Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

Category : Travel

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

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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.

9 Bleisure Ideas for Your Costa Rica Business Trip

You’re going to Costa Rica on business?? Thoughts of pristine beaches and lush rainforests cross the minds of your mouth watering colleagues, envy ensues. What they don’t realize is the trip consists of three days of back-to-back meetings within four walls.

In comes bleisure to save the day. Adding a weekend day at the beginning or end of your stay (or what the hey, why not both!!) will make the trip both a more fulfilling and rewarding experience, both personally and for business.

 

What is Bleisure?

Bleisure is a blending of business-oriented trips with personal time, and according to Fortune Magazine, “Bleisure is not only popular among employees; employers are starting to realize that it is a prime opportunity to endorse work-life balance.”

Most business trips to Costa Rica take place in the capital city of San Jose, and there are plenty of options for an authentic experience without even changing hotels.

 

Short Day Trips from San Jose

West Side Highlands

La Fortuna-Arenal Volcano and Thermal Waters

Drive Time:  2 to 2.5 hours

The drive from San Jose to La Fortuna-Arenal winds through mountain towns with great views of the countryside. La Fortuna is ideal for nature lovers and offers canopy tours, cycling, horseback, and ATV tours. The area is also known for its hot springs resorts which include restaurant and bar service. Don’t miss the great views of the on-and-off active Arenal volcano.

Hot Spring Options:

Baldi Hot Springs 

Eco Termales Fortuna 

 

Volcán Poas

Drive Time: 1 hour

Volcán Poas is an exceptional national park close to the La Paz Waterfalls. With just about a 1 KM walk from the parking, you can be at the crater, a large open space with a water deposit at the bottom. For the more adventurous, there is also a great 3 KM trail across altitude forest to the lagoon.

 

 

Doka-Grecia-Sarchi

Drive Time: 1 hr

This is a shorter trip on the road to La Fortuna. Sarchi is a town known for manufacturing of the traditional oxcart, once used as the only means of transporting the country’s most important crop, coffee. This trip can be combined with a visit to see a traditional coffee drying plant (Beneficio), and the town church.

 

 

Zarcero

Drive Time: 1.5 hours

This small, traditional Costa Rican town is well known for its church and cypress gardens full of shrubbery sculptures in different forms. This is a good stopping point if going to La Fortuna, or a nice side trip from Sarchí.

 

East Side Highlands

Orosi

Drive Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

The valley of Orosi was the first permanent settlement by the Spaniards in the 1500s and is a charming traditional town. The drive is a little longer than others on the list, but the scenery along the way is worth the trip. You will travel through the city of Cartago, the first capital of Costa Rica. Go for lunch at Orosi, where you can visit the church and the ruins of the first formal church built in Costa Rica, in nearby Ujarras. Another alternative would be to combine it with a visit to Volcán Irazú.

This is one of my favorite lunch digs in the area: http://www.lacasonadelcafetal.com/

 

Volcán Irazú

Drive Time: 1.5 hours

This volcano is known for its 1963 eruption and ash showers, coinciding with President Kennedy’s first, and only, visit to Costa Rica. Nice drive up from San Jose — about 1.5 hours — interesting landscape, good to combine with either Cartago or Orosi.

 

Dota-Santa María and San Gerardo

Drive Time: 2 hours

One of the lesser visited options, this area is about 2200 meters in altitude, and to get there one must travel along the highest mountain range in the country. About 2 hours from San José, but totally worth it. The neighboring towns combine one of the premium coffee producing regions (Santa María) with great cloud forest views and trekking  (San Gerardo).

 

The Coast

bleisure, business trip, business travel, Costa Rica

Jaco

Drive Time: 1.5 hours

The coastal town of Jaco has a large array of services, restaurants, and activities — from lounging poolside to surfing lessons with locals. Want to have a beautiful sunset experience? Stop for a drink at Villa Caletas on your way back. If the beach is not really your thing and you want to immerse in nature, you may also consider a stop at Carara National Park and Scarlet Macaw sanctuary.
Day passes are available at several hotels.

