Getting to Vilcabamba from Cuenca | Transportation and Ideas

Reviewed

on: 2023-08-24

by: Oliver Williams

Quick Facts

  • Duration

    05 hours 35 minutes

  • Rating

  • Experience

    spas, hiking, retreats

  • Best Price

    USD $ 12.89

  • Maximum comfort or class

    Good

  • Departures

    1 daily departure

  • Recommended by

    366 travelers

Price may fluctuate due to seasonal demand and other market-driven and regulatory events.

Bus from Cuenca to Vilcabamba

Lodging in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Did you know that some scientists say that the Chimborazo volcano is the highest mountain in the world? Yes, even taller than Everest. That's because Ecuador itself is tall to begin with and it is closer to the equator, so the summit of Chimborazo is closer to the sun than is Mt. Everest. Not far from there is an ancient route I want to tell you about, starting in Cuenca and heading to the mystical south.

First let me ask you something: How close have you traveled to the clouds without leaving earth?  You can actually do it by taking a bus from Cuenca, which is itself 2,500 meters high (8,400 feet), to Vilcabamba, which even though is lower at 1,500 meters (4,900 ft), is more deeply embedded in what is known as bosque nublado, or cloud forest.  So, we’ll take you on an authentic experience through the Andes and close to the sky.

If you like to breathe fresh air and feel the vastness of these mountains dressed in raiment of orchids, then you don’t want to miss this chance. Whether you have planned your trip to Cuenca or not, you’re probably someone who enjoys a mix of nature, history, and culture that Ecuador embraces. Join me to read about this in our epic Cuenca to Vilcabamba bus journey guide below, or start now just by pressing the Reserve Now button above.

What are the bus options in Ecuador?

To get to Vilcabamba from Cuenca by land, there are actually a few options:

Direct bus to Vilcabamba or the more popular choice of the bus to Loja

There is a daily bus that goes from Cuenca to Vilcabamba, but not many people use it.  You can only reserve directly at the bus station, and therefore you won’t know in advance if it’s full and then have to wait until the next day.  This happens a lot, and why many people don’t bother with it.  Even though it goes all the way to Vilcabamba as its final destination, it stops in Loja anyways, which is what we will tell you about next.

The bus option people use more is the online reservation from Cuenca to Loja. There are several departures you can reserve your seat in advance and therefore is less risky.  Plus, once you get to Loja, Vilcabamba is so close that you can either hop on a public municipal bus or one of the frequent departures going that direction or just take a taxi.

No matter what bus choice you make, the price is still pretty low for the distance traveled. But because the journey is long and on twisted roads, I don’t recommend taking the cheapest one, since that usually means older and uncomfortable seats and a bus that releases more exhaust.  Spend a few more dollars and relax in comfort, with reclinable seats, air conditioning, and onboard entertainment.

Shared Shuttles

From Cuenca to Loja there are also some shared shuttle departures.  Shared shuttles are small vans that have regularly scheduled departures, just like buses, and just carry a small group of people.  These are obviously going to be more expensive than buses, but are also swifter and with far fewer stops along the way than a bus. The problem with shared shuttles is that they don’t always depart on schedule if they don’t have enough riders, so you have to be very flexible, often sitting in the vehicle for 30 minutes or more, waiting for the minimum number of passengers to be reached before it will start the journey.

Private Shuttles

The least fuss and stress, and now becoming the most preferred with our travelers, is simply hiring a shuttle for yourself or your group.  These are readily available any time you want, pick you up and drop you off wherever you want, leave you less to figure out about the logistics of transportation, and let you focus more on your itinerary once you get to Vilcabamba. Private transport is on the high end of cost, but our travelers have found it so much more valuable and with no surprises to anticipate except the gorgeous views out the window (yes, you can even have the driver stop whenever you want to get out and take photos).

How long is the bus ride from Cuenca to Vilcabamba?

The ride from Cuenca to Vilcabamba is 250 km (155 miles) and should take roughly five to six hours by bus, including a transfer in Loja. It will be about thirty minutes shorter if you take a shared shuttle, and even shorter than that if you take a private shuttle unless you want to add stops. 

Of course, unexpected road conditions like weather or construction may cause a delay. This trip winds through the mountains, so there are no straight lines to make it go faster. 

As you leave the city of Cuenca and pass the cutoff to Yunguilla valley (a stretch of suburbs popular with ex-pats), you will start feeling the sierra wilderness set in on you, and this area is the traditional home of the Saraguro people, an indigenous group recognizable by their black clothing and men with long ponytails.  You will eventually arrive in Loja, a smaller but significant city known as Ecuador’s music and coffee capital, and then transfer in Loja on smaller buses to the small village of Vilcabamba just south of Loja. 

By this point, you will be appreciating the splendor and peacefulness of the region that gives cause for it allowing many residents to live more than a hundred years.

What is the cost of traveling by bus from Cuenca to Vilcabamba?

A bus ticket from Cuenca to Vilcabamba can cost between $11 and $14.  Some factors that can affect the price are:

When you go

Weekdays are a good idea! Learn to use them and avoid Fridays and Sundays.  Since it is a small town you’ll be going to that nonetheless has an appeal to anyone and everyone for weekend activities, get there before the weekend.  Bus companies will appreciate that, too.  Weekends are simply more expensive because of demand.

When you book

Booking in advance is always recommended. You can plan your costs and lock in a rate. 

Which Bus Carrier you Choose

While most buses on the route from Cuenca to Vilcabamba are pretty much the same, the ones that you can only get tickets for at the bus station are going to be a bit cheaper and of worse quality.  For a couple of dollars more, just reserve online for the buses that go to Loja and you will get a better ride, better customer service, and still find it very affordable.  

