Tag Archives: vegan travel

Vegan in Bhutan

Just before my pregnancy (my daughter is now 18 months old to give some perspective of how hairy life got!) we went on a 10 day trip to Bhutan to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Bhutan is India’s land locked neighbor and is supposed to be one of the happiest countries in the world – they actually have a “Gross National Happiness” measurement. Whether this is really true and practical is unknown to me, but the people we encountered in our travels were very friendly, unfailingly polite and smiling faces were aplenty. I had done my due diligence before heading over there and was really happy in terms of the foods we could eat.

Vegan Bhutan lunch at roadside restaurant

My lunch…the little flat bowl on the bottom right? Thats full of chillies! (Red Rice + Veg curry + dal + chillies)

We visited Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital city), Paro and Punakha (the cultural capital). The short duration of our visit did not allow us the luxury to visit the central highlands, which were very reportedly very beautiful.

road side veg momos

Veg momos at roadside Hotel Bhutia on the way to Bhutan

Bhutan is famous for being in the foothills of the Himalayas amidst lush green mountains and valleys. Further upland are gorgeous snow capped peaks, but they cannot usually be seen during summer or foggy days. Also well known are their red and white monasteries, easy to spot amidst verdant scenery, always evoking a sense of calm when you encounter a Buddhist monk. Until a few years back, Bhutan was closed off to foreign visitors and only recently opened up her gates. Indians however, have always been able to visit for free due to close trade relations between the two countries.

Amazing new restaurant at Paro

This amazing new restaurant at Paro on the main street made us fresh, to order veg food

Chili paste!

Thimphu Market

Grains at the Thimphu market

Thimphu market

Abundant fresh greens at the produce market in Thimphu

Cheese and chillies – Bhutanese people simply love these items. Their spice tolerance levels are insanely high, for how else would they be able to consume spicy whole chillies smothered in a cheesy sauce? This dish is called Ema Datsi, Bhutan’s national dish. I didnt get a chance to try this dish and did get to try a different chilli dish, but I doubt I would have been able to stand the heat.

Thanks to Bhutan’s proximity to India, vegetarian food is easily available – a standard plate would include Bhutanese Red Rice, Dal, Vegetables and chili-based-condiments. Bhutanese red rice has a nutty, chewy quality and is exotic in the rest of the world! Contrary to what one may think, Bhutanese people aren’t vegetarians despite the overwhelming Buddhist presence. I doubt anyone besides the monks are religiously obligated to eschew meat. Beef dishes were widely sold, but a vegetarian & vegan can eat pretty well.

At the point, I would be remiss if I didnt talk about momos. Momos are dumplings are a favorite snack in northeast India, Nepal and Bhutan – ask for the vegetarian version, its usually vegan too. We had the crazy idea to go on a bus from India to Bhutan – my husband loves land crossings! It was a hot and humid day and we were packed in a tiny bus with half the legroom of a US domestic flight! It felt like an endless journey in an oven while the driver finally stopped for a lunch break on the Indian side – they had clean restrooms, fresh water to splash on ourselves and amazing momo’s – we quickly packed away three plates!

We wanted to replicate this momo experience in Bhutan proper, so one evening in Thimphu we walked around the busy downtown area and finally spotted a small hole in the wall restaurant open and bustling with life. We walked in, unsure of what we’d find and a bit conscious of being the only tourists. They had community tables and were mostly full. While we looked lost, two locals enjoying momos warmly invited us to  share their table. They helped us order momos and we stuck up a conversation – one was an engineer and one was a football coach at a school. Over the next couple of days, they joined us for a mini sight seeing trip around Thimphu, gave us pointers on where to stay at Paro and Phuentsholing (border town with India) and took us to another hole in the wall favorite for more momos! Sadly, this time around I did not take notes on where we ate, but overall it was very accessible to find good veg food.

We absolutely loved our stay in Bhutan – our hike up the Tiger’s nest monastery was the highlight of our trip. So I leave you with this parting picture:

Tiger's nest monaster

Vegan food in Cuzco, Peru

Eating vegan in Cuzco is really easy. There are tons of tourists here, and therefore, many options. 

