Gluten Free Costa Rica: The Complete Travel Guide

Gluten Free Costa Rica: The Complete Travel Guide

As a celiac, Costa Rica was a breath of fresh air on my year of traveling through Latin America. Compared to other countries I visited (looking at you, Peru…) it was easy to find safe gluten free food. That’s thanks to lots of naturally gluten free Costa Rica cuisine, as well as more awareness of what gluten actually is due to higher numbers of tourists.

One of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica was staying at my first ever 100% gluten free hotel (scroll down to read more about that). It was incredible!

I also enjoyed gluten free food at cheap local “sodas” all the way up to celiac-safe fries and breaded chicken tenders at a high end restaurant. However, these gluten free experiences didn’t come without a bit of research and hard work first.

In this article, I’m sharing my full gluten free Costa Rica guide. Below you’ll find all the details on how you can also have an amazing (and safe) vacation in Costa Rica as a celiac.

GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANTS | Scroll down to read my gluten free Costa Rica restaurant and hotel recommendations! We visited a number of places during our three weeks in Costa Rica and this guide covers all of them. If you have one specific location in mind then scroll to find it… however I recommend visiting them all!

gluten free smoothies in costa rica
We got these smoothies every day in Costa Rica, from a 100% gluten free smoothie stand! Sharing the details below!

Gluten Free Costa Rica: Fast Facts

There are a lot of tourists in Costa Rica (Americans, in particular) and with enough tourists come enough people asking for gluten free options! So, there is some general awareness of what gluten is at tourist-focused restaurants.

In general, however, celiac disease isn’t very common in Costa Rica (although research shows that celiac is increasing in Central America!). Go far enough outside the touristy areas, and people will be saying “gluten-what?”

Resources for celiacs in Costa Rica:

Gluten Free Costa Rica: What You Absolutely Need to Know

Before we get to the nitty gritty of this gluten free Costa Rica guide, here are five important tips to stay safe as a celiac in Costa Rica.

1. A gluten free translation card is a MUST have.

You need to be able to communicate in Spanish if you’re planning to dine at restaurants in Costa Rica outside resorts and five-star hotels. I highly recommend buying this translation card – more on that below!

2. Book accommodation with a kitchen as a backup plan.

While I did eat out at some amazing restaurants in Costa Rica, there are simply not enough celiac-safe restaurants to eat every meal out. We cooked many meals at our accommodations in Costa Rica, and that took SO much stress out of travel.

We mostly booked our accommodation on Vacation Owner by Rental (VRBO) – it’s more popular than Airbnb in Costa Rica and has better options with kitchens.

This is where I stayed in Costa Rica as a celiac:

You can scroll further down this post to the destinations section to read about each accommodation in more detail!

Also, note that those accommodations come at a range of budgets… we were on a family vacation for part of our time in Costa Rica, and the VRBO in Manuel Antonio was a joint Christmas and birthday gift! Truly one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed and we saw sloths and monkeys daily from our porch.

3. Private chefs can be affordable, but send them your translation card.

I used to think of private chefs as only for luxury travelers, but they are actually pretty affordable in Costa Rica. We had a private chef cook for us at our accommodation in Manuel Antonio and Monteverde and it made those travel days sooo convenient.

Unfortunately, I got glutened from the chef in Manuel Antonio (soy sauce!). This was my only glutening experience in Costa Rica, thankfully. In hindsight, I should’ve sent him my translation card and triple checked about lesser-known sources of gluten. The dinner in Monteverde, on the other hand, was definitely 100% gluten free and 100% delicious!

4. Be aware of hidden sources of gluten within the naturally gluten free cuisine.

Speaking of lesser-known sources of gluten… these are going to be your main pain points in Costa Rica. The cuisine here is naturally pretty gluten free, but you NEED to be careful of the below situations.

Hidden sources of gluten in Costa Rica:

  • Soy sauce / salsa de soya: All soy sauce brands in Costa Rica contain wheat. Meat, beans, and sauces are sometimes cooked with soy sauce.
  • Worcestershire sauce / salsa ingles: Called salsa ingles in Costa Rica, this contains wheat and may be added to some dishes (although, I found it much less commonly used in Costa Rica than in other countries in Central America).
  • Stock cubes / cubitos de caldo / “maggi”: The majority of buillion cubes used in Costa Rica contain wheat. The main brand is called “maggi” and servers will recognize that name. Picadillo is frequently cooked with maggi.
  • Shared oil: Costa Rican cuisine is less “fried food” forward than some of its neighboring countries but you still need to be careful. Read my list of gluten free Costa Rica cuisine further down this post, to see which foods you’ll need to ask about gluten-contaminated oil.
5. Salsa Lizano is gluten free!

Finally, you might not have heard of salsa lizano if you’ve never been to Costa Rica. This is a super popular sauce you’ll find everywhere, and thankfully it is gluten free!

three monkeys in costa rica
Some of the monkeys we saw every day on the porch of our beautiful accommodation in Manuel Antonio!

Gluten Free Translation Card for Costa Rica

One of your best tools for gluten free travel in Costa Rica will be this Latin America translation card. I personally used this translation card nearly every day throughout my year in Latin America.

While some people, especially those working in tourism, will speak a bit of English, the majority of people you meet in Costa Rica will speak only Spanish.

It certainly comes in useful to speak Spanish here, but if yours is a little rusty (or only about first grade level, like mine…) then you may struggle discussing the all-important cross contact. That’s exactly why I recommend this specific translation card.

