Here are the frequently asked questions for this year’s Raw Food & Soul Adventures Retreat, happening Monday 27th October – Monday 3rd November. If there’s something I haven’t yet covered, please ask in the comments and I’ll make sure to add your query to the post. Check in for an updated version from time to time :)
1. WHERE IS VILCABAMBA?
Vilcabamba is a small village in the southern region of Ecuador in South America. Its nearest town is Loja (45km/28mi away) and it’s nearest airport is LOH: Ciudad de Catamyo Airport, formerly known as Camilo Ponce Enríquez Airport (80km/50mi away). However small the village is, it is surrounded by majestic mountains, such as Mandango, known to protect against natural disaster. Vilcabamba is often referred to as ‘The playground of the Inca’, ‘Raw Food capital of the world’ and ‘The Valley of Longevity’.
2. How do I get to Vilcabamba?
It may be a long way from home, but luckily it is so frequently visited by tourists and health explores, that getting there is now easier than ever. There are two main airports in Ecuador: Quito and Guayaquil. When looking up international flights, you'll be booking for one of these destinations. From there, look up return flights to Loja. Loja is the nearest town and the airport in the Loja province, flights from either Quito or Guayaquil take 45 minutes and can be purchased via www.tame.com.ec/en Then, it's a 1.5 hour taxi to Vilcabamba. The taxis need a spacial licence to operate from the airport, so they are usually reliable and respectable. If you are arriving upto 2 days before the retreat and leaving no longer than 2 days after the retreat, we will organise a local Vilcabamba driver to pick you up.
3. How much do flights to Vilcabamba cost?It all depends on where you are coming from and when you are booking. I recommend that you sign up for price alerts on kayak.com or skyscanner.com to get the best deal. I've flown to both Guayaquil and Quito for under £670 return from London before and for under US$500 return from New York, but the price can vary. Generally the earlier you book, the better your chances for a good price. Return flights from Quito/Guayaquil to Loja, can be anywhere from US$80 to $200. The taxi from Loja (LOH: Ciudad de Catamyo) Airport is US$40-50 one way. This taxi is provided for you free of charge is you arrive unto 2 days before the retreat and depart no longer than 2 days after the retreat, however flights are your responsibility. We'll do everything we can to look after you as soon as you get to Loja!
4. When I land in Loja, is there a special taxi to look out for?Yes. We will be sending our personal taxi drivers from Vilcabamba to pick you up from LOH. The driver will wait inside the airport (it is tiiiny, don't worry) with your name on a card, please look around for a driver and check that they do indeed have a record of your name. Closer to the retreat, please double check that we have your correct arrival times in the Facebook group, especially dedicated to the retreat.
5. Is the taxi fare from Loja prepaid or is it paid on arrival in Vilcabamba?The taxi fare is included in your retreat fee and we're paying the drivers on your behalf. Please note that we will arrange everything for you if you arrive/depart upto 2 days on either side of the retreat. If you choose to arrive/depart more than 2 days outside of the retreat, the taxi fee and booking will become your responsibility.
6. What weather should I pack for?October, November and December are usually the rainy months in Vilcabamba, and even though it is mostly nights that get rainfall, while days are sunny, it isn't uncommon for there to be periodic rain throughout the day. Night temperature could drop down to 10degrees C, while day temperature stays close to 25degrees C or higher. Double check that you've packed light clothing, yoga or easy movement clothing, long sleeve shirts and long leg trousers (mossies love newbies), a warm top, a rain jacket, swimming togs, a sun hat and comfortable walking/hiking shoes. Just think of what would make you most comfortable if you were to walk up a hill and take a seat on the ground.
7. Are there many bugs and should I bring a mosquito repellent?Definitely and definitely! Please bring your favourite mosquito repellent. I would refrain from chemical use if possible and bring essential oils. Mossies despise aromas of Lavender, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Cedarwood, and various oil blends, which you can read about here. If you happen to forget, there is a shop in Vilcabamba called Juice Factory, which sells pretty much anything a raw foodie might need, I'm sure you'll find a natural mossie repellent there.
8. Since dinner is our own free time and we may like to arrive to Vilcabamba before the retreat, can you give us restaurant recommendation?Vilcabamba is a small village and has nearly all of its cafes located in the Central Square. I will print a map for everyone on arrival, but to give you an idea of distances- my parents' house where lunches and workshops are to be held is a 10 minute walk away from your hotel, while the main square is a 5 minute walk away. There you'll find Juice Factory (mentioned above), which is a well known 'gringo' hangout and you can get fresh juices, smoothies, snacks, lunches and raw food options. It's a good spot to meet other expats, who have made Vilcabamba their home. A big restaurant favourite of ours within the square is called Sambuca Cafe. There is always a choice of freshly made juices and smoothies, yummy salads and some great vegan options. Friends Cafe and French Cafe have salad and vegan options and Vilcabamba Pizza Factory serves amazing raw food pizza on Sundays only. Please note that Vilcabamba is ever evolving and these cafes change hands, menus and event plans all the time. We will have an updated list for you upon arrival, which may still change over your visit. It's all about staying flexible and welcoming change as it happens- such a creative and natural place as the 'Playground to the Inca' demands nothing less.
9. If I stay extra nights outside of the retreat, does the special accommodation price ($55/single or $85/couple) include any meals?The usual hotel rates are $65/single and $95/couple and include a basic breakfast of fruit, juice, coffee and eggs. This breakfast will be available for you outside of your retreat dates, even though you'll benefit from a special discounted accom price. No other meals are included in this price, but the resort has a restaurant should you wish to eat there. During the retreat your breakfast will be a feast of 100% raw plant-based foods and available for 7 mornings starting Tuesday 28th October. A three course organic gourmet lunch will also be included, but dinner is your free time to explore, enjoy Vilca evenings and its offerings from local cafes.
