Vilcabamba – Vilcabamba, Ecuador - Atlas Obscura


Vilcabamba, Ecuador

In this pristine Ecuadorian hippie town, residents remain active well into their eighties and nineties.  


Snuggled in the hills of the Andean slopes of Ecuador lies a small oasis of vitality. Vilcabamba, known as the “Valley of Longevity,” enjoyed a spell in the limelight during the 1970s, when reports emerged that an astonishing number of centenarians lived in the area, giving the small town its nickname.

According to the research conducted in 1971 by Dr Alexander Leaf of Harvard Medical School, there were nine residents who claimed to be over 100 years old, in a population of 819, a stunning figure. As this report circulated, researchers and tourists alike flocked to the village to understand the secret of their longevity.

But this legend was punctured a few years later, when Dr Leaf himself went back to do some followup research and discovered that inaccurate self-reporting and misleading birth certificates had contributed to errors in the previous findings. There were no centenarians, and the oldest man was 96 years old.

Despite the bursting of this bubble, the town continues to be known for its quality of life and its New Age, hippie-esque, health conscious vibe. Ever since the period of the Incas, the pristine mountain region has been a sought-after location for rest and recuperation. The royals would travel to the valley and recharge their batteries with the fresh water and mountain air, mineral-rich food, and a consistent spring-like climate.

The combination of these factors are thought to help people live full and active lives well into their eighties and nineties. The simple pastoral life includes a lot of outdoor activity and exercise, and there are plenty of paths and hikes leading into the surrounding mountains. The scenes around town provide you with glimpses of able elderly people still working or enjoying their retirement, youthful hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle, and foreigners who have settled there after their retirement or fled there for a brief break from the stressful world outside. Because of the town’s reputation and the healthy lifestyle of the locals, vegan and vegetarian restaurants make up a large portion of the town’s businesses.

Many newer structures have been built and the older ones modernized, but the town continues to hold on to its roots—letting nature flourish in and around the village, as well as within the bodies of many of its residents.  

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