 

Puerto Puntarenas

Drive Time: 1.5 hours

This popular port town is home to the largest fishing fleet in Costa Rica and a common day trip for Costa Ricans. The Tioga Hotel and the all-inclusive Doubletree Hotel offer day passes, so you can spend the day enjoying the pool and beach and have a place to shower and change, as well as bar and restaurant service. Enjoy the full experience and have either a late lunch or early dinner in downtown Puntarenas. After dinner stroll down the beachside promenade, Paseo de los Turistas, for a typical “Churchill” — a snow cone-in-a-glass loaded with syrup, ice cream, powdered and condensed milk. Your doctor will definitely frown on this one, but what the hell, you only live once…

Doubletree Hotel

Tioga Hotel

My favorite restaurant in Puntarenas: Casa Almendro

 

 

 

Cultural Immersion: Coolest Street Art Cities in the World

Street art is more than just a graffiti tag on a wall – it’s an exciting art form that brings life and passion to the bare surfaces of a city.

After all, as human beings we have had the instinct to paint on the walls ever since the early days of cave paintings. Murals along underpasses, splashed across the sides of buildings or down alleyways turn the urban space into an outdoor museum. They are not only beautiful to look at, they can have powerful cultural and political messages.

There are some cities around the world that have embraced street art more than others. In these places the experience of admiring the murals is an important part of cultural immersion and it helps visitors to understand what life is like in the location. Here are some examples of amazing street art cities from around the world:

 

Cultural Immersion Through Street Art

Valparaiso, Chile

A laid-back, hip port city only 1.5 hours from Santiago, Valparaiso has an effortlessly cool vibe. It’s a mix of the artsy bohemian residents, the unique coffee shops and the live-music-fueled nightlife that goes on until dawn – as well as the brightly-hued paintings that adorn almost every public wall.

The colourful buildings here cascade down the steep hills, with views of the vast blue Pacific that once inspired Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The local government here doesn’t just allow street art, it promotes it. Many local cafes, bars, and restaurants are eager to have the talented local artists paint their buildings and during your visit you can take a street art tour to discover some of the best large-scale paintings within the winding, steep streets.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo has embraced and cultivated an incredible street art scene. However, if you want to see it you had better book your trip soon. The new mayor of the city has been threatening to “beautify” the city by painting over the street art, as he calls it “visual pollution.”

To see the best street art in Sao Paulo, you can first head to the Vila Madalena, which is known for the street “Beco de Batman.” It is a narrow laneway filled with colorful artwork. Each of the walls is owned by a different artist and it’s fascinating to see the different styles.

Istanbul, Turkey

The street art scene in Istanbul has grown considerably in the last several years. The city hosted the Mural Istanbul festival, which was an opportunity for local and international artists to show off their artwork on the sides of buildings all over Kadikoy. This vibrant district is packed with local bazaars, vintage shops and pubs and is covered in bright murals.

Another one of the best neighborhoods in the city to look for cultural immersion into the street art scene is Tünel, where almost all of the shops are decked out with colourful shutters.  

Bangkok, Thailand

BBC Culture recently published a feature about the thriving street art scene in Bangkok. This form of expression was once discouraged, but it is now a way to share beauty, communicate humour and identify social issues.

Street art has been embraced all over Bangkok – even the Beat Hotel Bangkok now features rooms painted by some of Bangkok’s best loved urban artists. The city also hosted BUKRUK, which translates to “invasion” and is a cultural immersion festival of street art featuring artists from around the world.

Where is your favorite street art around the world?

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.

5 Great Off the Beaten Path New Year’s Destinations

Sure, Times Square and the fireworks displays in the Sydney Harbour are impressive – but what if you want to go somewhere a little different for New Year’s Eve? Do you want to ring in the New Year at a place that is a little bit further off the beaten path and will offer a one-of-a-kind travel experience? Here are some of the most interesting spots around the world to spend December 31st.

5 Off the Beaten Path New Year’s Destinations

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  1. Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is one of the coolest cities in South America and this street-art covered, quirky seaport really knows how to ring in the New Year. It hosts one of the most mind-blowing fireworks shows in South America, as well as a three day long “New Year’s Eve by the Sea” celebration.

 

The best way to see the fireworks in this off the beaten path destination might be to climb up to the top of one of the steep hills around the city, or charter a boat and watch them from the sea. During your visit, you can also check out the home of poet Pablo Neruda and take a tour of the winding, quirky streets to learn more about the colorful street art that adorns nearly every public wall in this funky city.

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2. Scheveningen, Netherlands

This community is home to the largest New Year’s Eve bonfire in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In fact, this bonfire has been officially recognized as part of the Dutch cultural heritage. This enormous conflagration of wooden pallets will light up the night, while the festivities will also include live music, fireworks and much more.

