Need to eat gluten free and want to travel in Bolivia? Its not easy we know but we have some tips.
The rise of people following gluten free diets around the world is well known and in response there a have been a lot more products come to market with supermarkets having dedicated sections for gluten free products.
In Bolivia though it is far less common or understood as it might be in Europe or the USA and it is certainly more of a challenge to find suitable places to eat, products to buy or arrange for tours that will cater to your needs.
Things are changing little by little though and there are now Bolivian product lines that are gluten free, more things labeled as gluten free and therefore the awareness is at least increasing.
There are also more restaurants in Bolivia offering gluten free options now which was almost unheard of just a few years ago (see tips section below).
Without a doubt though – it is still a challenge to be gluten free in Bolivia.
We wrote this article to help provide some tips & advice but also to make you aware of some of the issues you might have to deal with.
In Boliva the biggest problem is finding places that truly understand gluten free and that take the issue seriously.
Through no fault of their own, your average Bolivian that works in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel is not going to know much or anything about gluten, gluten free, celiac disease nor the reasons for people wanting to avoid eating gluten.
They are very unlikely to know the potential serious consequences for some people.
Even less likely is that they will know which foods contain gluten, those that are gluten free or anything about the risks of cross contamination by preparing gluten free food with the same utensils as those used with gluten.
Even in places that advertise gluten free options cross contamination is something that you should consider is a likely possibility.
It can be hard to get your message taken seriously sometimes and some people will certainly just brush it aside as just another strange thing that foreigners do and you need to be aware that this could be the case.
Your own personal reasons for being gluten free will likely dictate what levels of risk you can expose yourself too.
Gluten Free Food on Tours
More and more tour operators in Bolivia are aware of the need to offer gluten free options and you may see this advertised but you should approach this with caution still, especially if you have a serious allergy to gluten / celiac disease.
As mentioned above , the issue is a lack of understanding by the people preparing the food so whilst agencies can request that the operators provide gluten free food and the operators can instruct the guides, staff, restaurants, hotels etc to provide this it is all too easy for something to go wrong.
If you do manage to get a gluten free meal on a tour there is certainly a good chance it was prepared using the same utensils as the no gluten free foods.
If this is a potential issue for you then you would be best advised to avoid the risk and arrange your own food.
Even if you receive guarantees , unless the person giving those guarantees absolutely understands and is preparing the food themselves it is likely to be taken less seriously.
In tours to remote places like the Bolivia Salt Flats it is quite common for people with gluten free requests to have issues with not receiving the correct food or getting enough food during the tour so we always recommended people take their own supplies as well to be sure.
Buy some none perishable items like nuts, biscuits etc at the very least for backup.
Tips & Resources for Gluten Free in Bolivia
USEFUL SPANISH PHRASES
- gluten free = libre de gluten
- celiac = celiaca , enfermedad celiaca
- gluten intolerance = intolerancia al gluten
COMMONLY AVAILABLE GLUTEN FREE FOOD OPTIONS
- Quinoa – commonly available in many places this is a great choice as is a healthy high protein gluten free option
- Potatoes – Bolivia has an unimaginable amount of different varieties(some say potatoes originate from here). Careful with mashed potato though as it will usually be instant and will contain at least some gluten.
- Rice – luckily rice is commonly served in bolivian dishes so is nearly always an option.
- Ceviche – the famous marinated fish dish from Peru is often available in Bolivia
- Grilled Meats – there are lots of “parrilladas” offering grilled meats that are usually safe. Be careful with things like “chicharron” or other meats that looked well spiced though because they may have added wheat flour.
- Fish – grilled fish in general is safe but of course avoid anything “breaded”.
- Vegetables – Bolivian tend not to be big fans of vegetables so not many inventive vegetable dishes are available, meaning usually just steamed / boiled veg which is another safe option.
GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANT OPTIONS
As mentioned above , it can be hard to find places that will understand the need for gluten free. Here are a few options that should provide you with no issues though. This is often due to being foreign owned or having an owner that has lived abroad.
- Cafe Vida – Calle Sagarnaga 213, La Paz ( inside a Galeria / courtyard )
This is a popular vegan plant based foods restaurant that the majority of dishes are gluten free or can be requested to be without gluten.
- Ali Pacha – Calle Colón Nº 1306
Another vegan option but more of a fine dining restaurant. Gets rave reviews from meat eaters and vegans a like and offers gluten free options but might be awkward for some as the table has to order the same thing.
- Fellini – Avenida Montenegro 1323 , San Miguel
The first place to offer gluten free pizza in La Paz. Located in the Calacoto area in Zona Sur. Gets busy in the evenings
- The Steakhouse – Calle Tarija 243-B
No prizes for guessing what kind of restaurant this is! Meat lovers can ask for plenty of gluten free options here.
Please let us know in the comments if you find a great gluten free restaurant or cafe in Bolivia and we can add it to the list to help other travelers.
GLUTEN FREE STREET FOODS
There are various street food options that will be gluten free. A couple you might want to try are:
- Sonsos – made from yuca and cheese make for a hearty filling snack. Also some yuca with meat varieties
- Huminta – corn based with cheese, aniseed and either baked or steamed in a leaf
- Api & Tojori – these are sweet hot drinks made from either yellow, white or purple corn
- Cuñapes – made from tapioca / cassava flour and cheese they have a crusty outside and are chewy on the inside, usually served warm
GLUTEN FREE PRODUCTS
If your looking for snacks or supplies to cook yourself then there are several places that you can find gluten free specialty products in La Paz.
You shouldn’t have any trouble finding gluten free pastas made from rice or quinoa, chinese style rice noodles, various biscuits, cakes and sometimes bread.
TIP – it is not common to have kitchens for guest use in Bolivian hostels, airBnbs are more likely to offer a better setup for you to cook yourself.
- La Huarta – Calle Pedro Salazar 599 near the corner of Presbitero Medina, Sopocachi , La Paz
This is quite a new health food store that stocks a number of gluten free products.
- Irupana – there are numerous Irupana branded health food stores all over La Paz that offer gluten free products including biscuits and pastas.
Also if you go to the larger supermarkets like Ketal and Hipermaxi , they will often have the branded products listed above and sometimes some imported items form europe / US although the latter are usually more than double the price.
For fresh product like veggies go to the local markets as it is the same stuff as the supermarkets just not wrapped in trays and a lot cheaper.
For meat and poultry might be safer with the supermarket as they tend to at least look cleaner than the fly ridden meat market areas.
This article obviously only touches on the issues and provides a handful of tips for he traveler.
It is such a broad subject though it is impossible to cover everything but if you need any advice about travelling with a gluten allergy or intolerance in Bolivia , get in contact.
The owner of Kanoo Tours is in fact mildly gluten intolerant and also a vegan , which is a tough combination in Bolivia, so fully understands the difficulties involved!