Vilcabamba is a small, quaint, groovy town in the middle of the Andes, in southern Ecuador. It offers stunning panoramics as it is surrounded by mountains every which way. About six years ago the main highway passing the town was paved and ever since then this burg has seen a surge of popularity, particularly amongst foreigners. It still hold its Ecuadorian charm though with many friendly locals completing the mix. Vilcabamba is an entertaining place and easy to get sucked into. Everything happens in the center of town around the main square. Be prepared, you may stay longer than you anticipated, as they are a plethora of things to do in Vilcabamba, or simply nothing at all.
I spent just over two weeks in Vilcabamba this time around. I stayed in an adorable little cabin a few kilometers outside of town beside the Podocarpus National Park. I took some much needed time to work on my photography website, Traces Photography, please check it out. I then met up with some friends from Gaia Sagrada and stayed on the other side of town at the luxury but cheap Hosteria Izhcayluma. I would highly recommend both places, depending what you’re looking for. There are copious things to do in Vilcabamba, and here is an easy-to-read, concise list to help you on your adventure.
10 TOP THINGS TO DO IN VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR
- Stay a bit outside of town and take in the serenity and the stunning views. Rent a cabin at Cabanas Rio Yambala or stay at the budget resort Hosteria Izhcahluma or camp at Rumi Wilco; depending what you fancy.
- Chill in the park or around the square, and people watch for hours. Vilcabamba attracts its fair share of eccentric charming characters – travelers, artists, gypsies, misfits, not to mention the charming local population.
- Go for a hike or walk. There are endless trails to choose from. You can hike to the top of a mountain or simply go for a casual wander. Some trails are pre-Colombian (near Cabanas Rio Yambala) and are literally 6 feet deep channels forming from hundreds of years of usage and erosion, quite astonishing. Ask any local or at any hotel where to head.
- Attend Carnival in Vilcabamba. Carnival is a nation wide holiday and is celebrated for 4 days on the weekend before Lent. Be sure to book a room ahead of time as the town will be booked out, and then be prepared for a party for 4 days on the streets. It’s an extreme water and silly string fight plus more. It’s a true culture experience to be had at least once in one of Ecuador’s towns, and Vilcabamba is great because of it’s modest size and grand vibe.
- Participate in an authentic plant medicine ceremony. Ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies are quite prevalent in the town, if you are seeking and feel called upon it. There are 4 or 5 well known shamans that offer ceremonies, just ask at your hotel. Be sure to trust your instinct when choosing a shaman. I do not suggest taking these medicines in recreational form as they are sacred, and the ancient rituals should always be respected, and adhered to.
- Head to Breiky’s bar. It is the best place for music and dancing. It has a great vibe, and on the weekends it often has live music. It’s a down long street off the main square, ask anyone for directions.
- Have your pick of cuisine. Choose from one of the groovy cafes, restaurants, bars surrounding the main square; there is a good mix of local Ecuadorian food and western food. The juice factory is superb for fresh, organic healthy food.
- Catch up with friends, old or new. It a sensational place to meet new friends as it is extremely friendly, and it’s easy to engage with people – just head to the square, or if you’re lucky bring a posse of old amigos with you.
- Do nothing. Sit, be, take in the views, the people the energy. Lay in a hammock, and chill at your hotel.
- Rent a bicycle or motorbike for the day. Grab some wheels and tour around the many villages in the area. Again the vistas up for grabs are outstanding, not to mention the genuine Ecuadorian village life. Ask a local for a good route.
To get to Vilcabamba: From Cuenca, take a bus south to Loja (4 hours, $7) then another bus with Vilcabambaturis, which departs regularly to Vilcabamba (1 hr and $1.50). It will drop you off outside the bus station and the town is a couple blocks away. Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus from Cigale Hostel in Cuenca to Izhcahluma Hotel in Vilcabama (4.5 hrs and $15). It leaves Cuenca at 1:30pm and must be prebooked through Izhcahluma. From the coast, take a bus from Guayaquil to Loja and then same as mentioned.
“Synchronicity happens when you align with the flow of the universe rather than insisting the universe flow your way.”