Vilcabamba: The valley of longevity and ‘Los viejos’

Americas Tamalika Basu
Signpost at the entrance of Vilcabamba. Valley of Longevity, Ecuador. © Ulita |

Mankind has always sought ways to live longer. What if there is a place where the inhabitants live longer than other people on earth? In the Andean slopes of Ecuador, there lies a valley, named Vilcabamba. In the indigenous Quichua language, the word means ‘Sacred valley’.

In Vilcabamba, they say that Grim reaper passed by the valley but never entered it. That may be the reason behind the number of residents apparently reaching 140 years. This village is actually the valley of longevity!

History of Vilcabamba and the discovery

The Inca royal used to visit Vilcabamba for retreat and to refresh their health. For this, the valley used to known as the playground of the Inca. Considered as the treasure of Ecuador, the Anadenanthera colubrine tree (also known as Willka, the sacred tree) is found in this village. Its leaves have the ability to treat respiratory ailments and asthma. This valley is overlooked by the El Mandango mountain, which means the sleeping Inca in the native language.

A cover story for National Geographic Magazine in 1973 by Dr. Alexander Leaf of Harvard Medical School kind of ‘introduced’ this valley to the rest of the world. Two years after that, a book by the name ‘The Centenarians of the Andes’ by English gerontologist Dr. David Davies. Then in 1976, a book by the name of ‘Los Viejos: Secrets of Long Life from the Sacred Valley by popular author Grace Halsell helped to generate curiosity in the world.

Research regarding the claims of longevity

In 1973, Dr. Alexander Leaf and his team found in their research that many of the residents were centenarians at that time. The census report in the following year actually backed their claim. They indeed found that out of 819 residents 9 people had already crossed 100. One resident even reported his age to be 142 years. Per 100,000 population this figure rises to 1100 centenarians where in the USA it is only 3 centenarians per 100000. Further research even uncovered that the retinas of the oldest resident were comparable to those of 45 years olds.

Vilcabamba homes one of the world’s few remaining pristine rainforests. Nobel laureate British biochemist Dr. Richard Laurence Millington Synge found remarkable medicinal qualities in the plant life of Vilcabamba. In studies, though some cases of age exaggeration were found. Then also numerous studies have substantial proofs about the extraordinary longevity of the residents of Vilcabamba.

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