Costa Rica

Gluten-Free Feast at Arenas Del Mar in Costa Rica

Last week, I spent a wonderful (albeit too short) five days at Arenas Del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort near Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. This trip went far above and beyond any of my expectations. The staff was stellar. The food was delicious, fresh, and most importantly, all gluten-free for me. The jungle and beach combination was just perfect for my vacation and I wish I could back!

I have so much to share with you about the trip, but I thought I would start with the real reason I went to Arenas del Mar. I went for the gluten-free food. From when I first checked into the hotel, I was impressed and did not feel like I was getting any kind of special treatment as a gluten-free blogger. I truly believe that EVERYONE gets the same stellar treatment that I did during their stay. I watched, I listened, and I saw the same friendly and excellent customer service for all guests.  It was impressive!

GREAT kitchen logoAs I mentioned in my previous post, the staff at Arenas Del Mar is going through the GREAT Kitchens training program with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Although I thought just the kitchen staff was being trained, it seemed like others throughout the hotel had a great awareness. Jorge, the manager, also told me he was going through the training soon which I thought was a great testament to how seriously the staff is taking this training.

Me (center) with the amazing restaurant tstaff of Arenas ddel Mar and Denise of San Diego, CA. She is also gluten-free and loved the food!
Me (center) with the amazing restaurant staff of Arenas Del Mar and Denise (2nd from left) of San Diego, CA. She was also a gluten-free guest and loved the food! A special thanks to Jorge, the hotel manager, on the far left for making my stay so great!

Ok, now on to the food!

I ate every meal during my time in Costa Rica at Arenas del Mar except one when I went ziplining. There are two restaurants on the grounds of the hotel: El Mirador Restaurant near reception (Click here for the dinner menu) and Playitas Restaurant and Bar right on the beach. Lunch and dinner are not included with your stay, so budget about $50-75 per person for food and drinks each day. Breakfast is included with your stay and it is amazing!

Much of Costan Rican cuisine is naturally gluten-free. There was always lots of fresh fruit, beans, rice, meats, chicken, and fish. This made my dining decisions relatively easy. Even with the naturally gluten-free menu, the staff went the extra mile to ensure that my meal was totally safe.

During check-in, the reception staff asked me if I had any food allergies. I told them “Yes, shellfish and gluten” and they must have made a note on my “guest chart” about these dietary restrictions. I gave a simple reminder to the waitstaff each time I sat down to eat at one of the two restaurants at Arenas Del Mar. They eased my nervousness by repeating “gluten-free” when I placed my order and again when they brought me my plate. By the end of my stay, the staff all knew I was gluten-free and I think they expected me to ask, ask again, and then take pictures of my food. It is just what I do!

The food at Arenas del Mar is fresh, some of the freshest food I have ever tasted. Each dish takes some time to prepare, but it is worth the wait. The food clearly was made just for you and wasn’t sitting in the kitchen for hours. This quality and attention to detail did not go unnoticed.


Let’s start with my top three favorites.

Gluten-Free Pancakes served with almonds, ginger, mango and coconut. I may or may not have eaten these for breakfast three of the four mornings during my stay. (Confession: I did eat these three mornings!)

Gluten-free pancakes served with almonds, mango and coconut.
Syrups for pancakes: sugar cane syrup, mango puree, coconut syrup.
Syrups for pancakes: sugar cane syrup, mango puree, coconut syrup.

See that beautiful orange mango syrup in the middle? I literally could have eaten the whole pitcher with a spoon. It had the consistency of baby food, but tasted amazing. I slathered my gluten-free pancakes with this mango puree each morning!

Homemade Chips: Crispy tortilla chips and house-fried plantains served with pico de gallo and guacamole.

By far, my favorite dish of my stay. Not healthy, but beyond delicious! I could eat this every single day for the rest of my life


This next dish is a traditional Costa Rican dessert called Miel de Mango. I was told by my waiter William and Jorge, the manager, that dish is usually prepared during Holy Week. It is mangoes cooked into almost a syrupy chutney with sugar and cinnamon. This was topped with vanilla ice cream. William apparently brought the ingredients with him from home to make me this special dish. It was delicious and felt very decadent.

Specially prepared Miel de Mango

The rest of the meals during my stay at Arenas Del Mar were just as delicious (and obviously gluten-free) but the three above were definitely stand-out dishes during my stay. Here is what else I ate last week:

Arenas Beach Gallos: Fresh house made corn tortillas with beans, cheese and your choice of shredded beef or chicken, served with a side of pico de gallo and guacamole.

Arenas Beach Gallos


House made gluten-free bread made from rice flour each night with dinner

Gluten-free bread with dinner
More gluten-free dinner bread


Watermelon Gazpacho with mango, mint, and cherry tomatoes.

When I ordered this dish the first night, the waiter had to come back and tell me that the original dish was made by mistake with regular bread and they were going to remake the entire dish. They asked if I minded waiting and I said of course not. I was impressed he mentioned this at all. It was delicious and I ordered this twice during my stay.

