Why Vilcabamba is Seriously Overrated

Famed for its residents reaching triple digit ages and nicknamed the “Valley of Longevity,” Vilcabamba should be called the “Valley of American Retirees”.

old people

“Hey gordo! Flaco! FLAQUITO!” a grotesquely gringo accent calls to his pensioner pal. “The pizza’s ready!” His voice echoes across the town square, drawing stares. He doesn’t seem to notice (or mind).

When his friend has drawn closer, he continues the conversation at maximum volume, chugging his cheap beer and signaling wildly.

Aghast at the spectacle, I shudder on my park bench. My fellow countrymen have a stereotype for being loud, and he’s certainly doing his part to perpetuate it.

Unfortunately, this scene is the rule, not the exception. Expats and new retirees sit at foreign-owned cafes, talking to other expats and tourists, in their native language – English. Great job integrating into the local culture guys!

This is the problem that comes from putting a small town in guidebooks and on TV. BOOM! Foreigners come in hordes, buying up land, opening up foreign-catering restaurants, and inflating prices in general.

I’m not sure how excited the local people are about the influx of American baby boomers. I find the lack of mixed groups of expats and Ecuadorians disconcerting. It seems to be an exclusive club of social security check collectors – no locals allowed.

Am I being too harsh?

I’ll likely be an expat one day. And of course I like being able to find a vegetarian hamburger in a small Latin American town, so I shouldn’t be too judgmental.

When I’m an expat, however, you can bet that I’ll: be speaking the local language; have local friends; and contribute to the community in some form or another. And I’m talking about something more than just buying apples from a local vendor.

Another myth about Vilcabamba is that the climate is beautiful. Of the five long, dreary days I’ve been here, today is the first day that there hasn’t been a torrential downpour… yet. In fact, Vilcabamba’s rainy season lasts eight months out of the year, leaving tracks muddy and bringing temperatures down to freezing. Hardly my idea of perfection.

by johndrogers on Flickr
by johndrogers on Flickr

Aside from the English-speaking pack, the mountains and hills surrounding Vilcabamba are beautiful. Walking in just about any direction will lead you to your own private view of the greenest scenery I’ve probably ever seen – but what else would you expect with all this rain?

To me, it’s no more special than any of the pueblos in Colombia I’ve been too. Even in the most touristy towns, like Salento and Villa de Leyva, you still need Spanish to get around. And it’s far from being overrun by expats like Vilcabamba.

But hey, if you enjoy hanging out with a bunch of baby boomers, you’ll love Vilcabamba. Who am I to judge?

What towns and cities have you visited that are completely overrun by expats?

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