Ever wondered what it's like to be vegan in Mexico? Not sure if you can find the best veggie options or just worry about accidentally ending up with chicken tacos? This guide is the one for you. Travelling with any specific dietary requirements can be pretty difficult, but especially when you don't speak the language. For so many, this puts them off travelling to certain locations. But I want this guide to show you guys that the world is your oyster (or avocado, if you like).
Over the last five years of travel I've migrated more towards a plant-based lifestyle where possible. While always considering myself a "flexitarian" depending on the country I'm in. I won't eat meat, but I am open to sometimes eating fish or dairy products if there is nothing else. It's not always easy to stick to a vegan lifestyle. But it is worth it. I've never felt better than since I started focusing on plant-based meals. Around the world, there will always be countries where eating vegan/veggie is harder. But luckily Mexico is not one of these countries. Whatever your motivation for a vegan/veggie diet. I'm going to show you how easy it can be in this part of the world.
Eating clean & vegan – Mexico
I've just spent a month travelling around Mexico, in the Riviera Maya/Yucatan part of the country. It's a beautiful part of the world and one I highly recommend to any traveller. A huge part of the cultural travelling experience over in Mexico is by far the food. Just because you're vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian, you shouldn't have to miss out! Luckily this part of Mexico has become a big centre for great vegetarian and vegan food so you'll be spoiled for choice. You just need to know where to look.
How to find the best plant-based and vegetarian food
It can be super time consuming to track down restaurants that cater for your dietary needs. So often the very best vegan food is hidden away in a sea of meat-heavy restaurants. Last year, I stumbled on a great app that really has changed my travel food journey. HappyCow is the best way to track down the vegan/vegetarian and plant-based restaurants nearest to you at all times. Using it has meant that I have constant access to the most recent reviews of vegan restaurants, guides to healthy vegetarian food, natural food stores, vegan-friendly options nearby, recipes, and more.
While you do have to pay for the app, it is one of the best investments I have made as I use it on an almost daily basis. I have now used it across Europe, Asia and Central America and it has meant that no matter where I am, I can check local restaurants and whether they provide vegan options, it also gives me a guide to pricing and pics/reviews that have been uploaded by other app users. You can even browse through travel options and find vegan hotels, b&bs and resorts to stay at, for a vegan or vegetarian traveller – it's an invaluable tool.
Key words to learn for communicating your diet
You might not be fluent in Spanish, but it is important to learn a few phrases when travelling as a vegan in Mexico. It could mean the different between finding pork or beans in your tacos and nobody wants that surprise. Luckily, Spanish is a pretty easy language to pick up and learning these few phrases could make your life a lot easier.
- I am vegetarian/vegan – soy vegetariano / vegano
- no meat/with meat – sin carne/con carne
- Is there meat in this? – ¿Hay carne en esto?
- Does this contain cheese? – ¿esto contiene queso?
- Can i please have the vegetarian/vegan option? – ¿Puedo tener la opción vegetariana/vegana?
Top tip: Always keep it simple, don't try to overcomplicate by asking too many questions. There are a lot of times when people may not speak English and the more you ask, the more likely they are to just agree with you. Focus on whether it contains "carne" and "queso" (meat & cheese).
My 3 favourite vegan eats for Mexico
There are no end of amazing dishes to try and I love the creativity when it comes to making amazing vegan food over here. But here are my top 3 foods to try when travelling the region:
- Mango with tajin – it's a great street food snack you can find anywhere and is a fresh mango on a stick dressed with lime, chilli and salt. So refreshing and zingy!
- Vegan tacos – these can vary so much from place to place, but the best one I had were super heathy with loads of avocado and kale plus tofu. Absolutely delicious!
- Tostadas – a great breakfast option and really fresh when done with only the veggies, salsa and skip the cheese.
Top tip: Really make the most of the sauces. Most vegan Mexico restaurants/street food stalls I have been to have a fantastic range of sauces from the super spicy salsa verde/picante to the flavoursome chilli. If you're finding the food a touch bland, this is a great way to really spice up your meal.
Top 3 vegetarian eats for Mexico
If you can't live without a nice bit of queso – these are great options for you to try out
- Mushroom quesadillas – I was addicted to these while in Tulum. The mushrooms have so much flavour over here and go great with the cheese.
- Elote – the Mexican version of corn on the cob – sold on every street corner, it's a street food snack that is either served "on the cob" or in little pots bathed in salt, chilli powder, lime, butter, cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream.
- Vegetarian enchiladas or burritos – you don't have to miss out on traditional Mexican food just because you're veggie – just ask for beans and everything else as a filling instead of the meat.
Top tip: A lot of vendors are happy to swap out meat for cheese or beans combination instead. Don't be afraid to ask, just make sure you check my key words guide above for the correct Spanish terms.
Best 3 pescatarian eats for Mexico
Whether you want a break from a meat-heavy diet or just prefer something fresher – these fishy options will be a great match for you.
- Ceviché! One of the biggest surprises for me in Mexico was how much I loved ceviché. The idea of it didn't appeal at all but the super fresh dish is absolutely delicious. Bathed in citrus, salt, chilli and much more.
- Fish or shrimp tacos – such a great alternative to the meatier options available, these are much lighter and often fried in tempura but go great with the lime and avocado.
