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PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Ecuador is US$s.
Saraguro is a small, cold, quiet town. Boring.
I was glad to quickly move on to my next Southern Highlands destination: Vilcabamba …
The buses leave regularly during the day (about every 1 to 1.5 hours). I walked into the office and bought my ticket on the next bus from Saraguro to Loja ($2.10). The bus left at 10:30am. It was a small bus with poor legroom. It was not full.
And arrived in the Loja Bus Terminal 90 minutes later at 12 noon.
The Terminal is on the edge of the Old Town centre.
The next bus left at 12:15pm. You have to pay a ‘Terminal Fee’ of $0.10c as you pass through security.
LOJA TO VILCABAMBA:
We arrived in Vilcabamba at 1:40pm.
The town’s name derives from the Quichua “huilco pamba”. Huilco is a sacred tree and pamba means “a plain”. The area is referred to as the “Playground of the Inca” because of its historic use as a retreat by Incan royalty.
The valley is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the ‘Sleeping Inca’, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Vilcabamba is a common destination for tourists, in part because it is widely believed that its inhabitants live to a very old age. Locals assert that it is not uncommon to see a person reach 100 years of age and up to 135 … which would give it the oldest inhabitants in the world. It is often called the Valley of Longevity. This ‘longevity’, amongst other things, is put down to the local water. Alas, it is not really true.
Nowadays, Vilcabamba is a popular expat Retirement Location with a ‘hippy vibe’ reputation.
There is a riverside path that you can follow that takes you past some nice swimming spots.The path meets the ‘Via a Yamburara Bajo’ road that crosses the river. You can continue following the river …
But, we follow this main road eastwards. Along the road we pass some accommodation options and the popular Donde Bava and El Carro Azul bars (which I will tell you more about later).
We follow the road loop around past Craig’s Book Exchange and back down towards the river … and the southern end of town.
When all of the roadworks are finished, you can see that this town is going to be a really pleasant place to be.
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in late September 2018:
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
I have stopped providing Agoda listings. They more often than not (now) just refer you back to BOOKING.COM listings … and Agoda doesn’t allow you to filter for rooms with a Private Bathroom (which wastes me a lot of time).
PLEASE NOTE: Booking.com usually displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may need to add up to 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental. I have stopped listing Tripadvisor Vacation Rentals. Alas, TripAdvisor rarely have anything within GRANDPAcker price range.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s …
PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB usually displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). ALSO, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for any ‘Cleaning Fee’ as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
Online, you may find it difficult to find something decent within GRANDPAcking price range. It looks like accommodation costs in Vilcabamba are going to be a problem … but, this is not true. Read on …
WHERE TO STAY:
You can stay anywhere in town but, initially, it is best to:
- Not go more than 1.5 blocks west of the Main Highway
- Keep north of Colon Street
- Keep south of the Hospital
- If on Via a Yamburara Bajo, keep west of Craig’s Book Exchange
Have a look yourself:
I booked myself into the Hostería El Descanso de Ramses … it was about 100 metres from the town centre. It is more of a ‘resort’ than an hostel.
I booked 4 nights in a Double Room (single occupancy) at a discounted rate of about US$21 / night including Breakfast. I, later, extended my stay by another 4 nights at $20 / night.
The included Breakfast was average: coffee / tea, fruit juice, 2 eggs (scrambled or fried), yogurt, muesli, and toast with butter and jam.All-in-all, I thought that it was good value for money at the price that I paid (for Ecuador).
INTERNET / WIFI:
Your accommodation should provide free WiFi. But, in this price range, don’t expect it to be good. I was lucky … even though my hotel’s Reviews said that the wifi was ‘poor’, they had fixed that by the time that I got there.
You will find good, free WiFi in most of the ‘Gringo’ restobars around town.
CLARO POSTPAID SIM:
I had my Claro SIMcard and Postpaid Package that I bought at Quito Airport.
For more details, read my post on Canoa.
You can walk everywhere in town.
You can catch the local buses (going to places like Loja) either from here on by flagging them down on the main highway. The 45 minute bus journey to Loja is $1.25 each way.
The walk east up the hill to Craig’s Book Exchange is a reasonably easy one. As is the walk along the highway going north or south.
Otherwise, you will (probably) want to catch a taxi. As a ‘rule of thumb’ budget $0.75c / taxi km.
There are plenty of cheap to medium priced options.
You can get some decent meals in the $7-$10 price range.
