Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

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Skip These 6 Tourist Traps for More Remote Destinations

That easily recognizable landmark makes a stellar #travel Instagram post, but you’ll have to navigate through the overcrowded tourist traps to get there. Skip the tourist traps for your next trip and try out these equally-as-stunning locales — without the crowds.

Not only is overcrowding counterintuitive to your travel relaxation, over-tourism promotes the dark side of tourism and ends up exploiting developing countries, destroying natural resources, and inflating prices. While good things come from tourism — like increased job availability, better living standards, and eco-tourism initiatives — you can easily skip the tourist traps if you’re looking for a more authentic experience.

In many regions of the world, particularly in Europe, South Pacific, and the Caribbean, tourists outnumber residents. To avoid this, add any of the seven destinations listed below to your next itinerary and embark on an unforgettable experience.

Skip This, Visit Here: Avoid the Tourist Traps

tourist trap, tourist traps, Laos, travel, TropicsGourmet

Skip: Thailand

Visit: Laos

Though Laos sees its fair share of annual visitors, the number doesn’t remotely compare to the hoards of people that touch down in neighboring Thailand, a country that has long been associated with the dark side of tourism. Many parts of the county have become overcrowded and overpriced, and tourists aren’t seen in the same light as they used to be. Laos is a tranquil paradise that seems worlds away from busy Thailand.

 

Loa people are friendly and charming; the food is wonderfully flavourful, and there are lots of options to choose from. The country’s natural beauty seems endless – waterfalls, lush green rainforests, an abundance of flora and fauna, and rolling fog-covered mountains. The country is home to many spiritual and religious temples and complexes worthy of exploring. Watching the sunset over the Mekong river in Laos is a vision that will be forever embedded in your mind.

 

Udaipur, India, tourist traps, tourist trap, travel, TropicsGourmet

Skip: Venice, Italy

Visit: Udaipur, India

Udaipur is one of the most charming and romantic cities in India, which is why it was once dubbed “The Venice of the East.” It’s also referred to as “The City of Lakes,” which contribute to its peaceful character. While you may want to rush to Venice, Italy to see it before it sinks, you might also want to consider why not to go, and ultimately choose a unique alternative like Udaipur. Venice sees 18 million people annually, making it an expensive, sinking tourist trap.

Udaipur, on the other hand, is a very affordable destination. The city is home to a dizzying number of restaurants that serve mouth-watering food, and there are many charming and quaint cafes to pop into. The magical City Palace overlooks the serene Lake Pichola. In the middle of the lake perfectly sits the picturesque white Pichola Hotel – tourists slowly pass by in boats and watch the sun as it sets over this romantic city.

Skip: Machu Picchu

Visit: Bolivia

Many travelers make the journey to Peru, and then the trek to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu but end up stopping there. One of the most amazing countries in the world is on the other side of the nearby border. Bolivia’s vast natural landscapes are waiting to be discovered by eager tourists, who are willing to explore this high-altitude gem. Though Bolivia is commonly associated with the Andes mountains, it’s also home to some of the Amazon Jungle, and more otherworldly natural beauty.

Bolivia is also rich in indigenous culture, and is very ethnically diverse, recognizing 36 different ethnic groups. Sixty-two percent of the population is of indigenous descent. It’s cheap, beautiful, amazingly diverse, and full of natural wonder. Make sure to visit the spectacular desert-like, 11,000-square-kilometer Salar de Uyuni, which was once a prehistoric lake. The expansive salt flat looks like a dream, where the sky is reflected off the water-covered flats, and where you can see nothing but white for miles into the horizon.

 

Skip: Cancun

Visit: Guatemala

Anytime you hear Cancun, you probably think of spring break, which may make you think of tens of thousands of young people, endlessly partying and taking over the city. Doesn’t sound appealing? It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure. Instead, head a little more south, and discover the many highlights of Guatemala, including volcanos, authentic Guatemalan food, beautiful lakes, Spanish colonial architecture, and ancient Mayan sites.

