destinations in South America. Montañita is similar to Máncora, except the parties are found in one of the many booming multi-storey bars instead of at hostels. Start off your evening of nightlife by watching the sunset from the Montañita Brewing Company on the beach, then sip a lethal cocktail in one of the temporary-looking 4-man bars/shacks along the side of the road, then shimmy off to a larger bar or club. Parties often finish on the beach to watch the sunrise. Locals flock from the larger cities to join in with the backpackers for this side of Ecuadorian nightlife.
Party vibes: beachy nightlife that locals have actually been able to cash in on
Come party in studentville! Rosario, Argentina is home to a huge number of university students, and they bring the city alive at night-time. There are bars for everyone here, and it’s known as one of the most welcoming party destinations in South America for the LGBTQ+ community. Wash away the hangover with a pedalo round a park lake the next day.
Party vibes: inclusive nightlife with a young crowd
Buenos Aires, Argentina
We all know that us Europeans can’t resist a good bit of nightlife, so as one of the most European-feeling cities in the region, Buenos Aires certainly needs a mention in my list of party destinations in South America. With distinct hipster Shoreditch vibes coming out of its Palermo barrio, the Argentinian capital offers craft ale bars, speak-easies and themed clubs. Just like Europe, it is a little more pricey than most of the other party destinations in South America, but well worth the pesos to absorb the vibrant atmosphere.
Party vibes: hipster and smooth with a European feel
Punta del Este, Uruguay
Used as a summer playground by Argentinians and Brazilians alike, Uruguay’s Punta del Este is a bustle of nightlife – if you go during the right season. Take a few nice outfits and fill your wallet to get into one of the swankier bars such as Ovo in the Punta del Este Casino, or head to something smaller along the peninsula. To continue the party through the day, book yourself a hotel with a pool club.
Party vibes: higher-end urban holiday frequented by Brazilian celebrities
Porto Seguro, Brazil
To be fair, Porto Seguro is more of a party destination for South American newly-grads, but I’ll give it a little mention anyhoo. Cheap and tacky beach resorts meet boozy afternoon dancing in the legendary Porto Seguro. On the coast of the state of Bahia, the city offers a lot of colourful history and paradise beaches, too.
Party vibes: Gen Z celebrating their graduation with some way-too-sweet cocktails on the beach
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When I call out Rio de Janeiro as one of the greatest party destinations in South America, your first thought is probably carnival, right? But what if I told you that Rio is still a bangin’ source of nightlife even outside carnival?! Almost every night of the week, you can find a street party around the city, and the clubs and bars on offer are top-notch. You can find intimacy in a samba bar in Lapa, football chants in the Irish bars of Leblon, swankiness in Copacabana or the grimy beats of Brazilian funk at a packed nightclub in the centre.
Party vibes: anything and everything!
Another Argentinian playground! Buzios is like a little Spanish holiday resort, equipped with a pedestrianised touristic zone, restaurants built over the beach and a few nightclubs that’ll take you through to dawn. There are plenty of boozy options during the day too, such as booze cruises out to some of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches over in Arraial do Cabo, so it’s a solid candidate for the best party destinations in South America. As evidence, below is my sister living her best life with a far-too-strong caipirinha.
Party vibes: Argentinians gone wild in a sparkling clean resort town
Got any more party destinations in South America to add to this list? Let me know in the comments section below! I hope you have an incredible time dancing your way across the region – and don’t let anyone tell you that’s not the ‘real’ purpose of travelling. If anything, it’s an easier way to connect with locals’ modern-day culture… just don’t get so hungover you puke on a market stall the next day cuz ain’t nobody got tiempo for that.
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