Tips for vegan travelers in Peru


It is not easy to eat vegan in South America. However, it is possible to stick to your dietary preferences while traveling on a budget. Sure it's not a culinary adventure, but at least you'll feel good about sticking to it. Here are a few things I learned as a vegan in Peru.

1. Think fruit, then double it

It's so easy to think, "I'll just eat fruit" when you're not local. I mean, this is South America. If you expect anything, it's good quality fresh fruit. In reality – d. h. if you are not already used to eating only fruit, smoothies or juices for breakfast – you might be a little unhappy at first.

Luckily, if you stick with it, you'll be craving a sweet breakfast (and that's saying a lot for me – I'm more of a hearty breakfast kind of guy). But even if you crave them, you'll probably be hungry again before lunch. And why? Because you do not eat enough. If you only order a juice at a stand or a fruit salad in a beach restaurant, that is not enough fruit to get full. Either buy your own fruit to supplement or get another portion in the morning. Fill up while you can, because if you can get by with a fruit breakfast, it's a meal that doesn't have to be complicated by geography. And it can get complicated. Believe me.

2. Pack your own lunch

Booking cheap last minute tours is one of the advantages of staying in Peru. Actually, no one books more than a few days in advance (and if you do, you pay a hell of a lot more, so just don't).

If it's a full-day or multi-day tour, they offer lunch or multiple meals (though not all, so it's important to ask). Even if you are asked if you are vegetarian, you should not rely on the food being vegan. It will probably include eggs or even tuna (this happened to me once).

Play it safe and buy something at the market or grocery store beforehand. Even if you eat snacks as a meal, you can at least stick to veganism without going hungry.

3. Don't always avoid the gringo restaurants

I know they feel inauthentic. I know they are much more expensive. But sometimes you just have to eat well.

One of my best dining experiences in Peru was at Cafe Andino in Huaraz. How did I become aware of this place? From my Lonely Planet travel guide. I know, I know – I usually avoid these places too. And, yes, nobody there was a local. But I had a fantastic sesame tofu salad, and I didn't care that it cost my entire food budget for the day.

Here's the thing about Peru: It's not Thailand. Not every market stall offers gourmet standard dishes. Local food doesn't mean you can eat nice stir-frys and curries for a dollar. You will get good food once in a while, but that is not a guarantee. Restaurants geared toward tourists offer meals suitable for a variety of diets. So, live a little and blow your budget now and then.

4. Trust vegetarian restaurants

Even if they are hard to find, you can usually trust restaurants that call themselves "vegetarian". This means your "vegetable soup" won't mysteriously turn up with bits of bone and pork in it. It also means that a large part of the meals will probably be vegan.

However, if there are no "vegetarian" restaurants, look for a chifa. Chifas are very popular in Peru. The food is a Peruvian version of Chinese, d. h. Vegetables, meat, rice and noodles Chinese style. You should be able to get plain vegetables and noodles or rice. It might get repetitive if you rely on it often, but it's a meal you can eat (as long as you're not too concerned about your sodium intake!).

5. Don't be afraid to ask

Even if the menu consists of meat, rice, salad and a soup as an appetizer, you can make special requests. I'm one of those people who doesn't dare to be the least bit difficult in restaurants (maybe that comes from the years I waited tables during high school). You will quickly learn, however, that most restaurants will leave out anything you want as long as you pay for it.

So just eat your rice and salad and pay the $2 (or the equivalent amount in soles). It may not look that exciting, but neither does that piece of chicken that has been sitting on the kitchen table all day waiting to be heated up and served (maybe).

Bonus: Don't blindly say "yes" – repeat instead

People are not always sensitive to the fact that you are not 100% (or 90%… or 50%…) confident of your abilities in their language. So don't necessarily expect a "sI" or "no" when you make your request. Instead, you may hear a series of words that you kind of, but don't really understand. Don't just nod and smile. You may end up with something unexpected on your plate. Maybe not, but that is a risk. Even if you feel like an idiot, instead just repeat the request you so carefully translated and practiced beforehand. Probably after that you realize that you have no idea (especially if the follow-up question has nothing to do with your choice of food).

Bonus tip: make sure your hostel has a kitchen

Cooking for yourself is of course the best way to keep track of the ingredients. However, not every hostel has a communal kitchen. Yes, most of them have one, and it is usually