Vilcabamba, Ecuador: The Valley of Longevity

I asked for a room with a view and wow, did I get it. This is the sight that greeted me as I stepped out onto the terrace on my first morning in Vilcabamba, a small village in southern Ecuador.

Come to think of it, this was the scene I awoke to every morning during my visit…a wake-up call I could definitely get used to…

That’s the village of Vilcabamba in the distance, at the epicenter of the Vilcabamba Valley and walking distance from Hosteria Izhcayluma, where I took this photo.

Vilcabamba is one of earth’s special places. Known as the Valley of Longevity, people commonly live to be very old here. Surely, they live longer, healthier lives because of the perfectly temperate day-in day-out climate, the fresh air, clean water, and cardiac-stimulating benefits of walking up and down these mountain trails.

The cornucopia of taste-bud-pleasing fruits and vegetables that grow here—and the many medicinal plants—doesn’t hurt, either. Cultivated for centuries without chemical additives, you’ll find everything from sugar cane and corn to every fruit imaginable, including banana, papaya, chirimoya, blackberries, oranges, limes…and even that elixir of the gods, coffee. (The hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus is also prolific in the valley.)

The name “Vilcabamba” stems from the words huilco pamba, which means “sacred valley.” Huilco is also the name of a sacred tree found in the valley; its leaves are used to treat respiratory ailments and asthma. Known for its ability to remove pollutants from the air and put back pristine oxygen, the Huilco tree is also thought to be another contributing factor to residents’ good health and longevity.

Whatever the reasons for their stamina, Vilcabamba is a valley of contagiously happy people. Whether that’s from the scenery, the sunshine, or the tasty sustenance, I can’t say.

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