Another tradition is the New Year’s Dive, which involves taking a freezing cold plunge into the sea – followed by warming up with some yummy hot chocolate or Dutch pea soup.

off the beaten path, Vienna, Austria, tropicsgourmet, travel, new year's, new year's eve, NYE

3. Vienna, Austria

If you are looking for a swanky and sophisticated New Year’s Eve, the Austrian capital promises an elegant celebration. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to the New Year’s Eve Grand Ball at Hofburg Palace, you will be rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of Europe.

If not, you can sip mulled wine and be dazzled by the beautiful artisan crafts at Vienna’s famous Christmas markets, such as the Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz and the Spittelberg Christmas Market. Or, go for a stroll along the New Year’s Trail, where dozens of local restaurants will be serving up yummy treats.

Want something inspirational to wake up to the next day? A crowd will gather at the City Hall on New Year’s day to start off the year with a concert by the world renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

off the beaten path, Edinburgh, Scotland, new year's, new year's eve, NYE

4. Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scots call New Year’s Eve “Hogmanay” and they celebrate it with a fiery passion. The origins of the celebrations go all the way back to the Viking winter solstice celebrations and they begin with wild and crazy parties in late December.

The cold dark Scottish nights are lit up with torchlight processions, street parties and live music. Princes Street in Edinburgh will be filled with revelers, with the spectacular Edinburgh Castle in the background. You can dance, drink and eat all night, with outdoor bars, food trucks, DJs and giant screens.

When the clock ticks down to midnight, a spectacular fireworks display will burst forth from the ramparts of the historic castle and everyone will hold hands with the person nearest to them and sing Auld Lang Syne.

off the beaten path, Nuku'alofa, Tonga, new year's eve, new year's, NYE, tropicsgourmet

5. Nuku’alofa, Tonga

The tiny Pacific Island of Tonga is the first place in the world to celebrate New Years – you’ll be counting down to midnight three hours before anyone in Australia. So, if you are the type who likes to do things first – you’ll want to make New Year’s plans here. The local celebrations will include brass bands, the ringing of church bells and midnight mass.

 

The capital city, Nuku’alofa, on the island of Tongatapu, has a laid back atmosphere and some great snorkeling beaches. Also, build some time into your trip for an off the beaten path trekking adventure on nearby Eua Island, home to the largest tropical rainforest in Tonga.

 

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!

Trekking Through the Tropical Spice Islands of Zanzibar

Trekking through windswept islands with the heady aromas of nutmeg, mace, saffron and cloves lingering in every crook and whispering crevice is the stuff of dreams and National Geographic features. But is it really out of reach for today’s travelers? Truth be told, it’s easier than ever to create meaningful travel experiences in faraway lands. Here’s a look at the famous Spice Islands of Zanzibar and how you can bring these delicate treasures into your travels, life, home, and cooking.

Trekking Through Spice Islands

Zanzibar Island

Zanzibar is the island of red-tiled rooftops, twisting tropical lanes, and Swahili culture thriving for generations in the Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. It’s also the world of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, lemongrass, and vanilla. These crops sustain Zanzibarian families and draw agri-tourists from near and far who traipse through tangled tropical farms and groves of ginger, turmeric, and tamarind growing unfettered on fertile island plantations.

 

The Stone Town of Zanzibar, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is a marvelous clash of cultures dating back to times when Persian traders launched voyages around the globe. Bringing back secrets, fruits, and exotic spices from the Middle East, India, Africa, and Europe, the islanders tumbled them together over centuries of planting and growing, creating a huge melting pot of cuisine that is today uniquely Tanzanian.  

 

Touch, Taste and Smell

After arriving on Zanzibar Island, start your exploration of these prized tropical earth-offerings by trekking in the dirt itself. Many hotels will hook you up with locals who know the spice plantations like the backs of their hands and can take you on walking tours through the small villages and farms of Kizimbani or Kindichi. You’ll meet workers dangling from trees, stripping bark, and picking, plucking, or digging up colorful herbs, fruits, and spices.

 

Touch, taste, and smell your way through the fields as workers practice ancient skills of drying, soaking, and prepping the freshly picked crops. Most outings include traditional Swahili meals and lemongrass cakes prepared by the farmers. Often, there are baskets of juicy mangos, jackfruit, papayas, pineapples, and passion, star, or custard fruits. On the spice farms, known locally as shambas, you can also buy the freshest spices ever to take home and transform your own kitchen.