The Agave Blu in the main square is said to do a number of good dishes. You can get a Chicken Medallion Mole there for $9.
UNITED FALAFEL ORGANISATION:
Avoid going whilst the church is in session. The fireworks that they let off are VERY LOUD and you are likely to put your fork through your cheek in fright!
EL CARRO AZUL (THE BLUE CAR):
If you want to keep food prices down to a minimum, the Almuerzos are almost a must. An Almuerzo is a set lunchtime meal that can (often) still be had as late as 8pm in the afternoon.
A more typical price is $3. I tried the $3 Grilled Fish meal down at LAS ORCHIDEAS. It was one of the best ‘Value-For-Money’ Almuerzas that I have had in Latin America. There was plenty of chicken in the soup and the whole (but small) grilled fish was a bonus. A large Club was $2. Total price $5:
There are plenty of similar places around town.
Pinchos has a large selection of typical, cheap meals for under $5.
BURGERS & HOT DOGS & SALCHIPAPAS:
There are a couple of places around town such as Pinchos. Another is the ‘Burger Cafeteria‘ up on the main highway. You can get a Burger for $1.50, a Double Burger for $2.50, Fries for $1, and Salchipapas for $1.50.
Charlitos do a big plate of Fries covered in Mushroom Sauce for $3.
Expect to pay an average of US$2.50 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee. Breakfast usually includes a free fruit juice.
Expect to pay an average of US$3 for a cheap ‘Almuerzo’ Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of US$5.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
You get a lot of buy 2 / buy 3 type deals. A 1 litre Pilsener is $1.75. Many teindas have a chair and table outside where you can sit and people watch. If you take the bottle away you pay $0.25c deposit on the bottle.
The typical price in a local restobar is $1.75 for a 600ml Pilsener and $2 for a 550ml Club. Add another 25c to these prices to drink in a Gringo bar.
THE DONDE BAVA BAR:
Expect to find most people ‘in a good mood’.
EL CARRO AZUL (THE BLUE CAR) RESTOBAR:
This is located next to the Donde Bava. It is open all day from Wednesday through Sunday. The Blue Car is a “drinking man’s bar”! A bit of a “Dive Bar”. Things can get loud and arguments start frequently.
It has Karaoke from 7pm to 10pm on a Wednesday night.
It has a popular Pool Table that attracts young locals as well as Gringos. A couple of these youngsters strut around and act ‘mucho’. It creates an aggressive ‘undertone’ that you feel could turn ‘nasty’ at any moment (if someone doesn’t quite react properly).
Every time that I went there were arguments … I didn’t like it. I had a couple of confrontations with these boys myself – and, I am an easy-going person … but I don’t keep quiet when these sorts of guys turn up and ‘muscle in’ on the Pool Table when it isn’t their turn.
Once each week they run a Pool Tournament. This time it started on a Saturday. It is $5 to buy in. It starts at about 5pm ‘Vilcabamba Time’ … which could be 6:30 or later. It, usually attracts at least 8 people … so, you can get in a good session of Pool.
I like playing pool a lot … but, in the end it wasn’t ‘my scene’. I’m too old (and sober) for that shit. Let’s hope that Management take appropriate action. If they do, it could be a very nice bar.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are a couple of minimarts but no Supermarket. Goods are sold at ‘locals’ prices.
Laundry will cost you $1 / kg ($0.50c / lb).
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There are no banks. There is no Bureau De Change. For a bank, you have to go to Loja.
I find that Banco Pichincha has the highest withdrawal limit. I can take out US$500 in a single transaction. Most other banks limit you to US$300.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Latin America. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room. Lock up your valuables within your hotel room (single lock hotel room doors are notoriously easy to break into without a key).
There were some mosquitos around when I was there but they were not a problem.
Don’t drink the tap water.
As usual, the presence of drugs attracts its ‘dodgy’ characters. Most are just smashed all of the time and perfectly harmless. But, things can ‘turn’ quickly – especially with some of the ‘mucho’ local lads who hang around the dive bars. Stay mindful.
WHEN TO GO:
In winter, there is much less rainfall than in summer.
WHAT TO DO:
Take some hikes into the hills to remote streams and waterfalls.
Great if you want to walk your dog.
From Vilcabamba, I head back to Quito.
I was surprised to find that you can catch a night bus from Vilcabamba direct to Quitumbe, Quito for US$22.50 (15 hours). The Loja International Office is next to the main bus terminal. It is worth noting that Loja International can also take you to Piura, Peru. Here is their current schedule:
I will tell you more about that in my next post.
