Vilcabamba is a village located in the Loja province of southern Ecuador, close to the Peruvian border. Centuries ago this picturesque area was used as a retreat by Incan royalty. The now well known beautiful valley is situated in the shadows of a mountain called Mandango a.k.a. the Sleeping Inca, who, it is claimed, wards off all natural disasters that the area may be prone to. All around for the eye to see there are lush green ridges and stunning scenery.
This scenic valley has a reputation that its inhabitants often live to a ripe old age. Locals say that many of the inhabitants are over 100 years old, some close to 120 years and even the odd one who makes it to 135 years old! And this is why it has the name of Valley of Longevity. It is apparently one of just four places in the world where many people live to such old ages – the others being in Pakistan, Japan and the mountainous region between Georgia and Russia.
Vilcabamba has many names including, the Land of Eternal Youth and the Lost Garden of Eden. It is a serene part of the world with clean air, blue skies, green countryside and is somewhere many people feel very much at peace. It has been reported that there are very few cases of heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and other conditions connected to problems in blood flow.
So what is the reason behind this phenomenon?
Diet and lifestyle are often mentioned as the two main reasons. But it may not be as straightforward as that.
A British scientist (who was responsible for the discovery of amino acids), Richard Laurence Millington Synge, claimed that plant life in certain places near the Equator have remarkable medicinal qualities. Analysis has shown that around this area they have some of the strongest anti-oxidant protection in the world. Another factor may be the mineral rich water that residents of Vilcabamba get to drink. Also the temperate and steady climate of the region is said to play a significant role.
Water in Vilcabamba is often regarded as magical and could be some of the purest and healthiest in the world. The area is home to 14 lakes, each of which contain the melt from glacier ice or what is sometimes referred to as glacial milk. This sacred water then ends up as drinking water for the residents of Vilcabamba. It is believed that this mineral rich water is ideal for achieving optimum human health.
Some people say there is nothing more to it than a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, the fact the elderly are revered in Vilcabamba and lots of the younger generation have migrated to urban areas.
Also it is said that the locals may have exaggerated their claims and their ages were inconsistent with previous answers given before. One study, which was carried out in 1978, said the villagers had wildly exaggerated their ages and the oldest person in the village was in fact just 96 years old. Apparently the older they got the wilder their numbers became. The tendency to exaggerate came from a desire to gain prestige in the community, for the international publicity and to keep attracting more tourists to the area.
Another important consideration is the use of identical names in an already small village, it appears there were some mix-ups between family members which resulted in longer lives being recorded than were necessarily correct.
However it did come to light that Vilcabamba does have a higher than normal percentage of older people but this is because as the young had moved out more elderly moved in. It was noted that they do have a particularly healthy lifestyle though – a low calorie and low fat diet along with hard work at a high altitude does seem to keep the population in good shape into their elderly years.
The tourist destination
Due to its notoriety Vilcabamba is now a popular tourist destination. However as more foreigners move in then so do their western ways – there is definitely more processed food to buy in the stores in Vilcabamba than before. There are mixed feelings regarding the influx of foreigners - some saying it ruins the tranquility whilst others appreciate the investment they bring. It has also become quite a mecca for new agers searching for the key to long life.
The young local population has been more exposed to a more westernized diet (such as eating processed food) and consequently they are not living as well as the older generation, who have stuck to their traditional diets and simple lifestyle and still reap the benefits for enjoying such a natural existence.
Ecuador is full of beautiful places to visit and not just this valley of longevity. It is also home to many colonial haciendas which are steeped in history and make enchanting places to stay. Have a look at www.historichaciendas.com for inspiration.
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