Unlike any other free (or paid) gluten-free translation card on the market, this card goes into depth about cross contact, and is written specifically with Latin American cuisine in mind. It’s developed by a celiac, for celiacs, with local translators.

Useful Spanish Phrases to Know 

While I really don’t think you should travel to Costa Rica without a translation card, I do recommend learning a bit of basic Spanish to help you get by at restaurants.

I am not fluent in Spanish by any means, but I did take a two week Spanish course in Peru and have been slowly learning the language over my year traveling in Latin America. The below words and phrases are the ones I most commonly use when advocating for myself at restaurants.

Useful Spanish vocabulary for celiacs:

  • Celiac – celiaca / celiaco
  • Gluten free – sin gluten
  • Wheat flour – harina de trigo
  • Oats – avena
  • Barley – cebada
  • Soy sauce – salsa de soya
  • Worcestershire sauce – salsa ingles
  • Buillion cubes – cubitos de caldo
  • Rye – centeno (not very commonly used in Latin America, personally I rarely asked about it in order to limit confusion)
  • Cross contact – contacto cruzado
  • Pan – sarten
  • Grill – a la plancha
  • Oil – aceite
  • To clean – limpiar

Useful Spanish phrases for celiacs:

  • I am celiac and I need to eat gluten free – soy celiaca/o y necesito comer sin gluten.
  • I cannot eat wheat flour, soy sauce, oats, bullion cubes, or Worcestershire cause – No puedo comer harina de trigo, salsa de soya, avena, cubitos de caldo, salsa de maggi, o salsa ingles.
  • I cannot have cross contact with gluten. – No puedo tener contacto cruzado con gluten.
  • Is this [corn tortilla] completely corn? Does it contain any wheat flour? – Esto es todo maiz? Contiene harina de trigo?
  • Is this fried in separate oil or is it fried together with other food that contains gluten? – Esto se frie en aceite aparte/separado? O se frie junto con otros alimentos que contienen gluten?
  • Can you clean the pan and cutting board? – Puedes limpiar la sarten y la tabla de cortar?
  • Can you cook [pasta] with fresh water and a clean pot and colander? – Puedes cocinar con agua fresca y una olla y un colador limpios?

Gluten Free Costa Rica: What You Can (Probably) Eat

As I mentioned, a lot of Costa Rican cuisine is naturally gluten free. Yay! That always makes it much easier for celiac travelers.

HOWEVER, cross contact and gluten-containing sauces can be a big issue. Below are some traditional Costa Rican dishes that should be gluten free, with notes on what to ask about regarding cross contact. Please read carefully because there are precautions for pretty much every dish below.

Gallo pinto

Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans often served with breakfast – simple and filling!

In Costa Rica, I found that gallo pinto was almost always gluten free, but it was worth checking that the beans were not cooked with any gluten-containing sauces (soy sauce/salsa de soya, salsa ingles, salsa maggi, or stock cubes/cubitos de caldo).

When we traveled in Colombia, I found that I could almost never eat beans because the pork they were cooked with had been marinated in soy sauce. For the record, I never found this in Costa Rica and I ate gallo pinto to my heart’s content – but it’s always worth double checking. 

Plantains

Plantains are a fruit similar to bananas, but bigger and thicker. In their unripe form, they’re called green plantains/plátanos verdes and are usually served fried with salt and garlic as a savory side dish. Ripe plantains/plátanos maduro are much sweeter and juicier, and are often served soft and fried alongside breakfasts and dinners.

In Costa Rica, it’s really important to check that the plantains are cooked in their own separate oil, and not oil that’s been used to cook gluten-containing foods. I would estimate that in Costa Rica I could eat plantains about 75% of the time; the other 25% of the time that I asked they were cooked in contaminated oil.

The Latin America translation card is useful for this cross contact conversation.

plantains on a gray plate
Ripe plantains.

Patacones

In Costa Rica, “patacones” is the term used to refer to a side dish of green plantains that have been sliced, fried, smashed flat, and then fried again. They come out looking like flat crispy plantain pancakes! (Note: You may have heard this dish referred to as “tostones” elsewhere in Central America).

Again, patacones should be naturally gluten free but you’ll need to double check about the oil they are prepared in. I had some really delicious gluten free patacones at El Patio de Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio (keep reading to see my restaurant recommendations).

patacones in costa rica
Patacones (from Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio).

Tica Breakfast

You will encounter the classic tica breakfast if you eat out at any local restaurant in Costa Rica. “Tica” is actually slang for “Costa Rican woman,” but the term “tica breakfast” is generally used to refer to a typical Costa Rican breakfast.

Here’s what’s usually in a tica breakfast:

  • Gallo pinto (check about any sauces added to the beans)
  • Eggs fried your way
  • Ripe plantains (check about the oil they’re fried in)
  • Tortillas (confirm they’re 100% corn)
  • Fresh cheese
  • Avocado
  • Possibly a meat of your choice (avoid chorizo or sausage because they often contain wheat)
  • Salsa lizano on the side
a gluten free costa rica breakfast
A typical Costa Rican breakfast. You can see the gallo pinto, plantains, eggs, fresh, cheese, and avocado.

Casado

Casado is a Costa Rican staple served for lunch. It’s basically a plate of white rice, black or red beans, grilled meat, picadillo (ask for no picadillo or “sin picadillo” – read below), and corn tortillas. Sometimes other things are added – every casado is a bit different.