Laying in a crater at the base of three volcanos, high-altitude Lake Atitlan is a quintessential stop on any Guatemalan itinerary. Highland Mayan villages surround the area, and locally-made traditional textiles are sold at the markets. Head to the colonial city of Antigua – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – to be transported back in time. Experience the city’s vibrant culture and rich history as you wander among charming colonial buildings that line the cobblestone streets. No trip to Guatemala should skip seeing and learning about the ancient Mayan ruins in Tikal. The astonishing 3,000 ruins date back to 200BC, and are considered the first home of many Mayan communities. Tikal is said to have flourished between 200 and 850 A.D. and then was later abandoned. Located in the midst of lush, dense jungle, howler monkeys can be heard as the sun sets over the iconic temples and palaces.

 

Djibouti, Africa, beach, tourist trap, tourist traps, TropicsGourmet

Skip: Egypt

Visit:  Djibouti

The Giza Pyramids are one of the most spectacular sights in the world – one of the classic seven wonders of the world, and shrouded in myth, history, and awe. However, with busy Cairo and newly constructed infrastructure as a backdrop, the Pyramids lose a little of their wonder. The pollution, political unrest, and poor treatment of work animals may make you rethink visiting the pyramids for an alternative such as the increasingly popular country of Djibouti. Considered to be one of the safest and secure countries in Africa, Djibouti is slowly popping up on tourists’ radars.

Djibouti is a very small country located on the Horn of Africa. Residents mainly speak French and Arabic. Like most African countries, Djibouti is home to an array of exotic wildlife. Much of the country, especially outside the capital, is off the beaten path, making it that much more fun to explore – you’ll get to interact with friendly locals, and see landscapes you’ve only previously dreamed of, and there are virtually no crowds. It’s home to some of the best diving and snorkeling the world, and boasts pristine and untainted beaches where clear, warm water is awaiting. Visit this tiny paradise before it becomes Africa’s next hottest destination.

 

Skip: Hawaii

Visit: Tuvalu

Any search on Google about Hawaii will yield numerous sarcastic articles suggesting a bunch of reasons NOT to visit Hawaii. Of course, the articles are joking – Hawaii is truly beyond beautiful, and should be on any nature-lover’s list of places to visit. However, the South Pacific is filled with unknown, unexplored micro-countries that are begging to be visited – by you. So, instead of going to the easily accessible, undeniably beautiful American state, consider going quite a few miles further and making your way to one the least visited countries in the world: Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is an independent island nation within the British Commonwealth, and is part of Polynesia. The nation consists of 9 small islands, which comprise sparsely-populated atolls and reef islands. Due to its small size, few number of tourists, and location in the middle of the South Pacific, getting there can be a little difficult. However, flights regularly depart from Fiji. Once you’re there, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t arrive earlier. Just imagine: having a tropical island all to yourself (minus the 1,200 other annual visitors). Get to know locals and learn about their customs and way of life, try traditional Polynesian food, and become one with the water. The local waters are home to thousands of species of tropical fish and other forms of sea life. This is really off the beaten path.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should be able to experience the joys of these ‘Skip’ countries and regions, if done as ethically as possible while avoiding the darker sides of tourism. But, the world is big, and it would be a shame to skip over these lesser-explored destinations in favor of the ones you’ve been bombarded by on social media. Getting off the beaten tourist path might prove to be more difficult, but it will almost certainly pay off and will be a rewarding alternative to tourist traps.

8 Tips for Traveling the World as a Vegetarian

 

“What am I going to eat!?” If you’re a vegetarian, like me, you’ve surely asked yourself that question before boarding the plane to a new and exciting tropical destination. The truth is that many countries in the tropics have a long history with vegetarian food, making traveling as vegetarian a breeze. Others have only recently joined the movement. It’s not always each navigating a county’s foodscape, but by following these tips, you can dig into mouthwatering vegetarian and vegan food wherever you go.

