Apparently, and despite its diminutive size, Ecuador is one of the most species-rich countries of the world, due to its varied geography (coastal lowlands, Andes with snow-covered mountains and Amazon jungle). A pure haven for wildlife enthusiasts! Add an interesting cultural heritage and 40% of indigenous people and here’s your perfect holiday destination waiting to be explored. As a vegan, I had some depressing moments though, but I’ll come to that later…
Close to the border, Tulcan is a good place to break down your travels, especially if it’s already dark and you made it a rule not to travel after dark (security-wise plus you’d miss a lot). You’d be happy to hear that it offers not only a very neat attraction (a bit weird though: a cemetery with artistically trimmed hedges, including giant birds, turtles and faces, quite funny in fact!), but also a vegan restaurant: Govinda’s (Vicente Roca Fuerte/Sucre)! It’s the third time I’ve eaten in this Hare Krishna „chain“ (after Guatemala and Colombia) and it has never let me down. They prepare their meals according to Ayurvedic principles and it just feels right to be here. Food for your body & soul. Needless to say that you can do yoga here as well.
Another eatery we ran into is Semillas (Calle Pichincho 517). They have a set menu (also for carnivores), but the majority opts for their vegan almuerzo, which was pretty decent. A good alternative, if you stay more than one night and want to try something other than Govinda’s. It’s open for lunch only
Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market. We stayed 5 days, leaving on Friday because we were not too keen on all the huzzle and buzzle. Their is some market action going on every day anyway, so you’ll never miss out on those hats, ponchos and other souvenirs. We had a nice Quinoa soup at Oraibi, a vegetarian restaurant (Sucre/Rica Urte) which is a very cosy and nicely decorated place. A pitty that their vegan options are somewhat limited, just like almost everywhere in Otavalo.
The only serious vegan temptation is Inka Zen Cafe which unfortunately was closed when we where there. We ended up cooking a lot with fresh veggies from the market, mind you.
Next stop: Quito! Nicely located near the historic Old Town is Govindas again (Esmeraldas 853), it seems we’re becoming regulars here…entering their quiet column lined backyard with a tray of vegan Hare Krishna food in your hands makes you forget the honking cars and whizzing traffic police officers in a heartbeat. Solemn and peaceful.
In the Marsical neighborhood I’d like to recommend Flora (General Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez/Jorge Washington). The young owners succeeded to create a welcoming and hip place that offers organic, fresh and 100% vegan food. They started off as a cultural center and are still hosting/initiating special events, focusing on natural awareness and sustainability. They have a set menu most of the days plus a good selection on their menu, tickling your tastebuds….
A simple, no frills but 100% vegan restaurant is Pura Fruta (Luis Felipe Borja # 14-71). Soup, main dish, fruit desert, tea and fresh fruit juice for a bargain price. Solid.
Equally rustic but the food even a tad better is El Vegetariano in the old part of town. You’ll get a complete vegan lunch menu (including a really good soup) for 2.75$ which I still can not understand. How is that even possible?
More upmarket, located in the hip neighborhood of Mariscal again („Gringotown“) is El Maple. Tastefully decorated and very attentive staff. The „Philly Vegetarian Steak“ with sun dried tomato, melted vegan cheese, mushrooms and caramelized onions must have been one of the best sandwiches I ever had! And I haven’t even begun to mention the tostada with vegan cheese I got as part of the lunch menu…
We found a well-stocked supermarket called Camari (Fray Antonio de Camari) where you’ll get everything from soy yoghurt, vegan chocolate and biscuits, all sorts of meat substitutes, dried fruits, chia and much more. An impressive array that makes you wish there weren’t so many vegan restaurants in Quito, so you could cook more!
If you had enough of food shopping (and window shopping in that area that is), go and treat yourself with an all natural ice cream from Mango’s Heladeria (Gil Ramirez Davalos). Vegans have 5 different options (including a salty/savory one and even a beer ice!). I recommend the Mora ice, soooo good! Enjoy it in the little Parque Julio Andrade Marin nearby, take a rest and enjoy life.
A special recommendation deserves Tandana (Mirador de Guapulo), a completely vegan restaurant in an unbeatably stunning location. The view is breathtaking which is why most tables are situated right at the panoramic windows. Special about it is their political activism: this cooperative fights internationally for animal rights and natural protection (e.g. Nationalpark Yasuni). Their aim is to spread environmental consciousness and support minorities, no matter of what kind (grupos vulnerables). Find out more about their noble work on: http://www.liberaong.org.
Back to the food: The Inti Burger was delicious, both the black bean and the chickpea version. You’ll be spoiled for choice when trying to decide on one of their desserts, for example the raw vegan cheesecake or brownies with Pacari Chocolate and macadamia. Life is good!
