Review of Lodging/Dining/Massages in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Vilcabamba is famous for it’s handful of local residents who not only live over 100 years old, but these people will easily hike a mountain for 3 hours to get to their farm to milk their cow and carry back the milk themselves. The people are friendly but the town is changing as the tourism industry continually grows. I see it as good and bad. A LOT of foreigners are buying up land in the valley and building houses, which employs the locals but at the same time raises the value of the land and most locals can’t afford to buy land or houses. Regardless, it’s a beautiful town with friendly locals and ex-pats. There IS an ATM in the main plaza, but it’s picky with credit cards, especially if you are from Switzerland. I don’t know why.

Madre Tierra
This “hostal” was a bit strange. The land is beautiful, the rooms are rustic yet modern and they offer a wide variety of spa services. We arrived on foot (2 km north of town) to find that the one receptionist that worked there was in Loja (1 hr by bus) and they weren’t sure when she would come back. No one else was there to fill in; no one would tell us how much the rooms cost when asked. A man called the receptionist on her cell phone and he told us it would be $30 US for a room, which seemed normal according to our guidebook. He brought us to a beautiful cabin with a view and porch and then told us it was $30 a person. Who charges by the number of people? Most places in Vilcabamba. I think it’s strange. We were not going to get taken advantage of and went back to the front desk. My guidebook says there are dorms at this place, so we asked about them and he told us quite adamately, “You don’t want to stay there. It’s very dirty and above the kitchen and rats run around at night.” Are they trying to keep our business? Rats above the kitchen…that doesn’t make me say, let’s take the penthouse then. I don’t think Matt or I look wealthy, covered in dirt and sweat from our hike with our backpacks. We said we’d take the rat room and asked the price and he wouldn’t tell us the price and kept telling us we didn’t want it…so we waited about an hour for the receptionist to return, but she didn’t. Finally the same guy said he could do $25 per person and we said no, we wanted a price list. Are they used to business traveller’s who don’t look at prices or rich people who don’t care? What about the rest of us. It’s such bad business, even their website won’t list prices, but you can make a reservation. Finally, we bargained on $20 a person (which I still think is a rip off, but we didn’t want to waste our day and needed a shower) for a room and dinner and breakfast. The grounds are beautiful, the pool is small and there is a pool table and little tv to watch next to the bar, which was dead all night. Dinner was a multi-course affair, elegantly set but the meal was definitely for the western meat eater. Course one was hummus, aji and homemade bread (yum). Course 2 was an okay tomato soup. Course 3 was mashed potatoes, a handful of boiled carrots and a hunk of beef (for us, 3 spoonfuls of eggplant parmesan…) Not impressive, but we were full.
Your room price also includes 15 minutes a day in the lukewarm jacuzzi, which you must make an appointment for. We induldged in the Spa Special, which is a 3 hour ordeal of 3 face masks, hair treatment, body scrub, mud bath, foot massage and a steam vapor treatment which made me almost pass out (but still wonderful). The treatments use all natural ingredients (honey, salt, mud from the area, oats, aloe, egg whites). The body scrub was okay; the room was cold and it was a bit short. The face masks and hair treatment were standard. The mud bath was wonderful. They bring you a pot of burning hot mud and you get to rub it all over yourself and lay in a tiled tub (with as much water as you want). It’s like being a child again. The steam vapor treatment is intense. There is a wooden box that you sit in with your head outside of the box and steam is pumped in to simulate a fever (detoxification). After a period of time you come out of the box and the attendant rubs you down with a cold, wet towel. Back in the box. Then you immerse your bottom in a cold pool and splash water everywhere and back to the box you go. The final time out you stand in a shower and get hosed down with high-pressure ice cold water. That’s what got me; I had to sit down and I felt horrible. I was assisted to a chair and layed down, drank water and had a spoonful of honey. In about 5 minutes I was better. Matt felt fine during the whole vapor treatment; definitely drink a lot of water before if you can. They told us the treatment would last 3 hours, but it was closer to 5 hours and we almost missed our bus out of town…overall staying at the hostal seemed like a rip off, the service is horrible and the food was not very exciting, but the spa experience was fun (we paid $45 for all the services together, the normal price was $90 but guests get half off the prices. So at the discounted price, it was still a little more expensive than services in town).

Jardin Escondido
$11 per person for a private room with bathroom. $9 for the dorm.
These rooms are clean and unique, with curvy walls and tiled bathrooms. Pool use is free. The jacuzzi has a fee and the water doesn’t get that hot. Free dvds in the tv room and friendly service. Breakfast is included (2 eggs, homemade bread, jam, juice and tea). They also have a restaurant with Mexican food that’s good. It’s also for sale if anyone is interested. Beware of the noisy roosters who do not understand the concept of dawn. I didn’t sleep very well but enjoyed the amenities and proximity to the plaza.

