I had a pair of friends visit me in Costa Rica not long ago who were vegetarian and vegan. My first reaction was, “Oh, no, what are they going to eat?” I know how much Costa Ricans love their chicken, beef, chicharrones (fried pork), fish, etc.
They said, not to worry. Rice and beans are the nation’s main staples, and there is a wealth of fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. It’s true!
Traveling in Costa Rica as a vegetarian or vegan, or even needing a gluten-free or dairy-free diet, is relatively easy. Rice and beans (both red and black) are present at every meal, including breakfast. Steamed vegetables, simple salads, fried plantains, corn tortillas, and plenty of tropical fruits are common and readily available. If you eat fish, the country is full of fresh fish (both saltwater and fresh water) and seafood.
Here are some easy tips for eating vegetarian / vegan while traveling in Costa Rica:
- Learn food names in Spanish so you can understand a menu and ask for what you’d like. (See my handy English/Spanish food guide below!)
- Be very clear about what you can eat / not eat. Just saying that you are “vegeteriano/a” (vegetarian) does not guarantee you won’t be served fish or chicken, or that bits of meat aren’t mixed in a dish.
- Order a combination of several appetizers or side dishes if you can’t find any entree on the menu that works. Costa Rica has several very-filling vegetarian soups, for instance.
- Make a request. Maybe something on the menu looks really appetizing, but they’ve included chicken in it. Simply ask them to prepare it with vegetables instead of chicken. “Arroz con pollo” (rice with chicken) can be turned into “Arroz Jardinero” (rice with vegetables), for example.
- Be flexible. Remember, you are traveling in a different country with its own culture, cuisine, customs and ways of doing things. Costa Ricans are friendly and will do their best to help if you have patience and explain what you need.
- Seek out vegetarian restaurants. There are many throughout the country. Chinese restaurants also are popular and always have vegetarian options.
The open-air restaurant at Pranamar Oceanfront Villas & Yoga Retreat, at world-renowned Santa Teresa Beach, specializes in healthy cuisine and can accommodate vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and other special dietary needs. The luxury boutique hotel fronts the spectacular beach of Santa Teresa on the southern Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.
Their Buddha Eyes Restaurant, positioned beautifully on the edge of a lagoon-style pool, merges Pacific Rim and Asian cuisine with native Costa Rican and Italian touches. They feature organic Costa Rican fruits and vegetables, creative vegetarian cooking, and fresh just-out-of-the-ocean fish and shellfish.
Head Chef Rodrigo Soriano of Argentina specializes in fish and grilled meats. Chef Claudio “Cicco” Mazzone from Italy is known far and wide for his homemade eggplant parmesan, based on his grandmother’s secret recipe. Chef Jesus Zabala from Venezuela adds his touch to vegan and vegetarian dishes. Guests rave about Pranamar’s salads, hotel staff said. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served seven days a week and the restaurant is open to the public.
A TripAdvisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence award winner, Pranamar Villas features luxurious two-story poolside villas, elaborate oceanfront villas and tropical bungalows in lush tropical gardens. Pranamar gives daily in-house yoga classes, regular yoga retreats and workshops, all-inclusive yoga vacations, surfing and yoga holidays, and has a beachfront spa with relaxing massages and body treatments.
English/Spanish food guide for Costa Rica
- Gallo pinto – White rice and usually black beans cooked with garlic, onion, red bell pepper and cilantro. Served for breakfast.
- Huevos (revueltos / fritos) – Eggs (scrambled / fried)
- Frutas — Fruit
- Granola – Granola (easy!)
- Yogurt — Yogurt
- Chorreadas – Corn pancakes served for breakfast or with coffee. (Check to make sure they are not made with milk if you are eating dairy-free.)
- Platanos – Fried plantains
- Casado (sin carne / pollo / pescado) – Typical meal (without meat / chicken / fish) for lunch or dinner. The dish consists of white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and salad of lettuce, tomato and onion. Vegetarian options serve steamed vegetables.
- Arroz – Rice
- Frijoles – Beans
- Vegetales al vapor – Steamed vegetables
- Arroz Jardinero – Garden, or vegetarian, rice dish
- Sopa Negra – Black bean soup (usually served with a hard-boiled egg; just ask for “no huevos” if you want dairy-free).
- Ensalada — Salad
- Batidos en agua – Fruit smoothies in water (“en leche” is in milk)
- Tortillas de maiz – Corn tortillas
By Shannon Farley