Vilcabamba, Ecuador

In the very South of Ecuador, in the rolling hills of Loja province, there is a tiny town that has gained a lot of attention in recent years - Vilcabamba. The town is pretty straightforward in terms of what kind of people it attracts - backpackers, road musicians, hippies, rasta, Krishna, native american spiritual path lovers, yoga & healthy living enthusiasts and people who found their perfect place to retire. Hence the atmosphere of a tiny wonderland of all sorts of "interesting meets crazy" people doing all sorts of fascinating stuff. Even if you're not into anything like that - you risk to get stuck in Vilcabamba because of the very chill atmosphere there. 

The town is really tiny, and most things can be found within 2-20 minutes of walking if you stay somewhere in the town. We stayed at french owned cabins in a beautiful garden - Le Rendezvous and it was fantastic! The main square and around has cafes with good coffee, vegetable and fruit juices and healthy foods, cafes where you can buy freshly made yogurt, cafes with vegetarian food, stores with crafts, natural beauty products, etc. For food we recommend The Juice Factory, Natural Yogurt and Ahura Mazda - Persian vegetarian food restaurant run by a very cool guy. The Juice Factory is also where the local expats meet and everything's thats happening in the town will be announced on the flyers and posters on its walls. You can easily find yoga classes, dance lessons, spiritual activities and guided ceremonies, Temazcal ceremonies, workshops, music events, organic farming classes, SPA services, horseback riding, houses for rent, and similar stuff. 

It's super easy to meet people in Vilcabamba. We met people on a traveling musicians hippie bus that made a one month stop in Vilcabamba, then met their friends which led to meeting even more interesting people. We even got to visit a Krishna family from Kazakhstan who kindly invited us over as soon as they heard us speaking Russian. Needless to say, the reception in their home was in the best Eastern traditions - amazing food, homemade sweets and tea, lots of conversations. If you stay in Vilcabamba you're probably going to meet Justin and his family - they are sometimes selling their handmade chocolate truffles and bagels around the town square (btw, the Justin's chocolate is to die for, and it's them who taught how to make proper chai to the Persian guy) They are really interesting people, could seem weird and too radical (they've been living in the nature in the natural ways for a while) , but there's also many things to learn from them and their spiritual lessons learned. We enjoyed hanging out with them in town or at their temporary house. They are also usually happy to host people at their finca (farm) around Malacate (close to Vilcabamba), so if you want to experience a unique lifestyle - get yourself invited ;)

Vilcabamba is surrounded by the hills considered most sacred by the local indigenous, you can have a hike up the hills anytime, it's really close. Something you might notice here in the hills is abundance of San Pedro cactus - thats one of the sacred medicine plants of the indigenous. Local shamans can organize all night long ceremony with San Pedro, or you if you're interested to try not within the spiritual context - just find one, cut it and cook it (there are tons of recipes online) The "tea" from San Pedro is probably going to be one of the most disgusting things you ever tried, but for most people it also gives one of the most beautiful experiences ever. The trick is to take very very little (depending on the concentration, a tiny sip could be enough), the reason is that if if you take just a tiny bit, you are unlikely to have any sort of visual or audio effects, you'll be perfectly adequate, perfectly capable of doing anything you want to be doing (we recommend a walk in a forest), but you'll also be in a wonderland where everything around you is oh-so-interesting and oh-so-fascinating. If you take more - you might feel nauseous and you're likely to get visuals (hallucinations). If you feel serious about it - do it at night at a ceremony guided by a shaman - thats when all your curiosity and spiritual energy will be channeled inside yourself, and that's where you're likely to find the insights you're looking for. The light version though (daytime, tiny dose, forest preferably) gives you enough of new senses and insights to fill up a lot of the gaps in your spirituality whatever it might be based on. It's a beautiful and sacred experience, treat it with respect. After all, the plant is said to be named after San Pedro (Saint Peter) who is the one letting the souls into the heaven.