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Vilcabamba, Ecuador -- Home of the "Most Centenarians in the World": Interesting & Unusual Travel Destinations #8

Often referred to as the "Valley of Longevity," Vilcabamba, Ecuador lives up to its name, at least as far as tourists and locals are concerned. For over 50 years, tourists have been traveling to the remote Andes village to experience this real-life fountain of youth, said to be one of the homes of the most centenarians (people who live to be 100 years and older) in the world.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Vilcabamba, Ecuador is said to be one of only five "longevity centers" in the world.

While many of the claims -- some assert that residents may live to be over 120 years old -- are anecdotal, there was a scientific study conducted decades ago that found close to 15 percent of Vilcabamba residents lived past 60 years, compared with only 4.5 percent in the rest of the country. Locals, however, say it's common for residents to live to be 100 years and up.

What's the secret to the residents' longevity? The temperate climate (Vilcabamba is 65 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit year-round), clean air, a hard-working lifestyle, mineral-rich-water and food, and a low-calorie, healthy diet have all been credited.

Relaxation and Nature

Vilcabamba is surrounded by breathtaking mountains and is almost as famous for its serene atmosphere as it is for its centenarians. When visiting the village, travelers have a choice of many cafés, small hotels, and restaurants to frequent, many opened by foreigners who loved the area so much they decided to stay.

Vilcabamba river minerals

The river in Vilcabamba is rich in minerals that are said to contribute to the native residents' long lives.

Sometimes described as a "hippy" town, Vilcabamba's longevity secrets have spawned a popular health-based tourism trade, which means many hotels offer massage, facials and other spa treatments, and health food stores are not hard to come by.

The sub-tropical location is also often described as one of the most beautiful botanical areas in the world, offering many opportunities for photographers, painters, biologists and bird watchers alike. Those who like to stay active can enjoy the area's stunning natural backdrop by walking on mountain trails, hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking.

Now's the Time to Visit Vilcabamba

Modernization may be taking its toll on this once-isolated locale. While the village boasted 10 to 12 centenarians in 2000, the number dropped to five in 2006.

The reason, according to Dr. Wilson Pilco who's worked in the town's health clinic for more than two decades, is a decline in healthy conditions caused by increasing modernization.

"When I first came, people lived an extremely quiet, conservative way of life. They went to bed early and ate only what they produced, all natural with no pesticides or fertilizers. Now those habits and tranquility have changed," Pilco said. "Now, junk food has replaced the grains and the discotheques the tranquility."

So for those looking to catch a glimpse of the true tranquility of Vilcabamba, the best time to travel may be now.

For More Information ...

Recommended Reading

The 10 Most Beautiful Places on Earth

The New Dangerous Tropical Disease Hitting U.S. Shores: Chikungunya

Sources December 21, 2006

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