10. Should I be getting any travel injections and which do you recommend?Ecuador is one of the few Central+South American destinations, which does not require vaccination proof when you enter. I suggest that you do your own investigation and see your GP for your own peace of mind, especially if you are travelling to other countries at this time. I've never had vaccinations for Ecuador and I know that in Vilcabamba they are rather frowned upon. Your personal choice though, we don't judge!
11. Do I need a visa for Ecuador?No, you can stay in Ecuador for up to 3 months without a visa. HOWEVER a majority of you are travelling via USA, where a visa waiver is required or you won't be able to fly. You must also apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before flying. The application is very straight forward and costs only about £25, so do this ASAP if you are going via USA: http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/gb/en/travel-information/getting-into-the-country/us-visa.html
12. Are there any pre-requisites, prior knowledge or yoga ability levels required to attend?Absolutely not. It is also upto you to decide on how much you'd like to take part in. I called it a Soul Adventures Retreat, because it will be both full of adventure for your spirit, meditation for your soul and raw food for your wellbeing. There will be hiking, sound meditations, sweat lodges, raw food classes, road trips for wild waterfall swimming, zip lining and much more. It is all pre-paid and included in your retreat, however you will be free to choose whether you'd rather relax by the resort pool or join in the adventure.
13. How do you pick from all the applications?It's not an easy task and last year there were more than 100 applications for an 18 people retreat. This year, I want to make it even more special and intimate, so make sure that you apply here right away. Generally, it's first in/ first served, however I make sure that I tune in and read your application carefully to check how you fit into the group vibe, how we can best serve you and how ready you are for Vilcabamba. You might've noticed that I don't ask for age/ gender/ nationality on the form, because none of that matters in the Valley of Longevity. All that matters is that you answer everything truthfully from your heart and if you need to join us, you most certainly will.
14. Where are others travelling from?Some of you may like to connect ahead of time and even arrive together or share a taxi upon arrival. That's why there is a Facebook group for every retreat. Please join the group for your retreat and don't be shy posting questions or sharing your queries, insights and plans there :)
15. What power adapters do we need?Prepare for USA. Everything from USD as currency and US power plugs.
16. Do we need a yoga mat?The yoga mats will be provided, however you are very welcome to bring your own. I know what it's like when you have a favourite personal mat, so it's entirely your call.
17. Do you have a suggestion for a short layover in Quito?For some the stopover is only a few hours long, so you may prefer to wait at the airport. It is brand new and very clean, but doesn't look like there is a lounge. Some travellers have taken the punt to sleep on the floor. I'll leave that one up to you, but you might like to have a read of everyone's comments>> If you prefer to stay in a hotel, it's always a good idea to speak at the airport helpdesk, who can arrange transfers and accommodation for you. And cost-wise there isn't much difference booking ahead of time or on the day.
If you prefer to book ahead, here are four different places to stay near new Quito airport as recommended by readers of expat forum http://www.gringotree.com
Bed & Breakfast Tumbaco, La Ceramica
Lovely personal home in a gated community about 15 minutes from the new Quito Airport, with 3 or 4 “cabins” for guests. Each has its own bathroom and kitchenette. Breakfast is served in the home’s large kitchen and dining area. The grounds are gorgeous with a pool area, volleyball court, a large vegetable and fruit garden, tropical birds, and wonderful flora. Hotel will arrange for personal pickup at the airport (we needed 2 taxis due to all our suitcases!), and also arrange for taxi back to airport when you are flying elsewhere. We loved the gorgeous flowers and shrubs all around the huge complex and the owners were so friendly and welcoming to us. We will return.
Recommended by Sarah Canez, firstname.lastname@example.org
Su Merced Casa de Hacienda near Quito Airport
First-class Quito accommodation 10 minutes from new airport. If you are looking for a really really nice place to stay after arriving from the U.S. and waiting for a flight the next day this may be the place for you. The owners and their totally renovated Hacienda are truly first class (but with a reasonable price). They will meet you upon arrival and return you to the airport. Accommodation and facilities are totally renovated with Ecuadorian antiques in a beautiful secured quite comfortable setting very close to the airport.
Along with other friends in Cuenca we totally recommend Rafsel, his family staff, and their hacienda as a great hotel that is really convenient to the new Quito airport.
Contact: Rafael Andrade, 098-536-0545, email@example.com,www.sumerced.com Calle Julio Tobar Donoso Casa @12 Puembo
Recommended by Bob Pirtle, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quito Airport Suites
We tried it. Pleasant surprise. Beautiful very clean new units 5 minutes from the new Quito airport. Single $49, double $55, with breakfast. 24-hour airport transportation $7-$8. (If you take a taxi, write down address; no sign on building.) Quiet, walled in location. We loved it. Young owner Dominic will treat you royally.
Make reservations at email@example.com.
Hostería San Carlos, Quito Airport
For a great place to stay if you’re flying out of Quito and don’t want the hour-plus ride into the city, try Hostería San Carlos in Tababela, just 7- 10 minutes from the new airport. It is clean, comfortable, and reasonable, and the owners/staff are helpful and considerate. When we found out our flight was delayed, they let us stay onsite for the entire afternoon and served a delicious lunch. They also provide a free shuttle Service from the airport (even at midnight when the flight from Houston gets in).
Recommended by Greg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Got another question? I'd love to answer it. Just add it to the comments below...