Ecuador: Vilcabamba - the Longevity Valley
To us Vilcabamba is one of the last stops on our journey across Peru. There are many tourists in the city. Yet not many are tourists for many gringos simply live in the city. Either they are sort of local hippies who sell hand-made artistic items. And many are retirees who enjoy the rest of their life here or maybe they try to prolong their life a bit. After all, this is called the Longevity Valley. Vilcabamba is an amazing place to live at. It is situated at 1500 meters. The weather here is spring-like all year long. The temperatures usually oscillate around 18 to 22 on Centigrade. Nature is all around and it is tranquil here. Well, the only thing which makes the place bit noisy is the night life; locals and tourists alike like to have fun at night. The tourist industry here is on the rise. This might be the reason behind the decrease of old people's presence here. The night life also disturbs the quality of life of the locals, the environment, and new habits become part of the life here.
Vilcabamba is a small city of 3800. It was founded by Spaniard Luis Fernandes de la Vega on September 1st, 1576. At first, it was a simple parish named La Victoria. Vilcabamba became a public parish. The main square is renovated very-well. Hippies can be seen to sell goods during the day. Kids run around here mostly in the evening. Later, we meet several Americans who moved to Vilcabamba. They re not here alone. There is a small community of them and we spot them every day siting on the corner at a bar.
Don't expect any marvelous architecture in Vilcabamba. This city is more about getting some rest and enjoying beautiful nature. It is great just to take a walk. We stay in a guest house where they offer horse rides. We bought a two-hour ride. Ecuador is not an expensive country. We pay only about 10 dollars per person for a ride and it was quite an adventure! Jose, our guide, has a fast pace. They just ride like this here. However, he shows us local nature and interesting things around. He knows the area very well. For instance "rocky mushrooms" on a side of a hill. An hour later we make a short break. Then we move on. When we return two hours later down the city streets we are absolutely worn. It was an amazing experience worth recommending.
Once we are tired of sitting around and watching whats happening around on the square, we make a trek. Cerro Mandango is a pyramide-shaped hill situated in the middle of the valley many legends have been said about. Read the main legend in your book guide – make sure ahead that the place is safe to go to. In the visitor center, we learned, there is nothing to worry about. In the morning we set out uphill. It is generally better to start out earlier. There are not many shades on the hill and sun shines sharply throughout the day. Moreover, there are many spiders so better look ahead. Some as large as 5 centimeters or more rest on their webs right on the road. Once you get to the top, the vista is amazing and walking along the ridge is unforgettable. The sides of the ridge tend to be steep at some places. Better don't look too much below you. You can get scared. I recommend to take a phone with a map and a GPS with you. It is quite difficult to find your way back without GPS. Dogs complicated us getting our navigation right because they were furiously trying to catch us, and later even an unleashed bull. But we managed to get back down safe and sound. But beware of local wild dogs or especially those who guard some house.
The entire circular trek is about 9 kilometers long. The total elevation is around 500 meters. Nothing strenous yet worth your effort. Moreover, we met no one around here. The land was entirely ours to enjoy.
Vilcabamba is a beautiful city to rest, or make a trek to nature. If you don't like cities full of tourists this is not the right place to be.
Text and photos: Tomáš Novák
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