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Sesame bar for 1 sole.

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On the Cruz Del Sur bus from Lima to Cuzco, the vegetarian option was vegan and very tasty. Simply sautéed mushrooms and some vegetable rice.

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Vegan breakfast at El Encuentro, Cuzco

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At Prasada – a small hole in the wall spot (literally!) serving very simple, delicious veg fare. Anything can be made vegan. Just ask!

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My sandwich at Prasada’s

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Lentil burger at Prasada’s

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Veg offerings at the supermarket, for those with a kitchen

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Great breakfast drinks. Just mix hot water or soy milk. Tastes great with hot water!

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One of my favorite finds: at the Chinchero market, a few ladies sell lunch for other market vendors. They bring in their food in huge pots and sell them. This was a plate of simply cooked beans and broad beans, seasoned perhaps only with salt. They had some salsa picante for those who wanted it, and I wanted it the most. :) 

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Very nice juice shop in the plaza. But this picture is only to remind you that fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice is everywhere for the hungry, healthy vegan.

Vegan spots in Cuzco:

  • Maikhana indian restaurant, Av El Sol 106 2nd floor. At avenida el sol and the main square
  • El Encuentro: 6 sole dinners at Santa Catalina Ancho 384
  • Govinda – on Saphy street
  • Prasada – 152 Choquechacha (choquechacha also has a couple of other veggie spots)
  • Om Cusco, Calle Sapphy 661. Run by the folks at Maikhana. All proceeds go to charity to feed poor children. Pay whatever you want.

Vegan Travel: Chachapoyas, Peru

From Vilcabamba, we made an incredibly long journey to Chachapoyas, Peru. It took us over 2 days to accomplish this journey and vegan food wasnt always easy to find during this journey. Our journey looked like this:

  • Vilcabamba to Zumba, Ecuador – overnight bus journey, overly delayed due to landslide blocked roads! 
  • Breakfast at Zumba. We hired a taxi at the bus station to drive us to the border with Peru. We also asked the taxi guy to take us to a restaurant that has food, coffee and clean restrooms. I had toast and coffee here. The Zumba bus station was brand new and didnt even have toilets open to the public.
  • The views from Zumba to La Balsa, the border are beautiful!
  • Once we cross the border, we took another collectivo (like a share-auto) to the city of San Ignacio. No food here as well. Another collectivo to Jaen. Jaen is a large city and we spent the night here. We did find one vegetarian restaurant, but it was closed. Unfortunately, I did not note down where it was. 
  • From Jaen, it was another collective to Bagua Grande and then another to Pedro Ruiz and then another to Chachapoyas. Phew. 

It was great to find three vegetarian restaurants in Chachapoyas. One was closed, sadly, but two are still open. In addition to that, the market is a block away from the main square is a lovely lovely place. Fresh fruits and vegetables abound here. Here is a quick photo tour:

This is the main market in chachapoyas. Its not this small and you can make in a maze as you go from this main corridor. You can find everything here. I often imagined myself living in this small lovely town and coming here on weekends for my fresh produce and grains!

So many juice stalls in the market. Do you see the juice with grains? Thats a quinoa drink. Quinoa, sugar, cinnamon, water. Yum!

Grains, pulses and beans.

Finally, a hearty vegan mixed vegetable rice dish at the El Eden vegetarian restaurant in Chachapoyas. Restaurants in this part of the world close early, open late and take breaks between lunch and dinner. So make sure you find out when they are open as you pass by and decide to come later for a meal. You might just find them closed. They have a set menu for lunch for about 4 soles which usually includes a drink, a salad from the salad bar, a soup and a main course plate. Thats less than $2!

Soy milk found at the local mini mart. Now I want to move to Chachapoyas. I even know a local who loves Hindi movies there. 😀

Vegan Food in Chachapoyas, Peru

A little map that I drew that indicates two vegetarian restaurants. There is another one that I forgot to mark here ..you go right on Ayacucho away from the plaza towards the market and there is a restaurant on your left hand side. It was closed and didnt seem operational, so I am not sure if its still around.

