Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun July 12 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | July 12, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Central America Backpacker's Cookbook

    Central America Backpacker's Cookbook

    Proof that seven people can eat a healthy, filling, and cheap lunch in Costa Rica for less than $10

    OK, lets be honest — maintaining a healthy lifestyle on the road when you’re on a tight budget is almost as difficult as winning the lottery. Sure, you could spend more money on healthy food instead of buying 20-cent bags of pasta, downing those pina coladas/buckets of beer or eating that street food you love so much. But that requires the discipline of a monk and missing out on half the reason you’re traveling in the first place.

    That being said, after eight months on the road and not being able to even look at a piece of bread, pasta, or bag of cookies without cringing, I have compiled a list of recipes from fellow travelers in Central America who felt the same and wanted EASY, relatively healthy meals that wouldn’t break the bank.

    The typical consumption of a Central American backpacker: Street food, banana bread/bagged water on long chicken-bus rides and bottles of wine as a food group — it’s fruit, right?

    Mandatory Spice List:

    • Rosemary
    • Thyme
    • Cumin
    • Allspice
    • Hot sauce/Picante
    • Salsa Lizano
    • Salt/Pepper/Sugar/Olive Oil (can be found at almost every hostel so no need to buy this)

    Healthy/Cheap Meals

    “On the Go Broke Burrito”

    Created by the staff from Quetzeltrekkers in León

    It’s healthy, filling, nutritious, and cheap as hell! This has become a staple amongst backpackers traveling on 10-plus hour torturous bus rides. If you’re full after the first burrito (which you will be) place veggies in a Ziploc bag and assemble later to eat. It won’t go bad until about two hours later. Tested and true. (We never said it was pretty, we just said it was cheap).

    Time: 5 minutes

    Makes: 3 large Burritos

    Costs: $5CDN


    • Tortilla wrap
    • Bag of refried bean paste: red or black
    • Can of mixed vegetables (good option for traveling) or fresh vegetables including cucumbers, beets, red onion, green pepper.
    • Small bag of cheese Doritos (optional but makes for added crunch)
    • Salsa Lizano
    • Hot Sauce (optional)
    • Cumin (optional)


    1. Cut up vegetables (if you bought fresh ingredients) and place into Ziploc bag.

    2. Put desired amount of bean paste onto tortilla.

    3. Add desired amount of vegetables into the tortilla.

    4. Crush bag of Doritos and put a few into the tortilla.

    5. Add desired amount of Salsa Lizano, hot sauce, and cumin.

    “Skinny Italian Salad”

    Created by fellow backpacker Alena from Canada

    Time: 5 Minutes

    Serves: 4

    Bought in Costa Rica

    Costs: $4CDN


    • 2 cucumbers
    • 2 tomatoes
    • Italian Dressing
    • All Seasoning


    1. Wash and cut up bite size pieces of cucumber and tomatoes and place in bowl.

    2. Add desired amount of Italian dressing and all seasoning.

    3. Enjoy!

    “Potato Pepper Salad”

    Created by fellow backpacker Arty from Spain

    Time: 15-20 Minutes

    Serves: 2-4

    Bought in Costa Rica

    Costs: $5CDN


    • 2 potatoes
    • White Onion
    • Red Pepper
    • Cream Cheese
    • Salt/Pepper (optional)


    1. Wash and boil potatoes for 15 minutes.

    2. Cut up onion and red pepper and sauté until golden brown.

    3. When potatoes are soft, remove from pot and cut into bite size chunks.

    4. Place vegetables and potatoes in bowl and mix with desired amount of cream cheese.

    Meals Under $1

    We’ve all been there — blowing your budget from an excursion, unforeseen events, or drinking it away in one night and not having enough money to eat anything other than rice. Luckily for you, we’re here to save you.

    “Rosemary Yucca Chips”

    Created by the Singer brothers, fellow backpackers from Austria


    • Yucca Root
    • Salt
    • Rosemary
    • Thyme (optional)
    • Olive Oil or Butter


    1. Cut off ends of yucca.

    2. Peel outer shell off of yucca root with a knife until all the skin is removed.

    3. With your knife or a grater, cut circular, thin slices of yucca (looks similar to chips).

    4. Pour enough oil in the pan to be able to slightly cover the yucca.

    5. Turn heat on medium/high to heat oil.

    6. When ready, place yucca chips into oil for a few minutes and flip over when golden brown. Do the same for the other side and remove when golden brown and place on paper towel to remove excess oil.

    7. Place yucca chips in large bowl and sprinkle salt, rosemary, and thyme over chips as desired.

    “Broke Banana Pancakes”

    Time: 5 Minutes

    Makes: 1 large or 2 small pancakes

    Cost: $1


    • 4 eggs
    • 1 banana


    1. Crack eggs into bowl and remove yolk so only the egg whites are left.

    2. Cut up small pieces of banana and place into egg mixture.

    3. Grease frying pan and heat on medium.

    4. Place egg/banana mixture onto pan and fry until golden brown.

    5. Flip and repeat step 4.

    One of the budget friendly meals made on the road: fried plantains with rice and salad — delicious and nutritious!

    “Fried Plantains”


    • 2 (almost black) plantains
    • Oil


    1. Preheat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat.

    2. Peel the plantains and cut them in half. Slice the halves lengthwise into thin pieces.

    3. Fry the pieces until browned and tender. Drain excess oil on paper towels.


    “Broke Babe’s Sangria”

    Created by fellow backpacker Alena from Canada


    • Cheapest red wine
    • Orange Juice
    • Fruit of your choosing (optional)


    Mix half red wine and half orange juice together along with bite size pieces of fruit and viola, you’re done!


    “Orgasmic Oreo Ice Cream”

    Created by fellow backpacker Puck from Amsterdam

    Time: 5 Hours

    Makes: 1 large glutinous tub of the best Oreo ice cream of your life

    Things needed:

    • Large Plastic container/tub with lid
    • Large mixing spoon
    • Patience (because it’s going to take awhile)


    • Large tub of cheap vanilla ice cream
    • 2 bags of your favorite Oreos (we prefer cookies and cream)


    1. Crush a bag of Oreos into tiny pieces.

    2. Mix in well with vanilla ice cream (may need to transfer to a larger container/tub).

    3. Place in freezer for five hours or until ice cream and cookies have set.

    4. Break up second bag of Oreos into bite size chunks and mix into ice cream.

    5. Done! (be prepared to have everyone bow down at your feet after the first bite. Congratulations, you are now king/queen of the hostel).


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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