Vegan Travel in Panama
Vegan travel in Panama, welcome to our adventure!
If you follow me on Instagram, (which I hope you do…@veganonthego), you will have noticed that we were in Panama recently. In fact we (my husband Brent and I) were travelling around the country for almost a full month. I know, we are blessed!
As usual our trips are always filled with lots of adventures and one of them is usually looking for vegan friendly food. Having travelled a bit now, I know a little more of what to expect and how to prepare for these adventures. I would love to share some of my experiences with you as well as a few good restaurants we found along the way.
Whether you are going to Panama or on another adventure…I hope that you will find this post of value for your next adventure….
Vegan Travel in Panama
One of the keys for success when travelling is to have a space that you can cook. Having a kitchen or access to a kitchen as a vegan on the road is wonderful and you can save a lot of money for more interesting experiences on your journey.
I’m a bit of a planner and my husband is a bit more of a make it up as you go along kind of person. For this reason we make a great pair when travelling together. One of the things I like to plan is where I am going to stay and we usually look for places that we will be able to cook most of our own meals. Being a vegan on the road can be a bit tricky and we want to be sure we are eating some decent food that is delicious as well as nutritious.
For our trip to Panama I packed a care package of things we might need or not be able to find when we were there. I was pretty sure we could find fruit and veggies and items like chickpeas, beans, lentils, rice and pasta. For this journey I packed the following to be sure we could create some of our favourite go to dishes and to be sure we could make nutritious meals as we travelled around the country. Here’s what we took from home…
- Nutritional yeast (a must have)
- Raw cashews and almonds (often hard to find, and if you find them over the top expensive)
- Chia seeds – you can always make a wonderful breakfast with Chia, nut milk and some local fruit
- Spices – including Thai Paste for stir-fries
- A Travel Blender – this was a great idea and something new for us to take on a trip. While we were away, we made some awesome smoothies, protein gravy and vegan mac and cheese sauce. Excellent!
The veggies and fruits were pretty easy to find in the bigger cities/towns and local grocery stores. I was surprised that we really had challenges finding avocado – one of my go to foods. I learned how to say avocado in Spanish and asked over and over if anyone had it in the stores or stands and the usual answer was no. Bummer we love avocado. Eventually I got lucky, in the last town we stayed I found some in one of the markets and I practically jumped for joy. By the way, avocado in Spanish is “aguacate”.
The other thing we discovered is what I affectionately called the “food truck”. The local people (in the more rural areas) either grow their own fruits and veggies or get them off the food truck. The food truck is a pickup truck that rolls into town at least once a week and is filled with fresh fruits and veggies from the local farms and surrounding areas. They have a scale and bags and you pick what you want, they weigh it up and the prices were really good. I loved shopping from the food truck!
Although Panama is a beautiful country, I am so happy that we had this care package with us as we found out Panama is not all that vegan friendly. Veganism hasn’t really caught on there yet, especially in the restaurant scene and our opportunities for eating out were very limited; next to none in some places. I was especially surprised in Panama City as it is such an international location….eventually we did find a few places that were great.
The interesting thing is we met so many vegans and they all had similar experiences as we did with finding food. I am sure that Panama will get there, it may just take a few more years. Now the good news, here are some of the restaurants that we did find, mostly in Panama City and a couple in the small town of Pedasi.
Restaurants – Panama City
If you don’t know the Loving Hut, it is a vegan franchise restaurant and you can find them all over the world. I’ve been wanting to go to one for ages and its funny I had to go all the way to Panama City to experience their food.
They have a huge menu and so we had lots to choose from. The first time we were there we choose things with sauces and found them to be a bit salty for our taste. The next time we choose dishes that had lots of veggies and hoped for the best. They were excellent – chop suey and chow mein type dishes.
We found that many of the restaurants are not always open so check the website before you go. Although sometimes the website said they were open,often they were not. The best part of our whole experience at the Loving Hut was meeting an older woman (I believe the mom of the man that ran the restaurant). She was so excited that we were vegan and yelled out to her son “eight years vegan, no killing animals…” with the biggest smile on her face. What a joy!
We attempted to go to this restaurant a few times and they were closed due to a holiday in Panama. The first couple times we attempted to go they were closed, even though the website said they were open. They serve meat as well as vegetarian and have a couple vegan friendly dishes. My husband had some pasta (he will eat vegetarian) and I had sushi. They didn’t have as much of a selection as we had hoped for and what we had was very good.
