Central America, El Salvador

Guest Post: Gluten-Free Travel in El Salvador

I am thrilled to share today’s guest post with my readers. Today’s post comes from Candice of Embrace G-Free. I randomly “met” Candice through a giveaway on my Gluten-Free Fun blog a few years ago. We kept in touch after her win, finally met in person after many emails and Tweets, and she soon started her own blog: Embrace G-Free. Candice is a strong and encouraging young woman who recently took her first gluten-free trip outside of the United States. In her guest post, Candice shares her stores of a service trip to El Salvador.  I am so proud of Candice for overcoming her fears of gluten-free travel and thrilled that she shared her story with us today. I highly encourage you to follow Candice’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Her posts are very honest, emotional, and inspiring. Thank you Candice for today’s post! 

Embrace G-Free in El Salvador

 1st Day in El Salvador - Hiking at La Puerta del Diablo
1st Day in El Salvador – Hiking at La Puerta del Diablo

Since I was little I have always had aspirations of traveling and seeing the world. I am blessed to have parents who love to travel and have been fortunate to travel to many breathtaking destinations both domestically and internationally.

Traveling is one of my many passions, and I have a list of places I want to see. However, my ultimate dream is to travel to Italy, and I want to go on a cross-country adventure, since one of my goals in life is to see all 50 states.

Another passion of mine is to engage in service activities. Service became a huge part of my life in high school, but was then fostered by my Jesuit education at The University of Scranton. Throughout my undergraduate career I engaged in many domestic service activities which all have made an impression on my life. In engaging in many service opportunities, I have not only had the privilege to serve others, but they have taught me so much about life, myself, and have helped me develop an understanding about cultures that are different from my own.

Last Group Shot Before we headed on the plane to USA
Last Group Shot Before we headed on the plane to USA

Since I step foot on Scranton’s campus I knew I wanted to be apart of Campus Ministries’ International Service Program. However, after being diagnosed with gluten-sensitivity during my sophomore year, this dream seemed unreachable.

How could I safely follow a gluten-free diet, while being immersed in another culture?

Not only did going on an international service trip seem daunting, but traveling in general seemed like a stressful task when I first received the news that I had to be gluten-free. However, as time moved on and I began to gain more confidence I began to realize that just because I had to be on a gluten-free diet, did not mean I had to stop chasing my dreams.

Active Volcano - On Bus during Guatemala Day Trip
Active Volcano – On Bus during Guatemala Day Trip

It took a lot of support and encouragement, but four years later, during my first year of graduate school at The University of Scranton, I succeeded in my dream of participating in Scranton’s International Service Program (ISP) and traveled to El Salvador this past May. To say this was a trip of a lifetime is an understatement, and I can’t fully express how wonderful this trip was.

Traveling to El Sal was different then any other trip I had taken. Unlike many of the travel posts you read on Erin’s blog, I can’t provide recommendations on the best gluten-free/ accommodating restaurants to eat at when traveling to El Salvador, because as part of ISP we were immersed in the culture and lived at Casa Voluntariado Santa Rafaela Maria (Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).

One of the painting at our host site.
One of the painting at our host site.

That being said, I was able to enjoy many authentic Salvadorian foods which was made by the outstanding cooks each night. My favorite meal which the cooks made were Pupusa, which is a traditional Salvadoran dish; tortillas are stuffed with pork, beans, and cheese – when made this way they are called “Crazy Pupusa”. However, the cooks only made theirs with beans and cheese. This was a naturally gluten-free meal, however, they made me a special Pupusa with just beans, since I can’t have dairy. Although I was not able to eat all the same meals as my group I was thrilled I could have a Pupusa, plus the rice was amazing! My host site was more then accommodating and Sr. Gloria (our host) was always making sure I had enough to eat!