You might notice that a casado sounds pretty much like a tica breakfast. Yeah, there’s not a ton of variation in Costa Rican cuisine, in my opinion, but this dish is typically gluten free (still have the cross contact conversation) and it does the job.

Picadillo

I mentioned picadillo briefly above, but you might be wondering is picadillo gluten free? Picadillo is a cooked dish of chopped of vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and squash are common) and sometimes ground meat.

You actually need to be super careful with picadillo if you’re celiac. The vegetables are frequently cooked with gluten-containing stock cubes (maggi brand). YIKES.

I did have gluten free picadillo once, when we hired a private chef at our VRBO in Monteverde. It was delicious! But I never ate it out at restaurants.

a gluten free costa rica dinner called casado
This is a typical Costa Rican “casado.” It includes picadillo (upper right), rice, plantains, grilled chicken, beans, and salad.

Arroz con pollo

Arroz con pollo just means “rice with chicken” and that’s pretty much what it is! You will be served a big mound of white rice intermixed with chicken.

This was a go-to gluten free dish for me in Costa Rica, but I always double checked that there were no sneaky sources of gluten like maggi stock cubes, soy sauce, or Worcestershire sauce.

Note that arroz con pollo is frequently served with french fries, so you’ll also need to double check that they’re fried in a separate fryer (surprisingly, I found that they often were!).

arroz con pollo at a soda in costa rica
Arroz con pollo (and yes, the fries are gluten free!).

Rondon

Rondon (a variation on the phrase “run down”) is a seafood stew mostly served on the Carribbean coast. It’s made with a base of coconut milk, and includes whatever seafood is freshly caught: crab, clams, red snapper fish, you name it!

I didn’t get a chance to try rondon in Costa Rica, but I did have it in nearby Nicaragua and it’s delicious. If you find rondon on your travels in Costa Rica, I highly recommend it. Just show your translation card and double check no gluten-containing sauces or wheat flour has been added!

Fruit smoothies / batidos 

Fruit smoothies are really popular in Costa Rica! Usually, you get to choose a base of water, milk, or yogurt. Then, fresh fruit is added directly to the blender. Costa Ricans love sugar, so be sure to say “sin azucar” / “no sugar” if you don’t want sugar added!

When we were in La Fortuna, I drank a delicious gluten free smoothie every day from Frutas y Verduras – keep reading for my other restaurant recommendations.

Salsa Lizano 

You’ll see salsa lizano absolutely everywhere in Costa Rica. As I mentioned earlier in this post, thank goodness that it’s gluten free! I quite liked salsa lizano – it’s a bit spicy, umami, and adds flavor to otherwise bland dishes.

salsa lizano - a gluten free condiment used frequently in costa rica
Salsa Lizano. Notice the “libre de gluten” statement at the bottom of the packaging.
the ingredients list on a packet of salsa lizano
The ingredients in Salsa Lizano.

100% Gluten Free Hotel in Costa Rica

Okay… imagine my excitement when I learned that there is a 100% GLUTEN FREE HOTEL in Costa Rica! It’s called Cuna del Angel, and it’s located on the Pacific coast near Dominical.

Any celiac planning a trip to Costa Rica NEEDS to look into staying here!!

Dan booked us a couple nights at Cuna del Angel as my birthday present (obviously, he knows what I want well, haha). I literally cannot describe how amazing it was to stay here.

The hotel rooms themselves are really nice and there’s a beautiful infinity pool. But more importantly… the food!

Our stay included a huge breakfast in their gorgeous restaurant. I’m talking 100% gluten free BUFFET (yes, I used one of those rolling toaster thingies for the first time in 11 years and it was weirdly emotional??), gluten free bread and jam, gluten free pancakes (!!) and more.

Of course, we also ate lunch and dinner at the 100% gluten free restaurant (“for the blog”). My favorite dishes were the ravioli, bruschetta, fried calamari, and spring rolls with peanut satay sauce! Oh… and the gluten free lava cake 🙂

sarah swimming in an infinity pool
The infinity pool at Cuna del Angel.
sarah smiling with gluten free chocolate lava cake at a 100% gluten free hotel in costa rica
Enjoying a gluten free chocolate lava cake for dessert – yummmm!
gluten free pancakes at cuna del angel in costa rica
Gluten free pancakes for breakfast!
gluten free breakfast buffet at cuna del angel in costa rica
Aaaand the dedicated gluten free buffet!!

Eating Gluten Free at Sodas in Costa Rica

Across Costa Rica, you will find local restaurants called “sodas.” These are the cheapest and most authentic places to eat in Costa Rica.

Personally, I ate at a few sodas but I was quite cautious. I showed the servers my gluten free translation card and asked questions about cross contact. Often, they had to modify the dish a bit for me (usually arroz con pollo or casado). We’d then return to the same soda multiple times once I’d established that relationship.

As always, listen to your gut and do what you feel is best for you.

a meal at a soda in costa rica
Lunch at a typical Costa Rican soda (this one is in La Fortuna).

Gluten Free Costa Rica Restaurant Recommendations

Want to know about gluten free restaurants in Costa Rica? This next section is for you!

