Vilcabamba is a beautiful small town in the south of Ecuador, and it is known as a fountain of youth because of the longevity of its residents and its healthy nutrient-rich water and environment. Its setting in a lovely green valley is peaceful and relaxing – the perfect antidote to 27 hours on the bus. The town itself is charming and the people are really friendly. The hostel where I stayed advertises itself as a resort experience at back-packer prices, and I am pleased to say that it lived up to its promise. Comfortable large rooms, beautiful views over the valley, massages and beauty treatments at bargain prices; it is a great place to spend a few days.
To balance all of this indulgence there are various hikes marked out around the neighbouring villages and in the national park. I am normally a fan of hiking, but to be honest, I was disappointed in the trails that I did here. They were not very well marked, and, although anyone who is familiar with my sense of direction may not be surprised about this, I even got lost on a trail that was described as “not impossible, but very difficult to get lost on.” I also got lost on another trail, and I was with someone else on that one, so it can’t be just me. But aside from that, I didn’t enjoy the trails as much as I had hoped to. My idea of a good hike is one that has a lot to see on the way, or a special feature to make the hours of trudging up and down hills worthwhile. On the trails that I went on there were lots of pretty views and plenty of insects, but not much else. Well, plenty of mud, and I did see one squirrel. The brochures talked about abundant birdlife and even spectacled bears, but I certainly didn’t see any. The six hour hike to the cataract turned out to take eight because we missed the turn off on the trail, and when we go there I have to say that although it was quite impressive in terms of the power of the water passing through, for me, it wasn’t reallyoverly impressive.
On my last day in Vilcabamba I went to a mini-zoo, quite depressing in terms of the somewhat basic conditions for the animals (mainly birds) but aside from the one squirrel, and goats and donkeys, that was the only animal life I saw. There was also an orchid display, but that was closed because the person with the keys had the day off. To be honest, I didn’t really mind missing out on that.
So, my verdict about Vilcabamba? If you are in the area, definitely check it out if you have time for a bit of chilling out. I wouldn’t make a special trip there solely for the wildlife, that is limited, but all of that fresh air and healthy water has got to be good for you.