The Yucatan Peninsula: Caribbean and Colonial Charm

By Paige Newman, written for VegDining.com

Merida

Merida

A week in Mexico’s delightful Yucatan Peninsula ended all too soon. I loved the clear Caribbean Sea and the small beach towns, and we lucked out with finding restaurants with healthy options.

Merida was our first cherished locale – a gorgeous, tranquil colonial city. The walkable plazas were vibrant with that lovely Latin American essence, and amazing old trees. Vendors’ tables showed off attractive handmade blouses and jewelry, and pastry carts rolled by while musicians chimed in and couples chatted in silly swivel chairs. At first, finding nutritious food in the heart of the city seemed hard. I resorted to one of my old travel tricks: scouting the local store for a can of refried beans and corn chips. Then the curtains parted when we discovered Amaro Vegetariano y Internacional on Calle 59. The herbivore-friendly menu, romantic colonial courtyard setting with live music, great guacamole, and veggie fajitas captured my heart. Amaro instantly became one of our favorite restaurants, ever.

El Vegetariano, Tulum

El Vegetariano, Tulum

We left Merida in a long-distance bus, an adventurous way to explore if you can ignore the ubiquitous televisions blaring with violent North American movies. We skipped the extreme tourist spots like Cancun and boarded a bus for about three hours to Tulum, our first stop along the Caribbean Sea. Don’t miss this land of ancient Mayan ruins on a cliff above the bright blue ocean. The beaches were stunning but packed. Back in the town of Tulum, we kept returning to La Hoja Verde. It’s a small and friendly place to grab a falafel, soy burger, or green smoothie, and it was conveniently close to the ADO bus station on Avenida Tulum, the main drag.  They sell t-shirts, vegan meats, and other household items. On the same highway but not as centrally located, El Vegetariano also offers falafel, salads, other entrees, and fresh juices. You can watch the meals being lovingly prepared in the open-air kitchen.

Next we went off the beaten track to Akumal, a roughly 20-minute taxi ride from Tulum. We had an extremely windy stay with the ocean too rocky for swimming, but the Yal-Ku Lagoon was a refreshing spot to dunk into cool waters and view garden sculptures. Admittedly I didn’t do much research, and found no memorable veggie fare in a short visit.

Another beloved beach area was Puerto Morelos, a small town about an hour from Tulum. We liked the relaxing vibe and calm, turquoise waters so much we gave up braving the famous Chichen Itza ruins for a few more coastal days! El Nicho Restaurante on Avenida Tulum and Rojo Gomez had a delicious breakfast called “Vegan al Gusto,” containing beans, potatoes, toast, local greens known as chaya, and an oven-roasted tomato. La Terraza also on Rojo Gomez had fun art and serves wonderful salads, Indian soups and other veggie dishes.

Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos

Since meatless options are more limited in certain areas, I suggest doing research before venturing out, as with any international trip. It’s absolutely worth the efforts to experience the wonders of the Yucatan!

–   Photos by Paige Newman

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