 

trekking, stone island, zanzibar, spice islands

Stone Town

Back in Stone Town, traditional wooden dhow fishing boats still bob in the harbor, while ancient architectural structures now open their enormous Portuguesa wood-carved doors as hotels for visitors. Picturesque teahouse and restaurant balconies fire up their ovens for sizzling seafood dishes such as lemongrass calamari and grilled mango prawns, always served with myriad spiced sauces. The House of Spices eatery, once the home of a spice trader, now offers a charming guesthouse, wine bar and terrace dining.

 

The village bustles with bazaars and “duka” squares overflowing with lively markets and Zanzibar handicrafts that incorporate spices into daily life. Sweet-smelling cloves dry in the hot sun on kitchen-garden racks, and brilliantly hued spices are crushed to powder for dyes, cosmetics, and bridal hennas. They also provide cures for everyday ailments.

 

Trek over to Darajani Market, the island’s main trading spot, spilling over with everything from fresh fish to live chickens, vividly hued textiles and – of course – spices galore. Help support the rural economy by purchasing gifts from Moto & Dada, an island-wide artist cooperative selling ukili palm-woven rings, bracelets, hats, bags, toys, and flower-filled baskets.

 

A big plus when trekking through the co-op is that you can ask to join locals for a Dada cooking class in the village of Matemwe. You’ll learn to make jam from baobab trees growing on the Matemwe Ridge, along with traditional Zanzibar sauces from cassava leaves and fresh grated coconuts.

Spice Up Your Space

You may be surprised at how the fresh versions of these exotic spices change the way you cook and eat – and how you start to crave them day and night when you slowly crush and crumble your way through the hoard you spirited home from the islands. Hakuna Matata, as they say over and over on Zanzibar Island: No Worries. You can buy the dried spices, seeds, herbs and starter kits online from the Zanzibar Clove Spice Market, and use their handy spice guides and recipes in your own kitchen.

Pick up recipe books such as Taste of Tanzania by local author Miriam Rose Kinunda to recreate traditional Swahili dishes such as Kachumbari, Futari ya Mbaazi, and Makande. Her website features helpful videos as well. A great way to start your own collection of older island recipes is to purchase previously owned cookbooks such as Zanzibar Style Recipes and A Taste of Zanzibar.

 

And if you ever need a real refresher course, remember: the locals will always welcome you back to the hot and spicy, seasoned and sensual Spice Islands of Zanzibar.

5 Northern Thai Foods Worth Traveling For

Can you base a holiday solely around eating Thai food? I’d say so, I’ve always based my travels around food, that’s how I first learned about Northern Thai cuisine. Use this guide to discover the five Northern Thai dishes worth travelling for – and where you can find them on your trip to Chiang Mai.

Before my very first travels in Thailand, I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought Thai food was made up of just Pad Thai and green curries. Ten years have now passed and since I first touched down in the land of smiles, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of this wonderfully diverse cuisine.

Every region in Thailand has its own style of cooking, from creamy coconut based curries in the south to spicy grilled meats and salads in the north east, I love all Thai food. No other food has captured my heart more, though, than the amazing dishes from Thailand’s second city; Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai’s food, or Lanna cuisine, as it’s known locally is nowhere near as well known as the city it hails from. Chiang Mai is one of the most visited cities in Thailand, but unfortunately, a lot of the time, the wonderful local dishes go under the radar with tourists.

Today, we’re going to change all by looking at five fantastic Northern Thai food dishes that are worth visiting Chiang Mai for.

Travel for This Thai Food

1. Khao Soi – Coconut Based Curry with Egg Noodles

Khao Soi is easily Chiang Mai’s most famous dish. It consists of a rich coconut milk-based curry, flavored with Indian spices, namely coriander seeds, black cardamom and fresh turmeric poured over flat egg noodles and topped with crunchy, deep-fried noodles. On the side, you’ll find fresh lime wedges, chilli oil and pickled cabbage. These condiments are there to tweak the dish to your own taste. Khao Soi is my favorite dish in Thailand, just to give you an idea of how delicious it is!

For my favorite khao soi in Chiang mai, head to Khao Soi Samer Jai, just across the river from the main town.