Tips for Finding Vegetarian Food While Traveling

 

  1. Do research and use apps. 

You’re more likely to find the food you want if you know what’s available. Time after time again I’ve witnessed travelers missing out on wonderful dishes because they didn’t know anything about the country’s culinary history. One time in Cambodia, I was talking with a fellow traveler who downsized a whole nation’s food history to “noodles and rice,” largely because he didn’t know what else could be on the table. Read books and read blogs, and you’ll always have a better idea of what you’re stepping into.

Doing research will also lead you towards some pretty awesome travel and food apps, such as Happy Cow, which is an app/website that lists and rates vegan and vegetarian restaurants worldwide. Users can add formerly unknown vegetarian food joints on the app and leave reviews about what’s on the menu and the quality of food. I found some of the best vegetarian and vegan food in places I would have never thought to explore, and during times when things were starting to look dire. It’s a great way of finding hidden gems and popular local haunts serving top-notch food. Other good resources to explore are Lonely Planet and Vegan Travel.

 

  1. Be adventurous.

Don’t limit yourself to only the vegetarian food you know and are comfortable with. Explore previously unknown dishes and ways of cooking and consuming food. This is even more important in a country where the familiar options are limited. Part of the fun of traveling is finding new and exciting foods and falling in love with flavors you never knew existed. It will make things a lot easier, and probably much more fun if you’re open to new foods and new experiences. Being adventurous will open you up to a whole world of food you may otherwise not have known about. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t ordered Indian Pav Bhaji and pani puri, or Laos spicy papaya salad, or any of the hundreds of other dishes I’ve ordered on a whim and have come to love.

  1. Know what foods to avoid.

Even if you think you know the ingredients in the dish, sometimes it’s best to ask, as there is no universal understanding of what it means to be vegetarian food. Just because it says vegetarian, doesn’t mean it actually is. I’ve run into this problem in multiple countries. In Sri Lanka, for example, it’s widely thought that vegetarians still eat things from the sea. The curries would still be referred to as being vegetarian while being cooked with fish pastes and powders. Fish sauce is popular in many countries as a widely used condiment. It’s often a good idea to request no fish sauce in dishes you know it’s used in. Vegetarian soups are another culprit. While there may be no meat, the broths are often meat-based. Things are even more tricky for vegans. It helps to know what ingredients are typically used in the dish you want to eat, as well as understanding what the concept of veganism and vegetarianism means in the place you’re visiting.

 

  1. Choose Destinations Known for Vegetarian Food.

Your vegetarian foodie dreams are awaiting you in Asia, where countries like India have been serving brilliant vegetarian fare for centuries. Though much of Indian food contains dairy, there are still lots of vegan options too. Many menus in India have a section of ‘non-veg’ dishes, as veg fare dominates the menus. Consider taking a trip to South East Asia and exploring the amazing Vietnamese vegetarian culinary scene, or to basically any country in East Asia and you’ll be in food Heaven.

The religion prominent in a country can affect the availability of meat-free food. Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, practice diets that don’t involve any harm to animals. Food served inside temples in places like India will almost always be vegetarian and healthy. In Vietnam, for example, vegetarian restaurants are extremely popular and found throughout the country due to the large population of Buddhists. Many of those restaurants specifically cater to the Buddhists’ vegetarian diets. So, there’s a good chance you’ll easily find veg eats in countries where Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are prevalent.

  1. Learn the local language.

Trust me. This one really helps. If you’re able to verbally express what do and don’t want rather than hopelessly pointing and using gestures, it will make things a lot quicker and less stressful. It can be the smallest phrase, such as “I don’t eat meat,” or “I’m a vegetarian.” In Vietnam, the word “chay” means vegetarian. You can simply say “chay” to your server and voila. Vegetarianism and veganism is sometimes largely misunderstood in some countries, especially when it’s a new concept in meat-centric cultures, such as in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia. Knowing a bit more of the language will help explain that you may not want any animal products in the food, rather than it just being meatless.  

