Long Life and Low Costs in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

The morning mist burns away to reveal an expanse of velvety mountains and the green-carpeted valley in all its glory. Fresh air and blazing blue skies are to be expected here in the Andes.

In Vilcabamba, Ecuador, you feel like you could live forever. It’s no wonder that this boasts of being the “Valley of Longevity,” where long, healthy lives are common and many of the locals claim to be centenarians—living well into their 100s.

Perhaps it’s the climate. Just shy of the equator in southern Ecuador and at an elevation of 5,000 feet, temperatures in Vilcabamba average between 65 F and 81 F, day in and day out. Some scientists say it’s due to the clean, mineral-rich water. Or the pure air itself. Or the fact that food has been cultivated here for centuries without chemical additives.

No doubt it’s thanks to all these ingredients…and to the fact that it was only a short time ago (in the 1960s) that “civilization” came to this part of the world…in the form of a reliably drivable road that connected it with the outside world.

And that simpler life remains easy to find in the valley. In addition, almost every property comes with a view of Mandango Peak, with its shape that resembles a face sleeping or looking toward the heavens—the reason Mandango is also known as “The Sleeping God.”

Truth is, there’s something for every price range. And if you’re not looking for a farm, you’ll find smaller properties, too. In the heart of the village of Vilcabamba, for instance, a two-story, 2,400-square-foot home has been divided into two rental units, the top floor with three bedrooms and two baths and the bottom floor with two bedrooms. There’s a carport on one side of the house, and a patio with two outdoor covered areas and a built-in pizza/bread oven…even a small vegetable or flower garden. This property is selling for $179,000.

(If you’d prefer to rent in the village, you’ll pay $300 to $1,000 per month, depending on size, amenities, furnishings, etc. There are also some small, unfurnished apartments without appliances that rent for as little as $80 a month and others with shared kitchens and baths for about $200 a month.)

Also in the village, and easy walking distance from the plaza via an old Inca trail, a 1,744-square-foot house is on 0.4 acres of land—plenty for the recreational gardener. Asking price is $150,000.

There are two gated communities worth a look. El Altillo is in the village and San Joaquín is just outside. In El Altillo, you can buy a loft-style home that’s 1,123 square feet in size on a 2,785-squarefoot lot. Pre-construction prices start at $104,460.

In peaceful and secure San Joaquín, you can buy 2.4 acres of riverfront land (think babbling brook) for $180,000, or an impeccably-built home with all the sought-after amenities…granite floors, high wooden-beamed ceilings, multiple skylights, a porticoed porch…with access to the community’s equestrian center and more.

If you’d prefer to build, land closer to the center of town in Vilcabamba itself sells for $60 to $100 per square meter ($5.58 to $9.29 per square foot). On the edges of the town, you can still get land for $30 per square meter ($2.79 per square foot) or less.

Vilcabamba itself is not the only option in the area. If you want even more affordability, go farther afield and to nearby valleys to find the bargains—Malacatos to the north and Quinara or Yangana to the south. And farther south to Valladolid and Palanda you’ll find even bigger price breaks.

In Malacatos, for instance, you can buy 30 hectares (about 74 acres) of land—with beautiful views, a natural spring, a small stream…even a waterfall—for $198,000. At the top of a crest with a 360-degree view of the valleys and village of Malacatos below, a two-acre parcel—with all utilities—is selling for $49,000.

My two favorite properties were at different ends of the price spectrum, but both are excellent values. In Malacatos Taxichi, a four-bedroom/two-bath, rustic wooden home on 1.25 acres of land is selling for $70,000. It will need some work, but not a lot. It’s private, peaceful…and views are postcard-perfect.

The buy of the day, though, is a property in the Vilcabamba Valley. It’s across from a cloistered nunnery (can’t get much quieter than that) and a 10-minute drive from the village center. Here, a nearly 2.5-acre property has been meticulously cared for. The primary house features three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large office, an expansive, modern kitchen and lots of balconies, terraces, and outdoor living space, including a huge terraced area with a built-in barbecue.

There are three other income-producing residences on the property, each about 1,300 square feet in size. All bring in $400 to $600 each per month.

The owner has put heart and soul into this property and it shows. But now she’s ready to downsize and is offering it at a bargain price of $585,000.

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