El Eden is on Amazonas ave, its the very popular and big veg place. You cannot miss it. But the one you should check out is the one thats hard to find. Go here because they have a set menu for lunch and dinner and very unpretentious. Its a house converted into a small restaurant. They have a small stall selling health food. And the best all, they seem to be open on most days. This is on Grau – keep walking down on Grau away from the plaza. Restaurant is on the left hand side.

In the market, you’ll find stalls where the vendors are mixing various spice pastes for you to take home. This is common even in Bolivia. Look at the little packets she has made here for sale. Each cost about 1.5 soles. Pick this up, some veggies and rice and cook it all in a pot and you’re good for dinner.

So many juice stalls selling all sorts of fruit and grain juices. Yes! Grain juices. Made with quinoa. Yum!

Vegan Travel: Vilcabamba, Ecuador (valley of longevity)

Vilcabamba is just awesome. Can I start my post in such a way? By the time we were done with Vilcabamba, husband and I decided that its the place to open a small, quirky Indian food cafe + B&B and settle down in our later years. Why do I say that? Because it looks like this:

and this:

Apparently the soil here is incredibly fertile and things just grow. Its way south in Ecuador, close to the border with Peru. Vilcabamba is a very popular retirement haven with middle-aged and older expatriates from English speaking countries. You’ll find them gathered around expatriate cafes discussing everything about the world. One such awesome place is Charlitos. A very unpretentious cafe with a simple international menu (mostly American) and a very friendly owner. The owner Charlie knows all his regulars and takes time to chat with the newcomers too. He told us that he’d never seen Indian backpackers before and recommended that we open an Indian restaurant there – I really warmed to the idea. :)

Anyway, he knows vegan and does a tempeh sandwich really well. Apparently, the tofu and tempeh is locally made. I was thrilled.

Tempeh sandwich with avocados from Charlitos:

Potato and pea soup:

Just uphill from the central plaza is Restaurant Katherine, another small hole in the wall cafe which is veg friendly. People are usually happy to put together something for me. In this case it was “arroz, verduras y lentejas” (rice, veggies and lentils).

Finally, after a long long time, I got to eat soy products in Vilcambamba. A tofu noodles dish from Resto. Terraza. Tofu isnt very easy to find in South America!

Tofu + vegetable noodles from Terraza:

Vegan friendly restaurants in Vilcabamba, Ecuador:

  1. Charlitos, on Diego Vaca De La Vega between Av. Eterna Juventud & Calle Sucre
  2. Restaurant Katherine; On calle sucre 12-54 & Fernando de la vega.
  3. Juice Factory, on Calle Sucre across from the park
  4. Terraza Restaurant – @ the corner across from the tourism office (oficina de turismo). Has tempeh and tofu dishes, rice and noodles.
  5. Hostal Izhcayluma just outside town has an extensive veg menu thats very popular with all types of tourists. We stayed there and had a lovely time.

Vegan Travel: Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is a beautiful, colonial town in southern Ecuador. Narrow cobblestoned lanes, shady streets flanked by colonial buildings, little shops that dot these streets, a church every few streets thats a few hundred years old. All these interesting streets will culminate in a central square/plaza/zocalo where the locals will hang out during the weekends, street carts will sell local snacks and kids will run around and play with pigeons. Its the kind of place where I’d like to go live for a year or 6 months.

Thankfully, Cuenca is big enough and touristy enough to have good vegetarian food. A quick search on google will lead to plenty of results, so its really a matter of choosing the ones most convenient to you. I usually make a list of the veggie places with their addresses and phone numbers and mark them on a map (available for free at a tourist office) and if we happen to be near one during meal time, we check it out.

We stayed at Hostal Hogar Cuencana and we checked out the little international cafe just outside the hostel the day we arrived.

Bread with peanut butter, jam and cute little banana slices. Washed down with fresh black coffee. It is so satisfying to eat a comforting food like this in a foreign land.