 

  1. Be friendly with the locals.

Ask and you shall receive. Ask your hotel where you can find good veg food. Befriend a stranger on the street and get the lowdown. It’s even better when you’re staying with locals, through platforms such Couchsurfing and Airbnb. This way it’s possible to have your friend order safe and unique foods and to enjoy a completely different way of dining. Similarly, talk to your chef or server if you can’t find something to eat on the menu. This is much easier in less fancy, more humble restaurants. Often, by telling the server your dietary restrictions, the chef will whip up a suitable dish or modify an existing dish to your liking.

 

  1. Get creative and DIY.

Knowing that you’re traveling to a county where vegetarianism isn’t really a thing can make a big difference. This is where hitting up the local markets and grocery stores will really come in handy. A big bonus to this approach is that local markets are fun, immersive experience in many cultures. You’ll find foods here you may have never come across in a restaurant.

It can also pay off to pack some snacks and bring your own goods, such as trail mix, granola, and dried fruit when going on long hikes or train journeys. You’ll be healthier and can ward off hunger until you reach somewhere that has veg-friendly options.

  1. Be flexible.

While most of us probably don’t want to compromise our diets or moral beliefs, doing so might make things a lot easier. If you find yourself in a situation where none of the above tips work for you, it could be time to consider bending the rules of your diet. Many vegan and vegetarian travelers often travel by this rule. Some people find it easier to accept food that has been offered, rather than refusing foods and potentially offending someone. Some people turn a blind eye to dishes they know aren’t vegetarian or vegan, such as curries cooked in ghee, and vegetable soups cooked in meat broth. Being not picky about vegetarian food definitely makes things easier for both the consumer and cook.

Follow these tips and traveling as a vegetarian will become a lot easier and more enjoyable. I typically have no worries of visiting new countries and being afraid there won’t be vegetarian food to eat. The vegan and vegetarian lifestyle is growing rapidly in much of the world, which is making things a lot easier for the traveling vegan. Lonely Planet recently said that vegetarian and vegan travel will be the trend for 2018.

The 5 Best Tropical Locales for Vegetarian Food

A concern many world travelers have as they embark into the tropics is, “will I be able to eat?” Dietary restrictions — vegetarian, Paleo, food allergies — can be a concern when you step into the unknown. As someone who has wandered through dozens of countries without eating meat, I’m here to tell you that vegetarian food is bountiful in the tropical belt of the country.

By undertaking some research, brushing up on local languages, and understanding a bit about the culinary diversities and histories of these tropical countries, you’re that much closer to fulfilling your quest for a stomach full of richly spiced, brilliantly flavorful vegetarian dishes that have been mastered into perfection. You can search for veg-friendly restaurants on sites like Happy Cow to find options wherever you’re heading.  

Check out my top 5 picks of where to get your veg on when on tropical land.

5 Best Tropical Spots for Vegetarian Food

  1. India

Perhaps the king of vegetarian-friendly countries, India’s mouth-watering curries might be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of vegetarian food. Around 30% of the country’s 1.3 billion population adhere to a vegetarian diet, mostly due to the religious principles of Hinduism. One thing is for sure: you will have no problem finding unreal veg fare in Tropical India. Vegetarian food is so common, in fact, that many restaurants have menus with ‘non-veg’ sections.

Some of India’s best food is found on the street, and street vendors can be seen whipping up snacks on almost every corner. But don’t go thinking it’s all about curry, because that’s SO far from true. Make sure you sample tantalizing chaats, brilliant biryinas, melt-in-your-mouth masala dosas, and all the amazing things you can wrap your fingers around. The art of using a diverse blend of spices to craft magical masala mixtures is beyond comparison in India, and is definitely something you don’t want to miss out on.

