Vilcabamba in Southern Ecuador (not the town of Vilcabamba in Peru), has become a magnet for soul searchers and those seeking perpetual youth. Nestled in the beautiful Andes Mountains at an altitude of 1,500m (5,000ft) and less than fifty miles from the Peruvian border, Vilcabamba was known by the Incas as the Sacred Valley; now commonly referred to as the “Valley of Longevity”.
This quaint little village is famed for its revival of the mind, body and soul and it is often cited as one of the healthiest populations on the planet, luring in a large number of American expats who are looking to take life at a much slower pace. Whilst the population of Vilcabamba is small, it is not uncommon for the residents to live past a hundred, hence the name ‘Valley of Longevity’.
With a ‘spring like’ climate all year round, local produce from organic farms, rolling hills and fresh water from the rivers flowing into the protected Podocarpus National Forest, it’s no wonder why the residents vitality is so good. If you are into yoga, , exploring the mind with ayahuasca, spirituality and nature, then Vilcabamba is the place for you!
*Exploring more of Ecuador? Check out our guides for: the Galapagos islands, Cuenca, Mindo, Cotopaxi and Otavalo.
From Peru / Guayaquil:
If you are coming up from Peru or from Guayaquil, which is by the west coast of Ecuador, then you will be coming via Loja, a town 1.5 hours from Vilcabamba with plenty of buses running daily between the two (departing every thirty minutes until 8.30pm). Take a bus with the company Vilcabambaturis which departs from the main bus terminal in Loja, costs $1.30 (€1).
From Cuenca / North Ecuador:
Alternatively, If you are coming down from Cuenca (north of Vilcabamba) you can catch a bus which takes around 6 hours and goes via Loja. There are three different bus companies which depart from the bus terminal in Cuenca every hour and cost $8 (€7) and arrive into the terminal in Loja, where you change to a Vilcabambaturis bus.
- Cooperative Loja
- San Luis
Vilcabamba is tiny so everywhereis easily accessible on foot.
If you are staying slightly further out into the mountains and away from the centre of Vilcabamba, there are regular taxis which will run you into town for $2.50 (€2). To go from Vilcabamba's town centre and back to your accommodation, head to the main square where you will see a taxi rank and a helpful attendant.
Vilcabamba is a sleepy little village in the middle of the mountains and with a population of only 4,000 residents, so there isn’t a huge amount to do. Definitely head to Parque Central (the main square) and people watch. With its cobblestone streets, brightly coloured buildings and laid back vibe, the centre of Vilcabamba is charming. The village seems to attract hippies and slightly eccentric characters, so you won’t be short of boring conversation. Head to one of the squares surrounding cafes for vegan and vegetarian delights, but if you want to venture outside of the centre of Vilcabamba, see Go Travel and Talk's recommendations below.
The Mandango Trail is a beautiful four hour hike along a breathtaking trail that winds around two mountain peaks with incredible views of the surrounding valleys in Vilcabamba. One of the mountains is called ‘The Sleeping Inca’ as it looks like a face lying down (see photo above!) Expect to pay around $10 (€9) depending on the group size.
VILCA ADVENTURE offers all sorts of incredible activities, such as:
- Hikes (Cerro Mandango | Waterfalls | Iron water | Podocarpus National Park | Coordinador del Condor
- Horseback riding
- Guided visits to the traditional factories of Vilcabamba | Archaeological ruins
You can head out for the day and do a horse riding trek through the national park of Podocarpus across Vilcabamba and into the cloud forest. In total, this takes around six hours and it is stunning! You can also do a shorter ride through the valley of Quinera in Vilcabamba.
Cost of this varies depending on who you book with.
Danny Toledo at VILCA ADVENTURE offers this activity. Budget around $20-30 (€17-25).
Get a massage from the several surrounding resorts, hosterias and spas. Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) is a stunning retreat that offers swimming pools, restaurants and a variety of spa treatments and Monte Suenos, a mystical retreat full of mesmerising artwork is not to be missed.
Go Travel and Talk's TOP recommendation is Hosteria Izhcayluma, where I stayed for a week, ending with the most relaxing massage I have ever received. More on this below.
There is only one place in Vilcabamba to stay and that is, Hosteria Izhcayluma. We at Go Travel and Talk wholeheartedly recommend staying here if you are visiting Vilcabamba.
Perched up in the hills, a five minute taxi ride or twenty minute walk from the village, Hosteria Izhcayluma offers the ultimate luxury at backpackers prices ~ almost unheard of in todays world! Dormitory beds are $9.50 (€8) per night (not a bunk bed insight!) with an en-suite bathroom fit for royalty, not to mention a delicious breakfast included. Or there is the option of private rooms and stunning private cabins, both at ridiculously low prices.
They have a beautiful outdoor pool, a cocktail bar with a pool table and free yoga sessions every morning ~ in the middle of an open veranda with incredible views of the surrounding valleys. At an additional cost you can get spa treatments (but at amazing value with talented masseuses), delicious lunches and dinners served in their restaurant with panoramic views, and try the experience of air yoga, where you literally fly through the air! Hosteria Izhcayluma attracts all sorts of guests and with a large open plan dining space, group activities and a beautiful bar, you wont be short of new friends with interesting tales to tell.
Go Travel and Talk cannot recommend this place enough. On top of all of that, they have a direct minivan that leaves from Cuenca daily which costs $15 (€12), incredibly friendly and helpful staff, passionate owners and a beautiful dog! If you are in Vilcabamba, there really is no other place to stay. Did I mention they won Tripadvisors Travellers' choice, 5 times! Book through their website and make sure you follow them on Instagram: @izhcayluma.
- There are some places where you will find almuerzos (juice, soup and a main dish of rice and meat/fish) a couple of streets back from the main square. However, as there is such a huge number of American expats living in Vilcabamba, most of the cafes/food places offer more western food with a focus on vegan/vegetarian delights. If you are looking for an authentic Ecuadorian experience, Vilcabamba probably won’t be for you.
Vegan / Vegetarian Food:
SO many choices but it is slightly more expensive than the rest of Ecuador.
- My favourite was United Falafel Organisation (UFO - classic Vilcabamba eccentricity!) The portions are HUGE and the hummus/falafel plates are darn right delicious! Head to the main square (Parque Central), you can’t miss it; try and get a spot in their courtyard out the back.
- Or check out the salads at Murano just off Parque Central.
- If you are staying at Hosteria Izhcayluma, you may never want to leave their restaurant ~ the food is wholesome and excellent value.
When I took the Hosteria Izhcayluma minivan from Cuenca, we met an incredible lady from USA, Maggie, who after an interesting life in the Peace Corp, now lives in Vilcabamba. After we got chatting, she mentioned a local charity in need of some help. I instantly put my name forward and began volunteering the next day.
The charity is called Bibiloteca para Ninos de Vilcabamba (BNV) and it is run by Roberto from Peru. Based a few streets over from the main plaza at Casa Amarilla (Yellow House) this beautiful charity offers English lessons and art classes to the children of Vilcabamba. You can volunteer for one or two hours, once, twice or three times a week ~ it is totally up to you. The children are so eager to learn, but they need your help, so if you can, please get involved.
Please email Roberto: email@example.com, or call him on: 0982559228 to arrange a time to drop by, I know he and the children would love your help. You will be volunteering alongside other people and lots of amazing American expats who are so incredibly friendly and interesting to talk to. It was such a fun week and it really doesn't take much time out of your day. Do something that will leave a lasting positive impact on Vilcabamba, its a beautiful experience.