South Americans love their sweets. Whether it’s a cup of freshly cut fruit sold by a Cartagena street vendor, a cake made almost entirely of whipped cream and meringue, or a 500-calorie cookie, a sugar-packed snack is a requisite part of the average South American’s daily diet.
Little surprise, then, that the continent has perfected the art of dessert. Fluffy cakes, creamy flans and crispy wafers are staples at every restaurant and bakery. The afternoon tea, or merienda, often features multiple kinds of cakes—to be consumed after slices of toast layered with butter and jam. Carb-free and Paleo diets have no place in this part of the world.
Dulce de leche, and condensed milk in all its forms, is practically a religion in South America, leanding an extra layer of sweetness to its sweets. In Uruguay, it’s layered between biscuits, and in Chile, stuffed into pastry tubes. Fruit makes a frequent appearance, but it’s usually smothered in whipped cream or hidden under a sticky layer of meringue. Even the seemingly innocuous fruit cup is often doused in ice cream, Jello or flavored yogurt.
Our suggestion? Give yourself permission to dig in—you can schedule a dentist appointment for the week you return from your trip. Once you see this collection of the best sweet treats from the southern hemisphere, you won’t want to miss out on a single one.
Nell McShane Wulfhart is based in Uruguay, and writes about South America for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nellmwulfhart.