Some people might find it hard to describe paradise. They might mix images of flying angels with warm sunny days. They might envision babbling brooks and weeping willows. But I can tell you that paradise sits on the side of a gentle hill where velvet sunsets drape over a thatched roof pavilion. Tongue-lolling dogs welcome guests and ping pong tournaments surpass the midnight hour. With a chance to spend eight days in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I am almost positive that at least a small piece of heaven resides at the Izhcayluma Hosteria.
Vilcabamba, Loosely Translated: Long Life
People say that locals live unusually long lives. They say special minerals infuse the spring waters with supernatural powers so that the elderly don’t seem that elderly. It’s been designated a “Blue Zone” where the average lifespan far exceeds that of developed worlds like the US and Canada. During our stay in this valley, I could almost taste the possibilities. Water is clean and clear. The air is full and fresh. Flowers bloom in every color and even the donkeys seem to enjoy life, wandering between plots of farmland, not in a rush to do anything and with no owners chasing them down. Life is relaxed. Hiking trails lead out into the national park and the town is safe for visitors. Take a loop around the tiny plaza or hire a taxi for the ride up to the trails. While here, enjoy the locally bottled Vilcabamba mineral water. Hey, if there’s a chance it could add a few years to our lives, I am willing to try it out.
Hosteria Izhcayluma has the Best Meals in Vilcabamba
Part-hostel and part-cabana resort, Hosteria Izhcayluma may seem an anomaly to traditional vacationers. Animals roam free. Dorms sleep six. Trailers park out front. But for the diversity of the clientele, the hotel is a superb establishment that offers a room for every budget. While at the hosteria, we met several travelers who’d been at the hotel for many weeks. They loved it so much they became permanent fixtures in the open-air common room. Our friend Casey worked everyday on his techie assignments from his employers in Europe. The setting is welcoming regardless of how much time you spend in the common area. The more the merrier.
One great highlight of Izhcayluma, breakfast is a buffet and short order event. In the mornings overlooking the valley, cereals, juices, fresh fruit, coffee, and tea sit on a long table. Behind this, an open kitchen houses several women who will take your hot breakfast order: either a hearty pancake or 2 eggs any-style. If you arrive at 8am, as Neil and I often did, you can have your eggs first and then continue enjoying the continental portion of your meal until 11am (a generous amount of time on a continent known for early and short breakfasts).
Likewise, dinner is a popular affair at the hosteria. Come early or be prepared to wait. The fusion meals from the kitchen draw in hotel guests and loyal locals from the town. Musicians play live music and the candlelight twinkles down the hillside. It’s very romantic, especially with a good wine list and a house wine served in jars. Dinner hours are hectic. So expect to wait for your meal (it’s worth it) and to possibly share your table with strangers (always fun!).
Great Rooms in the Hosteria
Although pricey by Ecuadorian standards, a double cabin is worth the extra bucks if you are traveling with a mate. Each room is an individual cabana with a patio perched over the valley. The bathrooms were constructed with river stones and heavy drapes block out the early sunrise. No TV or WIFI in the rooms. It won’t be missed. Towels and linens were great.
Overall, our stay at Hosteria Izhcayluma was great and a natural stopover before crossing the border into Peru. The staff have up-to-date information on all crossings including the crossing at Loja and can arrange taxis to the bus terminal. For the adventurous types, they have hiking maps and detailed itineraries of buses that cross the border, even with price points. If you come to Vilcabamba, parcel out some time for the trails as well as the town. Plan at least one meal at the hotel, even if you’re not staying here. A late night bar is open for all guests. Billiards and pingpong are available as well. At sunset, head to the hilltop where a picnic table is the perfect spot for some fresh-air meditation. Don’t knock it! They may be saying, “oooooohm!”…but they are really pulling in some of the freshest air in all South America. As Spock put it: Live long and prosper.