We spent only a couple of days in Cuenca and that too was spent in two day-trips, so our meals mostly comprised of fruits, snacks and other supermarket staples like bread. But we did go to the Govinda’s on Juan Jaramillo 7-27 y Borrero for a lovely Indian-inspired meal.

A vegetable curry with coconut milk:

Stir fried vegetables with rice:

A local sweet stall. They sell a variety of chocolate, fruit, milk and coconut based sweets. I spotted plenty of fruit based sweets. I didnt buy any as I was hungry for real food.

At one time, we were walking down on a busy street after a meal and I spotted a restaurant selling a “vegano almuerzo”. I was bummed to have missed it. I didnt get a picture, but I got their brochure and here is their address:

Vegan meal in Cuenca, Ecuador

Nectar Veg Cuisine tea house & gallery, Benigno Malo 10-42 between Gran Colombia and M. Lamar streets. Phone: 2844-118. Nectarcuisine@vegemail.com

Vegan Travel: Banos, Ecuador

Banos is one of our favorite destinations from South America. Just to give you an idea, its nestled in a beautiful green valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains, one of which happens to be an active volcano. Its also Ecuador’s adventure capital. The term Banos literally means baths – the town has a natural spring for that very purpose. Yes, the Banans (?) sure do like to live on the edge. If you take a bus ride into Banos from any nearby city/town, say Quito or Latacunga, you’ll feel like you have left something weighty behind you and something heavy was just lifted off your shoulders.

The small town is brimming with backpackers and friendly locals who work in the adventure industry (rafting, paragliding, ziplining, mountaineering, biking etc.) and is home to an expatriate population too. Needless to say, veg-friendliness abounds in this little green hippie town. Here is what Banos looks like:

Pretty awesome, isn’t it? Now that you are there, you can eat this:

or this, among other delicious goodies at Casa Hood, which is owned by an expatriate-local couple. There is a small library from where you can choose to read a book while you wait (I nearly finished a novel, I made that many trips here!). I chatted with a friendly staff member here and she said they were considering bringing in some vegan baked goodies at some point.

The other awesome place at Banos is El Paisano (Vieira near Martinez, Banos, Ecuador), which is run an incredibly friendly Ecuadorian gentleman who also happens to be an artist. You can see his colorful and vibrant artwork displayed on the walls of his restaurant, also for sale. He is very clear about dairy-free dishes and will plate you some really yummy goodness.

His dishes are rich in vegetables and lentils and minimum seasoning, so it feels really fresh and healthy. 

Last but definitely not the least is Meeting Point cafe. The owner German has traveled extensively (even to India) and returned home and opened a cafe. German has coffee, food, free wifi and is great company especially when he has time to chat. 

Vegan pasta made just for me. It looks very simple, but it had all the right things – some olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper and mushrooms. 

Banos has many vegetarian friendly restaurants, thanks to its international crowd. At the same time, the prices arent backpacker friendly on a sustained basis. However, with a market like this, we chose to cook most of our meals in the hostel kitchen. 

Another little cafe that I spotted, but they were never open the time I was there. Just across the street from Casa Hood. Maybe they are open now?

Vegan granola!

Bolero, an instant barley drink, caffeine free and hermetically sealed. Didnt try this out, but this would be something I’d carry in my pack for instant nutrition.

Salento and Valle De Cocora

The very memory of Salento brings a fuzzy, peaceful feeling in my mind. Imagine waking up in a eco farm house which is accessible to the town center of Salento by a rural mud road by a 20 minute walk, surrounded by the sounds of nature and incredibly lush greenery. Here you will hear no traffic noise, no sounds of tv, but only the occasional bark of the gentle in house dog, Pablo.

One of the views you’ll find as a part of the daily grind of walking to and fro town. We spent a week at this gem of a place and it remains one of my top favorite travel experiences of my life.