$9 per person for a room with private bathroom. Includes the usual breakfast.
A hammock outside each room and a little table to enjoy breakfast outside your room, this place has lots of nice touches. A big utility sink to hand wash clothes, boots, etc. You can rent a dvd player and movies from them along with a lot of other services. It’s a few blocks from the plaza, a good location and no roosters screaming, although the walls are VERY thin and I had to listen to our neighbor sing christmas songs at 6am while she was packing. No pool but lovely gardens and hummingbirds everywhere.

Hostal Mandago
The budget pick in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We didn’t make it there at the advice of a local: they slaughter pigs at dawn on the weekends…so if you don’t want to hear Porkey screaming his last words, avoid it.

Valle Sagrado
$5 per person.
Ragged rooms, no screens on the windows, peeling wallpaper and no breakfast or pool. It’s clean though and if you can find the receptionist (it took us a half an hour) you can get a cheap room without the frills and a decent bed to pass the night. Surprisingly, our room had a tv and hot water. Located next to the internet cafe west of the plaza.

Hosteria Izhcayluma
$9 per person for the dorm; $13 pp for a private room. $30 for a cabin.
My favorite place to stay in terms of price, amenities and service. Great views, 2 km outside of town (the local bus from Loja goes right by it). Run by Germans and staffed by travellers taking a break, this is the place to feel at home and comfortable. Everyone is friendly (except the waitress who doesn’t seem to enjoy her job), the pool is pure rainwater, the buildings are dispersed enough for that tranquil vibe, and the dorms consist of 5 beds in a room with a loft. The bathrooms are tiled with stones, the water pressure could be better, and the best birdwatching is outside the dorms in a hammock. They have it set: just far enough away from town so they can charge a little more at the restaurant and in the bar, but it’s worth it for meeting travellers for conversation or hiking partners, watching a movie if it rains, shoot some pool, play ping-pong or enjoy a game on a life-size chess table. Maybe the receptionist or bartender is continuing their travels and you could be lucky enough to spend a few months at this Hosteria.

A bit more expensive than in town, but huge portions. Mostly peruvian dishes, german dishes and some pizza and pasta. The bar opens at 7pm with some strong cocktails. Interesting the first night, but once you’ve tried the vegetarian options there isn’t much excitement. (The spaetzle is good, the other vegetarian german dish is disgusting).

Vegetarian Restaurant
About a block east of the plaza, this friendly Belgium-Ecuadorian couple cook up some good vegetarian food that is a nice break from the carne de soya Peruvian joints. She makes nice quiches, a mild curry, big beautiful salads and more. The menu (soup and entree) is $3.50 US.

East of town, across the river, this place has CHARACTER. Shanta is from Cuenca but he’s a snake-owning moonshining cowboy with a big ole’ mustache. His papas fritas are the best, you have about 7 bowls of stuff to dip them in. The pizza’s decent, the spaghetti with mushrooms is good and beware of the snake juice, it’s strong. His wife is one of the best massuses in town. The only real bar in town and a fun place to hang out.

Jardin Escondido
Mexican food. Comforting and delicious. The quesadilla and nachos are small portions and a bit disappointing, though the burrito is delicious. Watch out, their cat is the most loving cat in the world and will jump on your lap and demand petting while you are eating.

La Terraza
In the plaza, this place is touted as having Italian, Thai and Mexican plates. There is NO thai food in this joint, there’s a lo-mein dish that is gigantic and okay. The quesadillas are cheesy with a side of beans and the burrito is also delicious. Don’t order the hummus, it’s not hummus.

Natural Yogurt
Tempeh burgers for a dollar! Don’t order the potato spinach dish, it’s strange and disgusting (at least to my palate). In the plaza.

THE place for yummy chocolate, muffins, granola and whole grain bread. On the weekends he’s offering pizza, pasta and lasagna. Sadly, my craving for lasagna was unfulfilled since it was full of meat. The cookies are all shortbread cookies (sesame good, chocolate chip strange). I’m glad they are there to fill the unique niche. Located south of the plaza past the church.


Piedad has the best deal in town. She works out of Jardin Escondido or out of her house (Agua de Hierro, east of the plaza) for the same price. $10 per hour for a full body massage. It’s Shiatsu style and her hands are strong. Worth every penny. If you get the massage at the Jardin, it may be a bit chilly and no music. Out of her house she burns incense, candles and has music, but her daughter will barge in and she may stop the massage to answer the door. Shanta’s wife operates out of Shanta’s in her own little round massage house. Also incense, soft lighting and music, she is a small woman and uses her entire body when she gives a full body massage. Trained in Shiatsu and Physical Therapy, she will rip your arms out of socket, twist your neck and climb on top of you to put all her body weight for the best back massage ever. I never felt so good after a massage, and having it be $11 for 75 minutes, I wish I had more time to return everyday. At Madre Tierra, it’s VERY expensive if you are not a guest, but if you are a guest, you get 50% off the prices (which makes it still pricier than town). The combo deal of 5 treatments is great and worth it if you get the discount. Steam vapor and mud baths are the most intense and fun and cleansing of the bunch.

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