When going on a trip like this, preparation was key! I worked well in advance with the ISP program director to select a host site which would best accommodate my needs. Everyday we were at work sites during lunch so we all made PB & J in the morning. This made it easy because all I needed to do was make sure I traveled down with plenty of gluten-free bread, almond butter, and many gluten-free snacks. Schar Deli Style bread traveled well in my suitcase and is great because it has a longer shelf life. Additionally it was helpful to travel down with individual almond butter packets from Barney’s Butter. I also made sure I brought down my Triumph Dining card and made an allergy card on Allergy Translation, which was a great suggestion by Erin for my additional food allergies. This helped tremendously with the language barrier!

This is part of the memorial they have for all those who died or who went missing during El Salvadorian Civil War
This is part of the memorial they have for all those who died or who went missing during El Salvadorian Civil War

Overall, the biggest message I want you to hear from this post is just because you have celiac or gluten-sensitivity doesn’t mean you can’t travel or go on an immersion trip like I did. Although food is central in so many of our experiences, it doesn’t always have to be the center of your attention. To me traveling down to El Sal (and taking a day trip to Guatemala) was so much more then the food I ate. It has only been 2 months since I took this trip and honestly the memories of the food I ate are not as clear, but the memories of the people who I met grow stronger everyday. I saw more beauty in a week; in a place which is so impoverished, then I have ever seen in my lifetime.

After traveling to El Salvador, I can honestly say that although nothing will compare to my first international service trip, seeing a country in this way is something I want to do again. This trip and overall planning experience was a blessing in so many ways. Not only did I get to combine my love for travel and service, but overcoming my worries to pursue this dream made me truly believe that my traveling aspirations don’t have revolve around my dietary restrictions. I promise you, with a little extra planning and preparation it all works out!

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Gluten-Free Travel in El Salvador”

  1. Way to go, Candice. You have a catchy positive can-do attitude which helped encourage you. You took your issues and attitudes of service and helped others as well as yourself. All serve you well so you could do these things on your dream list. What a great inspiration to any who think “they can’t …” Thanks!

  2. I just received a wonderful email from the Presidenta of the Asociación de Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador:

    “Thanks for publishing the post about Candice and her trip to my country. I would had loved to help her to buy gluten free food in El Salvador. So her luggage would have been lighter without much food!

    It was a pleasure reading the story of Candice, she conveys all the passion, the love and joy of her life. It is an excellent role model for people with celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity, focusing our energy on what we do, in all the positive things we have and share with others.

    I love that she liked our main typical dish: pupusas!
    If you want to try the pupusas, here is the recipe: http://www.pupusasrecipe.com/

    Karla Zaldívar
    Asociación de Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador

  3. Hi, well i Live in El Salvador and i can recomend the best gluten free places to eat without risk:
    1. Gourmandises (My Favourite gourmet restaurant. The owner is Celiac so they offer a lot of gluten free stuff)
    2. The Green House (Its a restaurant based on healthy meals, although it is not so ortodox on what that means but they offer great gluten free crepes and other naturally gluten free food.
    3. Glutenno (Gluten free bakery)
    4. Nutrissimo (Another Gluten Free Bakery i have to say thisn s the safest place to eat Gluten Free stuff, everything is certifies with Elisa test. Also they are dairy free and other free from)
    5. La Pizzeria (Gluten free pizza)
    6. GBC (Hamburger restaurant that offers Gluten free bread)
    7. Al Pomodoro (Italian restaurant with gluten free pasta)
    8. Super Selectos ( it is actually the largest supermarket chain, they have a whole shelf only gluten free).
    9. Red Mango (Basically all or most ice cream stores are gluten free in El Salvador but Red Mango sells certified gluten free yogurt.)
    10. Basically all pupuserias are gluten free. Pupusas are made with rice or corn, cheese, beans and sometimes other ingredients but none has gluten, i wouldnt worry about the pork one either. If you are sensitive to dairy well you might ask them with no cheese.
    11. Well you can basically eat at steak houses, mexican food restaurants (beware of the wheat flour tortilla, make sure to ask if everything is corn, and if not ask them to change it, etc.

    There is still a lot to do to ensure gluten free safety in El Salvador but well, id say it is preatty easy to grab a bite.

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