A special Xmas treat indeed was our visit to Dulce Albahaca where we had Panne Cook, a sourbread filled with a yummy mushroom ratatouille. And chocolate cake of course. It blew me away.
They insist of not having a kitchen but an open „conscience lab“ in order to raise awareness for healthy nutrition.
It’s also a Deli with Ecuadorian only products like chocolate, salt, seeds, nuts and more.
It’s a local family business since march 2017, when health problems of the founder made him visit India where he learned about the beneficial aspects of veg/vegan cuisine. With this knowledge he came back and opened „Dulce Albahaca“. Thank God he did!
Family-run Quinoa (Luis Cordero E-331 y 9 de Octobre) was very welcoming to us, as they have been for everybody for the last 12 (!) years. They offer 100% vegan food in a relaxing atmosphere and tasteful music. There are also some organic products on offer, all without artificial additives or sugar, focusing on Andean products like Quinoa (hence the name…), Amaranth and the like. All of it is directly from the organic farm of their grandparents in the south of Ecuador. They used deliciously roasted sesame on their rice which added a nice touch. Tea is on the house. Worth checking out, that one!
„Would you like the vegetarian or the vegan set menu, sir?“ This is how I was welcomed at Mile Time (Baquerizo Moreno E7-70 y Reina Victoria), an inviting Taiwanese restaurant in Mariscal. Ahhhh, it should be a standard question in all the restaurants of the world, shouldn’t it?! The food was really tasty as the Asian influence was obvious. Nice for a change, especially if it’s that good.
And maybe your tastebuds are kinda hooked and are demanding more of that Taiwanese cuisine? No worries, just within walking distance there is another vegetarian/vegan Taiwanese eatery called Formosa (Carrion y Juan Leon Mera) which is just as good and also provides you with your soy fix. Always listen to your tastebuds, I’d say. This has been restaurant No. 10 I tested in Quito, time to move on…
Out of the city, it’s time for nature again! There’s hardly any better place when in search of tranquility and nature (especially bird) life than Mindo. And just when we went off the bus at the Avenida Quito at the „terminal“ we stumbled into it: the unique Food-Truck Pachamanta (kichua for „natural“). Argentinian/Ecuadorian couple Fernando & Johanna created their startup because while traveling they experienced first hand the difficulties of getting meat-free food in same places. So they decided to change that. Starting off with vegan food plus a vegetarian pizza, they now switched to a 100% vegan menu. They know what they’re doing as they are vegan themselves (for 4 years already) and studied nutrition in Buenos Aires (where they met each other). That was the beginning of a success story climaxing with Johanna becoming pregnant. They settled now in Mindo because of the aforementioned tranquility and nature (and the tourists: the locals are still skeptical about meat free food…). All their food is self-made and organic: cakes, yoghurt, mayo and even the patty and they only use local and seasonal fruits and veggies. You can taste that! So go and check out this likable couple and their daily changing set menu (or their brownies, that is), you won’t regret it!
Mishqui Quinde (Vicente de Aguirre y Gallo de la Peña) has a strong focus on superfood Quinoa, so if you’ve never tried quinoa ice cream, milkshake or cake, this is the place to get your fix. I was psyched by the drink „Cuicocha lake“, a traditional Ecuadorian beverage, served refreshingly cold, made with pinaple, passionfruit, tamarind, quinoa, seasoned with anis and other spices, sweetened with organic unrefined cane sugar. There are also 4 different quinoa burgers on offer (3 of which I tried. I know…) and I want to point out the rich and nutritious Traditional Andean soup with-you guessed it- Quinoa, the gluten-free Inca super-grain. Ask the owner for his
Cocoa-honey: he uses it for his icecream, the BBQ sauce and his Chocolate Liquor, it’s a specialty of the house.
Remember I was mentioning a somewhat „depressing moment“ at the beginning? It’s time to come to that. We booked a flight to the famous Galápagos Islands. Well, that should per se not be the reason to be depressed at all, shouldn’t it!? And it wasn’t, not in the sense of the wildlife that we observed there. The sheer amount of animals (lots of them endemic) simply blew our mind. The only downside of it is the lack of vegan (or even vegetarian) restaurants. All of the places focused on meat and seafood and unless you wanna pay 15$ for mediocre rice with veggies, you’re pretty much bound to homecooking. We ended up preparing food for ourselves the whole time. Which is not a big deal, but the frustrating thing for us was to see all the tourists happily munging away on their lobsters that they had been admiring only moments ago on their 100$ snorkeling trip. Weird.
All that being said, there is the exception to the rule: Fresco Cafe in San Christobal, right at the fisherman pier (so add an incredibly stunning location to the quality food).They are vegetarian (though are not advertising it as not to scare away the locals!) with yummy vegan options that change daily. It’s open for breakfast and lunch (8am-4pm). So good to finally meet people with a serious green approach: they are proud to be absolutely plastic free (even little details like metal straws), free water (even refill your water bottles), beer in reusable bottles, take away only in cardboard and paper (wooden forks). All that came to a super pleasant reggae tune to which is bliss with a vegan brownie and local coffee, swinging in the hammock…Totally worth checking these guys out!!
