Being a Vegetarian in Cartagena, Colombia

South America isn’t exactly known for its vast plethora of vegetarian options, and Cartagena, Colombia is no exception.

That being said, I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I managed to find plenty to eat during the eight days I spent in Cartagena (and various beaches nearby).

As long as you like corn-based foods and melted cheese, you’ll be good to go.

That’s essentially what two of the most popular foods in Cartagena are–both an arepa and an empañada are basically cornmeal dumplings filled with cheese and/or vegetables, egg, etc. They can also be filled with meat, but those are as common as ones with just cheese, and they’re all completely delicious.

Although sold in restaurants all around Cartagena, arepas and empañadas are also commonly sold in street food carts, which are everywhere and super cheap.

The carts are also a good place to grab late night munchies after you stumble out of the club at 4 a.m., since many of them also sell kebabs. I got corn on the cob from a cart a couple times, and once the dude even put a bunch of potatoes with salsa on a stick for me, which was way better than I’m making it sound.

Colombia is also home to a zillion different kinds of fruit, which I realize isn’t exactly the most filling. But go to a nearby supermarket, pick up a few fruits, buy some yogurt (you can get a pack of six yogurt cups for 6 copa, which is the equivalent of $2 USD), hack those bad boys up, chuck them in a yogurt cup and you’re in business.

As with anywhere, don’t let the lack of a bunch of vegetarian options scare you into not going. Cartagena is beautiful, cheap, and to be fair, I was still craving arepas a week after I left.

Traveling as a Vegetarian Isn’t as Much of a Pain in the Ass as You’d Think

You know the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the main character was explaining that her fiancé is a vegetarian and therefore doesn’t eat meat and her aunt was like “don’t eat no meat?!…it’s okay, it’s okay, I make lamb”? Well, that legitimately happened to me when I was in Greece, except it was my friend’s godmother and she said it was okay if I didn’t eat meat because there would also be oysters at dinner.

It turned out to be fine because almost every meal in Greece is accompanied by bread, French fries and salad (with a big ol’ hunk of feta cheese on top), and any one of those things are a meal in itself.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was four years old, and I’ve been to 13 different countries (and counting). Weirdly, the only place I’ve traveled to where my vegetarianism has been an issue was Key West in Florida.

I’ve talked to a bunch of vegetarians who told me they opted to start eating meat while traveling because they thought it would be easier, which is one option, but if you’d rather try not to eat meat no matter where you are (which I’ve been able to get away with), it’s not impossible.

Check out my tips on how to do so from one veggie to another.

1. Don’t avoid a country solely because you’re worried about the vegetarian factor.

There will always be ways around it, but it helps to be willing to be flexible when necessary, in terms of eating the same thing more than once, eating a snack from a corner store instead of a full-on meal, etc. There will always be options, and it’s definitely not worth not going somewhere you want to go.

Which brings us to…

2. Be willing to be flexible when necessary.

Like I said, out of all the places I’ve been, I’ve legit only had a problem with non-veggie options in Florida, but I’m also very not picky. Well, except for the whole no meat thing, but yeah.

When I went to Israel for a week and a half, I ate a falafel wrap for almost every meal, and when I was backpacking in Europe with a friend for two months, we split way more large cheese pizzas than I’d care to admit (that’s a lie, it’s 13 and tbh I’m low-key proud of it).

Falafel is delicious and pizza is pizza, so no complaints from me.

3. Be mindful of where you are.

In my experience, a lot of people around the world are cool with vegetarianism but don’t necessarily understand it. Don’t be the type of vegetarian that gets vegetarians a bad reputation and ask for like, the carne asada taco sin carne , or something. Order a side of tortillas and a side of rice and beans and make ya own taco.

TL;DR: Don’t let your vegetarianism scare you out of traveling! Not being picky helps.

How PBS Made Me Go Vegetarian

Gather ’round, boys and girls, it’s storytime!

The year is 1995. The setting is Santa Cruz, California. Four-year-old Jessica is sitting on the couch in the living room, watching a PBS special about lions whilst going to town on a hot dog. Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky zebra who had been prancing about on the screen a second earlier was brutally attacked by a lion and reduced to a bloody carcass on the plains, and four-year-old Jessica freaked out.

Now, this in itself didn’t bother me so much–I had already seen The Lion King a couple hundred times, so I knew about the circle of life and the food chain and all that.

What bothered me what the realization that just like the zebra, my hot dog used to be an animal, moving around on its own volition, and now it was a dead hunk of meat in my hand. (But of course I didn’t know the word “volition.”)

It’s 20 years later, and I haven’t purposefully eaten a chunk of meat since (shoutout to the lotus leaf wrap I accidentally ate in a buffet line in Vegas on my 21st birthday because the signs were switched and it said there was just rice inside).

People give me shit for it, and although sometimes it can be a little difficult navigating what I can and can’t eat when there’s a language barrier, traveling as a vegetarian isn’t as much of a pain in the ass as you’d think. Read on…