Vilcabamba and the Valley of Longevity – Ecuador

Author: Michele Mundy

Nestled amongst the folds of the Andes mountains is the Valley of Longevity, where the tranquil town of Vilcabamba lies. Located in the province of Loja and just an hour away by bus from the city of Loja sits this town with perfect  eternal spring climate. The outstanding climate is due to the town’s altitude which is 1700m above sea level. The mild temperature makes for abundant crops and enjoyable homesteading. The valley is a veritable garden of Eden in which you can grow papayas, mangoes, citrus fruits, sugar cane, corn,  guanabanas, tree tomatoes, and so much more. With a population of about five thousand inhabitants, it is a tiny, laid back place during the week. On the weekends tourists come from Loja and other Ecuadorian cities to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and the fresh air.  Vilcabamba is an idyllic town with most of the action revolving around the traditional Latin American town square. The paved roads jut off in each direction only for a few blocks from the town center before the dusty dirt roads take over. The central park is great for people watching since travelers from all over the world make themselves at home in the diverse village. While sitting in one of the many cafés in town you can hear Spanish, English, French, German, and even Japanese. Expats are attracted by the ideal weather, the mellow vibe, the abundance of fresh healthy food available, and an alternative lifestyle.

The Valley of Longevity is described as such, because there exists an unusual number of centenarian inhabitants which seem to be in amazing health. Scientists have studied the valley’s geriatric population to try and discover their secrets. It seems that the residents maintain a diet with relatively low animal fats that is high in fiber and magnesium, excellent water quality, an active, hardworking lifestyle, and a stable climate that is without large temperature fluctuations. Scientists believe that these are all factors which create such a healthy, long-living population.

The rainy season runs from December to April, but don’t let that deter you from visiting during these months. Typically the rain comes in the afternoon or evening so you are able to enjoy all the outdoor activities that you can in the morning and early afternoon. And oh, how there are outdoor activities! There are abundant hiking and biking trails surrounding the town and throughout the valley. If you are looking for horseback rides, you have come to the right place. There are numerous tour operators in town that offer tours all around the valley.

What to do:

If you’re there on Sunday be sure to load up on fruits and veggies at the fresh organic market located next to the bus station. The weekend also brings the handcraft vendors who set up a market outside the school across the street from Agave Blu restaurant.

Hiking Mandango peak is ideal for experienced hikers who have no aversion to heights. This is a strenuous trail with some sharp dropoffs, but of course the view is worth it in the end! It is recommended that you go with a local guide, since there have been some robberies on this trail.

If you want to get rugged, there is the nearby Podocarpus National Park which encompasses a variety of habitats and terrain. Podocarpus is a large park, covering 360,000 acres.  Because of the large range in altitude, 1000m-3700m, the park is incredibly biologically diverse, and contains many species that are only found in the park. The park is named after the Podocarpus tree, the country’s only conifer. In the park you can bird watch, hike, bike, and even camp.

Where to eat:

Agave blu- Real Mexican food in Ecuador! If traveling has you missing all your Mexican favorites, this is the place for you. They have traditional items, such as cochinita pibil and mole, as well as fresh guacamole and handmade tortillas. Everything from this restaurant is fresh! The owner has a local farm where they grow all the produce they can, including chiles. Any fish on the menu comes directly from fishermen on the coast! Located on Fernando de la Vega and Bolivar across from the town square. Check out their facebook page or give them a call at 0980881035

Natural Yogurt- One of the best organic breakfasts in town! They have a large variety on the menu including crepes, hamburgers, main dishes, and of course, yogurt. This place is a tasty, affordable option. Located just a block away from the main plaza on Bolivar street.

The Juice Factory-Serving organic juices and smoothies. They come up with the most delicious combinations. Many of the ingredients in the juices are organically grown on their farm. They also have a line of imported superfoods and vitamin supplements as well as many locally produced food items and cosmetics. You can find the Juice Factory on the west side of the plaza on Calle Sucre.

Where to stay:

Hostal Margaritas-This hostal offers comfortable rooms with private bathrooms that include hot water. Enjoy the game room, pool, or the beautiful gardens. There is onsite parking included. All of this plus breakfast is only $15 per person. Hostal Las Margaritas is conveniently located at Calle Sucre and Clodoveo Jaramillo which is just one block south of the plaza and one block west of the bus terminal. The phone number is 2640051

Extras:

Spanish Classes-Improve your Spanish to make it easier to travel! Luz Ortiz can teach all levels of Spanish and she customizes her classes to meet her students needs. You can contact her by phone 0992371155, via email at pachuquita1@hotmail.com, or skype her at luzortiza345. Get in touch with her today to start improving your skills!

Visa facilitator- If you have decided that Ecuador is the right place for you and you would like to stay longer, contact Ramiro Carrion to learn how you can become a resident of this extraordinary country. He is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  Contact him by phone 997967639 or via email ramirocj@yahoo.com