I’ve recently got back from a two week holiday in Mexico- specifically the Riviera Maya region, a Caribbean coastline located on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. The main reason for visiting Mexico was to celebrate my cousin’s wedding with my family- which was a fantastic, sunny day right by the beach.
I stayed in an all-inclusive five star hotel for the first time in my life, and of course, I was worried about whether or not it would be hard being vegan whilst there. Also, we wouldn’t be dining out as it’s not advisable to leave the complex- so 99% of my meals were actually at the hotel; this includes their buffets and al la carté restaurants.
I hope my post will help others who are visiting Mexico or even staying at an all-inclusive resort. I know I stayed all-inclusive, but I’m assuming if you are ever going, you will be staying at an enclosed resort like I did- plus, I have some tips about language barriers, types of foods and more!
Breakfast was probably the easiest for me when having a choice of vegan options. For a start, there was a large cold jug of soya milk always present amongst the vast array of food- great for cereals and coffee! And I’m talking vast– it was probably the biggest food buffet I have ever seen in my life! The huge hotel complex is split into 3 hotels, which are then surrounded by blocks of rooms, and each hotel has its own buffet to use for free- for breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus a 24/7 buffet also).
For breakfast, I tended to stick to the same thing each day. Although there were cereals present (in their boxes – great for checking ingredients), I was drawn to their gorgeous nutty granola. I would have this pretty much each day, topped with desiccated coconut, amaranth seeds, soya milk, and a side of watermelon, or other fruit. I was actually really impressed by the number of superfoods and fruits you could choose from- nuts, seeds, grains, oats, you name it! I was in health food heaven! Bread was quite hard, as I found brown bread was the safest option- as I bit into a couple bagels and they tasted sweet, which to me is a sign that there is milk in them.
Lunch was buffet style again, with the choice of 3 buffets to visit, each packed full of every food you can think of- although there was a lot of meat and cheese, I coped just fine! For lunch, I would usually go for rice, pasta, or bread, with a huge side of veggies. Oh, and guacamole. I think I ate my body weight in guacamole during my stay!
We actually had dinner straight away when we got to Mexico, as we arrived there on the evening. I was overwhelmed by the amount of food, and it’s quite daunting having to walk through everyone and check all the dishes, inspecting them for any meat and veg- all the dishes were labeled clearly in English, but there was no allergen labeling on them which I think they should really add. Luckily, I spotted a chef and asked him to help me out. He kindly took me around the whole buffet and showed me which dishes were vegan-friendly.
I should note, some dishes said ‘vegan’ when they weren’t- including a ‘vegan pizza’ which was clearly a regular cheese pizza with vegetables on top; I think the word vegan must get lost in translation in some parts of Mexico, and is taken as ‘vegetarian’ instead.
I soon got used to this and discovered there was actually quite a lot of choice for me. To keep it safe, I avoided any foods in sauce and kept to plain veggies, fries, rice, pasta, and plain boiled potatoes. There was plenty of sauces and dips which I was familiar with, including sriracha(!), guacamole, and salsa/spices.
When it came to desserts, I quickly realised I wouldn’t be enjoying many sweet treats during my stay. They were laden with cream, chocolate, and all sorts. They did look amazing, but I am quite glad I couldn’t have them as I probably would have gorged on all the food! My only option was fruit, but luckily they had such a huge choice of different fruits so I never went hungry. A few of the Mexican themed nights had a selection of sweets- which were luckily in their packaging so I could Google the brand and see if they were vegan or not (some were!).
À La Carte
Besides the buffets, visitors had the option to dine at all à la carte restaurants on the complex; they included Italian, Brazillian, Mexican, Japanese, and more. I knew this would be harder for me, as the menus at each restaurant were pretty small, and only two of the ones I visited had vegetarian options on their menus.
A few restaurants I went into didn’t really understand what being vegan was. And would ask ‘can you eat beef?’, ‘butter?’- so, in the end, I would usually pull Google up on my phone and show them the Spanish words for dairy and meat- a bit of a pain, but it worked! Some waiters understood straight away, and were really helpful, by offering to make me certain dishes and just do them without the cheese or meat. However, two of the restaurants I visited just made me grilled vegetables on their own- which, did taste nice, but compared to the amazing dishes my parents were eating, looked a little plain.
