Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Apparently they all ended up here in Vilcabamba.

I’ve never seen so many old and tie-dye clad people – sometimes they’re the ones and the same – since… Well, never, actually.

Vilcabamba is experiencing some sort of gringo boom, it seems like. It’s especially popular with the retired folks. We came to Vilcabamba on our way to Peru from Baños. We didn’t really know what to expect – but surely we didn’t expect a town overrun with expats and hippies.

Handsome Vilcabamba main square and church
Handsome Vilcabamba main square and church

And we thought Baños was filled with gringos. It’s not that Vilcabamba is touristy but there does seem to be quite a disproportionate ratio of english speakers population over 40’s for the town of this size.

Which we don’t really mind by itself. They’re a friendly bunch.

But here I am, in a small Ecuadorian town at a cafe owned by someone named Charlie, watching some sexganerians talking gossip, US’ healthcare and debt ceiling, while sipping $1 cold beer in the middle of the day. Some Cumbia (to be exact, Gerardo Moran’s ‘En Vida’) music blaring from across the street.

It gives me the hibby jibbies.

As I was thinking about what it is about this town that gives me such a hibby jibbies, I realised right now I could be anywhere in the Bay Area, California.

As I’m typing here, conversations about US politics in American English fill the airwaves.

Then there’s the yoga, the mediation, the natural yogurt place, the ‘Biodynamic farming workshop’, the raw food potluck…

The mountains, the weather, the English speaking people manning the storefronts and the Spanish speakers working at the back.

The painting of aliens and unicorns on our hostel’s wall (ok, maybe this is not so big in our part of California).

Seen on a wall in Vilcabamba
Seen on a wall in Vilcabamba

After days after days of adrenaline filled activity and partying in Baños, we found the energy level of this town disorientingly low.

As we crouched over our laptops in small cafe, trying to figure out what to do, I looked at Jack and said, ‘Let’s get out of here…’

He nodded, ‘Where to?’

I shrugged, ‘Well, Vilcabamba is sorta at the end of the road in Ecuador. I guess Peru?’

Vilcabamba is lovely and is very tranquillo. I can see why people come here and never leave.

But it’s just not what we’re in the mood for right now. We’re feeling just a tad homesick and looking for something to distract us, not a quiet little place to think about life and stuff. Or to get a Reiki massage. There will be time for that. But not now.

I guess we’re leaving for Peru tomorrow.

Info box:
Where to stay in Vilcabamba: We stayed at Valle Sagrado (a block away from the main square). For $6, it’s ok. No wifi.
Where to get wifi: Both Charlitos and ‘Sugar and Spice’ bakery offer wifi for $1/day

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34 Replies to “Where Have All the Hippies Gone?”

  1. I recently started research on intentional communities in Costa Rica and Ecuador. I plan to visit prospective new homes in 2014, in anticipation of a move in 2015. I would also consider Guatemala, Columbia, Mexico and other countries, if the perfect community was there.

    I am interested in very "green", sustainable communities that raise their own food, live simply, freely and equally, and have a diversity of people, with both sexes and all ages. However, I would love to find a community that also includes some single, retired women.

    I have lived communally in several environments, including in two other countries, and want to spend the rest of my life in a tribe, who appreciate the skills I have to offer and contribute.

    Please write back with any questions or any experience that you think would interest me. Or please send this email on to friends, who might have a key piece of information for me in my search.

    Thanks, Diana

    1. If they live there I wonder what kind of work they do there??? I am considering moving here, seems peaceful….what kind of jobs do these hippie expats have anyway?

  2. “The stranger sees only what he recognizes.”
    Bravo Olivier!

    To me, it sounds like Olivier has hit the nail on the head with his response to JCY as well as the JackJill bloggers. I love that African proverb! What a beautiful piece of truth that is.

    As someone who has lived in Vilca for almost 4 years, I can more or less understand the limited (and limiting) viewpoints some people who pass through here for a matter of days end up taking away with them. Because of time limitations and the fact they don't know anyone, such tourists have little choice (hikes and horse-tours notwithstanding) but to spend their time in and around the town centre (or in the tranquility of their hostel). The expats who Olivier speaks of who are involved in community-building activities and other initiatives with the locals are quite clearly NOT the ones sitting in town cafes for hours on end! Ergo, the tourists are unlikely to meet those foreigners (because 1. they live out of town, and 2. they're out doing stuff!).