 

  1. Mexico

Mexico, despite being home to many meat-centric culinary traditions, is still one of the best countries in the world for amazing vegetarian cuisine. You’re probably thinking about tacos, which there’s no denying are basically a gift from the food Gods, but don’t limit yourself to only tacos, as the Mexican kitchen is full of many tempting vegetarian dishes that will keep your taste buds craving more. Just think: tortilla soup, tortas, flautas, sopes, guacamole, salsas, tamales, chile rellenos, chilaquiles, and the ubiquitous burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. And margaritas – those count, too, right?

Imagine relaxing in Southern Mexico under the blissful sun and being served a handmade corn tortilla (a staple of many a meal), perfected over generations, topped with fresh avocado, zingy salsa, refried beans, and whichever spicy sauces you might be drooling over. Simple, succulent, meant to be savored. Don’t miss out on eating Mexican street food for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, a pastime a significant percentage of Mexico’s population religiously participles in. Mexico City, though sprawling and chaotic, is a good place to start your Mexican food journey. Note: if you eat eggs and cheese, you’ll be livin’ the Mexican dream.

 

  1. Jamaica

The Caribbean region, and much of the surrounding mainland, isn’t necessarily known for its veg-friendly cuisine. However, we’ve lucked-out with Jamaica. Jamaican food has been influenced by traders, colonization, religion, and other cultures in many ways, which has created a melting pot of flavors to savor. The vegetarian and vegan dishes in Jamaica have largely been created by Rastafarians.

The type of cooking, which is also a lifestyle movement, is called ‘Ital’ (coming from the word ‘vital’). The Ital movement focuses on creating mostly vegan dishes from naturally-grown foods, without the use of extra salt, additives, or processed foods. Jamaican breakfasts tend to be vegetarian-friendly and generally include staples such as plantains, boiled bananas, dumplings, breadfruit, callaloo, all of which you can find at ‘mom and pa’ shops. Look out for other dishes like rice and peas, which may sound pretty simple, but packs a blissful punch due to the delicate spice blend and fresh coconut milk.

  1. Ethiopia

Your best bet for vegetarian food in tropical Eastern Africa is in Ethiopia. Though you won’t have a problem finding a good spread of veg dishes during any day of the week, there are two days in particular where it will be almost the only thing you can get. Every Wednesday and Friday, as well as during lent, are days of ‘fasting’, according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, where followers fast from eating animal products.

The one dish that is going to accompany each and every meal in Ethiopia is ‘injera’, an amazing tasting, spongy, sour-flavored type of flatbread made from teff flour. Nearly all your dishes will be served on top of this national dish. Generally, you’ll get a colorful variety of different ‘stews’ and curry-like dishes, made from lentils, vegetables and a good mix of spices. Shiro is one of the most popular dishes, which is pureed chickpeas in the ubiquitous berbere spice. So tasty.

  1. Vietnam

It’s no secret that South East Asia is home to a sprawling spread of vegetarian-friendly cuisines, and Vietnam might just top the regional list. Vietnam’s more urban areas have a good selection of vegan restaurants that cater to the country’s Buddhist population. One of the best ways to sample veg-friendly Vietnamese fare is at vegan buffets, where you’ll find an array of lip-licking dishes, including fresh spring rolls, morning glory, vegetable soups, and a variety of tofu cooked in different ways.

In Vietnamese, the word ‘chay’ means vegetarian, so anytime you see the word you’re in luck. Make sure you make time to munch down on what might be the best baguette sandwich in the world, the bahn mi – filled with egg or tofu, cheese, chili, cucumber, cilantro, and pickled carrots, it will hit the spot any time of day, anywhere. And, of course, don’t forget about the quintessential Vietnamese dish: pho. Though most phos are meat-heavy, you can commonly find veg-friendly versions of this fan-favorite soup.

 

Hungry yet? Flight booked? This list will get you started on some of the vegetarian wonders of the Tropical world, but by no means do you have to stop there. From continent to continent, there’s wonderful vegetarian food to be discovered and devoured. For now, though, you’ll hopefully be keeping busy digging into Mexican tacos, Jamaican stews, Indian curries, Ethiopian injera and Vietnamese pho. YUM!