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Guide to Gluten Free Costa Rica- A Guide

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If you have gluten sensitivity or are Celiac, Costa Rica is a relatively easy place to eat out if you know what to order. This post outlines what to order, how to order, and a few gluten-free restaurant options.

costa rica arroz con pollo chicken and rice on a plate with a wood background

No one wants to get sick on vacation, and especially not in Costa Rica. While many gluten free individuals have learned how to cope with their preference or illness at home, going abroad can cause some nervousness. I totally get it!

So many of my clients ask me about traveling gluten-free in Costa Rica, so I decided to write this post as a guide. I’ll talk a bit about gluten and Celiac disease, give you a list with links to some of the best gluten-free dishes in Costa Rica, and even link to a handy printable in Spanish that will help you advocate with a chef or waiter. Finally, I’ll provide a few Spanish phrases you can try on your own if you want.

The best news? All of Costa Rica’s most popular foods are gluten-free. Salsa Lizano, made of vegetables and spices, is 100% gluten-free. Gallo pinto, a popular side dish featuring rice, beans and Salsa Lizano is also totally gluten-free. And olla de carne, the vegetable beef soup, boasts no gluten.

What is gluten-free?

If you are reading this article, you probably already know about gluten-free. But just in case, or if you want to provide this guide to a clueless friend, I’ll talk a bit about it here.

Gluten is a naturally occurring substance in wheat. It’s two proteins mixed together that provides elasticity in bread- and also makes people with Celiac disease (one of the more common food allergies) very sick.

Some people choose to avoid gluten because they have noticed it makes their stomachs upset or causes bloating. However, there is a class of people with Celiac disease who are unable to digest gluten, and can become very ill when ingesting gluten.

It is important to note the difference between gluten intolerant and Celiac disease. If you are one or the other you know!

Today, the conversation about gluten is becoming more common in Costa Rica, but gluten allergies are not commonly diagnosed right now. There is a fairly good chance that if you are not in the capital of San Jose or in a pretty touristy area then you will need to let your waiter and chef know what gluten is and what you can and cannot eat.

Since the staple of every meal in Costa Rica is rice, beans, and corn tortillas, you know you will always have something to eat no matter where you go. Add in the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and you will find lots of options!

I do recommend using a gluten sensor such as the Nima sensor when you are in Costa Rica if you are highly sensitive to gluten, or if you are traveling quite off the beaten path. Parents with young children also will appreciate the sensor.

Here is a gluten-free card in Spanish you can print and show to waiters and chefs as well.

free costa rica Travel printable

The ultimate list of Spanish phrases for Costa Rica with kids. 

costa rican casado on square white plate with side of black beans and salad.

Gluten-free dishes in Costa Rica

Gluten-free travelers can find an abundance of gluten-free meals in Costa Rica, and below I have linked to the recipes for many gluten-free options so you can preview what is in each dish before you travel.

Bakeries are very popular in Costa Rica, and they are a gluten nightmare. Cross-contamination would be rampant there, so avoided bakeries if possible. Also, breakfast is often served with toast instead of tortillas, so make sure to let your host know that you cannot have toast on the plate.

Finally, it is traditional to eat bread and pastries as part of the afternoon coffee tradition. Make sure to let your host know that you would need corn empanadas with your coffee as they are gluten-free. They are fried, so make sure that oil is not used for items with gluten in them.

Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Stew with beef, corn, carrots, and potatoes.

Main Dishes

Costa Rican casado dish consisting of rice, picadillo, salad, beans, and a fried protien.
Here you see a fish fillet and picadillo de chayote.

Side Dishes

These will generally be options with your Costa Rican casado plate, and all are gluten-free.

Plate of Costa Rican nachos piled with pico de gallo.

Appetizers

Please note that tacos in Costa Rica are prepared with flour tortillas, and not suitable for gluten-free patrons. Fried empanadas in Costa Rica are made from corn masa, but baked empanadas are made with a wheat flour base.

There are so many appetizers that are gluten-free until fried in a fryer that also fries items with gluten in them. Please please ask (Spanish guide below).

Drinks

Most all of your drinks will be gluten-free. And of course cocktails are too! Just avoid the beer.

centered bowl of arroz con leche with pastel napkin scarf.

Desserts

Rice pudding is your friend in Costa Rica! It’s a highly popular dessert and gluten-free. A great menu option for Celiacs with a sweet tooth.

Related post: Guide To Costa Rican Fruit

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Gluten-free Restaurants

If you are reading this, I need help! Please write in the comments or message me your best gluten-free experiences in Costa Rica. Since it’s relatively new, I have not found a lot of options so far. A reader did write me to say that Haciend Guachepelin had gluten free bread and really good gluten free food, and that they were very aware of what Celiacs need.

Join the Costa Rica With Kids Facebook. Ask all the Costa Rica Travel questions you want- we will answer them!

How To Order Gluten-Free Food in Costa Rica

With the rise in awareness about the potentially harmful effects of gluten in certain people, you will likely find many people who understand your diet. However, if you are off the beaten path or in very rural areas, be prepared to explain what gluten is.

Here are a few helpful phrases when explaining your diet or ordering off of a menu. Here is a gluten-free card in Spanish you can print and show to waiters and chefs as well.

EnglishSpanish
I’m gluten intolerantSoy intolerante al gluten.
I am CeliacSoy celiaco/a.
Does this contain wheat?Esto contiene harina de trigo?
Is this food fried in a separate fryer?Esta comida se prepare en una freidora distinta?
May I have this without….Puedo pedir esto sin…

If you would like to talk to me about a customized itinerary or specific Costa Rica travel advice for your family, (zero sales- just advice!) check out my “Ask Christa” page for more information on custom Costa Rica trip planning geared towards families.

You’ll like these other restaurant guides from Pura Vida Moms:

About the Author

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Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, travel and language. I’m a mom of two Latinas, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here

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