Eating vegan in Costa Rica is not extremely challenging, because most places will easily serve you white rice and beans. However, eating whole food plant based and avoiding things like refined grains, sugar, and oil is much more difficult, especially when you’re traveling through less touristy areas.
In this post, you’ll learn exactly how to prepare for eating vegan in Costa Rica, with specific emphasis on making sure your meals are the healthiest possible. I will provide you with restaurant options, tips on snacks and foods to pack with you, and other general tips on how to make your way as a vegan traveling in Costa Rica.
If you’re not traveling to Costa Rica any time soon, but are traveling anywhere and want to learn how to eat healthy on the go: this is the post for you!
Eating Vegan in Costa Rica: General Tips
We have found that most locals in Costa Rica are not completely clear on the word “vegano”, or vegan in Spanish. While vegetarian is very familiar to them, vegan is not.
An easy way to get around this is to request food without animal products, like this:
- Sin leche (no dairy)
- Sin queso (no cheese)
- Sin huevos (no eggs)
- Sin carne (no meat)
- Sin pescado (without fish)
- Yo no como carne (I don’t eat meat)
- Sin productos de animals (no animal products; but not everyone understands what this means, so make sure to detail all of the possibilities like above)
It’s crucial to use all the “withouts” whenever you order something out because again, most people don’t understand what “vegano” actually means. It’s also nice to explain to people what you can eat, especially if you chat with curious locals: “Todas las frutas y verduras, granos, frijoles, nueces y semillas”. Our hosts were super surprised that we ate all of these things as vegans!
You can get rice and beans anywhere, even in a little town, but it’ll have to be white rice. Just ask for “arroz y frijoles”. The best options for vegan food in Costa Rica are any “soda”, which is like a home-made traditional Costa Rican food restaurant, where you can get rice and beans, or going to a pizza place and asking for pizza “sin leche” and “sin huevos”. Make sure to ask if the crust is vegan by making sure it doesn’t have eggs, like this: “La corteza tiene huevos?”
We were also lucky enough to get this amazing vegan pizza:
A traditional dish you can get almost anywhere is casado: a mix of rice, beans, fried plantains, a salad, and meat. All you have to do is ask for a vegetarian casado: “casado vegetariano”, but make sure it doesn’t have milk, cheese, butter, eggs, or mayo.
A Note on Healthy Vegan Food in Costa Rica
As you can see from above, the traditional vegan dishes you will get in Costa Rica are not whole food plant based, and yet they are not ridiculously processed either.
Many of the dishes include oil, sugar, and white flour, and if you are uncomfortable with eating those foods then you’ll definitely want to rely on the tips below about foods to bring with you. In addition, you can also (which we did lots) shop at a local supermarket. At smaller towns, they will be tiny, but you can still find all the fruits and vegetables and beans you may ever want! We were even able to find tahini (at a scary price), and make hummus for our host family! No brown rice though…
This is why we love staying in Airbnb and cooking our own meals. At the same time, I must say that we loved being served the local cuisine, even if it did have oil. We felt so grateful to get a vegan meal, and enjoyed it a lot knowing that we will be back to our healthy vegan food at home.
What Food to Pack When Traveling to Costa Rica
If you have been around the blog for a bit, you know that I always, always recommend being prepared, no matter what you do! Being prepared ahead of time means that you have snacks on you, and that if you don’t find something healthy to eat, you can rely on your snacks.
Here are some snacks we brought with us from San Diego to Costa Rica, which we used on super active hiking days and just to hold us over if we couldn’t find any healthy food around:
- Go Raw cookies: these were so delicious, and had just a few ingredients. We were excited for them like a little kid for dessert!
- Rolled oats for making overnight oats
- Peanut butter
- Turmeric and black pepper for muscle soreness on hikes. We mixed these into the oatmeal, and made this recipe more or less: https://www.soulintheraw.com/vegan-breakfast-recipe-turmeric-oatmeal/
- Date coconut rolls (dipped in peanut butter, they are amazing!)
- Dried mangoes and dried pineapple (lots of good calories for trails)
- Freeze dried peas and freeze dried corn
- Lara bars. This is my favorite kind: https://amzn.to/2TOfKXC
- Spice mixes for cooking in Costa Rica: everything but the bagel and onion and herb seasoning
- Cooked and dehydrated chickpeas in spices that I premade
- Dehydrated and spiced almonds and cashews that I premade
- Fork, knife, spoon (so crucial for eating papayas, mangoes and pineapple on the go!)
- Hand sanitizing wipes for after all that fruit munching
- We didn’t do this, but looking back I think I’d also bring some brown rice and quinoa to cook there, because finding brown rice in small towns is nearly impossible
Our Typical Daily Menu in Costa Rica
- Breakfast: if you love fruit, totally forget about packing breakfast, unless you’re going on a long trail and can’t carry heavy packs. Fruit stands are everywhere, and our typical breakfast was always fruits like watermelon, papaya, coconuts, pineapple, and mango. So delicious!
- Snacks and lunch: we ate some more fruit mid-day, or ate some of our snacks that we brought with us. We always had some stashed in our backpacks!
- Dinner: we either cooked simple dinners like large salads with cooked beans, or we bought dinner which usually consisted of just white rice, beans, and plantains.
The Best Vegan Restaurants in Costa Rica
There are several vegan restaurants in Costa Rica that we absolutely adored, and are very much worth mentioning here:
- Raw Co. Juicery and Food: on our drive from San Jose to San Gerardo, we stopped at RAW CO. JUICERY AND FOOD in San José Province, San Rafael for smoothie bowls. They were absolutely delicious, and I highly recommend this spot for great healthy plant based food!
- MIXT is a lovely, vibrant and super healthy restaurant in San Jose that serves delicious bowls. While they do use oil, the bowls were super fresh and delicious: probably the healthiest vegan restaurant food you’ll find!
- Green Vurgers is a burger spot but they have a huge menu with tons of delicious options in San Jose, plus the owners are vegan activists and they’re so great! I think you can find relatively healthy options there, but we opted for pizza and a burger, and they were both insanely delicious and a treat.
- Mama Toucan’s: while not a restaurant, this is a health food store in Dominical that caters to vegans. You can find lots of vegan goodies like desserts and snacks, as well as whole grains and beans, and they also have a deli you can eat at. We didn’t actually eat there, but the food looked amazing!
Do you have any questions about traveling as a healthy vegan? Or vegan in Costa Rica? Let me know below!