Vegetarian Survival Guide to Bolivia

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.

Just Ask

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

Amazing pizza at Minuteman, Uyuni

Amazing pizza at Minuteman, Uyuni

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.

Papas Rellenas

Papas rellenas made during our cooking class

Papas rellenas made during our cooking class

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

Sonso and masaco at Las Delicias

Sonso and masaco at Las Delicias

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.

Cheese empanada & huminta at Las Delicias

Cheese empanada & huminta at Las Delicias

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

Bolivian dried snacks

Bolivian 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.

Trail Wallet

26 thoughts on Vegetarian Survival Guide to Bolivia

  1. Lol, is it me or does it seem that the vegetarian options over there are either bland or simply heart attack on a plate? Mashed potato stuffed with cheese, battered, and deep fried? You’re brave… :)

  2. Great post! These are helpful tips. As a vegetarian, I found it difficult to find inexpensive, tasty food in rural Peru and Colombia. I didn’t travel to Bolivia, but it sounds similar. The most difficult thing for me was dining with a meat-eating traveling companion– and watching him feast on $1.50 lunch platters (steak, rice and beans) while I had to wait for a bland meal at an overpriced tourist restaurant. I feel your pain :)

  3. Ah, Minuteman Pizza… We live in Japan now and we’re still talking about that place. We went 2-3 times, I think. After foraging for vegetarian food in Bolivia for 5 weeks, we were so happy to find it!

  4. I love your veg survival guide series! Luckily I started in Colombia and (eventually) will head south. I’ll have to check back before I hit up each country for your recommendations :)

  5. Loved the article. I’m living in Sucre, and trying not to get bored with the vegetarian offerings. At least I can cook at home. I thought Pizzeria ‘El Maná’ deserved a mentioning. It’s by the bus station, and has a to die for veg pizza. They even have a wood oven! I’ll be sure and read your postings about other countries once I start traveling. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for all the great information, this has been really usefull to my girlfriend and I. My girlfriend is vegetarian (and that practically makes me one too!).

    We are currently in Sucre at the moment, about to go to Snack Luis Comida Real to try out the papas rellenas! can´t wait to finish this entry!

    I thought it would be worth mentioning another great vegetarian snack we have found in Bolivia. Salteñas are similar to empanadas, but much better in our opinions! They are filled with onion, small pieces of potatoe, a couple of olives and ´caldo´ (kind of like a sweet soup.

    They come in various flavours (pollo, caldo, carne, VEGETERIANA ;). The draw back is that they seem to generally only be available in the morning, as the vendors bake them at night/early morning, and then they get sold out by lunch time.

    You can occasionaly find vendors with carts wondering around Sucre (cost 2/3 bolivianos), but it is easier to find them in a Salteneria. The one we use most frequenly is on Calle San Alberto, next to the Fox language school.

  7. Dear fellow nomads, I came unto your site looking for anything vegetarian in Trinidad, but looks like i´m going to scout yet another pizza.

    Good post though, I agree with most of the tips! Sucre has about 5 veggie restaurants by the way for lunch.

    Especially the last tip is important, chicken (pollo), jamon (ham) and fish (pescado ) / seafood (marisco) are all considered vegetarian.

  8. Great article! I have to add that I ve been in three vegetarian restaurants in La Paz, one in ” calle campero” , the other one is call Armonia don´t really remember where it is… and the last one in the Hotel Gloria ,great buffet ! exect to pay between 10 to 25 Bs. or 2 to 4 american dollars!

  9. Pingback: Vegetarian Survival Guide to Burma (Myanmar)

  10. Hi Simon, What is the name of the cooking class where you learnt to make Papas Rellenas? Would love to go to a cooking class while I’m down in Bolivia!

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