Think eating vegetarian in Costa Rica means endless days of “rice and beans – hold the chicken?” Think again.
Friends of ours who travelled in Costa Rica said that we’d be sick of rice and beans in no time. Though we’ve certainly eaten more rice and beans than is probably healthy while on the road, Costa Rica has proven to be an excellent destination for vegetarian travel. Being able to order vegetarian food in local sodas (cheap eateries) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vegetarian travel in Costa Rica.
Eating Out as Vegetarian in Costa Rica
Though vegetarianism hasn’t really caught on in most parts of Costa Rica, much of the local food actually is vegetarian and the locals just don’t realise. Ask a Tico (Costa Rican) for vegetarian food in a local soda and they will stare back at you in dismay before bringing you a big, cheap plate of rice and beans. Vegetarians can order this with eggs or fried cheese, and vegans can order fried plantains and cabbage salad. Asking for a casado vegetariano is usually enough, but if you’re still getting blank stares then asking for gallo pinto (rice and beans) con huevos (eggs), queso (cheese), or vegetales (veggies) will do the trick.
Best Sodas for Vegetarians: After eight months of on and off travel in Costa Rica, there are two sodas which really stand out from the rest when it comes to cooking up delicious vegetarian casados. Soda Angel on the hill to Manuel Antonio has great typical food cooked fresh (comes with eggs), while Soda Guetto Girl One Love in Puerto Viejo has an incredible Caribbean plate of coconut rice and beans with a spicy veggie stew (all vegan).
While sodas will get you by when travelling around in Costa Rica, there are exclusively vegetarian places around. A quick search on HappyCow will tell you that they’re few and far between. However, there is one place that really shines when it comes to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free and raw: Puerto Viejo. This little beach town on the Caribbean coast has a laid-back, hippy vibe and plenty of veggie cafes to match. There’s a whole run down of them in my post on Puerto Viejo, but I can say for sure that my two favourite eating spots there are hands down La Botanica Organica Cafe and Como en mi Casa Art Cafe.
Farmer’s Markets in Costa Rica
As house sitters, we travel really slowly and mostly eat in. The really awesome thing about doing this in Costa Rica is the local farmer’s markets. These markets are in most towns across the country, usually on Saturday mornings. The farmer’s markets are filled with fresh, local, organic produce at cheaper prices than the rubbish stuff in the supermarkets. We experimented with a whole load of strange fruits and vegetables, from yucas and chayotes to rambutans and soursops, thanks to the farmer’s markets. Of course, you can get hold of all the common fruits and veggies, as well as free-range eggs, locally made cheese and sometimes yoghurt.
Best Farmer’s Markets in Costa Rica: After house sitting in Santiago de Puriscal so many times, we grew very fond of the farmer’s market there which has delicious sweet bananas, fresh herbs and sometimes even kale. Quepos also has an excellent farmer’s market along the sea front where you can get hold of fresh tumeric and other great spices. The best market for vegetarians and vegans though has to be Feria Verde de Aranjuez in San Jose, which has quirky vegan ice lollies, gluten-free wraps with hummus and even green coffee.
Activities for Vegetarians in Costa Rica
What was most unexpected about travelling in Costa Rica for us was coming across a couple of activities that really appeal to vegetarians. In Puerto Viejo, we came across a vegan cooking class run by Veronica’s Place where we learned to cook local Caribbean style vegan food. In Quepos, we went on a spice farm tour where we learned all about true cinnamon and so on, as well as tasting delicious vanilla bean cheesecakes and chilli hot chocolate made with the spices they grow. What more could you want?
Accommodation for Vegetarians in Costa Rica
When we travel, we look out for accommodation that caters for vegetarians when we can. We don’t mind sharing hostel kitchens with meat-eaters, but we find that when available vegetarian-friendly accommodation can make our life easier and is a nice way to meet like-minded people. There are a few places listed on HappyCow, but we stayed in these two (both of which aren’t listed):
Veronica’s Place, Puerto Viejo: This hostel and guesthouse is run by a friendly, vegetarian family and where we took our vegan cooking class. The shared kitchen of the guesthouses was equipped with a rare, much appreciated blender that makes life so much easier for nut-butter, smoothie loving vegetarians.
Samasati*, Puerto Viejo: This off-the-grid yoga retreat doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with three buffet-style vegetarian meals per day which are amazing. We loved the fresh fruits at breakfast, and soya protein and raw salads that came in the evenings.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan thinking about travelling to Costa Rica, don’t be deterred by all this talk of overdosing on rice and beans. With a little bit of research and some savvy travel decisions, eating vegetarian or vegan in Costa Rica isn’t just easy, it’s awesome.
Do you have any other vegetarian or vegan recommendations for Costa Rica?