Welcome to Bolivia, an incredible country of culture, nature and a mishmash of tastes. However for vegans, Bolivia brings a new challenge; low cleanliness standards, remote destinations and a heavy reliance on camelids. If (like us), you came from Argentina and Chile, it might be a shock to system, so let us give you a guiding hand to find some delicious (and safe) vegan food.
Rule no. 1 – If you want to, cook your own meals (BUT BEWARE!)
As always, this is our most important rule, but it ‘s much harder to achieve in certain areas of Bolivia. Firstly, there are so many day trips or ‘three day tours’ (Uyuni springs to mind) that you’ll no doubt end up at some point facing an omelette or cheese sandwich, so let’s be prepared for that. Secondly, kitchens in Bolivia were generally shabbier, less well equipped or even non-existent depending on where you stay. So yeah, we didn’t cook much here.
There is a benefit though – quinoa. This goddamn blessing of a superfood kept us tipped above the protein line most of the time, and it’s dirt cheap as well as more ethical in Bolivia. Funnily enough it was surprisingly difficult to find it in supermarkets, but you’ll see bags of the stuff at local markets. I worked it out, it’s 10x cheaper here than in the UK! Supermarkets are not such a big thing in Bolivia, instead you’ll mostly be wandering into smaller stores – in fact when we saw something that resembled a supermarket in Copacabana it was almost alien to us!
If you buy anything from anywhere, wash it thoroughly before use, and avoid eating raw unless you want Salmonella. Speaking of which, we spent most of the month feeling a bit grotty, having long nights in the bathroom or visiting the local clinic – but don’t let that put you off, we’ve been your guinea pigs so you’ll be okay! Salads are almost always a no-no, and be weary of anything on the roadside. Oreo and Toddy are your biscuit friends, but not the healthiest option!
Rule no. 2 – Once again, there are plenty of vegan/veggie/veg-option eateries!
Oh HappyCow.net how you saved us once again. Nearly everywhere there’s at least an option for our plant based diets, and Bolivia surprised us in this way. It’s certainly cheaper to eat out Bolivia, and we did our best to avoid the inevitable food poisoning – here are our recommendations and warnings:
The Uyuni Tour with ‘Tawanda (Licancabur)’ – 6/10 (mainly for effort)
If you go to Uyuni and don’t do the tour to the salt flats / national park then something’s wrong. We had three days with a lovely Austrian family 4x4ing through the desert from San Pedro (Chile) to Uyuni, and somehow we had to eat vegan on the way. Consdiering this is at 4000m+ with remote villages it was a BIG ask. We were very pleased with the effort our company went to to help us. They asked questions, double checked and did the very best they could to give us what we could eat, and the food wasn’t bad. I’d highly recommend this company – they even were polite enough to warn people in their office that it’d be tough for vegans!
Otherwise Uyuni does have a few places to eat, but these are located on the central tourist area (Plaza Arce). You’ll be able to find quinoa soup, quinoa burgers and falafel down this way.
Koala Café – 7.5/10
Potosí isn’t the best place for vegans but Koala was our favourite place. They offered soy burgers (but never had soy) and also quinoa burgers which were pretty decent. The quinoa soup was the highlight for us, and as we got bolder we discovered a nice vegetable pie. Worth noting to definitely take the mine tour with the associated agency rather than any of the others offered.
Location: Calle Ayacucho No 5
Manzana Magica – 4/10
The only reason this place gets a 4 is because it’s super cheap. The portions are small and low quality, but hey – there’s a lot to choose from.
Location: Oruro 239
Condor Café – 7.5/10
This café is part of a hostel and tour agency sitting right in the centre of town next to the world heritage site. It was our first falafel burger in South America, and although a little dry, was very welcome. Other than this they offered soy milk (bonus) and good smoothies.
Location: Calle Calvo 102
El Germen – 5/10
A rather dark atmosphere and pricey menu was made up for by a decent quantity of tofu. The taste was average but portion sizes good.
Location: San Alberto 231
Chifa & Thai – 8/10
A surprisingly nice and well priced restaurant near the central plaza. They had a really nice range of vegan dishes amongst the rest.
Location: Calvo 70
Gopal – 6.5/10
Everything was vegan which is always a bonus (although depends on the day). Very cheap Indian buffet style with some interesting salads and desserts. It’s tucked away inside a courtyard to the right .