Below, you’ll find gluten free Costa Rica hotel and restaurant recommendations in:

  • Dominical
  • Manuel Antonio
  • Monteverde
  • La Fortuna
  • San Jose
  • Liberia
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Nosara
  • Tamarindo

I have personally eaten at many of these restaurants myself, and noted the ones I haven’t. I am also grateful to some local Costa Rican celiacs, who provided restaurant recommendations in some of the towns I haven’t visited yet, myself.

As always, please double check about cross contact because things can change!

If you notice any closures, changes, or additional restaurants, please leave me a comment below so we can keep this gluten free Costa Rica guide as updated as possible!

Dominical

Dominical is a small beach community on the Pacific coast, north of Uvita and about an hour south of Manuel Antonio. It’s known for surfing, black sand beaches, and a growing tourism trade of yoga retreats and surf schools. Honestly, we came here for the 100% gluten free hotel – and it was worth it for that alone!

Where to Stay in Dominical

Cuna del Angel – 100% gluten free hotel

Cuna del Angel is Costa Rica’s only 100% gluten free hotel, which I discussed in depth above! We stayed here two nights and it is the #1 thing I recommend for celiacs in Costa Rica!

Book your stay here.

Cool Beach Vibes Hostel

Cool Beach Vibes is a low key hostel for travelers on a budget, with a great location close to the Dominical beach. We stayed here for one night after we crossed from Panama to Costa Rica. There is a shared kitchen which is quite spacious and well equipped!

Book your stay here.

cuna del angel hotel in costa rica
Cuna del Angel – the 100% gluten free hotel!

Gluten Free Dominical Restaurants

Cuna del Angel – 100% gluten free

I know I keep harping on about Cuna del Angel, but it’s a must! Their restaurant is 100% gluten free and it is open to the public for lunch and dinner (make a reservation ahead of time if possible). So even if you don’t stay a night here, it’s worth it to visit for a special meal!

gluten free bruschetta at cuna del angel
Gluten free bruschetta at Cuna del Angel.
Fuego Brewing Company

Fuego Brewing Company was ironically a great place to eat gluten free (ironic because their specialty is beer…). Our waitress here spoke English and she was VERY aware off cross contact – she brought cross contact up herself as soon as I said “celiac”.

I ordered tacos, which they cooked separately and in clean pans. This was our first meal in Costa Rica after we crossed the border from Panama, and the waitress actually warned me that it wouldn’t be this easy in the rest of Costa Rica!

gluten free tacos
Tacos from Fuego Brewing Company.
Cafe Mono Congo

Cafe Mono Congo came highly recommended as one of the best places to eat in Dominical, but I had kind of a weird experience here.

I ordered the traditional Costa Rican breakfast, but was informed I couldn’t have the plantains due to cross contact with the oil. I asked if I could have something to replace the plantains and they suggested avocado. Later, I noticed on the receipt that they charged me for it! I asked about it and the server said “oh yeah, avocado is extra.” I asked them to cancel the avocado in that case… overall it was a strange interaction. It kind of felt like they were trying to sneak extra charges past me.

The breakfast was fine, although a bit expensive and bland without the plantains. The green smoothie was amazing, though!

a green smoothie
The green smoothie was really good!
a gluten free breakfast in costa rica
The breakfast was okay.

Manuel Antonio

I’m sure Manuel Antonio National Park is on your Costa Rica itinerary, and if it’s not, then it should be! This is the spot for sloth-spotting in Costa Rica, for sure. It’s also really famous for its beaches (although personally I thought those were a bit overhyped). We found some great gluten free eats around Manuel Antonio and stayed in our best accommodation of the trip here (besides the gluten free hotel, of course).

Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio

You’ll see accommodation options in both Manuel Antonio and Quepos, the city nearby. I recommend staying in Manuel Antonio as it’s closer to the park, more peaceful, and has the gluten free restaurants I mention below!

Ocean Estate with Beach Access

This VRBO is where we stayed in Manuel Antonio and it’s one of my favorite accommodations EVER. It sleeps 6 people, has an immaculate full kitchen, absolutely stunning views of the ocean, and a great location walking distance to the gluten free restaurants I mention below.

And did I mention… there are sloths that live ON the property?! We saw about 6 resident sloths, every single day. Not to mention every night with the group of monkeys would come play by the porch windows. It was incredible and I’ll never forget it.

Book your stay here.

Arenas del Mar

Arenas del Mar is a five star resort that is highly trained in celiac disease. They’ve had a certified gluten free program since 2014 and you can get everything from gluten free pancakes to fried chicken and more. (Keep in mind, this place is pricy, but if you have the budget and it’s your style, it’s worth it).

Book your stay here.

Selina Manuel Antonio

Both the accommodations I mention above are pricy. If they’re out of your budget, try Selina. This is a boutique co-working hostel that’s walking distance from the restaurants I mention below, and has a shared kitchen. (I stayed at a Selina in Panama City, and loved it!)

Book your stay here.

a spacious kitchen and dining area
Our (very spacious) kitchen at our accommodation in Manuel Antonio.
a sloth relaxing on a tree branch
This is one of the sloths that we saw every day from our accommdoation!!

Gluten Free Manuel Antonio Restaurants

Mirador Oceanview Restaurant

The Mirador Oceanview Restaurant was my very favorite restaurant experience in Costa Rica. This is the main restaurant at the luxurious Arenas del Mar resort. If you make a reservation, you can eat here as a non-guest! (Send a Whatsapp to +506 4040-0422 to reserve a table).

One night, we walked over from our VRBO for dinner. The walk is down a long, steep road, and eventually you reach their security and they actually drive you to the restaurant in a golf cart – talk about memorable!

