Vilcabamba, Ecuador is a small town nestled in a lush valley a crow’s fly from the Peruvian border. The Quechua word “Vilcabamba” means “sacred valley” and the area was once known as the Valley of Longevity because of the unusually high number of people living beyond their nineties.
The fountain of youth never materialized but this little Shangri-La does have something magical about it. Over the years Vilcabamba has become a popular landing pad for various tribes of international ex-pats ranging from new age seekers to true believers come to wait out the end of days. In between are the colorful hippies who seem to photosynthesize and the conspicuously rich who build villas worthy of Inca royalty.
Birds of all sizes and colors grace the ever-changing sky (though as the fancier birds arrive, the local species are forced to nest elsewhere).
Nearly self-sufficient in coffee, citrus, corn, cattle and cheese, the only essentials lacking are chocolate and yoga mats.
We spent a few pleasant days at a German run eco-resort. Over breakfast on the patio we enjoyed chatting with intrepid backpackers, a pair of French wanderers who didn’t know Nôtre Dame had burned, a young Argentine family on an extended walkabout exploring the incredible heritage that Latin America offers.
When we escaped the gravitational pull of the hammocks, we hiked around in the hills above town and people watched while sipping local coffee in the delightful central plaza.
The weather was as warm and mellow as the people. Light refreshing rains were followed by warm spells that sun-drenched a gaggle of children kicking a soccer ball around the plaza. One of their parents, a dread-locked healer, practiced goal tending, juggling and detachment.
Vilcabamba seems too idyllic to be true but for the moment it’s far enough removed from the pages of “International Living” magazine and ravages of retiring gringos to survive.
No pink hotels or big yellow taxis here. Horses share the roads with SUVs in this mountain paradise. If you need a ride, a small fleet of for-hire 4-by-4’s is ready to roll. I suspect every other resident has a knobby-tired dirt bike.
Locals and yokels, bohos and babas, hobos and bobos—it seems there’s room for every flavor of humanity in this unpaved corner of heaven on earth. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into paradise lost.
R.S. Gompertz is a native of Southern California who currently lives and writes in Seattle. He recently completed a tour of Mexico and South America during which he spent several weeks in Cuenca. His most recent book, “Life’s Big Zoo,” is available on Amazon. For more information about his life, work and travels, click here.