We heard from other vegetarians who had travelled through Bolivia that we’d be eating a lot of egg and chips (unfortunate as we don’t like eggs), and have to put up with finding bones in supposedly vegetarian soup. It didn’t sound promising. We spent seven weeks travelling around the country, and although we wouldn’t recommend it as a foodie destination, we managed and only had to eat eggs a few times. As always in South America you can survive as a vegetarian, but it does take some searching.
Here are our tips for travelling as a vegetarian in Bolivia.
Our first stop in Bolivia was the border town of Villazón. We had a few hours to kill before our onward bus to Tupiza so we wandered into a local eatery wondering what on earth we’d find to eat. We asked (in Spanish) if they had anything without meat. “Chicken” was the response. Er, no chicken either please. They ended up bringing us a big plate of rice, salad and fried potatoes. Exciting, no, but definitely passable.
We also managed to get good vegetarian food on our Tupiza Tours salt flats trip. We mentioned our dietary needs quite a few times just to be sure, and were specific that we don’t eat meat, chicken, ham or fish.
The ‘just ask’ advice doesn’t always work though. The women at the Sucre market stalls looked at me like I was crazy when I enquired about meat-free options.
Eat at Gringo Restaurants
It’s a sad truth that the easiest place to find vegetarian food in Bolivia is at the gringo restaurants you’ll find in every town on the tourist trail. It’s a shame because they are a lot more expensive than local eateries (around 30B for a main) and you miss out on the experience of trying local food, but often it’s your only option. Pizza and pasta is found everywhere, and if you are lucky you’ll find something more interesting.
Gringo highlights for us were the lentil burgers at Cafe de la Jungla in Rurrenabaque, vegetable ratatouille at Latina Cafe in Samaipata, vegetarian tacos at La Cueva, La Paz, pizza and other goodies at Minuteman Pizza, Uyuni and breakfast burritos at our guesthouse in Samaipata La Posada del Sol.
Search for Veggie Lunch Places
Most big cities have vegetarian restaurants serving up set lunch menus. These can sometimes be dreadfully bland but are filling and cheap (10-17B). The best options we found were El Germen in Sucre and Namaste in La Paz. Have a look on Happy Cow for more options.
We were happy to discover a traditional Bolivian food that is vegetarian friendly. Mashed potato is formed into a ball, stuffed with cheese (or egg or meat), fried in a batter and served with a spicy sauce. Very tasty and extremely cheap at 3B per potato.
These aren’t as easy to find as we would like but we did find a good place to try them in Sucre.
Cheesy Santa Cruz Specialities
In Sucre we discovered Las Delicias, a popular Bolivian cafe serving up lots of veggie-friendly traditional snacks from the Santa Cruz area. Unfortunately for vegans they all included cheese:
Humintas – mashed corn and cheese served steamed or baked in a corn husk.
Sonso – mashed yucca and cheese served on a stick and cooked over coals.
Masaco – mashed banana and cheese.
You can also find empanadas (pastries) but we didn’t find cheese versions very often, and they were not as good as the Argentine versions.
All of these except humintas are quite difficult to find when travelling around the country.
Stock Up on Dried Snacks
For long bus journeys and tours where you aren’t sure what the vegetarian meal options are like, stocking up on snacks is vital. Simon’s choice is pringles and oreos, but for a cheaper, healthier alternative Bolivia has lots of great dried snacks. It’s easy to find street stalls selling packs of nuts, raisins, dried chickpeas, fava beans, banana, and peanut bars. For 1-2B these are great value.
Enjoy the Fruit
One of the best things about Bolivia is the easy and cheap access to tropical fruit and juices. You can find street stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice for 3B everywhere, and often the markets have rows of fruit juice stalls with blenders to whip up your choice of juice. A huge range of tropical fruit is available: custard apple, prickly pear, passionfruit, papaya, pineapple, mango and more.
The markets are also well stocked for self-catering.
Add Spice with Llajhua
We were spice-deprived after Argentina but luckily chilli is easier to find in Bolivia. The spicy tomato and chilli sauce llajhua is found on most restaurant tables. In local restaurants if you have ended up with a plate of plain rice and boiled vegetables this is a great way to add flavour.
Learn Some Spanish
It’ll be on all of our South American survival guides: your life will be easier if you can speak some Spanish to explain your eating requirements and check if a meal contains meat. A useful phrase to know is “Soy vegetariano/a” (I’m a vegetarian), although it is better to be more specific: “No como carne, ni pollo, ni jamón, ni pescado” (I don’t eat meat, chicken, ham or fish).
We have written a comprehensive guide to vegetarian eating options in Sucre. If you are travelling as a vegetarian around South America you can also read our survival guides to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.