Dietary Restrictions, Food & Travel

One of the biggest difficulties in my life is centered around food. You see, not only do I consume a plant-based diet, but I also have numerous food intolerances and a sensitive gut which dictates what I can, and cannot eat. This is usually okay when I am living at home as I cook all my own meals, but what happens when I go out, or when I travel for months at a time?

Whether you follow a plant-based diet like myself – which consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and completely avoiding meat, fish, dairy products (yes, cheese is included in this), eggs, and animal by-products, you have food sensitivities, or have any other dietary restrictions, it is certainly still possible to travel.

When I set off to Central America I was very worried about what I would eat on a daily basis. I pictured many hungry nights, stressed out grocery trips, and dreaded restaurant visits. To my surprise and delight, not only did I find enough to eat each day, but I actually met a whole community of people with similar diets to myself.

So how do you travel with food and diet restrictions?

1.Be Open to Trying New Local Foods

It may be difficult to find some of the staples you eat at home, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by how many delicious new foods you can try as you travel that fit into your dietary restrictions. When I first landed in Costa Rica I had never tried papaya, fresh coconut or plantains. Who would have thought these would end up being part of my daily diet while I traveled through Central America? All I am saying is, try new foods, you might discover a whole new world of possibilities.

2. Ask for Recommendations 

The best thing I ever did was ask locals if they knew of restaurants and other places that could accommodate my food requirements. I ended up with such long lists of spots to try that I couldn’t get to them all. I also discovered many hidden gems by extending my question to others.

3. Cook for Yourself

If you are a backpacker then chances are you’re looking for cheap accommodations, so this one will doubly benefit you. Many backpackers choose to stay in budget hostels as they travel, which offer a bed in a dorm shared with other backpackers. It doesn’t sound ideal if you have never tried this out, but I can vouch that staying in hostels is such a great way to travel and they have provided me with some of the best experiences of my life.

Anyways, another added bonus of hostels is they usually come with a kitchen. This is not always the case, so you must do your research before booking, but they are quite easy to find. This provides the opportunity to cook for yourself, which if you are anything like me takes a lot of the stress out of eating. I feel most comfortable when I can cook my own meals so I know exactly what goes into my food or what does not go into it. 

Whether you travel with some food staples in your pack, or hit up a grocery store to grab some fresh fruits, veggies, grains, etc., you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to whip something up in a hostel kitchen. Not to mention, it is also a wonderful place to connect with other travelers, and you may even end up sharing a meal and making a friend all while accommodating your dietary needs.

4. Learn the Words

When I arrived in Costa Rica I felt very overwhelmed because I did not know more than a few basic words in Spanish, and yet I needed to eat, obviously. The first thing I did was search for the ingredients I did not want in my food, such as milk, meat, eggs, and so on. I wrote the Spanish translation of these words down, and I practiced saying them over and over again. It took me a lot of courage to say these words in restaurants when I ordered food, and luckily I had met travelers who could speak Spanish and helped me to get my message across. However, with time I became confident with these words and spoke up for my dietary needs.

5. Don’t Worry so Much

When I think back to the months leading up to my trip, I remember constantly feeling worried and stressed out about traveling on a plant-based vegan diet. I expressed my worries constantly, and I truly thought I was going to live off of lettuce and rice. We humans have this tendency to stress ourselves to the brink of illness over things we may not have all the information about. I had a hard time finding vegan options online before my trip, and that alone led me to think I was the only person on a vegan diet who ever traveled to Central America. I know right? 

Overthinking, stressing, and assuming does not do anyone any good. Of course, it is scary to travel somewhere we haven’t been before, but it is exciting and part of the fun of getting out of our comfort zones. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, you will find what works for you, and you will not starve to death, I promise.

A Travel Guide to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Head on an unfamiliar pillow. Eyes flutter open to the first peaks of the morning sun. Ears fill with exotic sounds of howler monkeys roaring in distant trees and tropical birds singing their morning melodies. The world is calm and slow to wake. The mind is clear and relaxed. The days are unhurried and laid-back, incorporating Latin, Caribbean, Indigenous and Hippie vibes at the core of the culture. The lush rainforest meets the vast and unforgiving sea – providing both grounding and free-flowing energy. This is where the beautiful surfer town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca lives.