The main attraction here is the valle de cocora, which is a region filled with wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, even though we walked 5 hours to see it all. :)

If you walk 2 hours from the La Serrana hostel through woods, down a hills and a creek, past a meadow and up another hill, you’ll arrive at the lovely home of Pedro and Juanita and their two daughters, whose home Sacha Mama is thrown open to travelers. They will walk you through their day, explain how they live a simple but highly sustainable life. They grow wild, organic coffee, fruits and vegetables and have a lovely little garden with a bird feeder to attract the most vibrant birds. The kids are home schooled and know how the transmission of a 4WD works thanks to their PhD father. The mom believes in eating mostly plant based food as she thinks its good for the body and the planet. The family doesnt want the girls to use facebook yet! :)

The house Pedro and family buit with their own hands. The birds up front:

And I just mentioned to Juanita once that I only eat plants and look what she made for us for lunch!

A huge bowl of scrumptiously simple salad (center) containing cabbage, carrot, tomato, onion and a dash of salt and lemon, a vegetable rich pasta with a home made tomato sauce, lemon juice. Needless to say, I took several helpings of the salad!

Black coffee, no sugar. Made from wild, organic, coffee beans. Pedro showed us how to roast the beans, grind them and make the coffee. Cant get fresher than this. The coffee was superb and I didnt miss the sugar at all.

Back to the hostel after a trek back through the rains, a volunteer from Kenya cooked a Kenyan meal in the restaurant. For COP 15000, we got a lovely taste of Africa along with great company.

We also stayed there for Christmas as did at least a dozen other travelers. Christmas special dinner was open to all and the vegetarian option was very vegan friendly! It was a candle light dinner, so the pics weren’t all that great. 

Otavalo, Ecuador

Otavalo was our first stop at Ecuador. After an interesting experience at the Colombia-Ecuador border where we tried our luck at a visa free entry and succeeded (yay!), we were quite charged for shopping at Otavalo. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market. On this day, the entire town centro is filled with arts and crafts stalls and these stalls radially extend for several blocks. Its no surprise that this area has some of the most successful indigenous communities. The locals are proud about their culture and one way they show it is by wearing their traditional dress on a daily basis.

The arts and crafts here are quite amazing. The endless stalls of colourful scarves, intricate beads and pretty bags and baglets will make you go ga-ga. Who can resist this?

All well and good. But you’re probably wondering, what about the food. Unfortunately, I had a very unpleasant experience here. A mexican restaurant (near hostel valle de amanecer), that openly proclaimed that it was selling vegetarian food did have extremely tasty food. Despite repeatedly confirming that my soup had no animal products in it, I was aghast to find a small non-plant bit floating in my soup during our second visit to this place. My buoyant mood until then quickly plummeted and we immediately left the place. Its probably my fault – its no big surprise that soups are likely to be flavored with animal broth, so I really had no business ordering. Should have stuck to sandwiches and burritos where I could see the ingredients.

The second unfortunate thing that happened was that we were there during the new year weekend. Most restaurants that would normally have been open were closed. I cant even remember what we ate, probably sandwiches somewhere with lackluster fillings or a pizza without cheese (usually the easiest thing to get). 

The following day, we finally stumbled upon this place:

It was a small cafeteria style restaurant on the main centro. When we walked in, we saw a woman at a counter with all the food for the day in front of her. You’d pay her and she’d plate your meal for you to take to a table. Very simple and unpretentious. After yesterday, I wasnt expecting to find anything or be understood. I was glad to note, however, that she perfectly understood my request for sin-carne, sin pollo, sin queso, sin huevos. :)

A sort of potato preparation (I could only taste potatoes, oil and salt), an ear of corn, a fresh salad with lettuce, onions and tomatoes, some sort of boiled maize and roasted corn (visible to the left of the corn ear) and my perennial favorite – fresh avocados. But my favorite part was this:

Chicha, a fermented corn drink presumably made of corn or maize flour and is sweetened. It has that slightly sour, fermented taste and was really cold. Sooo satisfying. We were going to leave Otavalo and head to Quito after this meal, so it was a very great way to end our stay.

Picanteria Centenario

Otavalo, Ecuador

A vegetarian plate cost $3

Located next to Indigo Hostel on Calle Sucre (near Calle Sucre and Salinas, away from the centro)