One last recommendation, a bit different though (and only interesting, if you’re into beer): go and visit the micro brewery „Endemica „. It’s a start up and Dan, the Spanish owner is more than happy to show you around and tell you everything from the brewery process to how he set it all up. Very worthwhile and you get to taste the two beers he currently produces, a mild „Blonde Ale“ and a „Coffee Stout“, both of which are excellent.
One of the most inspirational and exciting places I visited in Ecuador is definitely the holistic commune Rhiannon (http://www.rhiannoncommunity.org), an hour and a half north of the capital and close to Malchingui. I volunteered for nearly four weeks and can not quite express the amount and value of things I learned there, from gardening, recycling, shaman rituals, cooking/baking and construction to community life in general to mention but a few. I enjoyed the cheerful and inspiring encounters with open-minded, caring and like-minded people who shared the idea of a sustainable and multicultural existence.
Rhiannon was started by Helen & Nicky roughly 10 years ago on a barren piece of land and it developed impressively ever since. The owners have been in the focus of the press due to their ongoing struggle to legally register their two kids with two mothers, a novum in Ecuadorian jurisdiction.
Couchsurfers as well as volunteers and long timers live here now like a big family in Tipis, Yurtes, Adobe-made buildings, trucks and other unique and individual places and work the land and the property according to permaculture principles, reducing the impact on nature to near zero.
Accordingly, a 100% vegan nutrition is practiced here, and the food blew me away each time. I had no idea that it’d be possible to feed roundabout 20 hungry people who have been working manually during the day with such delicious, healthy and organic food of such a great variety. People took turns to cater for the whole group so that everybody was in charge for either breakfast, lunch or dinner at some stage and they literally tried to outdo each other, creating fantastic dishes with yuka flour, quinoa patties, arepas and vegetables and fruits (physalis galore!) straight from the garden.
Thanks to the Rhiannon-Family, I’ll profit from new friends, new insights, new ideas and last but not least new yummy vegan recipes! It was hard to leave and super emotional. If ever you have the chance to visit this amazing and magic place, don’t miss out on this unique experience: it might positively change your attitude towards heaps of things.
Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador: whitewater rafting, mountain biking, bridge swing, you name it. But initially, it was due to their hot springs, fueled by nearby volcano Tungurahua that put its name on the map. And a good soak in those steaming pools, combined with a decent massage really made my day. When hungry after all this, head to Sativa (Louis Martinez, opposite Casa Hood, which also has vegan options) which is basically vegan. At least all their foods are, for some reason they still offer regular milk for their coffee. But this is the only no-meat-real-vegetarian restaurant in town.
The owner is really into herbs, teas, roots and spices and knows a lot about their beneficial impact on wellbeing, so stock up on some dried flower buds or other goodies if that’s your thing. Everything except for the chairs in Sativa is recycled, from floor (the tiles on the floor are former church tiles!) to ceiling. They offer vegan Tamales, burger, salad, a seven-grain-plate or a menu del dia, which comes with a super yummy fresh fruit juice. Lots of knickknack and good music ad to a pretty cosy feeling.
A spectacular bike ride downhill from Baños along the Rio Negro will bring you to Vrindavan, a eco conscious place that offers vegan food (they belong to the Govinda’s restaurants that can be found in a lot of countries). They also offer cute accommodation in huts, yoga sessions, massage and alternative therapies. A highlight is their traditional sauna after which you can cool down under a small waterfall. They take volunteers. Even though we showed up when their kitchen was actually closed, they went the extra mile and prepared something just for us, including those delish cookies that came straight out of the oven! Top service!
Riobamba is a good place for your inner child when you visit during carnival: besides the colorful parades it’s an epic battle with foam, water bombs and more foam. Don’t wear your best shirt and don’t think you can outrun your attackers: soaking a tourist in foam, water or anything else available is the best fun! Freshly showered head to an oasis of tranquility: the vegetarian lunch restaurant Zen Wei (29 and Calle Princesa Toa and Jacinto Gonzalez), open daily (not Sundays) from 12-3 pm. Specializing for ten years on Taiwanese dishes, such as Chopsuey, Rice dishes with soy meat, fried noodles, but also a bargain almuerzo that comes with a soy drink and a soup. Most dishes are vegan and are based on the principle of yin&yang, so in order to keep a balanced diet, they don’t use certain ingredients, such as onions and garlic for example. The service is super fast and the owners from so outstandingly friendly. I definitely enjoyed my time here!
