What is Vilcabamba Ecuador’s Best Kept Secret?
High in the Ecuadorian Andes Mountains, less than 50 miles from the Peruvian border, lies the elevated valley of Vilcabamba Ecuador. With a name that means “Sacred Valley” in the language of the Incas, this haven was where the Incan rulers retreated for rejuvenation and renewal.
Today Vilcabamba Ecuador still claims to possess healing qualities and conditions that make it conducive to well-being and long-life. In fact, its modern-day nicknames include aliases such as the “Valley of Longevity.” Whether or not these claims are true, there’s no question that this hidden gem is an ideal destination for expats who are seeking a retreat that will nurture their bodies, minds, and souls.
The Locals Welcome You to Vilcabamba Ecuador
The people of Vilcabamba Ecuador are extremely friendly and very welcoming to the many visitors and expats who come to the area. Most of the locals are hard-working farmers who lead very active lifestyles well into their old age.
The area is also home to a number of foreigners, many of whom came to see for themselves the wonders of this South American “Shangri-La”…and just never left. Those who stayed now offer guided tours of the lush mountains, run Internet cafes in town, or host other visitors to the valley in rustic hotels.
While it’s necessary to learn Spanish in order to successfully integrate yourself into the local culture, the residents are exceedingly patient when communicating with foreigners. They’re always eager to slow their speech or use small words to help gringos better understand. Due to the increasing number of expats in the area, locals are also slowly beginning to learn English.
Vilcabamba’s Secret to Health and Happiness
In addition to the friendliness of the locals, they are also renowned for their vitality. Cited as one of the four healthiest populations on the planet, the people of Vilcabamba often live to be 100 or more, with some residents claiming to be as much as 120 years old.
Scientists and experts from all disciplines have studied the area’s residents for decades, only to reach a myriad of different conclusions. The natives’ lack of adequate records, combined with their frequent repetition of names, makes it difficult to ascertain the exact age of many of their people. This problem is also exacerbated by the fact that those of increased years have a tendency to exaggerate their age, as the elderly in Vilcabamba are treated with great honor and respect.
However, regardless of the validity of their claims of longevity, there is no question that the people of Vilcabamba Ecuador enjoy much healthier lives and lower instances of disease than almost anywhere in the world. Among the most common explanations for this are the residents’ hard-working lifestyles, the quality of the region’s water, the locals’ low-fat diets, and the excellent climate.
A Comfortable Climate that Promotes Healthy Eating
Whether or not there are any health benefits to Vilcabamba’s near-perfect climate, there’s no denying that it’s simply spectacular. Spring-like year-round, the temperature never falls below 65 degrees or rises above a high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, there are virtually no buildings in the area with either air conditioning or heating units.
The region has a long rainy season, which lasts from October to May. However, even during the dry season (June to September), the two rivers that flow down from the mountains keep parts of the valley green. As a result, residents enjoy year-round supplies of organic locally-grown fruits and vegetables: oranges, blackberries, papayas, bananas, figs, avocados, macadamia nuts, almonds, and more.
The abundance of fresh produce has greatly contributed to the healthy diets of the residents of Vilcabamba. Likewise, its remote location and barriers to easy access have made it difficult for prepackaged foods and preservatives to find their way into the city.
The area is also almost completely free of pollution of any kind. Its water flows into the valley from the protected Podocarpus National Forest and is bottled and sold throughout Ecuador, as well as outside the country. Scientists proclaim it to be among the purest in the world. The area’s air quality, helped out partially by its 5,000 foot altitude, has also been studied by scientists who wondered if it contained some special property that promotes long life.
Lower Cost of Living than Much of Latin America
Another very attractive feature of Vilcabamba Ecuador is its affordable cost of living. As throughout much of Ecuador, residents can enjoy the benefits of living in paradise for a fraction of what it would cost to reside in a smoggy U.S. suburb.