GRANDPAckers CAN afford to LIVE here to GRANDPAcking standard.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I lived to GRANDPAcking standard.
I spent 8 nights at about US$20.50 / night in a Double Room (single occupancy) with Hot Water Ensuite.
The Hostal wifi was good and reliable and strong enough to stream videos.
I averaged US$0 / day on Breakfasts. Breakfast was included in my hotel rate.
I averaged under US$1.50 / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore. This was usually for fruit juices or coffees or the odd beer with friends.
I averaged about US$8.50 / day on Dinners. This was a mix between Western and Ecuadorian restaurants.
I spent nothing on Drinking water.
My COE worked out to be about US$29 / day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me US$3.35 to get from my Saraguro Hostel to my Vilcabamba Hostel.
Medical Costs: Vilcabamba has its fair share of ‘alternative medicine’ exponents. I bought a bottle of Organic C60 Olive Oil (said to be a ‘panacea for all evils’) for US$40 … worth a go 🙂
Living Costs: I averaged about US$6.75 / day on drinks, $18 on a Party Night, $6.50 on doing my laundry, and $2.50 on gifts.
My total COL was about US$43 / day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$25 / night excluding Breakfast (AirBnB is your best bet). Anywhere will do. Once here, ask around. The hotels are never full and you should be able to negotiate a long term rate at 50% of their asking price. Alternatively, get a monthly rental (see ‘RETIREMENT’, below). This should bring your costs down to about $11 / night excluding Breakfast.
Transport: You can walk everywhere around town. I include a weekly public transport return day trip for 2 people to Loja ($1.50 return per person).
Communications & Fees: I include a Claro Tourist SIMcard: 1 Month Data, 4GB Data, Unlimited Texts, 110 Local Talk Minutes, 23 Intl America Talk Minutes. US$27.
Food & Beverages: Your budget is US$22.50 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.
Your COE is US$35 / day.
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you plenty to LIVE on.
And, there plenty of expats that have already decided to do so.
To get affordable accommodation, you have to physically come here and ask around. The expats here are very helpful. For this reason, you want to get an hotel in town centre so that you can get around and meet people.
You will find that the (never-full) hotels will accept offers and that there is a lot of accommodation available for rent on a monthly basis that can only be found through ‘word-of-mouth’. An average quality 1 bedroom apartment about 1 to 1.5kms from town (15 minutes walk or $1 in a taxi) can be had for US$150 per month including electric. A modernised 2 Bedroom apartment in town with wifi, electric, and hot water can be had for US$250 – US$300.
Almost all of these people buy their properties and build. By definition, these are NOT GRANDPAckers (GRANDPAckers have no savings, so can only rent). Fortunately, you can still find rental properties in the hills if that is what you want … transport may become your problem.
I was offered an all inclusive 2 Bedroom House (on the riverside in the hills) 4kms from town (a 45 minute walk or $3 taxi ride) for US$250 / month; I know that I could have negotiated him down to US$200 (because his expat brother-in-law told me so).
The long-term expats living here (some of whom have been here for 16+ years) told me that the size of the Vilcabamba population has hardly changed in the past 10 years.
- Has ‘character’ … and this will only improve once the roadworks are done
- Has a really friendly group of expats – albeit with a ‘hippy’ undertone (the more ‘hard core’ of these live around the centre of town … if you are seeking a ‘quieter’, less ‘bar-oriented’ lifestyle, get out of the town centre into the hills)
- Has very affordable, available accommodation
- Has an excellent year-round climate and a beautiful highlands setting
Vilcabamba reminds me of Boquete in Panama. Or, should I say, what Boquete was many years ago before it became too expensive. The COE in Boquete is US$52 / day … the COE in Vilcabamba is only US$35 / day … i.e. Vilcabamba is 35% cheaper.
Those interested in learning more about Ecuador may find this article interesting:
Death by Government – one long-term resident’s personal evidential account of how Ecuador is likely following Venezuela over the cliff … and why Correa’s “robolucion” must be outed as the epic failure and corrupt scam it really was.
GRANDPAckers (who have no assets and who are, therefore, ‘renters’ by definition) are unlikely to face many of the issues raised … and, I am sure that there are two sides to every story … and, I am sure that many people have more positive things to say. But, this article contains some useful information for ‘the wary’.