South American nightlife is legendary, which should come as no surprise. After all, this is the continent that brought us cumbia music, luscious caipirinhas, and world-renown parties such as Carnival. And with so many South American countries straddling the equator, the climate is perpetually warm and humid, creating the perfect conditions to be up late and party all night in the streets.
Nightlife in a city is so much more than just going out for drinks or dancing until sunrise in a discoteca; it's a way to experience the local culture and interact with native residents in a relaxed and genuine setting. Sightseeing is great, too, but you can potentially learn a lot more about a destination over a few beers with a local than you can by visiting monuments.
Whether you are looking for massive nightclubs with the world's best DJs, live tango music to dance to, or a quiet bar to sip on a cocktail, every country in South America has something to offer. However, a few cities do stand out for their epic nightlife scenes.
The city is famous as a party destination, with the bacchanalian New Year's Eve party on Copacabana beach and Carnaval both being some of the biggest celebrations in the entire country.
Zona Sul, or the South Zone, is the area where most tourists stay and is full of pubs and nightclubs. But for a more authentic experience, travel outside of the tourist zone and into the city center. Rio is a vibrant city that is teeming with life, and if you follow the music you're sure to find a local bar with a vibe that fits you.
If you aren't sure where to go, the Lapa district in central Rio is a good place to start. Locals and travelers flock to this bohemian neighborhood nightly for the eclectic options of bars, lounges, and clubs. Live music is a specialty of the area, and you won't have to search hard to find some typical samba music to dance to. If you don't know how to dance samba, it's a perfect opportunity to ask a local to teach you.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The sprawling capital of Argentina is not only one of the economic capitals of the continent, but also one of the most exciting venues for nightlife.
The Palermo district of the city is home to many of the best clubs, with live DJs playing on the weekends and most clubs staying open until at least 7 a.m. Some are even open 24 hours a day during their busiest periods of the year.
Fans of live music are sure to fall in love with Buenos Aires. The city welcomes an amazing range of bands, from international superstars to local artists. Tango is the Argentine classic, and stopping to see a performance in a neighborhood lounge should be an obligatory part of your evening. There's also a fervent passion for rock music in the city, and several venues highlight up-and-coming indie performers.
The de facto national drink of Argentina is fernet mixed with Coca-cola, and no experience is more cultural than sitting outside on a warm summer evening sipping fernet con coca with a group of friends. Nights often begin with a shared bottle between a group, before heading out into the city.
Once a sleepy Ecuadorian fishing village, this coastal town began to attract surfers and is now a backpacker hotspot in the country. Montañita, which means "little hill," is about three hours from Guayaquil and is famous for its street parties, reggae bars, and lax laws around cannabis use.
The bars in Montañita are open daily, while the nightclubs are usually open beginning Thursday and don't close until Monday. Techno and electronic music can be heard blaring into the streets all night on weekends, while club promoters hand out flyers and try to entice tourists to enter their venue. But even if you arrive and the clubs are closed, you can always find some type of party happening in town. Montañita is located almost directly on the equator, so the temperature is fairly constant all year round and travelers can always be found parting in the streets or on the beach.
Montañita is a fun city to visit and a common pitstop for backpackers in South America, but it isn't the most authentic of Ecuadorian experiences. The town primarily caters to tourists, and even a large proportion of the residents are ex-pats who have decided to move abroad. But if you're looking for nightlife, then Montañita shouldn't be missed.
Considered a no-go area for much of the 1980s and 1990s, a crackdown on the drug cartels and great efforts to make the city a welcoming destination have transformed the appearance and atmosphere of Medellín.
For those looking for a unique and entertaining way to meet the locals, try going to one of the many salsa and cumbia clubs and testing out your moves. The myriad bars on 33rd Avenue, colloquially known as "La 33," provide endless opportunities for live music and dancing.
Parque Lleras is the most lively district for nightclubs and bars in the city, and the excellent cocktails made with the local aguardiente sugar cane spirit are definitely an interesting taste of the country.
Located on the northern coast of Peru, Mancora is a small town that has benefited greatly from the booming popularity of the surfing scene in the area. This remote outpost isn't the easiest to get to and requires a domestic flight after arriving to Lima or Cuzco followed by a two-hour bus ride. But once you arrive, the breathtaking views and buzzing nightlife scene make it all worth it.
Primarily a resort town, Mancora is known for hosting parties every night of the week, many of which take place in the local hotels. The entire city is one main street along the beach, so you can't avoid the party even if you try. This definitely isn't the place to go for those looking for a quiet night in, and if you're looking for a tranquil beach town, Peru has other coastal cities that would be a better fit.
If you haven't already tried Peru's national drink, the pisco sour, Mancora is a perfect place to order it. Frothy, citrusy, and boozy, this delicious cocktail is the perfect accompaniment to a fresh plate of ceviche before heading out for the night.