While costs can vary, depending on your lifestyle, you could easily get by on as little as ¼ of what you would spend in the U.S. And that’s without sacrificing any of the perks. In fact, many of the same conveniences can be had for pennies on the dollar. Take for instance a gardener, who will often work for as little as $10-$15 per day.
Like everything else, property in Vilcabamba is very affordable. And the rawer it is, the better the bargain you can hope to score. Land with no roads, utilities, or other infrastructure is dirt cheap. However, if you’re looking for a place that’s already prepped for living or farming, you’ll pay more for the systems that are already in place.
Sights to See in and Around Vilcabamba
The city center of Vilcabamba Ecuador is charming and rustic, with cobblestone streets and tiled roofs. The town square is home to restaurants, shops, and cafes. On weekends, tables and tents line the sidewalks as the locals sell crafts to residents and visitors. Houses in the area are constructed of wood and adobe, with large courtyards.
Just outside of town, there’s the Yamburara recreation area, which is a small zoo that displays samples of much of the local flora and fauna. Exhibits include 30 species of orchids, macaws, peacocks, monkeys, and more.
The town is home to several resorts and spas, including the Madre Tierra (“Mother Earth”), a serene retreat that offers pools, restaurants, and a variety of spa treatments. Similarly, pampering services are popping up all over town, as foreigners and locals have begun offering facials, massages, and other treatments to those who come to Vilcabamba seeking rejuvenation.
The picturesque peaks that rise on all sides of Vilcabamba offer many opportunities for exploration on foot or bicycle or even horseback. Guided tours are offered, ranging from 1- to 7-day excursions. Popular destinations include Mandango, a sacred Incan site, as well as the nearby Podocarpus National Forest.
Along the way, you will see numerous waterfalls and unique plant and animal life as you trek through lush rainforests and across mountain ridges. The area is a perfect spot for artists, photographers, bird watchers, and nature-enthusiasts.
The Podocarpus National Forest begins at the valley’s edge and runs all the way to Peru and attracts scientists from all over the world. The Caxarumi Ecological Trail is another popular attraction just outside of the city. There is also a hummingbird garden to the south of the city, as well as a botanical garden in nearby Loja.
To the northeast of Vilcabamba is the town of Zamora, which is a large producer of cacao. Another popular outing is the trip to Malacatos, Vilcabamba’s nearest neighbor, which hosts a large outdoor market every Sunday.
It Still Has Its Own Share of Problems
While paradise for some, others have their share of complaints about Vilcabamba Ecuador. It’s understandable that, when a place gains such a wealth of attention for its climate and quality of life, people are naturally going to want to go there. As a result, the numbers of foreigners who both visit and relocate to Vilcabamba has risen in recent years.
Expats are buying land to build homes or resorts. While this has caused many costs to rise, it’s also affected the area in other ways. With the influx of foreigners has come the introduction of certain aspects of their lifestyles. Drug and alcohol use has increased in the area, as has the presence of processed foods and the incidence of obesity.
Many locals, and even expats who want the area to stay as it was, complain that the increasing number of foreign residents is detracting from the very serenity to which the natives attribute their longevity.
On the flip side, when expats come, so does infrastructure and other improvements. So for every local who’s perturbed by the changes being effected by foreigners, there’s another who’s grateful for their influence. Many expats who move to the area create jobs for locals or impact the community in other positive ways.
While the expat who’s hoping for an authentic experience may be a bit disappointed by the new developments in Vilcabamba, those looking for all the modern conveniences may also want to reconsider. While it has all the essentials you need to get by, Vilcabamba has no Walmart and no shopping malls. To some this may be a good thing, but to others it could be a deal breaker.
From its friendly locals and opportunities for exploration to its breathtaking scenery and ideal climate, it’s no wonder Vilcabamba Ecuador has been attracting expats and tourists for decades. And even if the waters surrounding Vilcabamba Ecuador don’t spring from some mythical fountain of youth, it’s still a darn good place to live or visit.
If a return to the pure, simple life sounds ideal to you, maybe you should check out Vilcabamba Ecuador. Just be advised: You may never want to come back home.