Why Being Vegetarian in Costa Rica is Easier Than You Think

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).

Chaz eats more and more gallo pinto

Eating a vegetarian casado at Soda Angel.

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.

You can buy local produce for cheaper prices than the supermarkets in Costa Rica.

You can buy local produce for cheaper prices than the supermarkets in Costa Rica.

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.

San Jose indie market 4 - Charlie on Travel

Cracking hummus and veggie wrap. omnom.

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.

The view from Samasati

Photo Credit: Samasati

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?

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  1. Eeeee I’m so excited to hear there are some fun gluten-free options in Costa Rica! I have celiac disease and eating gluten free is so often the biggest obstacle in my travels. I’ll definitely be hitting that market in San Jose when I go to Costa Rica :)
    Molly recently posted…See the Sea from the CíesMy Profile

    • I’m not celiac but I very rarely eat foods with gluten (I[m definitely gluten sensitive). Costa Rica is awesome for gluten-free because rice and corn are the staple carbs. Nearly all of the food options here are gluten-free :D

  2. So nice to know it’s easier than people expect to be vegan/vegetarian in certain places around the world! Seeing how so many different fruits and vegetables grow in Costa Rica, I’m not surprised how easy it is there. I had a similar experience in Bolivia, which surprised me, but it was just since fruits and vegetables are just so abundant and therefor cheap that they’re a much more ‘normal’ part of the diet than in places further from the equator.
    Sam recently posted…How Much Does It Cost to Live in Berlin for a Month?My Profile

    • Yes, much easier than many people think! It’s definitely never a reason to make you stop travelling somewhere because it usually turns out differently to how you expect. We thought Poland was going to be hard work too but it was soooo easy and very healthy to travel as a veggie/vegan there. Interesting to hear about Bolivia! I’m definitely going to bare that in mind =)

  3. You guys are so brave to be traveling on such a strict diet. (Or not so strict thanks to all of your clever finds). Im not a vegan but I have to be very careful with what I eat for health reasons so I can totally relate in that sense. Never let it stop you!

    • Actually it’s really easy! but thank you :) We’re not vegan either though, we’re vegetarian and I’m mostly gluten-free too. We enjoy eating vegan though and don’t like to eat dairy that we don’t know the source of. I think that it’s usually not so bad as long as you plan ahead and do a bit of research beforehand. Sounds like you have to be brave to travel on a certain diet too!

  4. Shoot Charlie! We totally missed that soda on the hill up to Manual Antonio a few years back. We lived in Quepos for a month; I love rice and beans, so the Quepos sodas worked for me as I’d eaten casadas (vegetarian) daily but my wife was sick of it after 3 days lol. We missed the market too. Our bad. BUT we did stop by a mean, absolutely fab Italian restaurant in Quepos. Pricey for there yet, the food was well worth it, especially for us. I was a veggie at that time and my wife has been one for years. LOVE the Tico note too; where’s the carne? ;)

    Thanks for the helpful share Charlie and keep on inspiring!

    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…13 Tips for Becoming a Full Time Travel BloggerMy Profile

  5. Great post, Charlie! I was surprised at how easy it is to be vegetarian here in Costa Rica as well. There is an abundance of fresh fruites and vegetables, and resturants offer options to. The Tico’s are more than happy to accommodate, too. Here, in Tamarindo, it’s been fairly easy. The Samasati, Puerto Viejo yoga retreat, vegan cooking class and spice tour all sound fab!
    Valerie recently posted…7 Things To Love About TamarindoMy Profile

    • Thanks, Valerie! Glad to hear that you’re also having a good time as a vegetarian in Costa Rica. The Ticos are always so lovely about adjusting things for vegetarians, you’re right. Yes, they were excellent! I thoroughly recommend all of them :)

  6. Seeing all these pictures is making me super hungry! I actually found Central America relatively easy as a vegetarian but based on discussions with a few other people, I’m worried it’s going to get much trickier the further south I head – unless Argentina has started peddling soya-protein steaks! :)

    • I’ve also heard it gets trickier going South, but I’ve not been further down than Panama so I don’t know how true that is! I often hear that kind of thing from non-vegetarians who have travelled there though so take it with a grain of salt – as of course non-vegs just aren’t looking for the veg options and that can make a real difference. Are you going to be heading to South America, Emily? :)

    • Totally no worries! Glad you enjoyed the foodie photos :D I’ve had absolutely no photography classes or anything, and you’re the first person to ask me that EVER! I actually always consider my photos kind of average, so that’s really sweet of you to say. I just have a canon 550D with the standard lens (no others). My photography has improved since I first started taking photos (some of which are included in my latest post as it’s about something from a few years ago) and have found that lighting and composition make a big difference and that my camera is pretty good for close ups.

      Anyway, thank you so much for the compliments! Looking forward to checking out your blogs guys, I always love to hear from fellow veggies! :D

  7. Great tips for vegetarians in Costa Rica!
    The rice & beans (mixed) is called Gallo Pinto, base of the typical costarrican breakfast, it’s available everywhere around the country. For lunch and dinner, rice & beans (next to each other) are the base for a typical meal called “casado”, and it’s also available everywhere throughout the country. Casado will usually come with a side of meat, so be sure to change that for a veggie option.
    Also, the Feria Verde de Aranjuez is a weekly event that only runs on Saturdays, good for breakfast and early lunch, quite likely to close by 1pm. Ferias are popular on Saturdays all around, great option to get fresh fruits and veggies at cheaper prices, buying them right from the farmer. Great you mentioned it! *Do note that not all ferias have breakfast/lunch options*
    There are also a bunch of vegetarian and vegan options to eat out in San José downtown area, and they too are delicious.

    • Hi Viviana,
      Thanks for commenting! Yep, you’re totally right about gallo pinto and rice & beans. I found that the mix and non-mix doesn’t always correspond to the time of day, just what each local soda happens to have prepped up. I love casados and was always able to get ones with a side of eggs, fried cheese or salad :) And I love the local ferias so much!!! Such amazing, fresh and often organic produce :)
      Do you live in Costa Rica?

    • Hi Hannah – that’s not always the case. It varies from country to country, and many times rice and beans are just cooked in oil (though sometimes lard, especially in poorer areas) and water and a lot of salt. Rice and beans on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast are cooked with coconut milk in addition.

  8. I absolutely loved all the fresh fruit available in Costa Rica. Combine with gallo pinto, fresh tortillas (which I learned how to make!) and juices and coffees… oh yum!!