Here are a few of the meals I had whilst dining out in the complex:
The Japanese Restaurant we visited were really great with catering for my veganism. I started with vegetable spring rolls, which tasted amazing! And then went onto grilled veg, rice and tofu (I noticed ‘soy cheese’ was on their menu, and I asked them and they just said its tofu- they call it soy cheese!). It was plain, and not pressed, but it was nice to have some tofu with my meal. Do ask for certain things if restaurants aren’t unsure what to give you- find certain ingredients on the menu and ask for those like I did. At first, they just offered my grilled veg- so I cheekily asked for rice also, and the tofu; if you don’t ask you don’t get! I was also given lime sorbet for dessert, which was great.
We came here for the wedding meal, and the main meal was meat served from swords (literally about 10 types of meat)- so, I loaded up on veggies, bruschetta, and polenta from the buffet bar, and was given vegetable spaghetti for my main. A tip- try to keep carbs and veggies/fruit balanced- you’re stomach won’t like to very much if you just stick to one or the other, so try to mix it up like you would at home.
Here I had pink couscous to start, with sultanas and nuts. For my main, again, not from the menu, I had spaghetti with veg in a tomato sauce.
Here I had the choice of fajitas- grilled veg, with a side of tortilla bread.
Here I had this awesome unusual starter, consisting of layered tortillas and asparagus in a spicy sauce. For my main was this unusual vegetable salad dish, which I cannot quite remember the name of, but I think it translated to something like an ‘explosion’? It was basically hummus and balsamic sauce, topped with vegetables. It was nice, don’t get me wrong, but they went a bit crazy on the lettuce!
I thought Italian would be the hardest (so much cheese and cream!), but I decided to go ahead and ask for a pizza without cheese, which they served me topped with veg- and it was so good.
The best meal I had during my stay was at this gourmet restaurant. They were really helpful and offered to make me dishes from the actual menu, just vegan-friendly. To start, I had a salad, which was actually really good! For my main, I had ratatouille which was delicious. My dessert was red wine-soaked pear- which they kindly made for me without the goat’s cheese.
Outside of the Complex
We only left the complex three times; once was to visit the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, another time to Coco Bongos, and lastly to an eco-water park called Xel Ha in Playa Del Carmen.
Going to Chichén Itzá made for a fantastic day out. With a 3am wake-up and 3-4 hour drive, we headed out to see the Mayan Ruins, including the amazing El Castillo/Temple of Kukulcan. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the area, hearing all about what happened at these ruins, and to hear people speak in actual Mayan (our Mayan tour guide tried to teach us a few words!). I’d highly recommend a visit here if you aren’t staying too far away.
We then headed to a small Mayan village, to learn all about how the people here lived, and to hear about their history.
After this, we headed to a Cenote, which if you didn’t know, is a naturally formed pit/sinkhole, formed by a collapse of limestone, which opens up to the natural water below. We all watched as a man performed a Mayan blessing on us, which was amazing to see. Then, we headed into the (ice cold!) water and enjoyed the amazing atmosphere.
We were then taken to an authentic lunch, and I happily received a 100% vegan meal! I was amazed that they managed to cater for vegetarians and vegans in such a place, and enjoyed this meal consisting of refried beans, rice, salsa and some kind of spinach dish on top of a banana leaf (which I don’t know the name of, but need the recipe for!)- it was gorgeous!
For the first time during our holiday, we were met with a huge amount of rain! It rained pretty much all day during our trip to Xel Ha, but I luckily managed to have a go on the zip wires before the rain became too heavy to stand to be outside in. Lunch here was buffet style, and there were even some meals which said ‘vegan’ on them- but, as mentioned, do not always believe the labeling (some had cheese on them!). Luckily, I managed to fill myself up with rice, veggies, guac (obvs), and refried beans (which I am now obsessed with!).
Overal, I would say it wasn’t too hard being vegan in Mexico (well, in an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico, anyway!), and the language barrier isn’t so bad as long as you keep your patience and take your time in explaining your diet clearly. The fact that veganism isn’t a large thing here (apparently it’s “one of the worst places to visit being vegan”), did scare me at first, but once I was there I was fine!
For more tips on being vegan when traveling somewhere new, keep your eyes peeled for my next blog post!
P.s. If you have any questions- comment and I will try my best to help 🙂