Mango, tomato, watermelon, mint
Mango, tomato, watermelon, mint
Adding the watermelon gazpacho
Adding the watermelon gazpacho
The finished dish
The finished dish

Costa Rican Casado: A traditional dish with white rice, black beans, sweet plantains and pico de gallo salsa. You can choose chicken, meat, or fish to be added to this meal. I had chicken one night and meat one night.

From right: plantains, rice, black beans, pico de gallo, chicken, and homemade corn (masa) tortillas

Lots and lots of fresh fruit: papaya, banana, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple, and watermelon.

New-to-me fresh fruit: guaynabana (soursop in English), nance, and guava. The first two I never heard of before. The guaynabana was delicious and unlike any fruit I’ve eaten in my life!

Nance Wikipedia
Guanabana (Soursop in English)

Zucchini Rolls: Grilled zucchini, sweet potato and almond mousse, dill and sesame emulsion.

Zucchini rolls, almost too pretty to eat!


Vegetable Spring Rolls: Soy marinated market vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with our special peanut sauce.

When I ordered these spring rolls, the waiter asked me if I was ok with both soy and peanuts. I appreciated his extra step in making sure I was eating safely.

Vegetable Spring Rolls

This was another off-the-menu dessert prepared especially for me. It was chocolate and vanilla ice cream and berry sorbet on top of gluten-free cake. The beautiful topping was edible white chocolate art. I was stuffed after dinner, but managed to make room for this work of art!

Beautiful sundae!


Last, but certainly not least, I need to share with you the juice of Arenas del Mar. Each morning, you can start your day with fresh juice. Georgette, from the restaurant and bar, made the best mixed fruit juice for me in the morning. And check out that straw. It’s bamboo!

Mixed fruit juice with breakfast by the pool

I want to personally thank all of the kitchen and restaurant staff at Arenas Del Mar. I ate safely and deliciously gluten-free all week long. I wasn’t nervous about the food at all and never got sick. When traveling so far from home, this is often a worry for those of us with Celiac. The staff was extremely knowledgeable and it is obvious that they are all working hard to learn more about gluten-free food and Celiac disease. All of the staff took my food requests very seriously and I never felt like I was being treated like a picky eater.  Thank you Arenas del Mar for a delicious and welcoming stay. I cannot wait to go back to Costa Rica again.

Thank you! Thank you! Gracias! Gracias!

Stay tuned for more photos and highlights from my trip to Costa Rica in future posts.


The staff at Arenas del Mar can obviously prepare gluten-free meals every day of your stay. Later this year, there will be two 100% gluten-free weeks at the hotel. There will be special guest chefs from the United States cooking for you during your stay. Read more about these Celiac Weeks here. 

For further details, please contact Jeremy Allen, Program Director and hotel Partner at or 1- 610 407 9371. Please tell Jeremy you learned about Arenas del Mar from Erin Smith of Gluten-Free Globetrotter!

* Arenas del Mar hosted my 5-day stay. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely and entirely my own.

Costa Rica

100% Gluten-Free in Costa Rica at Arenas del Mar

Do you ever dream about faraway places but get scared because you have Celiac?
Do you ever think “I want to travel, but where can I eat gluten-free so far from home?”
Are you ready to take your first gluten-free vacation since you were diagnosed with Celiac, but you don’t know where to go?

I know exactly how you feel. That’s why I started my Gluten-Free Globetrotter website in 2011. I wanted to convince other Celiacs that they also can travel. Living with Celiac since 1981, I didn’t know anything else but gluten-free travel. In 2005, I took my first solo trip to the Grand Canyon and I never looked back. I’ve travel the globe and ate gluten-free 100% of the time!

Part of my mission with Gluten-Free Globetrotter is to find “safe” places for us to go around the world. When I learned about Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, I was truly impressed. The more I read, the more I knew I had to go see it for myself. I diligently started doing my research, homework, and outreach to make this dream come true.


Photo credit: Arenas del Mar
Photo credit: Arenas del Mar

Arenas del Mar is a 38-room hotel on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In 2013, Travel and Leisure magazined voted it the Top Family Hotel in Central and South America. It has also been awarded 5 Stars for Luxury and 5 Leaves for Sustainability by the Government of Costa Rica. This is all nice, but not enough for this Gluten-Free Globetrotter.

GREAT kitchen logoWhat impressed me most? All of the kitchen staff at Arenas del Mar is currently being trained through the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness GREAT Kitchens training program“This comprehensive course teaches the essentials of gluten-free food preparation and cross-contamination avoidance – skills that are critical for serving customers with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.” This is HUGE! Here is a hotel almost three thousand miles away that is learning how to cater to a Celiac customer in the middle of the jungle!!!

My gluten-free stars aligned, my unused vacation days were ready and waiting, and in less than three weeks, I will be traveling solo to the jungles of Costa Rica and staying at Arenas Del Mar* for five days! I am beyond excited for this trip. Traveling the globe, searching for gluten-free friendly places, and then sharing that with my readers is exactly what I want to do with my life. It’s why I write Gluten-Free Globetrotter. If I can encourage just one reader to step out of their comfort zone and book a gluten-free vacation anywhere in the world, then my mission is complete!