Beirut if a huge and very popular Lebanese restaurant in Panama City and the food was delicious. Our server did not speak much English and called over another woman that understood vegan and was able to help us with our selection. We had a mixed plate to share and it was more than enough food for two. There was the usual, hummus (two types), falafel, tabbouleh, dolmas—or stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush and mujaddara. Wonderful!
If you are in Panama City you will definitely go to the Old City Quarter…I mean I hope you do. Its so beautiful and I could have taken pictures of the beautiful buildings all day long. There are a couple vegan friendly restaurants there and one in particular I will share with you. The restaurant is so cute and the owners are lovely. My husband had the last of the morning buffet (the food literally kept coming), I went for more of a lunch item and had the Portobello Mushroom Burger. The funny thing about my dish is that they served it with veggie straws that we can buy in Costco back home. I would have preferred a small salad on the side.
Puro Love Vegan Cafe
The Puro Love Vegan Cafe was a very cool little spot in the San Francisco area of Panama City. The service is slow and everything is made to order and there is a limited menu. This is great as you are on vacation and your food is freshly made as you relax. I enjoyed the zucchini zoodles and my husband had the Thai veggie wrap. They were both very tasty and I would recommend stopping at this little gem of a restaurant. Its so important to support these small vegan shops as they are trying to make a difference and offer something different in Panama City.
El Jardin Vegetariana
I saved the best for last. On our second visit we stayed in the El Cangrejo, Bella Vista neighbourhood which was a little more vegan friendly. It was walking distance to the Loving Hut and the last place we ate before we returned to Canada.
El Jardin Vegetariana was a wonderful place to eat in many ways. Beware they are not open on Sundays. Its not fancy and the food is buffet style, you pick what you want and it about .70 per scoop. They had a huge selection to choose from. The owner was super friendly and very generous with his scoops. We both had huge plates of delicious food, my husband had juice, I had water and the total came to about $7 US. Now that what I call a great value! Panama is super expensive so this was way below market value and I only wish we had found it earlier, I might have eaten there every day.
Restaurants – Pedasi
When we left Panama City we mostly cooked our own meals and bought food from the food truck and the local grocery stores. We spent one week in the surf town of Santa Catalina and the next week in a little town about a six hour drive from there.
This little town was my favourite place of all in Panama and its is called Pedasi, located on the Azuero Peninsula. We had a cool little Casa that had a fully equipped kitchen and the managers brought me a blender on request. I forgot part of my travel blender in Santa Catalina!
We were right in the middle of where the locals lived and it was the most authentic experience we had in Panama. I loved the little town of Pedasi and would highly recommend a visit there if you go to Panama. Its about a 4-5 hour drive from Panama City and worth every mile.
Two vegan friendly places that I would like to mention if you go to to Pedasi are as follows:
The first is called “The Bakery” because it is the only bakery in town. Its adorable and they make one type of vegan bread every day. They open at 7 am and the vegan loaf is ready between 7 and 9 am. We went early to be sure we got one. My husband fell in love with this bread. They also have a few vegan friendly options like salads and you could probably get a pretty good veggie sandwich here too.
Au Natural is a restaurant in a house in Pedasi. They have tables set out on their deck and it looks like they do a great business with the expat community. The husband does the serving and the wife is busy in the kitchen cooking. Because the tables are so close together you end up chatting with the people around you. What fun!
I’m so glad we did chat to people as we found out about a stunning beach and how to get there, we would never have heard of it otherwise. The beach is called Cambutel and its amazing. There is a vegan resort there and unfortunately we were not able to get in as it was booked for a private event.
Even though we didn’t go to the vegan restaurant in Cambutel the beach was amazing and we had it all to ourselves. We did go to a well known and recommended Italian restaurant called Boom Shiva, we both had veggie pasta, no cheese and it was delicious.
Now back to Pedasi and Au Natural. One thing I learned about Au Natural, is if you phone ahead and let them know you are vegan they will make something just for you. As I did not phone ahead, I ended up with a simple meal of rice and a few veggies and some Gazpacho (cold soup). My husband also had the soup and a veggie pie that looked delicious. It had an egg wash so I did not want to try it; it looked beautiful. Its on my mind to make a vegan version of the dish sometime soon.
Well folks that’s a little bit about our adventures in Panama and travelling as a vegan. If you have questions, pop me an email. I would love to hear from you!