The meal itself was amazing. The staff knows all about celiac disease, and much of the menu is available gluten free. Even though we were at a high end restaurant, I ended up ordering gluten free fried chicken and french fries off the children’s menu, LOL. No regrets!

a packaged gluten free roll that says gluten free on the plastic wrap.
I was super impressed at Mirador Restaurant that they gave me a packaged gluten free roll and a separate butter when everyone else got their normal dinner rolls!
gluten free fried chicken tenders and french fries.
Gluten free fried chicken tenders and french fries… YUM.
a gluten free chocolate cake with strawberries and edible flowers on top.
The gluten free chocolate cake I ordered!
El Patio de Cafe Milagro

Cafe Milagro is a small cafe in Manuel Antonio town, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu labels gluten free options, and nearly everything is gluten free!

I was a little hesitant when we ate here but the servers were totally open to discussing cross contact with me. For appetizers we ordered patacones (made in separate oil) and arepas de cerdo. The arepas blew our minds. They are sooo good. You must order them!

For my main, I had a really delicious curry caribeño with chicken.

patacones
Gluten free patacones!
arepas and pork
Arepas – absolutely order these.
caribbean chicken curry dish
The curry caribeño with chicken.
El Avion Restaurante

El Avion Restaurante is a really cool restaurant and bar built around an old airplane! The restaurant also has great sunset views across the ocean.

We came here for cocktails and sunset, before making our way to Cafe Milagro for dinner. I recommend you do the same – it’s definitely worth a visit for drinks, but the food menu doesn’t look celiac friendly at all.

a bar with an old airplane in the middle of it
Yes, a literal airplane! A sight to be seen in Manuel Antonio.
SuperMarket Pura Vida

This little supermarket (location pin here) was walking distance from our VRBO and across the street from Cafe Milagro – very conveniently located! I was shocked when we popped inside to see that it has a HUGE range of gluten free products.

In fact, I found more gluten free products in this little shop than I did at any shop in any country during our Latin America travels! I highly recommend visiting and stocking up for the rest of your trip.

a supermarket row with gluten free flour mixes
I was sooo impressed by the variety of gluten free food on offer at this tiny grocery store. Here you see a ton of gluten free bread, cake, brownie, pizza, etc. mixes.
a bag of gluten free bread
Frozen gluten free bread – a rare sight in Central America!
gluten free pretzels on a supermarket shelf
I also found my favorite gluten free pretzel brand!
Manuel Antonio National Park

I have to also mention the food situation in Manuel Antonio National Park here, since chances are you’re planning a visit. There is NO outside food allowed in the park (due to hungry monkeys) and there are VERY limited gluten free food options at the one restaurant inside the park. I ended up eating a cup of fruit and that was it the entire day – eek. If I were you, I’d have a big breakfast and then pack some sneaky gluten free granola bars or jerky bars to tide you over.

a cup of watermelon
My sad cup of watermelon.
a monkey
One of the many hungry monkeys.

Monteverde

After a long day of driving through the hills, we reached the wildlife mecca of Monteverde. This is a place to truly immerse yourself in nature, visit the cloud forest, walk across the original hanging bridges, and hopefully see a ton of hummingbirds!

Where to Stay in Monteverde

Casa Amarillo

This VRBO is where we stayed in Monteverde. I couldn’t recommend it more highly (although keep in mind you do need 4WD to get up the driveway). It’s super unique because it’s one of the only accommodations in Monteverde that actually backs up on the cloud forest preserve. Any wildlife you see there, you can also see from your bedroom window! We saw sooo many hummingbirds, coatimundis, and more.

The cabin itself is super cozy. The kitchen is extremely well-equipped and we cooked most of our meals here, as well as had a private chef one night!

Book your stay here.

Senda Monteverde

Senda Monteverde is a luxury hotel, and home to the El Sapo Restaurant which I mention below! According to guest reviews, they provide a good gluten free breakfast and are aware of cross contact.

Book your stay here.

sarah sitting in a window seat with a blanket and cup of coffee
I enjoyed many a cozy morning with coffee at our accommodation in Monteverde!!
sarah, her mom and dad, and dan stand on a red hanging bridge in monteverde costa rica
Me, my parents, and Dan on the original hanging bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Gluten Free Monteverde Restaurants

CASEM Coop

We had a wonderful typical Costa Rican breakfast at CASEM Coop. This is a non-profit women’s artisan cooperative, selling lots of handicrafts. In the back of a shop is a small, unpretentious restaurant, selling traditional meals at local prices.

I asked all my usual cross contact questions and showed my translation card, and had a lovely gluten free breakfast here (including corn tortillas and plantains fried in uncontaminated oil!).

a typical gluten free costa rica breakfast
The gluten free typical breakfast I ordered at CASEM.
Private Chef and Home Cooking

To be honest, in Monteverde we cooked a lot of our own meals at our VRBO. This place had a very well-equipped kitchen, and since it was so remote we enjoyed staying at the property and soaking up nature there. That made for a really relaxing few days – I didn’t have to worry about gluten at all!