Arenas del Mar can cater to the gluten-free community year round, but there is an extra special treat later this year. In September and again in November, Arenas del Mar is hosting two weeks dedicated to the Celiac Community. These two weeks will be 100% gluten-free for all guests! How cool is that?

Photo credit: Arenas del Mar
Photo credit: Arenas del Mar

Here is more information about these extra special weeks:

A Week for the Celiac Community

In support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), Arenas Del Mar will host two Weeks for the Celiac Community. During the weeks beginning September 13th and again on November 8th.  Both restaurants at Arenas Del Mar will go 100% gluten-free for their guests’ safety and comfort.

A Week for the Celiac Community was inspired by the daughter of one of the owners who has celiac disease and understands first-hand how anxiety bout dining out can deter those with special dietary needs from traveling. When she travels, she becomes scared at each mealtime with concern for the ingredients in her food and cross contact in the kitchen.

The first week, beginning September 13th 2014, will feature guest Chef Monica Glass, who herself has celiac disease, accompanied by Chef Nicole Petrongolo. Monica has worked as a pastry chef at the acclaimed seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, 10 Arts in Philadelphia and now Clio in Boston.

The second week, beginning November 8th 2014, will feature Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, the owners and chefs of the highly rated Zahav in Philadelphia. This restaurant was named best restaurant in Philadelphia by Philly Magazine.

All the kitchen staff at Arenas Del Mar will also have completed the NFCA’s Great Kitchens training program which is accredited by the American Culinary Foundation.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit the NFCA.

For further details, please contact Jeremy Allen, Program Director and hotel Partner at or 1- 610 407 9371. Please tell Jeremy you learned about Arenas del Mar from Erin Smith of Gluten-Free Globetrotter!

You can follow my Gluten-Free Globetrotter stay at Arenas Del Mar via:

* Arenas del Mar is hosting my 5-day stay later this June. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely and entirely my own.

Central America, general

Gluten-Free in Central America

Rounding out my posts about El Salvador this week, I thought it would be helpful to list gluten-free and Celiac resources in Central America. While technically not Central America, I also included Mexico in this list for your convenience. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much information out there for Central America in general. If you have any resources, please post them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Asociación oficial de los Celiacos de México:
Celiacos de Mexico:
Celiacos Mexicanos:


Celíacos de Guatemala:
Sin Gluten Guatemala:


El Salvador
Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador:
Asociación de Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador

Gluten Free In Managua, Nicaragua:

Costa Rica
Celiacos en Costa Rica:
Celiacos en Costa Rica (Facebook)
La Asociación Pro Personas con la Enfermedad Celiaca:

La Fundación de Celiacos de Panamá:
La Fundación de Celiacos de Panamá (Facebook):

Central America, El Salvador, general

Celiac in El Salvador: Celiacos El Salvador

ACELYSESOn Monday, you read about Candice of Embrace Gluten-Free’s trip to El Salvador. Today, I want to tell you about the Celiac Association of El Salvador officially known as Asociación de Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador (ACELYSES). Started in 2010, ACELYSES “is a nonprofit organization created to help improve the living conditions of people with celiac disease and gluten-sensitive in the country.”

With an active Facebook page and an interesting (yet not so active) blog, the Asociación de Celíacos y Sensibles al Gluten de El Salvador is a great resource for those with Celiac Disease living or traveling to El Salvador.

For those of you that can read Spanish, there is a very comprehensive and FREE e-book that the ACELYSES made me aware of and contributed to available online now. This book is called “Enfermedad celíaca y sensibilidad al gluten no celíaca” or “Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.’ This is a great resource for those of you living with Celiac in a Spanish-speaking country.

According to ACELYSES and translated via Google translate:

In El Salvador celiac disease is still a little known entity. Between July and August 2012 we have studied the human leukocyte antigen HLA-DQ in 35 confirmed celiac patients, 30 relatives of celiacs and others who were in the process to rule whether or not suffering from celiac disease. The process of typing of HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 consisted extracting genomic DNA from peripheral blood in EDTA. By means of polymerase chain reaction amplified exon 2 to generate amplicons typing low to medium resolution. Tipando in a medium in combined single strand conformation polymorphism assay heteroduplex by a semiautomated gel electrophoresis and staining method the PhastSystem.

The series includes people between 19 and 77 years, of the 35 celiac (27 women and 8 men), are inhabitants of urban areas, 33 with biopsy compatible with CD and two who have not yet practiced them. Were 26 positive carriers risk heterodimers, with the following distribution: 15 HLA-DQ8 (12 women and 3 men), 9 HLA-DQ2 (5 women and 4 men), 2 women HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 and 9 cases of people No No DQ8 DQ2. Of the 21 relatives belonging to 7 groups confirmed celiac relatives: 17 were carriers of risk alleles.

The results of these studies on HLA-DQ are the first to be published in El Salvador and confirm the clinical diagnosis of celiac disease.

Please share this with your Spanish-speaking doctors to educate them about Celiac Disease! You can find the entire PDF here: Enfermedad celíaca y sensibilidad al gluten no celíaca

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!