Photo Credit: Sophie Robson
What if there were a sacred, mystical, and magical place where you could relax in a paradise-like setting, drink the purest water, enjoy the freshest foods, and subsequently, live a healthier life for a longer time? Would you go there? If you answered “yes,” then you should probably plan a trip to Vilcabamba.
Often called the “South American Shangri-La,” beautiful Vilcabamba, one of Ecuador’s natural wonders, is home to the sacred mountain of El Mondango (the Sleeping Inca) and Podocarpus National Forest. This serene place attracts many different types of visitors including those who just want to enjoy its relaxing atmosphere to others who believe it is the only safe place to be in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Local legend says that the spirit of the El Mondango mountain protects the area from earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters.
Vilcabamba (from the Quichua “huilco pamba,” meaning Sacred Valley) has a magic and mysticism all its own. Located deep in the Andes, this peaceful valley appears to inspire belief in the supernatural, as well as an abiding sense of mystery. Believers are convinced that Vilcabamba has everything from magical air and water to the secret of longevity.
Valley of Longevity
Actually, contemporary medical research suggests that Vilcabamba (also known as The Valley of Longevity) is one of four places on the planet where residents enjoy a longer-than-average life span. In previous decades, there were widespread reports about many living up-to- and way-beyond the century mark. Stories of extreme longevity in the valley, however, have been discounted by findings such as those discovered in 1978 by Richard Mazess of the University of Wisconsin and Sylvia Forman of U.C. Berkeley. Yet the fact remains that researchers still note that the Vilcabamba lifestyle — hard work in a high altitude combined with a low-calorie and low-animal-fat diet — allows villagers to remain healthy and active in their old age.
In addition, scientists say that the valley’s Agua Sacrado (sacred water) is probably the purest and healthiest in the world. Podocarpus National Park, one of the world’s few remaining pristine rainforests, surrounds Vilcabamba. Podocarpus is said to have pre-Ice Age microorganisms.
In this untouched and uninhabited area, there are also 14 lakes, each containing the melt of an uncontaminated Pleistocene glacier ice. Eventually, this pure water makes its way into hundreds of cascading waterfalls, which then means that the water is oxygenated and has an extremely high negative-ion count.
Besides the world’s fascination with the valley’s exceptional water, there is also much speculation, as well as scientific study, about the outstanding health benefits of local plants. According to Dr. Richard Laurence Millington Synge, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the person who discovered amino acids, there are remarkable medicinal qualities to be found in plant life near the equator in such places like the valley of Vilcabamba. Scientific analysis indicates that the fruit, roots, and herbs of this particular equatorial sub-area offer some of the strongest antioxidant protection in the world. The valley’s medicinal herbs, plants, and vegetables can thrive all year in this agricultural haven with its spring-like climate.
The Quichua word “huilco” also refers to a sacred tree, the Anadenanthera colubrine tree (known also as Willka, Vilca or Huilca) is considered a treasure in Ecuador and deemed holy among the Quichua. Its leaves are used to treat respiratory ailments and asthma. The tree is also valued for its ability to bring back pristine oxygen and block pollutants in the air. The resulting pure environment is thought to be a contributing factor to the residents’ good health and longevity.
Originally, ancient Inca rulers viewed Vilcabamba (also called the Playground of the Inca) as a tranquil retreat for renewal of the body and spirit. In our modern age, visitors flock to this beautiful valley for similar reasons. Throughout the years, many unique titles have been bestowed on Vilcabamba including The Isle of Immunity for Heart Disease, The Land of Eternal Youth, The Valley of Peace and Tranquility, and The Lost Garden of Eden. No doubt its clean air, abundant sunshine, emerald green fields, towering mountains, pure mineral drinking water, medicinal herbs, minimal illness, and friendly people contribute to its glowing reputation.
Located less than 50 miles from the Peruvian border, Vilcabamba has a “kind of ubiquitous beauty that penetrates to one’s soul and provides a sense of well-being.” This splendid setting has a great deal to offer tourists. They can enjoy a wide variety of spa services for affordable prices or explore the surrounding mountains and forests by biking, horseback riding, or hiking.
The valley is a perfect destination for bird-watchers and botanists. If one wants to see the Andean bear, jaguars, wooly tapir, giant armadillo, Neotropical otter, and pudú (the smallest deer in the world), check out Podocarpus National Park.
Unfortunately this “shangri-la” has become polluted with the wrong kind of gringo, as happened to Costa Rica in the past. There are many good reasons why the locals resent these gringos, and Vilcabamba has become the fastest growing area for home break-ins and murders. Paradise?
