For the last few months, I've been in Central America, making my way down from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to Panama City. From the Mayan monument to the Caribbean beaches, from the chicken buses to the rainforests, I loved every minute of it. Well, maybe every minute bar the few in which my bags got stolen, but you can't have everything, eh?
Having made it back home, aside from the questions "how was it?" and "how is it to be back?", one of questions I'm being asked a lot is "what did you do for food?" After all, Central America doesn't immediately scream vegan friendly dining.
If any vegan travellers are thinking of heading down that way, my first recommendation would be consider getting yourself somewhere with self-catering facilities - it's cheap and if you rock up somewhere late at night and can't be arsed to go hunting for vegan scran, there's still the option of eating something decent. Some of my favourite self-catering options that we came across on our travels were Hostal Hansi in Bocas del Toro, Panama, Cabinas and Hotel Vista al Golfo in Santa Elena, Costa Rica and the Secret Garden in Tulum, Mexico. Hotel Ecologico Cabanas del Lago in El Estor, Guatemala and Finca Tatin, near Livingston, also in Guatemala didn't have self-catering facilities, but were happy to cater for vegans, while Guesthouse El Nancite in Leon, Nicaragua is also worth a mention - the owner is happy to whip up a vegan breakfast featuring among other things mangoes from his beautiful garden (that's it up the top of this page).
For those days and places where you can't, or don't want to, make your own vegan feast, one easy back-up option is Chinese food - more often than not, even small towns will have a Chinese takeaway. They may not have something vegan on the menu, but most don't mind whipping up something animal-free. It may not be the best Chinese you'll ever had - although both Maxim's in San Ignacio and Panda in Caye Caulker (both Belize) deserve an honourable mention - as it's often bland, you can't go wrong with fried veg and rice.
All that said, there is still some frankly awesome vegan food to be had in Central America, including gallo pinto, the national dish of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which you can find versions of in most countries in the south of the isthmus. Essentially, it's rice and beans with a bit of onion, garlic and pepper. It may not sound like much written down, but served up with a mountain of hot sauce and some flour tortillas and it's a thing of wonder. I've tried to recreate it many times and nothing I've hashed together comes close. Tuck in, and you won't be disappointed, especially if you've got some fried plantains and cabbage salad to go with it.
We didn't get to eat at many - maybe any? - exclusively veg*n restaurants on our travels, although Panama City and San Jose, Costa Rica have a handful between them. In Leon, Nicaragua, we encountered the rather wonderful Cocinarte. Although often billed as a veggie place, it does rather disappointingly serve a few chicken dishes. Nevertheless, most of the stuff on the menu is veggie and a good chunk of that vegan or veganisable. More than that, it's really good tasty stuff and definitely recommended. Also getting a big thumbs-up is 100 per cent Natural in Tulum, Mexico for interesting veggie and veganisable (ask them to hold the cheese and sour cream) options.
Would I go back for the food? Maybe not. Would I go back? Like a shot.
For the last few months, I've been in Central America, making my way down from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to Panama City. From ...