We spent six weeks here and it was worth every minute. We were stoked by so many smiling faces, such an impressive and diverse countryside (from jungles and green valleys to active volcanoes), so many things to do (tubing down rivers, exploring caves, hiking, surfing, you name it), so many exciting animals (howler monkeys, tarantulas, butterflies and birds galore) and so much colorful and ever present Maya culture. Priceless.
And also the food is unique: frijoles (black beans paste), fried plantains, guisquil (Squash-like vegetable), jocotes (seasonal fruit), atol de lote/platanos (sweet and thick vegan drink made of corn or plantains respectively, super yummy!) and of course tortillas, enchiladas and guacamole. Sometimes similar to Mexican food, but just not quite the same. And as a snack there’s always somebody offering Pupusas (originally from El Salvador) which, when you order the frijoles-only version, are vegan and so good!
We found this little vegetarian place called Legumbres Mayas in picturesque Flores, where you might wanna stay the night before or after (or, like us, both nights) you visit Tikal. I wouldn’t wanna call it restaurant, but the chef/waiter is very friendly and can transform all the dishes into being vegan. Homey atmosphere, good grub and cheap. Support the little places!
Next, I would recommend Lanquin which is conveniently located halfway between Tikal and Guatemala City. It’s a fantastic stop as you can visit stunning Semuc Champey from there, go river tubing, explore caves, make your own vegan chocolate or just enjoy the beautiful landscape. El Retiro Lodge is an excellent choice and as we volunteered here, we had the rare opportunity to check out the kitchen „from the other side“. The people here are awesome and they have several vegetarian options on the menu. Plus, they understand the vegan principle and are very attentive that in several occasions they „warned“ me, that this specific sauce has honey it it, for example. They often do buffet style dinners (Thai, Italian, Arabic, BBQ, Guatemalan etc. theme nights) where most of the dishes are vegan as well. As we volunteered here, we got food for free, ergo we didn’t try any of the other choices in the tiny village, but I guess we didn’t miss out on much.
Riu Dulce is a tranquil area where boat cruises and kayaking is the draw. Most of the dingies that bring you to your accommodation (we stayed at Kangaroos, nice place, but I can’t recommend the food) take and bring you to Sundog Cafe. They have a monstrous pizza which is vegan, when you ask them not to add cheese. And the mixed salad was really good, it also came in a huuuuge salad bowl.
In beautiful Antigua we went to Samsara three times (6a Calle Poniente 33), a vegetarian cafe/restaurant which has heaps of vegan options as well. Most of their dishes can be made vegan by a simple replacement. We tried the Kale, Almonds & Cranberries Salad with hemp seeds, a yummy strawberry vinaigrette and seeds crackers and the Kale & Tofu Scramble with avocado slices and hummus, both of which were very tasty. Also the Aloo Dum, an Indian inspired dish with potatoes and Quinoa on a thick tomato gravy was delicate. Water is on the house, but you can also have Alkaline drinks (with apple cider vinegar for special health benefits) and if you feel real healthy after one of those, you can even ask for a free PH test. The atmosphere is nice and I especially liked the the exhibit of stunning photography of local sights. Their focus is on health and spirituality and the New Age music and the psycadellic bathrooms (find out yourself) underline just that.
And here’s a special: we went to Zoola (Calle de Santa Lucia 15) on a Friday and boy did we have a feast! It’s based on the religious custom in Israel of having a gathering with family and friends on Fridays and eating together. So we sat down on a large low table on cozy cushions with heaps of nice people, listened to good music and had an awesome buffet style dinner (the food was even blessed beforehand) that left no wishes unfulfilled. We were munging on the best Israeli cuisine has to offer (some had cosher meat, but the attentive maitre made sure we were only served vegan versions. That’s right, we were served all the time, didn’t have to move at all. And as soon something was finished, it was replaced immediately. Buffet deluxe!). We had hummus, falafel balls, an incredible tomato gravy, Babaganush, various salads, a vegan potato mash with mushrooms, fried eggplant and tons of fresh fruits. I could barely walk home that night….and came back the next day for the „normal“ menu and had falafel burgers…
Walking the little cobblestone alleys, we found the new restaurant in town called Sat Naam (Hindu for „true identity“) on 4a Calle sur casa 5. It’s vegetarian, but roughly 80% of the dishes are vegan. The owner was enthusiastically welcoming and nice to talk to. She recommended other eateries and even took her time to sit with us and have a very pleasant chat. We enjoyed Basmati with vegetables and baked potatoes and fennel, both of which came with brown lentil croquettes with spinach and chia. The bowl of Mung Beans was particularly nice. Good to have an alternative to the ever present tacos, tortillas and fajitas.