Beautifully written. I live in Vilcabamba and move out in two days. Your article makes me want to stay here. The fact is, Vilcabamba is only green 5 months of the year. The rest it’s brown. The water comes out of my tap a brownish color despite the fact that it smells like chlorine. But that’s not why we’re moving. It’s just too hot here for us May and June have been pleasantly cool, but the rest of the year it’s 80’s and 90’s. The other negative (or positive depending on perspective) is it’s a 9 hour drive to the nearest international airport. Also, because of influx of foreigners the property values are double if not triple what it costs in the rest of the country. On a positive note, during the rainy season we get daily if not twice daily rainbows against a green mountainous backdrop. We’ve had some of the best views living here I’ve ever seen. The surrounding mountains are gorgeous.
XOIE nice try being negative in a positive way. Are you moving out of Vilca taking the nine hour bus trip? Good luck with that. Let me mention to your readers that one can go to Quito or Guayaquil in 1h30 by plane from Catamayo/Loja new airport.
And what Louis forgets to mention is that some of the crimes that happened in Vilca were bad enough and involved severe beatings and thefts but they were committed not by locals but by out of town criminals attracted by the expats community just passing by and targeting (some not all) people who had shown very poor judgement in protecting themselves or showing off their money or insulting their workers, or in one murder case (the only one I can remember in my 7 years here) the dead person was suspected to have been part of some kind of criminal activity and the crime was conducted in a professional, mafia style.
Vilcabamba’s temperature is only high at noon and no locals would think about walking around at that time. Water is the first thing expats need to deal with and take very seriously when arriving anywhere in the world and even in their own country. If it’s not chlorine it’s bad mircroorganisms. Vilcabamba’s municipal water is not safe but the commercialized bottled water in Vilcabamba is safe. Just buy bottled water or move with a cheap and very effective kitchen filter to hook onto your faucet like we do here and were doing even in Vermont where we were living before. It’s a fact of life in this polluted world. Also the air is often loaded with dust or diesel fumes from taxis. So unless you live outside of town, do not expect “pure air”.
Otherwise, we are blessed with a nice way of life here especially for those of us who live close to nature, away from the clusters of expats, and willing to learn Spanish and befriend Ecuadorians and their culture.
Othilie- nice try criticizing the comments others have made in an authoritative way. What you forget to mention is that the airport in Catamayo does not operate during the windy months of the year. And to get to it is an hour and 45 minutes through mountain passes on winding, pothole infested, stray dog riddled roads.
Do you honestly believe the temperature gets hot only at noon?? Invest in an outdoor thermometer.
My point in even posting a comment was that the information presented in the article sounds very fantastic. By fantastic I mean like a fantasy. I’m sorry but Vilcabamba, nor any other place on earth, fits that description. Quit being so defensive.
We live a bit outside Vilcabamba in a secluded area on our own little farm. Excellent air. Excellent water. Good food always available, and we grow some of our own. Views are always spectacular. Temperatures are pretty much perfect all year long… yeah, so it gets very slightly warm or cool from time to time… sheesh, toughen up. No thermostats here. No need or desire for us to jump back to the USA regularly, so that’s no hassle for us… don’t really see much of any reason to go back to USA anyway.
All things considered, this is easily one of the best places in the world to live beautifully, cheaply, naturally. Not a heck of a lot of such places exist any longer.
I visited Vilca only once, and it was stifling HOT ! The area is written up in publications as “perfect”
but in my many travels…few places are that good. My views are that it’s quaint, real estate way too over-priced, and more of a small village, than a town. It just depends upon one’s ida of the “perfect climate”, amenities, etc.
Vilcabamba is a very special place, but it is not the Shangri-la the author describes. Alas the drinking water is not pure, rivers are polluted with plastic and motor oil and most of the sacred huilco were long ago cut. The name of the sacred mountain is Mandango, not Mondango.
Annie has got it correct. In the actual little town of Vilcabamba, it is true that the water and air is polluted, as happens whenever humans arrive on the scene. However, venturing just a bit outside of town and you will find many places that are pretty darn nice. With good thinking and planning, you can set up a fine little homestead for yourself, while still having easy access to amenities.
I Live off and on in Vilcabamba I love the place the weather is perfect almost every day . many restaurant don’t even have indoor seating that tells you how nice it is . The food is great there many great restaurants and the people are great folks from all over the world . very friendly interesting place . I think the negative comments about gringos are by those who always have to feel superior
I find allot of different views on life there but hey that’s what makes the place appealing.
Hi. I’m visiting Vilcabamba very soon, in March. I have a chronic pain and fatigue disability and I’m looking for an affordable place that is slower and more affordable than where I live now (Berkeley). If I move it will be alone. I’ve never traveled anywhere so its going to be kind of hard but I’m looking forward to learning spanish and getting to know the locals. Can someone like me, living on disability $1600 a month, find a place outside town where I can have a dog and will I be safe doing so? Thanks! My friend visited there and told me about it, she loved it.