Location: Calle Espana N 25
Menta – 8/10
Modern veggie/vegan restaurant on Calle Espana. Delicious peanut potatoes and you can veganise the burgers and pizzas. Quite pricey though.
Location: Calle España 356
Café del Pueblo – 6.5/10
Really charming little cafe in this beautiful remote town with lovely staff. It’s expensive because of the location and so the menu is also quite limited. Food tastes good and you can also get a takeaway made for the next day which is essential for your daily hikes.
Location: Calle Charcas Esquina Montes
Café Vida – 9/10
Entirely vegan menu with a tasty soup of the day, bread, hummus and (as far as I could gather) free bread refill. Amazing smoothies, savoury and sweet bowls and even some bigger meals for in the evening. Sandwiches just on the small side but otherwise lovely central café with decent wifi!
Location: Calle Sagarnaga 213
VinaPho – 9/10
In the wealthier Sopocachi area of La Paz, so you may find it’s a little pricier. However they offer a large range of delicious Vietnamese dishes and you can have anything with tofu (yay!). Also have some tasty tempura veggies and sauces. We even got ours delivered via Facebook and a taxi!
Location: Av. Sanchez Lima No. 2326
Tierra Sana – 6/10
A mixed bag for us, it was basically the backup if Cafe Vida was closed. First off we were disappointed by the mango and ‘tofu’ curry which was quite watery and barely contained tofu. However, on our second visit, we were extremely pleased with the quinoa burger, the potatoes were also delicious.
Location: Tarija Street No 213
Namaste – 8/10
Ok so we didn’t eat here, just a (delicious) tumbo smoothie – try it! We did have a long chat with the owner and look around the place. Namaste is one of the funkiest and well decorated places we entered, so worth a visit just for the paintings. We also heard the food was great, so let us know if you try it!
Location: Calle Zoilo Flores 1334
Luz del Mar – 7/10
Most of our time in Rurrenabaque was sadly spent with food poisoning in bed, at the doctors, or wandering the streets for meds. Luz del Mar was the place we ate after recovering, and it did okay. A very helpful owner and some vegan options, it’s your best bet in Rurre.
Location: Calle Avaroa, between Av. Aniceto Arce and Calle Pando
Juliano’s – 4/10
This was a last resort for us. It gets 4 because of the ambience, and the helpfulness of the owner. The food tasted okay, but prices were high. It’s considered the best place to eat in Rurre but doesn’t offer much for plant based diets. A rather tired staff member was shocked at the idea of no cheese, but then proceeded to order mine WITH cheese – luckily corrected and deducted from the bill by the owner. This was also the last place we ate before Victoria got sick, it may have been lingering Salmonella, but we still feel Juliano’s was the trigger.
Location: Av. Santa Cruz
El Condor and The Eagle – 8.5/10
Three words: Beans on toast. At first glance El Condor seemed a little pricey with relatively small choice for us. After nearly giving up, we settled on beans on toast which turned out to be the best I have ever tasted. You cannot come to Copacabana without giving it a go – the secret ingredient was love.
Location: Av 6 de Agosto inside Residencial Paris
Hostal Joshua – 8/10
A little far away from the main ‘strip’, Hostal Joshua is worth the walk. A run down road and fields lead you into an odd looking hippie-shack where you’re warmly welcomed by humans and animals. The portions are enormous, healthy, and there’s even a cart which wanders the promenade with tasty vegan treats.
Location: Calle Manko Kapac y Bueno
Thai Palace – 6/10
Despite the relatively low rating, we ate often at Thai Palace. A super chilled atmosphere (reflected by the relaxed pace of service) provides a pretty zen wind down to your day. The vegetarian menu is dirt cheap at 25 BOB (£3) for three or four mini courses. The food is okay, and you can get veggie quinoa sushi if you ask nicely.
Location: Avenida 6 De Agosto Y Calle
Isla Del Sol
When you take the inevitable trip to Isla Del Sol, there are also options available on the island. After climbing the southern steps you’ll see a line of cute restaurants overlooking the bay. They are all similarly priced with virtually the same menus, we had a decent quinoa soup with vegetables and chips on the side.
Bolivia will test your stomachs, there’s no doubt, but it does mean you get to eat out a lot. There’s a really surprising mix of vegan food in the big cities, and when you’re out in the countryside look for the quinoa! Remember to always ask for special meals on tours, and if all else fails then bread is super cheap.