For breaky we went to the tiny Cafe Boheme (5 Calle Poniente 12B), a cozy place with heaps of bric-a-brac and a comfy interior. We enjoyed a healthy sandwich „del Basque“ with chia seeds, almonds and avocado plus the „Acai Bowl“ with lots of different berries, dark chocolate, banana and homemade cereals. And the special tread, which was the actual bait for us to come here in the first place, was the vegan muffin. Good coffee.
Last but not least: Roots is one of those places that made us come again. They have 6 different smoothies and the „Black Forest“ was finger-lickin‘ good, with banana, almond milk, spinach ( no worries, you don’t taste it), chia seeds and cocoa powder. The veggie salad (grilled mushroom, quinoa, avocado, falafel, pepitoria seeds and more), the Falafel Sandwich and the fries (with black salt and herbs) were just better than the ordinary. Top! Sit outside in the little courtyard and people-watch, it’s an interesting mostly expat crowd aiming for the little bars you can not see from the street.
Lago Atitlan attracted (and still does) tons of tourists for a reason: The setting is breathtaking. We ended up in the hippieesque San Marcos la Laguna, known as the holistic center of the lake, with yoga, massages and all sort of healing practices galore. Lots of places offer vegan food as well as it blends in with a conscious and healthy lifestyle. We stayed at La Paz which prides itself with having a pure vegetarian restaurant on site with lots of vegan options. Most of the ingredients are organic and come straight from their own garden. We tried the raw zucchini pasta with avocado sauce, the Pat Thai and a curry (not all at once, of course!). Their soups are delicious and they have a daily offer which consists of a daily plate plus soup. There’s a cute Maja-Sauna in the beautifully arranged garden you should not miss out on, once you’re here!
For a snack I would recommend Moonfish Cafe because they have very decent Tofu and Tempeh Sandwiches.
And then we took the boat to the other side of the lake to San Pedro. Here we found it: The pizza that got in my „Top-3-Best-Pizza-Ever“-list! The topping was muy rico: olives, bell pepper, avocado, nutritional yeast and homemade „veggie meat“ (peanuts, cauliflower, soy sauce, garlic, spices and herbs, all oven-roasted). We came back the next day to try the other vegan one as well, „Spicy Tandoori Tempeh“ with vegan Pesto and they delivered again! So if you like pizza (or burritos, that is) head to 5th Dimension, a vegetarian restaurant whose English/Irish owners shop at local markets, are aware of environmental issues, employ local Mayan women and try to make as much as possible from scratch: bread, hummus, lemonade, chutneys, probiotics etc.
There’s a well stocked health food store called Salud Para Vida were you can find all the organic/gluten free/vegan products and supplements you desire. Check out their menu as their sandwiches and bagels are special. We had the vegan „chicken“ Teriyaki Bagel (homemade seitan pan fried, roasted carrots and other veggies) and the „chicken“ fried Bagel (homemade seitan fried with bread crumbs, horse radish mayonnaise and vegetables). Friday and Saturday they have Empenadas with homemade vegan cheese, vegan „pepperoni“ and a choice of 3 sauces. Thirsty? Support the locals and have one of those probiotic drinks called „Love“ (e.g. The strong ginger beer), they’re produced in San Marcos!
And if it’s a real good coffee you’re after (hey, you are in the motherland of that precious elexir!) head to Christalinas: the coffee is local, strong and cheap!
As you can see, there are tons of vegan delicacies in Guate waiting to be discovered. In fact so many that we didn’t cook at all in six weeks, not a single time (as opposed to Mexico and Belize, where we prepared our own food quite frequently). So be lazy here and eat out!
For a brief summary of all the best things I found in Guatemala click here!