The Valley of Longevity

Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
Trip End Aug 18, 2010

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, May 13, 2007

A beautiful place for a rest (travelling for 8 months is hard work) in what Ecuadorians call the Valley of Longevity.  It is here, in this beautiful sacred valley, that some of the oldest living people in Ecuador (and some say Earth) have lived.  The locals, some said to have reached the ripe old age of 130, claim that the source of their extreme longevity is the fortified mineral composition of the rivers that flow down from the high Andes and into the valley.

The highlight of our stay was the Hosteria Izhcayluma, a tranquil place to shack up at for a good week.  Nestled in rolling hills, jagged green mossy peaks, and views of unique rock structures like the Mandango hill, this place offers private cabanas with your very own balcony and hammock overlooking a stunning view of a an incredibly cheap price.  The grounds include peaceful gardens, a pretty pool, a funky bar with pool table, a selection of DVDs and book exchange, free bikes for riding down to town, massage and spa treatments, and an excellent restaurant with huge portions.  You actually never have to leave this place!


Well, one reason to venture out and about would be to partake in the wonderful hiking around this "Valley of Longevity".   The hostel is eager to hand out trail maps, and show you some pictures in case you get lost.  We took in a couple of fantastic hikes

HIKE 1: The Mirador. 
A lovely 3 hour hike through surrounding fincas (plantations) and a ravine, then a climb up to the top of a hill with a high vista amidst wonderfully soft purple feathery plants.  Along the way we met a living example of the Valley of Longevity.  A delightful 85 year old man crossed our path as he was sweeping up the path.    With all his faculties completely in tact, he chatted it up with us about the tranquility of Vilcabamba, the special minerals from the river, and how he knew people that lived to be 120 or 130 years old.  We could easily see that with his physical strength and mental cognition, it would not be difficult for this man to sail smoothly to the same age. 

HIKE 2: The Mandango Loop. 
A challenging circuit, but well worth the effort as this trail takes you to a spectacular summit with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.  This hike takes about 4 hours with rest stops.  It is not advisable to attempt this one when the winds are strong, or when it has rained the day before, as there are some tough parts of the hike that require walking on a high narrow ridge that could be quite dangerous in high winds or rain.  The first 50 minutes of the hike take you on a tough climb up to the first cross.  There is a beautiful view of Vilcabamba from here.  Then you circle around the back of the cube shaped rock, and climb to the summit for a rewarding view of the surrounding valley and hills.  The next part is not for the vertigo-challenged.  You traverse an undulating ridge for the next 2 hours, negotiating precarious perches, and some spots where the walking trail is only 50cm wide, with steep ridge on either side.   Quite spectacular and jaw dropping nonetheless.  The way down is through the lush valley floor, passing by a hysterical but harmless barking dog, and some lazy cattle.  An excellent hike and highly recommended.  Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with an amazing massage in entire hour (head to toe) with a highly trained local lady for a mere $10 USD.


The valley is overlooked by the mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters.


- Bus:  Cuenca to Loja (5 hours, $7 USD) from the bus terminal.  On to Vilcabamba (1.5 hours, $1 USD).  From there you can pay $1 USD for a pickup taxi to the Izkailuma Hosteria.  Sit in the back of the truck for that windswept feeling, and excellent views.  Regular buses leave Vilcabamba's terminal for the return to Loja ($1.50 USD), but if you need to get to Loja early (ie. before 7am), you will need to take a private taxi from the hostal ($15).  
- Hostel:  Hosteria Izkailuma charges $30 USD (2 people) for a private cabin, with excellent hot showers.  The price includes a buffet breakfast.  Including the room rate, we ended up spending $21 USD per person, per day including dinner and drinks.  Well worth the few extra dollars.
- Restaurants:  Cafe El Punto on the main plaza in town is nice for an aftenoon coffee or tea, has a backgammon board to while away a few hours.  La Teraza restaurant in town makes one of the most authentic Chinese noodle dishes we've tasted in Ecuador.  As well, the nearby Jardines has great mexican food.  Shanta's Bar also does a nice milkshake.  For all other meals, head straight for Izkailuma!
- Spa:  Beauty and Care just off the main plaza is the place to go to treat yourself to a massage.  Carolina does excellent massage therapy with oils, music and candles - over an hour for $10 USD.  Ladies get your manicure/pedicure/waxing needs met here too!
- Mail:  If you need to mail off postcards from Vilcabamba, a store called Prima Vera's at the main plaza sells stamps and has a postbox.  The friendly English speaking Argentinian owner of this store is also largely responsible for a system of pathways called the Rumi-Wilco trails that provide access to some interpretive trails in the area.
- There is a Banco Guayaquil ATM at the main plaza...not sure if it works.  Otherwise, bring cash before heading here.
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