Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics


Tipsy in the Tropics: Relax with a Local Cocktail

Travel guides can be a big help with finding local restaurants abroad, but what about a local tropical cocktail? Those of us who are adventurous tend to seek out something exotic and authentic that we can’t find at home.  Aside from local cuisine, local cocktails are a great way to broaden your horizons when traveling abroad. Becoming friendly with residents native to your destination is a great way to find a cocktail that wasn’t mentioned in a guidebook or piece of literature at your hotel. If you haven’t been abroad lately to find new cocktails, we have a few here that will give you taste of the tropics and a pleasant buzz.


Mama Juana

Mama Juana (or mamajuana) is a drink native to the Dominican Republic. It’s made from rum, wine, and sometimes honey or cinnamon. To spice it up, various herbs, plants, and leaves native to the Dominican Republic – Canelilla leaves – are added. At first site, it doesn’t look terribly appetizing. It somewhat resembles sticks and trees bottled up in a jar with a strange looking liquid. Recipes vary depending on who makes it but usually it’s dark red in color with an alcohol content (about 20%) approaching that of a port wine.

Canelilla Leaves (By Arturo Feliz-Camilo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Canelilla Leaves (By Arturo Feliz-Camilo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Rumors and mythical legends surrounding mamajuana range from medicinal to mysterious. Many Dominicans claim that mamajuana is a cure all for many ailments ranging from the flu to prostate problems. Other claim drinking mamajuana acts as a powerful aphrodisiac.

There’s no hard and fast rule to making mamajuana so, the recipes and methods are very forgiving. The easiest way to test out a homebrew, is to soak leaves and whatever plants you choose in a bottle or mason jar with equal parts rum and red wine for up to two weeks. At the end of the two weeks soaking period, throw out the liquid portion and refill again with rum, red wine, and honey. Cinnamon or even raisins can be added to the concoction at this stage as well. The only thing left to do is pour in a glass over ice and enjoy!



A Mojito is a cocktail that originated in the Caribbean island of Cuba. With U.S. and Cuban diplomatic tensions easing up, acquiring a Cuban mojito may not be as difficult as it once was.

The most widely believed tale of how the mojito came into existence occurred in 1586 when Sir Francis Drake landed on the island of Cuba with sick crewmembers. A few people went ashore to grab supplies and came back with a primitive form of rum made from the sugarcane fields. Along with the rum they brought lime and mint which were thought to help with vitamin C deficiency, inflammations, and infections.



The key to making a correct mojito starts with make simple syrup. When I was in high school, I dated a girl whose parents had immigrated to United States from Cuba right after the revolution. It seemed to me that one of them always had a mojito in hand, especially in the evening. Of course they let me try it but cautiously explained to me that I will never have a mojito as good as they could make it. The family “secret” she informed me is in the simple syrup. I have witnessed many a bartender try to replicate the Cuban treasure I first tried in high school and every single one of them has failed.

To make simple syrup, combine a cup of white sugar with a cup of water in a saucepan. Bring it to boil stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved and allow it to cool. Once it’s cool, it can be kept in a squeeze bottle for up to a month in the refrigerator. Any air-tight container will do but a generic squeeze bottle makes it easier to get the syrup into the mojito.

Cuban Mojito
  • 3-4 fresh mint sprigs
  • 2-3 small lime wedges
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 oz rum
  • Ice
  • Club soda, chilled
  • A Muddler
  1. Place mint and lime wedges in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Muddle gently with a muddler to release the lime juice and aromas and oils from the mint.
  3. Add in the simple syrup, rum, and ice.
  4. Shake vigorously and pour into a pint size cocktail glass.
  5. Top off glass with club soda.
  6. Optionally, you can garnish with a new mint sprig and fresh lime wedge.


Going against the traditional iced-down cocktail of warmer climates, canelazo is an Ecuadorian drink that is served warm. In Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the elevation sits at over 9,000 feet causing some chilly evenings in the wintertime. In order to stay warm, particularly around Christmas, canelazo is a popular choice among locals.

Canelazo ("Canelazo" by momentcaptured1 from NYC, USA - Canelazo - Special Drink in ColombiaUploaded by mangostar. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -

Canelazo (“Canelazo” by momentcaptured1 from NYC, USA – Canelazo – Special Drink in ColombiaUploaded by mangostar. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons –

  • 4 cups water
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 8 small cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cups white rum
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and the orange slices.
  2. Bring to a simmer stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes or until the syrup is dark brown and heavily smells of cinnamon.
  4. Add in rum and lime wedges and mix before serving.
  5. It can be served in a coffee mug as a drink or as a shot if you’re entertaining multiple guests.


Written by

Eric Plummer is a freelance writer living in Des Moines, IA where he was born and raised. He blows off steam by downhill skiing in the winter and hitting horrendously awful golf shots during the summer. When he's not busy writing, entertaining one of his various other hobbies, or making futile attempts to stay on his girlfriend's good side, he gets tremendous joy out of tormenting his younger siblings by over-spoiling his nieces and nephew.