2. Sai Ua – Northern Thai Sausage

This is the sausage to end all sausages, a meat lovers dream! Sai ua just screams Thailand from the first bite, it’s bursting with flavour from Thai staples such as lemongrass, lime leaves, chilli, galangal, ginger and turmeric. These herbs and spices are mixed with fatty pork mince and slowly grilled over coals to maximise the flavour. The shape of the sausage is reminiscent of an English Cumberland ring.

Sai Ua is sold for takeaway  everywhere in nearly every market and restaurant in Chiang Mai, one of my top choices, though, is Huen Puen on Ratchamanka Rd.

3. Gang Hang Lay – Northern Pork Belly Curry

You might not be familiar with this curry if you have been to Chiang Mai! It’s called gaeng hang lay and it’s a slow cooked curry of pork, usually, belly and shoulder soured with tamarind and flavoured with Indian spices.

There are so many different recipes for this that I’m not sure I’ve had two that taste exactly the same even from the same shop!

It has it’s roots in Myanmar (Burma) and tastes like no other curry in Thailand. The closest I would say would be a massaman curry without the coconut milk.

4. Khanon Jeen Nam Ngiaw

Probably the least known dish outside of Chiang Mai, Khanom jeen nam ngiaw reminds me of a kind of Thai spaghetti bolognese. It’s a comforting dish of fresh rice noodles topped with a wonderfully rich, smokey tomato based broth with minced or sliced pork and ribs.

You can’t go wrong with Nam Ngiaw Thapae for an authentic version.  

5. Nam Prik Noom – Roasted Green Chilli Dip

Last but not least, my favourite Thai dip, nam prik noom. This wonderful salsa is made by grilling long green chilli peppers, garlic and shallots over an open flame and pounding them in a pestle and mortar with lime juice and fish sauce. The result is an amazingly smokey, spicy, salty dip that’s a perfect accompaniment to crunchy fresh vegetables.

This is another dish that’s served everywhere in The City. Again,  Huen Puen on Ratchamanka Rd and Khao Soi Samer Jai serve wonderful nam prik noom.

 

So there you have it; five reasons to make your next trip a food adventure to Thailand’s beautiful north. Plan a trip with some online resources.

Need somewhere to enjoy authentic Thai food, but can’t make a trip across the world? Try one of these gems:

Pure Thai Cookhouse, NYC

Pok Pok, Portland

5 Dishes That Will Make You Fall in Love With Peruvian Food

When I decided to spend some time in South America I went with my gut (literally) and chose the country that seemed to have the most positive food reviews: Peru. I am happy to say that Peruvian food did not disappoint — I ended up staying in that glorious, delicious country for six months. If you want unique travel in Peru or are simply looking for new dishes to spice up your diet then read on and check out my favourite Peruvian food.

Unique Travel with Peruvian Food

Cuy

It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to eat what is commonly considered a household pet – and why would you want to? But, when you’re in Peru you have to keep an open-mind. A dish steeped in history and culture, cuy is what the Peruvians call guinea pig. These little critters are usually served whole (face and all) after being either roasted or deep-fried. The taste is a bit like rabbit and nothing like chicken – so ignore anyone who tells you that. I’m not going to guarantee that you will love cuy, but if you are in Peru and you want to go on a unique travel adventure, it is a good place to start.

 

Lomo Saltado

This dish very quickly became a staple in my life while I lived in Peru. I used to eat lunch every day at the San Blas market in Cusco because I could get a big plate of lomo saltado for $1.50. The king of Peruvian food, lomo saltado consists of sautéed beef, tomato and onion served with rice and chips. Rice and chips might seem like a weird combo – we would normally just choose one, right? Well the double – even triple carb thing – is pretty common in Peru. You will get used to it, and even grow to love it, in no time. Here’s a recipe in case you fancy making lomo saltado yourself.

Alpaca Steak

I’m never one to turn down trying some exotic dish you wouldn’t be able to find at home. So when I heard that alpaca steak was a popular Peruvian dish, I rushed out to go and find one. Delightfully low in cholesterol and higher in protein and iron than its cow-based cousin, alpaca steak is basically a super-meat. And, it tastes really good. It is slightly milder than beef, but otherwise you would have a hard time distinguishing the two. As far as Peruvian food goes, the alpaca steak is definitely one of the healthier dishes available.