Cuenca is the place where the misnamed Panama-Hat comes from. This, and the sheer amount of churches and beautiful colonial buildings and the nice setting on a river make it quite a draw for tourists. And there are several vegetarian/vegan restaurants to choose from. I started with an old time favorite: Govinda’s (Juan Jaramillo 7-27 y Borrero) which -again- didn’t disappoint. Almuerzo for 3.25$, just hard to beat, and the spiritual atmosphere never fails.
Another find is Ananda, a vegetarian restaurants with vegan options and also my beloved almuerzo. They have two restaurants: one in Av. Paucarbamba 1179 y Manuel J. Calle and the other one in Hno. Miguel 7-24 y Presidente Cordova.
Nothing against vegetarian restaurants, not at all. Especially in South America. But whenever I come across a vegan one, I’m in heaven. And Fratello (open till 9pm, a rarity!), beautifully located on a river with outside seating, is 100% vegan! The family-run enterprise turned vegan a year ago after the sister, a doctor, initiated the change due to obvious health reasons. Nowadays, their intention is to make people realize and experience first hand that vegan food is super delicious and you don’t miss out on anything. On the contrary: Fratello offers prime burgers, saitan steaks, pizza, burritos and other treats, totally without processed ingredients. Everything’s homemade: cheese from yuca, bacon from lentils etc. And for the sweet tooth, don’t forget to try the waffle with vegan Nutella, fruits and ice cream.
When I was looking for vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Cuenca, maps.me surprised me with several places with the same name, but different locations: Paraiso Restaurant Vegetariano. Turns out that there are actually 5 branches, so obviously it’s doing quite alright! I checked out the one in Calle Hermano Miguel, between Calle Gaspar Sangurima and Calle Mariscal Lamar, right behind Mercado 9 de Octobre. It’s one of those places that don’t win an award for comfort (fun fact: before you take a seat, you order and pay your set meal at a tickets booth, similar to the ones in a cinema!) but at the end of the day, it’s the food that counts, isn’t it? And the spinach soup as a starter was really good and the juice and main course didn’t disappoint either. So don’t worry: wherever you are in Cuenca, there’s always a Paraiso near you!
I’m so lucky having found this gem of a restaurant just round the corner of my hostel. The only recently opened Cafe Libre (Calle Larga) is totally vegan and surprisingly enough, more and more locals find their way into this exquisite restaurant. Obviously, Paul and his team make a good job of rising awareness and consciousness towards sustainable food because approximately 50% (!) of the customer are from Ecuador. Good job! But it’s no surprise, as quality is always the best advertisement and believe me: you can really taste the difference. Cafe Libre only uses the best organic products from local and small producers. The team of five is very passionate about their vegan lifestyle. Of course it helps that all of them are professional cooks and sincerely innovative and creative on top of that. Omar, the head cook, really outdid himself when I visited while Paul, who is fun to talk to, expressed his deep passion and ideology on plantbased cuisine. Add some stimulating Funk and Reggae music and here is your perfect breakfast/lunch/dinner spot where you’ll enjoy a cruel-free, healthy and outstandingly delicious meal in a very pleasant atmosphere. Don’t miss this!
And just to make sure I wouldn’t miss out on anything, I went there again just to be blown away again! Seriously, go visit this restaurant! Take a look at this:
The all-vegetarian restaurant Quinua (Benigno Malo 12-75 y Vega Munoz) have an exceptional diverse menu: from pasta, salads, traditional dishes, soups to international dishes such as Potatoes Bombay. Most of the dishes can be made vegan. A daily changing almuerzo is standard, of course, and it included a yummy soup and a desert. The service is quick and friendly.
In Vilcabamba , a sleepy town of 6000 inhabitants (2000 of which are North American expats) and famed for the longevity of its locals, Sylvia and Carlos welcomed us in their little vegetarian restaurant Urku Warmy (Quichoa for mountain woman) which really makes a difference in the local restaurant scene. They attract a lot of international tourists, most of which are Europeans. The owners are from Chile who came here 16 years ago and have been vegetarian for over 10 years. They are both super open, chatty and friendly. Sylvia was enthusiastically talking about her philosophy on what it means to live here, and why some foreigners have succumb to the illusion that mere existence in this particular valley will extend their life. Surely, healthy living within this alternative kind of microcosm without materialism and a focus on social life, music, no stress and dwelling in balance with nature can positively affect the life expectancy, here or elsewhere. And Sylvia and Carlos surely do their bit with excellent organic food prepared by Ayurvedic principles and lots of vegan options so that their customers may also benefit from the much desired longevity.
Vilcabamba Juice Factory is awesome for breakfast. Plus, the assortment of cookies etc is mind-blowing: they had vegan gluten free Peanut Butter Truffles (!), Spirulina Chocolate Truffles with sesame seeds, Mocha Fudge Cake and raw vegan Tortilla Flatbread. Heaven!