On our first night, our VRBO host arranged a (really affordable) private chef for us. She prepared a traditional “casado” that was ready for us when we arrived after our long car journey from Manuel Antonio. We emailed all about gluten free beforehand, and I was confident that they “got it.”

sarah and dan cooking
Dan and I cooking up a storm at our VRBO!
a kitchen in a wooden cabin
The well-equipped kitchen at our accommodation.
gluten free costa rica dinner called casado
This is the casado that the private chef cooked for us. Simple, traditional, and delicious!
a table set for dinner
A dinner that Dan and I cooked in Monteverde.
El Sapo Restaurant and Bar

El Sapo Restaurant and Bar is the in-house restaurant at Senda Hotel. It was on my personal list but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to eat here myself. I’d definitely try it on my next visit, though. This is a high end farm-to-table restaurant with a gluten free menu, and according to reviews the staff are well aware of cross contact.

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit! is an Italian restaurant that I had on my list before we visited Monteverde because according to reviews they offer gluten free pasta. They also have gluten free pizza but apparently do nothing to prevent cross contact (eek). As a result, I decided not to eat here.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna was my favorite town in Costa Rica. We didn’t see as much wildlife, and we weren’t as immersed in nature, but we still had some of our most memorable activities. I highly recommend the hanging bridges park, ziplining, whitewater tubing, the 1968 volcano hike, the Bogarin sloth-watching trail, and going to a hot spring spa (more info on the one we chose, with gluten free options, below).

Where to Stay in La Fortuna

Villa Chelis

Villa Chelis is the VRBO we stayed in during our time in La Fortuna with my parents. There is a quite well-equipped kitchen (although no oven – which is pretty common in Costa Rica), as well as an outdoor patio with a spacious table, and a POOL!

It’s also easy walking distance to downtown La Fortuna, where all the restaurants I mention below are located.

Book your stay here.

sarah smiling on a hanging bridge
Me on the hanging bridges near La Fortuna!
sarah and dan wearing helmets and standing in a river with inner tubes.
Dan and I during the white water tubing and ziplining excursion we did in La Fortuna on his birthday.

Gluten Free La Fortuna Restaurants

Chipotles Tex Mex

We ate at Chipotles Tex Mex three times in La Fortuna. I found the staff here vaguely aware of gluten, but very open to learning more and investigating preparation methods once I showed my translation card. Honestly, that’s half the battle!

All of the tacos here are gluten free, except the birria which is made of a crunchy flour tortilla. The nachos are gluten free, because the corn tortillas are fried separately. Everything we ate here was super delicious and I appreciated the staff going above and beyond for me.

gluten free tacos
Some delicious gluten free tacos at Chipotle’s Tex Mex.
Organico Fortuna

Organico Fortuna is a must visit for gluten free travelers in La Fortuna, purely because there are so many labeled gluten free options: gluten free bread (albeit extremely crumbly), gluten free cakes, gluten free pancakes, and a small shop with gluten free products (including the most expensive Tate’s chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever seen).

We ate here twice, once for dinner and once for breakfast. I regretted ordering a sandwich as it fell apart instantly, however the gluten free pancakes were really good. My impression was the staff here knew of gluten in a “lifestyle” sense, so it was still important to have the cross contact conversation.

a gluten free sandwich in costa rica
The gluten free sandwich I ordered at Organico – I wouldn’t recommend this. It was way too crumbly and the chicken pieces were huge so it fell apart instantly.
gluten free pancakes
However the gluten free pancakes were super tasty!
Soda La Hormiga

Soda La Hormiga is a popular local soda in La Fortuna. I had a successful cross contact conversation on our first visit, and the waitress showed the chef my translation card. I was able to order gluten free arroz con pollo, and since the fries were cooked in a separate fryer I could have those, too! It was incredibly cheap and very tasty.

arroz con pollo
Gluten free arroz con pollo! And yes, I confirmed the fries were cooked in a dedicated fryer here.
Frutas y Verduras

We visited Frutas y Verduras every day in La Fortuna! This is an unassuming produce shop, but in the back you’ll find a counter where you can purchase made-to-order smoothies. There are no add-ins – it’s purely water, milk, orange juice, and fruits. So I guess you could say it’s 100% gluten free!

smoothies in costa rica
Our daily smoothie fix.
a fruit and vegetable store in costa rica
This is also a great place to buy your fresh fruit and veg in La Fortuna!
Paradise Hot Springs

Paradise Hot Springs is the hot springs day spa that we chose to visit, and I highly recommend it! First of all, we had a great lunch at their restaurant. The staff were really careful and recommended safe gluten free dishes – I had a chicken and passionfruit kebab which was delicious and I was confident it was gluten free.

The thermal pools are also amazing – it’s an incredible deal compared to others in the area and the volcano views were truly stunning.

sarah smiling with gluten free chicken kabobs in costa rica
My gluten free lunch at Paradise Hot Springs!
paradise spa in la fortuna costa rica
Couldn’t recommend this place more highly… I mean look at that view!
The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal

The Springs Resort is another hot springs resort in La Fortuna (where you can either visit with a day pass or stay as an overnight guest). It’s pricier and has a more “touristy” vibe than Paradise Hot Springs, but may be worth checking out because the on-site restaurants have good reviews from celiacs. I didn’t visit here myself so I can’t give any personal insight!

Chante Verde

I didn’t eat at Chante Verde myself, but I’ve heard good things about it. It’s a restaurant nearby the El Salto rope swing, and along the way to La Fortuna Waterfall. Apparently the menu is marked with lots of gluten free options, and the staff is knowledgeable. If you get a chance to eat here, please comment your report!

