top of page

Refreshments to Avoid in South America

You booked your plane ticket to a beautiful destination in South America, but you are still exploring potential activities and experiences. Something to think about is the food and drink you may be offered on either a tour or by local vendors. Read below to learn about what exactly these goods have in them.


This is a drink made by heating or boiling a psychedelic plant. Side effects can last 4-6 hours and include intense auditory and visual hallucinations, euphoria, anxiety, and more. Travelers taking antidepressants should avoid this drink because it could be dangerous when mixed with their medications. This drink is popular in Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador.

Coca Tea

Coca tea is an herbal tea made of the raw or dried leaves of the coca plant. It contains cocaine metabolites that can be detected in your urine for almost 24 hours. Travelers may be offered it on the trail to Machu Picchu because it is a remedy for fatigue, asthma, and altitude sickness. It is common in Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. Coca tea is a greenish-yellow and tastes bitter.


This is not a food or drink that you can order anywhere, but it is a scopolamine powder that can be mixed into food, drink, or cigarettes and knock someone out. Dangerous people in Colombia and Venezuela have used this powder to rob or assault others. Someone can swallow, inhale, or even absorb the drug through their skin. Don’t smell anything that anyone might offer, and don’t let food or drinks out of your sight.

Dairy products

Outside of the United States, most dairy products are not pasteurized. Pasteurization kills a lot of potential bacteria in milk that can make someone sick. In South America, pasteurizing cheese, milk, and butter is not standard practice. Try to skip the dairy until you return home. Food poisoning is one of the top illnesses that travelers experience and dairy can upset the stomach even more.

Tap Water or Ice Cubes

Try to avoid getting ice cubes in your soda or other drinks because they were likely made with local water. Tap water is also avoided because its purity is questionable. Drink primarily bottled water, but if you don’t want to keep buying bottled water-invest in a water purifier or boil all your drinking water. Water filters are common for hikers in the backcountry, but often only filter bacteria and protozoa. Water purifiers get rid of viruses, which is your primary concern in a foreign country.

Your travel to some South American countries might require a yellow card. The yellow fever vaccine protects against a mosquito-borne disease for the duration of your life. You receive a yellow card when you get the vaccination, and some countries request this card when you land at your destination. Talk to a travel health specialist at our newest Scottsdale location to learn more.


bottom of page