Back to top

Hiking in Patagonia: Top Tips for Vegetarian Travellers

In spite of Argentina’s love of red meat and Chile’s penchant for seafood, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding tasty and varied vegetarian food when visiting Buenos Aires or Santiago. But on the celebrated hiking trails of Patagonia that spans the far south of both countries, choices for veggie travellers can be much more limited. In a land where chargrilled meat and fresh seafood is king, what’s a vegetarian to do?

Our top tips for vegetarians heading for the hiking trails of Patagonia cover everything from how to survive the plane ride, to veggie hiking snacks, veggie hiking equipment and veggie restaurants and hotels!

aeroplane foodOn The Plane

If you’re heading off to hike in Patagonia the chances are you’ll be taking at least two journeys by aeroplane. One to reach Buenos Aires in Argentina or Santiago in Chile, and another down to the far South of the continent.
If any of these journeys includes a meal, make sure to confirm your vegetarian requirements when booking, either over the phone or by checking the correct tick-box on the online form. Then check again to make sure this information appears on your final printed reservation. Ask for a third and final time when checking-in for your flight at the airport as vegetarian in-flight meals can sometimes get overlooked and it’s too late once you’re in the air!
Besides all of that checking, it’s also a good idea to take a stash of snacks along with you. If you’ve ever woken up hungry at 5am to an airline “vegetarian breakfast” of soggy lettuce and a sachet of balsamic vinegar (yes, really!), you’ll appreciate the cereal bars squashed at the bottom of your backpack. Just be sure to eat any fruit, nuts or dairy products before you land, as there are restrictions on bringing them into both Chile and Argentina.

dried fruitVeggie Hiking Snacks

Once you get on the ground and hit the trails, it’s really important to keep your energy levels high. Most of the snacks we suggest on our list of Top 5 Patagonia Hiking Snacks for Real People are perfectly vegetarian-friendly. Nuts, dried fruit and most candy have no major pitfalls for vegetarians, and these days even vegans can enjoy chocolate, with a huge range of milk-free products on the market.
The one thing on our list that’s out of bounds for obvious reasons is jerky - or is it? In fact, if you do miss meat jerky there are now several brands of vegetarian jerky on the market. High in protein, individually packaged and easy to slip into your backpack, veggie jerky can be made from soy, seitan or mushrooms and comes in a wide range of flavours. Try out a few brands to find the textures and flavours that suit you best.
Whilst the rest of your snacks can be easily bought once you arrive in Chile or Argentina, specialist vegetarian jerky is much harder to track down. Check out your local healthfood stores at home or order online well in advance of your trip!

goretex bootsVeggie Hiking Equipment

For some vegetarians it’s only the idea of eating meat that’s off-putting, while for others wearing any animal products is out!
Boots - In our article on How to Choose the Right Boots for Your Patagonia Trek we recommend leather boots for their waterproof qualities and durability. However that’s not to say that there aren’t great synthetic options available if you choose not to buy leather. Gore-tex is one material that combines durability with breathability, and most top outdoor clothing brands offer other non-leather alternatives.
Wool socks and sweaters - Wool is a popular choice for socks and sweaters because it’s great at keeping you warm. But if you prefer to see your fleece on a sheep, opt for a synthetic fibre that offers ‘wicking’ technology. It might even be more effective than wool at keeping your feet fresh!
Insect repellant - Whilst we don’t know of any insect repellants that are made of animals products, many animal loving vegetarians are put off by the idea of actually killing bugs with chemical sprays. If you’d rather deter mosquitoes than destroy them, check the ingredients and choose a DDT-free spray made from natural plant oils. These tend to include citronella, cedarwood, peppermint and lemongrass amongst other things, which can make them smellier than other insect sprays, but at least the bugs don’t seem to like it either!

veggie passport appEating Out in Patagonia for Veggies

When staying in town as a base to tackle day-hikes in Patagonia, mealtimes can be a challenge. Patagonia really is the bottom of the world and large areas of it have only recently become accessible on a large scale, so you won’t find the same availability and range of vegetarian options here as in Santiago or Buenos Aires.
It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that there are a few exclusively vegetarian restaurants in the region:
- El Living (Puerto Natales, Chile) - This is a backpacker-style cafeteria serving exclusively vegetarian food.
- Aashi (Bariloche, Argentina) - As well as being vegetarian, this restaurant is also entirely organic, but bear in mind it’s only open for lunch.
- Covita (Bariloche, Argentina) - A small vegetarian restaurant fusing ingredients and cooking techniques from around the globe.
- Kau Kaleshen (El Calafate, Argentina) - An atmospheric, cottage-style vegetarian restaurant with some vegan options available.
Aside from these options, some non-vegetarian restaurants may offer various interesting dishes suitable for vegetarians, just avoid those restaurants specialising in asado (barbequed meats) or mariscos (seafood). If there’s nothing meat-free on the main menu, consider ordering a selection of starters and sides instead!
If you’re feeling timid about explaining your dietary needs to your waiter, the veggie-passport app for iPhone could be a useful investment, at $0.99. This app helps you to ask questions about the menu and explains what you do and don’t eat in 33 major languages, including Spanish. Or go with the old fashioned paper version: the vegan passport is a small booklet that covers vegan dietary requirements in a staggering 73 languages, and even has a picture page if all else should fail.

baked pepperAll-inclusive Packages in Patagonia for Veggies

When eating out, there’s usually a way to find something nutritious and meat-free to eat, and often it works out cheaper than ordering meat or fish. But what do you do if you’re staying in an a hotel where all of your meals are included? Veggie travellers can often find themselves short-changed. Whilst they pay the same rates as everyone else they find themselves tucking into an uninspiring plate of vegetables night after night, whilst their meat-eating companions are served gourmet local dishes.
Aside from the financial side of things, it’s especially important to be well-nourished during a trip to Patagonia if you’re expecting to take on several days of hiking and trekking. With the best will in the world, a plate of salad just won’t be enough.
The key to getting this right is to do your research. There aren’t currently any 100% vegetarian hotels in Patagonia, but there are some who go further than others in making provision for veggie guests. Make sure that you not only ask your hotel if they can accommodate your requirements, but also to give you specific examples of what you’ll be eating. EcoCamp Patagonia in Chile’s hiking haven Torres del Paine National Park has a high proportion of vegetarian visitors, since ‘eco’ and ‘veggie’ often go hand in hand. Their gourmet fusion menu upholds the same high standards for carnivores and vegetarians alike, with dishes including baked peppers with soya and polenta with pesto and baked tomato. Now that’s more like it!
Are you a vegetarian who has travelled to Patagonia? Do you have any tips for fellow veggie travellers?