Mercadito Arenal

Mercadito Arenal is a new food truck warehouse, on the main highway across from the Bogarin Trail. There are NO gluten free food options here – trust me, I was hopeful and asked at every stand! However, you can get some pretty good cocktails here. I had one with dry ice which was an experience in and of itself.

a cocktail with dry ice
The dry ice cocktail I ordered!
a colorful mural
Maybe you won’t find food here, but there’s a cool mural…

San Jose

Now, I did not personally visit the next few destinations in this gluten free Costa Rica guide. So, these sections will be more brief. However, I want to include them so you’re prepared!

San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, and where many people fly into. Most tourists immediately leave San Jose in a rental car. However, celiacs may want to consider spending a couple days here simply because there’s the highest number of dedicated gluten free restaurants anywhere in the country (and, as far as I can tell, in any city in Central America!).

Gluten Free San Jose Restaurants

Restaurante La Granja – 100% Gluten Free

Restaurante La Granja is a dedicated gluten free restaurant approved by the Costa Rica celiac association. They specialize in traditional Costa Rican food.

Don Luis Panaderia – 100% Gluten Free

Don Luis Panaderia is a dedicated gluten free bakery in San Jose. Expect a huge range of baked goods from pies to baguettes and more.

Kafé Kafó – 100% Gluten Free

Kafé Kafó is a dedicated gluten free, lactose free, and soy free bakery in San Jose.

D’camino – 100% Gluten Free

D’camino is a dedicated gluten free restaurant in Heredia, a suburb of San Jose. They specialize in gluten free “bowls,” but also serve everything from pizzas to pies!

Pollo FAS – 100% Gluten Free

Pollo FAS is another dedicated gluten free restaurant in the Heredia suburb. This is a fast-casual restaurant that features gluten free fried chicken!!

Müllner Gluten Free Bakery – 100% Gluten Free

Müllner Gluten Free Bakery is a dedicated gluten free bakery in San Jose. I believe they also do special orders and home delivery.

Be Free – 100% Gluten Free

Be Free is a dedicated gluten free bakery in San Jose. They sell lots of delicious-looking breads, pastries, and cakes.

CeliHouse – 100% Gluten Free

CeliHouse is a dedicated gluten free restaurant in San Jose where you can find gluten free waffles (!), burgers, pizza, and more. Personally this would be one of my must-visits in San Jose!

Nayalah – 100% Gluten Free

Nayalah is a dedicated gluten free restaurant in San Jose that also has plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and keto options. Here you can find everything from traditional Costa Rican food to gluten free pizza and cakes.

Raw Co Juicery & Food – 100% Gluten Free

Raw Co Juicery & Food is a dedicated gluten free, dairy free, and refined sugar free restaurant that specializes in cold pressed juices.

Liberia

Liberia is another big city in Costa Rica, and you might be flying here if you’re planning to visit Tamarindo, Nosara, or Puntarenes. Alternatively, a lot of people pass through Liberia on their way to the Nicaragua border crossing. There isn’t much to do here from a tourist sense but there is a dedicated gluten free restaurant that could be worth the stop!

Where to Stay in Liberia

Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin

Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin sounds like an AMAZING hotel for celiacs. It’s immersed in nature about 35 minutes from Liberia city center; here you can visit hot springs, go tubing and rafting, and more. Better yet, their menu is almost entirely gluten free and they are highly trained in celiac disease.

Book your stay here.

Gluten Free Liberia Restaurants

Posada Real Cafe – 100% Gluten Free

Posada Real Cafe is a dedicated gluten free cafe in Liberia that prides themselves on “inclusive” cuisine. There are breakfast and lunch options here, but not dinner.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It’s big among backpackers crossing the border from Panama, but a lot of vacationers also visit to see some incredible wildlife sanctuaries like the Jaguar Rescue Center, where you can see rehabilitating sloths up close.

Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo

La Prometida

La Prometida is a hotel in Puerto Viejo that can provide a gluten free breakfast. I haven’t stayed here myself, but it was on a list of celiac-approved places sent to me by a local Costa Rican celiac!

Book your stay here.

Gluten Free Puerto Viejo Restaurants

De Gustibus Bakery

De Gustibus Bakery has some good reviews among celiacs for gluten free options – including gluten fre bread if you order the day ahead so they can prevent cross contact. Personally I’m always hesitant of any kind of bakery that makes wheat-containing products, however this one’s worth a message to see if they can accommodate you!

Caribbeans Chocolate

Caribbeans Chocolate looks like an incredible cafe where you can also go on a (gluten free) chocolate making tour! According to their website, they offer gluten free muffins and pancakes – but you should double check about cross contact.

Stashu’s Con Fusion

Stashu’s Con Fusion is an international cuisine restaurant serving everything from jerk chicken to Indian curries to pad thai. According to reviews, quite a few of their dishes are naturally gluten free and the staff is knowledgeable about gluten.

El Refugio Grill

El Refugio Grill is a restaurant that can provide gluten free options, according to a list from the Costa Rican celiacs group.

Curry Kingdom

Curry Kingdom is an Indian restaurant in Puerto Viejo with a lot of gluten free options. They list their pakoras as gluten free (made of chickpea flour) but personally I’d double check about the fryer!

Zaika India’s Bar & Grill

Zaika’s is another Indian restaurant in Puerto Viejo. Their menu labels gluten free options and currently every single main course is gluten free.