    Common sense should inform you that it takes a little longer than most tourists have got (or are prepared to give) to get under Vilcabamba's skin and understand exactly who and where the vast majority of its Gringos and Extranjeros are, what they are doing (and perhaps, how to get involved). As a permanent Vilca resident, I pay little heed to the tourists who just flit through for a few days or a week or two (and see what the stranger wants to see). They are on a different "trip" to me (and most of the other foreign Vilca residents), and that's fine. I do find it interesting however that they then tend to write the place up more "authoritatively," than perhaps they should, because really, they have only afforded themselves the most superficial of brush-ups against this extraordinary little town.

    Here is an article I wrote some time back now (with my http://www.vrec.org hat on), which gives a reasonable account of what is going on here in Vilcabamba, and why many foreigners from all over the world ARE rejecting the first-world paradigm and being drawn here for the long term.

    And sure, Vilca definitely has its share of weirdos, hippies and out-there people, and if you want to find a conversation about how the CIA is smuggling drugs in UFOs all over the world, Vilcabamba has to be one of the best places to have it! 🙂 For my part, I would rather encounter random and amusing conversation like this (that at least has the capacity to surprise!) from time to time than the banal shit I used to hear in any given large city (speeding fines, boss is a dickhead, stock portfolios, interest rates, mortgage management, investment properties, etc). Money money money! 😉

    But if you want tranquillity, and a little piece of paradise, far from the madding crowd, to be closer to nature every day, and to rediscover your inner passions and talents without being constantly thwarted by the incessant "static" and stress that modern day living inflicts, then Vilcabamba is certainly one of the best places I've ever been to be able to do that. And a lot of people seem to agree with me (or they wouldn't be here!).

    The best way I draw a line through people here in Vilca (and anywhere for that matter) is the "Sayers" versus "Doers" distinction. The Sayers are the sorts of folks JackJill and JCY are apparently commenting on – the ones DOING nothing except hanging out and talking shit all day in cafes. Tourists passing through Vilca do not meet the Doers however, because the Doers are somewhere other than the town centre, DOING something, building something, planting something, or fixing something (or swimming in the river!). Simple.

    So in closing, JackJill, whilst I understand how you arrived at your "take" on Vilca, I thought it only fair to explain to the readers here HOW and WHY you arrived there – Vilcabamba (and the readers of your blog) deserves no less. And JCY? Perhaps you "DETEST" them so much because you see more of yourself than you care to. Just a thought.

    Ciao for now,

  3. Hi Jcy,

    I never met any hippy drinking alcohol.

    It was considered as a shame to use such a mind washing drug, which was known for setting a right state of mind for industrial slavery and violence.

    So I guess you are more referring to some other kind of people?

    I guess that maybe one of us was there at a special period; I never saw many really drunk (weird?) people at a time myself, but I did meet quite a few nice people from the village in the square.

    1. Hi Oliver

      They were ALL over the place. One business owner said to me: "We have to get rid of them" A I have said, because of them, I will not be moving to that wonderful village.

  4. I have just come from Vilcabamba (December 2012). What a lovely place spoiled by the hippies who get drunk early in the morning and then remain stoned for the rest of the day. These outcasts and dregs are the reason I will not move to this wonderful village. They are driving the locals out. Walk in the town center and see how few locals there are. It is flooded by the outcasts from America. How I DETEST them!

  5. Your experience is understandable and I see your point(s),
    but I would like to clarify some aspects:

    Isn't it that you found exactly what you were looking for in Vilcabamba?

    Sitting at Charlie's café is certainly nice specially for home sick Americans/westerners, yes it does feel a little bit like home. I guess it is exactly the concept. But if you didn't want to find this, why did you stay there?
    Not meaning it isn't a nice café, Charlie is very charming and welcoming, and without doubt his hamburgers are healthier than McDonald's!

    The ones sitting drinking beers there are very often the same ones; just as in any café around the world. And amongst those sitting there, speaking English, there are tourists who are not looking for local life or just taking a little break from it. I agree with you that too often they are speaking English too loudly, this giving a feeling that they are in their home country – nothing is perfect.

    But if you wanted to discover another Vilcabamba you could have been in the local's cafés and restaurants and very easily you would have heard some Spanish or Quechua. You would have felt welcomed. The meals are perfectly balanced for a budget traveler. Vilcabamba is (at least!) as welcoming as any Ecuadorian village.

    About the expats, who and what they are, I don't think you have met a representative lot of them. Many of them are more involved with their Ecuadorians friends and colleagues than with the so called expats "community". There is a wide variety of things going on: organic agriculture, health, philosophy, sciences, technology. This fact is not the result of randomness, creative people tend to gather. There are very nice and very interesting people, even amongst the expats. I mean even though you are allergic to conspiracy theories and esoteric beliefs… One thing is for sure there are many very original people, but not all of them are completely freaked out.