This is where magic lives.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is located along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, in Limón Province. This small reggae surfer hippie town neighbours the area inhabited by BriBri, a large indigenous population, as well as a few other beach towns that span across the main road.

Getting There

Puerto Viejo is accessible by local bus for about $10 USD or by shuttle, which costs around $55 USD; both of which drive directly from San José to Puerto Viejo in about five hours.

As the bus drives across the small bridge and into the town of Puerto Viejo you can immediately feel that this is a special place. From the reggae music that fills the streets, colourful shops, Pura Vida vibes, excited tourist, local surfers lounging on the beach, veggie carts selling local produce, cyclists dodging motor bikes, and stray dogs looking for scraps to eat, this place has room for everyone.

Getting Around

To get around the small town of Puerto Viejo many people choose to rent bikes for the cost of about $4 USD a day, though it is certainly easy to walk the town in a few minutes.

For the Beach Dweller – Local Beach Spots

As the main road of Puerto Viejo runs along the sea, there are many beaches to choose from if a beach day or a surf lesson is calling your name. Playa Grande, or Black Sand Beach, is known for its dark sand and picturesque sunset views. Salsa Brava is the main beach in town and features an abandoned ship and beach bars. Playa Cocles is farther from town and a popular beach to spend the day laying in the sun, grabbing a surf lesson, or playing some beach volleyball. Outside of Puerto Viejo lies Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva, and Playa Manzanillo, which are easily accessible by bike and provide beautiful and relaxing beaches to swim, tan, and snorkel.

For the Spiritual Seekers and Healers – Yoga, Kirtan, Reiki, and More

Beyond the world-famous waves and relaxing beaches, Puerto Viejo has a wide variety to offer travelers. Yoga classes are available throughout town, many of which are free or donation based. Kirtan, a form of chanting, is organized occasionally, and it is not difficult to find different healers providing Reiki, Thai Massage, and other therapeutic services.

For the Adventurer – National Parks, Waterfalls and Jungle Hikes

For the adventurous type, Cahuita and Manzanillo both offer national parks which are accessible by local bus and offer an array of tropical animals, beautiful beaches, and easy walking trails. Bribri, located in the mountains behind Puerto Viejo, is rich with beautiful waterfalls, both touristic and secret ones that range from a short bus ride and walk to a few hours of hiking into the jungle.

For the Party Animal – Puerto Viejo Nightlife

If you are one to party, the nightlife in Puerto Viejo is always vibrant and thrilling. A mix of reggae, Top 40, Latin and rap emerge from the speakers in the various bars around town. Monday to Thursday the bars feature “ladies’ night” where ladies drink for free and men flock because, well, the ladies are there. Locals battle it out in beer pong against tourists and the dance floors fill with drunk girls . Fire shows featuring talented performers provide alluring and mesmerizing entertainment, and a walk along the beach is never far from reach.

For the Animal Lover – Sloths, Sloths and More Sloths

A close bike ride from Puerto Viejo lies the Jaguar Rescue Center. The center is the home to orphaned and injured animals until they can be released back into their habitat. There haven’t been any jaguars in many years, so not to worry – you won’t run into any newly released jungle cats on your way there. For those who specifically want to see Costa Rica’s favourite (and my favourite) animal, a short bus ride to Cahuita will take you to the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica – and this time the residents of the center are true to its name!

Of course, it is not necessary to visit a center to see the best of Puerto Viejo’s wildlife – you are in the jungle after all! A simple bike ride to the beach is usually accompanied by the appearance of several sloths hanging upside down as they lazily munch on leaves, howler monkeys as they gaze below looking for their next target practice, lizards, birds and many other creatures.

This all sounds great, right? But what about this magic that was mentioned?

The magic of Puerto Viejo goes beyond the activities you can do and the places that you can see. This magic is found in the beautiful souls who inhabit this land, as well as those who are attracted to the area. It is a place where open-minded, spiritual, kind, intelligent people flock together to create an environment of acceptance and love. Whether your country of origin, ethnicity, education, sexuality, religion, purpose and experiences, you are accepted, appreciated and loved.

The magic of Puerto Viejo lies in the warm Caribbean air and the nourishing rains that keep the jungle green and abundant. The magic lies in the salty cleansing sea, and the soft warm sand.

The magic lies in the powerful vortex of Puerto Viejo that sucks travelers in for months at a time, fills them with love, and gives them a second home to come back to time and time again.

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