- Fresh barbecued seafood – if you're staying near the ocean, it's a great opportunity to try some fresh seafood. Snapper, tuna and various white fish are super popular, plus shrimp and lobster.
Top tip: Don't be afraid of street food – usually it's the freshest and most flavoursome food you will find! It's also usually made fresh for you so you can easily ask the vendors to adapt the dish to your dietary needs.
City breakdown – where is it easy to find vegan/veggie food?
With many travellers flying in and out of Cancun, there's a good chance you'll find yourself passing through here when travelling Mexico. The good news is that both the hotel zone and downtown areas are well-stocked with health and vegan/veggie restaurants.
My favourite was just a 10 minute walk when I was staying at Selina Hostel in the Hotel Zone – Natura Restaurant was underneath a hostel and offered a fantastic range of healthy and plant-based food options from breakfast to dinner and dessert. You should also check out Vegan Planet and Mora Mora in Downtown, Casa Tequila in the hotel zone and Greenverde Restaurant if you head to Isla Mujeres.
Playa del Carmen
Playa was my favourite place for plant-based food. There were so many healthy options and great restaurants that were really creative with the food. My absolute favourite was La Senda Restaurante and I ended up eating there multiple times and always loved the food. The vegan mushroom alfredo zucchini pasta and the vegan tacos were amazing.
Also check out Bio and Natural which has two branches across the city and also sells vegan products as well as food. Dr Juice for detox programmes and nutrition-based medicine and juices. Comet 984 if you fancy gorging on 1950's diner style vegan fast food like hot dogs and burgers or 100% Natural for vegan salads, sandwiches, juices and more.
The home of laid-back healthy living was a haven of plant-based and vegetarian food. I could have eaten at a different restaurant for every meal and still had some left over to try! My favourite place was La Hoja Verde. It had such a range of juices, smoothie bowls and salads which I was craving.
Also try Aguacate Limon – an all vegan taco shop for those Mexican flavours. Farm to Table is a little bit more pricy but has a real focus on sustainability and all organic waste from the restaurant is used to grow fruits and veggies. Co.ConAmor is great for the raw food lovers and also sells vegan and sustainable products. I could easily list countless more options – if you're interested, I really recommend the Happy Cow app – you will be spoilt for choice.
A much smaller stop, there wasn't as much choice around this area. However if you're a pescatarian you will be fine as there is a lot of fresh seafood available here including lobster and fish. My favourite vegan/veggie spot is one that doesn't come up on the Happy Cow app – it was called Lil and was on the main street, a tiny place on a corner with a hammock outside. The woman who runs the place is so lovely and creates tacos, wraps, salads from the freshest vegetables – something that is really missing elsewhere in the area.
For the veggies/vegans, your main four options are Ibiza Sunset – apparently the chef there is vegetarian himself and happy to create vegan plates. Perlas and Cocos, Pitaya Beach Club and Blue Kay which is actually the hostel I stayed at – I didn't try the food but but it comes in huge portions and has veggie options available.
Bacalar was one of my favourite places in Mexico and well worth a stop! The veggie/ vegan Mexico food here is much better than Mahahual and you'll definitely be able to find some great options. I tried out El Manatí which I was really excited about, it has a gorgeous garden at the back and you walk through an art gallery and shop to reach it. There was live music playing when I arrived and it was a great spot to work for a few hours. But the food was a bit disappointing.
I also tried Mango y Chile which was a plant-based restaurant selling burgers and organic coffee, the burgers were great. Other options include Pasión Turca for Turkish and Middle Eastern food, Enamora for breakfast and café dishes and La Playita which has incredible (if a little expensive) food. There was also an amazing taco shop on the main square called Mister Taco which has some of the best vegan Mexican food I've tried. They have a range of meat, seafood and veggie/vegan tacos available.
What to do if you can't find anywhere to eat?
It's never ideal but anywhere you travel, there is always a chance you might not find food that fits your dietary requirements. Perhaps you're sick of fried food or just want something super simple. Or perhaps you just visit an area that isn't very touristy and doesn't cater for a vegetarian or vegan Mexico diet. Another option if you want more control over what you are eating, is to stay somewhere with a kitchen and prepare your own meals. If you're looking to save money when travelling, this can be a good option.
While hotels won't offer this option, there are plenty of Airbnbs and hostels that will have a kitchen for you to use. I've previously stayed in the Selina hostels, which are scattered all across Mexico, including Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. These hostels always come with a fully equipped kitchen area and fridges to store and prepare food. You ca easily pick up supplies at the local markets if you want fresh fruit and veg, or pop to the supermarket and pick up pasta or anything else you might need.
The cost of being vegan/vegetarian in Mexico
Make sure you also take into account your budget. While eating out doesn't have to be expensive in Mexico – it actually has some of the cheapest street food I've found in Central America. It can quickly add up if you're eating out in vegan-specific cafés all the time. If you're on a lower backpacker budget, you will be best placed to focus on street food and communicating to the vendors that you want no meat or no cheese – there are a lot that offer vegetarian or vegan options. Alternatively, as I said above, you can cook for yourself – if you're travelling as a group or couple, this may be the best and cheapest option. If you're on a shorter holiday or have a bigger budget, enjoy dining out on all the amazing vegan and vegetarian food.
Are you vegan or vegetarian? Have you been to Mexico? Would you like to try authentic Mexican food?