Nosara

Nosara is a surf town on the Nicoyo Peninsula known for its sunsets, yoga studios, and plenty of digital nomads and vacationers to boot. The roads in Nosara are the worst in all of Costa Rica so you’ll need a rental car with 4WD here. I only found one notable gluten free restaurant in Nosara – it’s a small place.

Gluten Free Nosara Restaurants

LuvBurger – 100% Gluten Free

LuvBurger sounds like an absolute must visit if you’re in Nosara. It’s a completely vegan restaurant that recently became dedicated gluten free as well! This includes gluten free buns for their burgers, yum. Someone please go here, and then comment you report!

Tamarindo

Tamarindo is another surf town on the Pacific coast, about two hours north of Nosara. The tourism scene is much more developed here and you’ll find beach resorts and vacationers as well as surfers and backpackers. As a result of the bigger tourist scene, there are many restaurants that advertise gluten free options here.

Where to Stay in Tamarindo

Cala Luna Hotel & Villas

Cala Luna is a boutique wellness hotel that honestly sounds right in line with my personal interests! I read that their on-site restaurant is quite aware of gluten free… you can even get gluten free pancakes with breakfast!

Book your stay here.

Gluten Free Tamarindo Restaurants

Shaka Food – 100% Gluten Free

Shaka Food is a dedicated gluten free cafe where you can get baked goods, coffee, breakfast, and lunch.

Gluten Free Vegan Bakery Tamarindo – 100% Gluten Free

Gluten Free Vegan Bakery Tamarindo does pretty much what its name says! Not that this is a delivery service, not a brick-and-mortar restaurant. However take a quick a look through their Facebook page and you’ll see how delicious everything looks. It may be worth ordering if you’re staying a while in Tamarindo! Their Whatsapp is +972 52-631-6156.

Arepas Doña Ana 

Arepas Doña Ana serves traditional Venezuelan arepas at a stand in the El Mercadito food court. The Costa Rican celiac group recommended this place to me, and their Facebook page even mentions gluten free. I’m unsure if it’s dedicated gluten free, so if you visit, leave me a comment below so I can update this post!

Waffle Monkey

Waffle Monkey would be my personal first stop in Tamarindo. Apparently, they can make celiac safe gluten free waffles! Yum!

Pizzeria El Sapo

If Waffle Monkey was my first stop, then Pizzeria El Sapo would be my second stop. Here you can order celiac safe pizza! Apparently, they have a separate oven just for gluten free pizzas. This place was recommended to me by a local Costa Rican celiac.

Antichi Sapori

Antichi Sapori is another restaurant in Tamarindo that offers gluten free pizza and pasta. I am not as sure of their cross contact protocols so please check before you order (as always), but they do get good reviews from Costa Rican celiacs.

Bamboo Sushi Club

Bamboo Sushi Club is a sushi restaurant that, according to reviews, has a small gluten free menu and offers gluten free soy sauce. Gluten free soy sauce is SUPER rare in Central America, and I’ve been told that “low sodium” soy sauce is gluten free before in the region, so I’d definitely ask to see the bottle to double check for yourself. However, the place gets good reviews from celiacs so check it out!

Gluten Free Options at Grocery Stores in Costa Rica 

If you are planning to cook for yourself in Costa Rica like I did, then you might be wondering what the best grocery stores are for gluten free food!

Automercado

Automercado is a grocery store chain in Costa Rica that, according to local Costa Rican celiacs, has the widest range of gluten free options. However, the locations are a little limited to just San Jose, Tamarindo, and Playa Coco areas. If you’re not going to those destinations, like I wasn’t then this won’t be much help unfortunately!

Maxi Pali

We stopped at a Maxi Pali to pick up groceries on our long drive from Manuel Antonio to Monteverde. Maxi Pali is a large grocery store chain with locations all across Costa Rica. It’s owned by Walmart and you’ll find it’s quite similar. I didn’t find many specialty GF items here, but I did find some naturally gluten free snacks and corn tortillas.

More Grocery Stores in Costa Rica

We also visited these other grocery stores in Costa Rica:

  • Mega Super
  • Kris
  • Super Rosvil
  • SuperMarket Pura Vida (the small grocery store in Manuel Antonio with tons of GF items)
the outside of a supermarket
gluten free pasta sold at a supermarket in costa rica
This was one of my many finds at SuperMarket Pura Vida in Manuel Antonio.

Gluten Free Costa Rica: Final Thoughts

PHEW! I have to say, this gluten free Costa Rica guide is possibly my longest blog post ever. I truly hope that all my advice about navigating Costa Rican cuisine as a celiac is helpful. Don’t forget to pack your translation card, practice the Spanish phrases above, and memorize the gluten free dishes (and where to watch out for cross contact), and you should be good to go!

I also really hope that all the gluten free restaurant and hotel recommendations are useful. I have tried to combine my personal experience with recommendations from local celiacs in the popular destinations that we didn’t visit during our time in Costa Rica.

As you know, restaurant staff and menus can change, so please double check about cross contact. If you notice any restaurant closures – or if you’d like to share your own gluten free Costa Rica trip report – please leave a comment below!!

Pin it for later…
Gluten free and planning a trip to Costa Rica? This gluten free Costa Rica guide, written by a celiac, has everything you need to know.
Gluten free and planning a trip to Costa Rica? This gluten free Costa Rica guide, written by a celiac, has everything you need to know.

The post Gluten Free Costa Rica: The Complete Travel Guide appeared first on Endless Distances.

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