What We Can Learn from Stories of Vilcabamba Longevity

Life Lessons to be Learned from the Valley of Longevity

Mountains of Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Mountains of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. Margie Politzer/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The people of the Vilcabamba Valley have long been famous for their longevity, which has been said to rival the rest of the world with some of the most healthy centenarians. In fact, the area has become known as the "Valley of Longevity" and has attracted visitors from all over the world to explore its scenery, history, and, of course, its people. Here's what we know about the long lives of the Vilcabambans.

The Vilcabamba Valley 

Vilcabamba is a small village in Southern Ecuador located in an elevated valley. The Vilcabamba Valley is extremely inaccessible and has therefore been protected from many modern influences such as prepackaged foods and preservatives. Like the Hunza people, the inhabitants of Vilcabamba have made claims to extremely long life, and -- most importantly -- health throughout their entire life. But just how long do the Vilcabamba villagers routinely live?

What We Know About the Vilcabambans

The people of the Vilcabamba Valley have been poked and prodded by scientists since the mid-1950s. Members of their community have appeared in Ripley's Believe It or Not and have been featured in National Geographic, Reader's Digest, and other popular press outlets. But just how long do they live? As more and more researchers tried to uncover the Vilcabambans secret to longevity, more skepticism followed.


Like in many other studied blue zones, it became apparent that Vilcabamban elders had a tendency to exaggerate their age with greater frequency as they aged. For instance, one man's self-reported age was 70, but just five years later, he claimed to be 80. Age exaggeration in similar cultures is not uncommon.

In a place where age is addressed with great respect and little, if any, birth records are kept, age exaggeration is to be expected. 

While the most recent research suggests that, despite their claims, the Vilcabambans do not necessarily live longer than the rest of the world's human inhabitants, they do have very little documented chronic illness. The existence of very healthy 80 and 90 year olds in the Vilcabamba suggest that we still could learn from their secrets.

How Do They Stay Healthy in Old Age?

While initial researchers theorized about secrets like mineral-rich water and special local fruit, eventually, experts looked simply to their unique diet and lifestyle. An international conference in 1978 concluded that the Vilcabambans remain healthy throughout life due to their:

  • leanness
  • diet
  • low cholesterol
  • high activity level

Can it really be that simple? Most longevity experts would say yes. But it's not so simple to recreate in today's Western culture.

The Vilcabamban Diet and Exercise

The Vilcabamban diet can almost be summed up in two phrases: vegetables picked fresh from the garden, eaten the same day.

They also eat fruits right off the trees. Their fruits and vegetables are perhaps the freshest you can get. Healthy whole grains, seeds, and nuts are also part of the Vilcabamba diet. One notable aspect of their traditional diet is that there are almost no animal products to be found and absolutely no packaged or processed food. 

Like other healthy and long-living cultures, there is nothing like exercise as we know it in the Vilcabamba culture. Instead, their daily lives are filled with hiking up the slopes to harvest foods, cleaning, cultivating vegetables, and picking fruits. There is no such thing as formal exercise, but rather a life full of activity.

The Prestige of Old Age

In the village of Vilcabamba, aging is seen as a grace and people are given more respect as they grow older. It is said that the Vilcabambans actually look forward to getting old, which they view as the natural path to becoming more mature and growing as a person. There is a lot of laughter and joy gleaned from the simple things in their lives, which is perhaps one of the best lessons we can learn from these long-living people.

Continue Reading