    Btw, Vilcabamba is not (yet) a place to go "hippies watching" with WWF 🙂
    It is more the ideal place for a healthy break off the industrial world:
    enjoying local life partying on Ecuadorian music, walking or horse riding in the Podocarpus park (admiring it's rare species and fabulous landscapes), practicing yoga and massages, eating excellent organic food, etc.

    As in any part of the world, you will only find what you are looking for,
    what you have already dreamed or figured out. It takes some imagination to travel, particularly true for Vilcabamba.

    "The stranger sees only what he recognizes" (African proverb)

    1. Interesting point of view, thanks for sharing. We actually passed through Vilcabamba because it was a convenient stop for our border crossing, we knew very little how popular it is with expats or retirees – I guess that was why to see so many of them around came as a surprise, especially considering how small Vilcabamba is. I quite enjoyed Charlie's cafe, he was super friendly and as I mentioned, the foreigners who were there were very friendly as well. Some people came to Vilcabamba and loved it – we just got a little weirded out by what seemed to be a prevalent western/new age ideas in this small place in Ecuador. Again, who would expect it? Doesn't mean it's a bad thing, it's just not our scene.

  6. insightful and honest post! It takes courage to not blog sweet nothings about a city or town. I often wonder how these hippy towns will rub me when I am backpacking on my RTW next year, as although I one of the most liberal people I know, i am not a "hippy" in any sense of the word. Not thinking this place is for me, I am.

  7. We had a moment like that in San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala. It totally wasn't what we were looking for and we left quite quickly.

    Keep your chin up! Indulge in some home food of sorts. That always helps my soul!

    1. Oh, we were just talking about this… how much we'd pay for a good Indian curry right now 🙂 Unfortunately haven't been able to find any around here. Maybe in Lima.

  8. That's what's so amazing about the type of travel you two are doing – you can pick up and leave for Peru – just like that! – if you want. Have a great time, can't wait to read about your first destination! 🙂

  9. I am sorry you are a little home sick at the moment. Hopefully you will have a great time in Peru. Great article.

  10. I think my initial reaction upon reaching such a place would be, "Cool, this is like back home!" and then I would have the reaction you did, realizing that I'd rather experience a new culture instead.

  11. Vilcabamba is a really strange place… I wrote a review about the place a few months ago when I went and the town's real estate agent (foreigner) was all up in arms about it. Honestly, I was repelled by all of the American retirees there. Seems like they'll soon push out all of the Ecuadorians living there.

  12. Awww, I wanted to see photos of old hippies! 🙁

    You two should stay & set up base to create a yoga meditation natural yogurt biodynamic farming tour company! 😉

  13. My boyfriend and I are hoping to be transferred to Brazil with his company to help construct the new Fortaleza Aquarium so I've been reading lots of S. American travel blogs. Keep it up! : )

  14. Thanks for the blog – I found it through twitter. My boyfriend and I are hoping to get transferred to Brazil with his company next year so I've been reading lots of blogs about s. american travel. His company is building part of the Fortaleza Aquarium! Keep it up! : )

  15. We spent a week in Vilcabamba a couple of years ago and what really surprised us was the concentration of conspiracy theorists. We couldn't go out for a meal without getting cornered about how the swine flu vaccine was a plot to cull the human race or that the illumanati were taking over the US government or one sort of 9-11 conspiracy theory or another. Wondering if those people are still there.

    That said, we really enjoyed our week there as we were looking for chill out time – it was a great place to write and read and rest.

    1. We haven't met them, but our friends who were there at the same time (and stayed longer) confirmed that yes, they're still there. Vilcabamba does seem like a great place to read and rest. It's very tranquilo.

  16. That place made me very sad. The gringos don't interact with the locals and there is very much a divide and lots of resentment.

    But you cannot leave Ecuador without going to Cuenca. I spent 2 months there because i loved it so much.

    1. Cuenca does seem like a beautiful city. We definitely didn't spend enough time there (only 2-3 days). But we were in somewhat in a hurry to be back around the mountains again. Never a big fan of big cities.

  17. By the "hibby jibbies" do you really mean the "hippy jippies?"

    I've heard of those happening too. Apparently they're quite common when surrounded by tie-dye, veganism, and hemp.

    Peru sounds like the perfect place to avoid thinking about life and stuff! Excitement!

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