Ceviche

Some people are wary about eating raw fish but when it comes to eating ceviche it is well worth throwing caution to the wind and tucking in. Obviously be careful if you’re eating ceviche from a tub on the side of the road – stick to restaurants if you can. The same goes for all Peruvian food actually. Ceviche is chunks of raw fish and seafood that has been marinated in lime juice, raw onion, and chilli. You can get ceviche all over Latin America but it is a well-known fact that Peruvian ceviche is the best. Served with sweet potato, Cusco corn and crunchy maize nibbles, the combination of the flavours and textures is utter perfection. If the acidic leche de tigre sauce becomes too much, you can cool your mouth down with a bite of sweet potato. Similarly, if the soft fish leaves you craving something crunchy then the maize nibbles will sort you out. Want to try making it for yourself? Try this recipe.

Anticuchos
Have you ever eaten heart on a stick? No? Peru offers a chance to change that. Anticuchos are probably the most popular street food you will find in Peru and they are much more delicious than the description “heart on a stick” makes them sound. A better image to paint would be succulent chunks of marinated beef heart on a skewer. Head to any street corner and you have a good chance of finding a Peruvian mama with a little barbecue and a stack of anticuchos ready to be grilled up for you. If you’re lucky, she might even spear a potato onto the end of the skewer. Check out this website for info on where to find great anticuchos in Lima.  

What Makes Vietnamese Food Different?

Vietnamese food is unlike any other in Southeast Asia – so what makes it so special?

Fresh. Invigorating. Fragrant. Sweet. Sour. Fermented. These are all adjectives you might use to describe Vietnamese cooking. It’s all about the yin and yang, the perfect balance of opposites within a dish that really makes each ingredient sing.

If you’ve tried food from several different Asian countries, you’ll know that there’s nothing quite like Vietnamese cuisine. What are the elements that make the dishes of this vibrant country unique?

It’s Not All About Spiciness

Unlike some other dishes in Southeast Asia that will melt your face off with spiciness, such as Tom Yum in Thailand, Sambal in Indonesia or Vindaloo Curry in India, Vietnamese cuisine isn’t focused on being as hot as possible.

Instead, the goal is to balance all of the five taste elements of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy. This results in a more balanced, aromatic and subtle dish with a complex flavour – perhaps with a bit of a kick to it but never screaming hot.

Vietnamese chefs believe that every ingredient has “heating” or “cooling” properties. So, for example duck meat is considered cool so it should be served in the summer. Chicken is a warm food, so it is served in winter and paired with a sour sauce which is considered cool. The chef strives to create a perfect equilibrium between the different elements within each dish.

It’s Light and Fresh

If you have ever had Burmese cuisine, you’ll know how rich, heavy and oily the curries are – but this is not the case with Vietnamese dishes.

The cooking in Vietnam is done with minimal use of oil and dairy and relies more on the light, fresh flavours of herbs and vegetables. As a result, Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.

Some of the yummy aromatic herbs that are commonly used include mint, cilantro, basil, lime leaf, lemongrass, green onion, perilla leaf, turmeric, ginger, Saigon cinnamon and tamarind pulp.

There’s a French Flair

No other cuisine in Southeast Asia has such a strong French influence. Although it has been more than six decades since the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam, you can still taste the French culture in every fluffy baguette. The perfect banh mi baguette is soft and airy on the inside and crusty on the outside, is smeared with pate and loaded up with fresh cucumber, meat, fried egg and other veggies. You must try one – they are available from street vendors in every major Vietnamese city.

Some of the other culinary leftovers from the French colonial era include creme caramel and coffee. In some of the chic cafes of Ho Chi Minh City you’ll even find macarons and croque monsieur for sale (at Parisian prices!). However, although coffee in France is served black and hot as an espresso or with steamed milk as cafe au lait, the coffee in Vietnam is enjoyed iced and sweetened with condensed milk.

vietnamese food, vietnam, pho

Soups are Clear

Both the French and Southern Chinese influence on Vietnamese cuisine shows in the tendency towards clearer soups and sauces. For example, the Vietnamese signature dish Pho is made with a meaty, rich clear beef broth. In these clear soups, the simple tastes of the principal ingredients is showcased. You can taste every element distinctly, from the cilantro to the lemongrass to the long-simmered beef bones and the fish sauce.

This is different to Thai cuisine, which often strikes a balance between featuring the main ingredients and emphasizing the flavour of the broth or the sauce.

These are just a few of the ways that Vietnamese cuisine is different than the food in other nearby Southeast Asian destinations. What’s your favorite Vietnamese dish?