For shared shuttle tickets if you want to travel with a smaller group of passengers and fewer stops, you’ll spend about $26 per person and get to Vilcabamba faster.  There’s also a private option that is being offered at the moment for $144 for a whole vehicle and a driver, that picks you up directly from your hotel or Airbnb and drops you off anywhere you want in Vilcabamba.  Most guesthouses, resorts, and other lodgings in Vilcabamba are rural and remote, so you can’t just walk there from the center of the village.  Getting a private shuttle to drive you to places in the hills surrounding Vilcabamba is a huge plus!

What are the bus schedules from Cuenca to Vilcabamba?

Traveling by bus is one of the most utilized forms of transportation in Latin America, so if it is new for you as a traveler, keep in mind that there’s no better place than on the bus to know the people and culture of Latin America.  They live and interact there. Enjoy it and let their lives and pastimes make an impression upon you. You’ll notice in this context that schedules are as fluid as the conversations you hear around you.  Bus companies make a big effort to be precise, but in truth, a good sense of humor will help you absorb that their intent is not always met. 

Be careful, not all of the online booking systems have up-to-date schedules, and some bus carriers' websites will show old information too!

Once you’re aware of that, choose AndesTransit for your travel plans, and let us take charge of any schedule issues that arise.  We constantly keep in contact with all the carriers, so as soon as something happens you will hear from us.

To see the list of current schedules, just click the Reserve Now button for Vilcabamba (which only has one carrier), or for a wider option of schedules to Loja, click here

Where can I book bus tickets from Cuenca to Vilcabamba?

If you’re looking for a bus ticket or shuttle reservation from Cuenca to Vilcabamba, the AndesTransit travel team is ready to help you.  There are two options here:

Online

No doubt, the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable way of booking a bus in Ecuador is doing so online. However, this is for all options except a direct bus to Vilcabamba, which is only available by going in person to the bus terminal (see next heading).  

For the buses to Loja, just click here to find a departure any day of the week that’s best for you and proceed through checkout.  You’ll also find here at the same link the options for shared shuttles to Loja.  Once you get to the Loja terminal, you’ll be able to board a connecting micro-bus to Vilcabamba that departs every fifteen minutes.

For private shuttle transportation door-to-door from Cuenca to Vilcabamba, just use our partner reservation page at ecuadorbus.com/shuttles.

In-person

This option exists but has no real advantages, and only applies to a single bus company that does go all the way to Vilcabamba.  However, they also have a layover in Loja anyway, so by the time the layover is up, you could have just gotten off the bus and boarded the microbuses from Loja to Vilcabamba.  Plus, you could easily get yourself to the bus office to find out that the bus time you wanted is no longer available, or there are no seats. We don’t recommend this option, because it can involve changing your plans, losing time, and making you worry, when there's no need to.

What to see in Vilcabamba

Lodging in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Can you even imagine how it is to live over a century? That is a reality in Vilcabamba. Home to some of the oldest people in the world, this is a small and natural town, placed in the south of the Ecuadorian Andes, close to the border with Peru.

If you like to hike, there are several trails that are untamed and adventurous that you can reach right on the edge of town. “Sendero” is the word used for a hiking trail, so ask locals to point you to the trailheads to sendero Mandango, sendero Rumihuilco, sendero Yambabura (there are two), or sendero Izhcayluma.  Vilcabamba is also only one of many serenely perfect little towns in the area you can explore, so also consider Malacatos, Yangana, and Palmira. 

The architecture in Vilcabamba is very simple, as it’s more of a spiritual place, where you can find many shamanic rituals, healing baths, and a deep connection with nature. 

Our preferred list of things to do in Vilcabamba:

#1 - Park of Vilcabamba and Church

Right in the center of the town, you can find this colorful and vibrant park, which is the main meeting point for the villagers. You can also appreciate a good variety of local gardens, and around the town square several good cafes and restaurants, many of them started by ex-pats.  So many ex-pats have moved here, in fact, that English is more spoken than Spanish.

In front of the square you will see the church “Cristo Luz del Mundo”, where many people attend the Sunday service but is open every day to visitors and pilgrims alike.

#2 - Rumi Wilco Natural Reserve

If you want to connect with nature and listen to what Mother Earth has to tell you, this Natural Reserve is the right place. You can see many species of birds, walk on well-marked trails, or rent an equipped cabin. 

#3 - Cerro Mandango railway and viewpoint

If you have a few hours more and are ready to level up your hiking a notch, you should take the Cerro Mandango ecology path.  It leads you up from town into the mountains and ends up at a sublime mountaintop viewpoint where you’ll be able to see far and beyond. 

#4 - Visit Lotus Center

At this spa you’ll be treated to an experience that ranges from pure relaxation to spiritual exploration. You can take yoga classes, have an immersion in medicinal baths and massage, and practice some activities recommended by the locals to extend your life.

Conclusion

Vilcabamba takes some time to get to, so it is not an overcrowded tourist destination unless you show up during a festival. And that is its charm. It is a small mountain village where people live very quietly in the middle of nature. Maybe that’s why they live for so long.

Route Map

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why not fly in and out of Loja?
The Loja airport is actually in Catamayo, some 45 minutes away from Loja. But the more important reason is that the Loja airport is notorious for cancellations because it is located in a really bad and dangerous location subject to wind shears and constant cloud cover. The plane has to make a steep and twisted descent or ascent to clear the mountains. You could make it to Loja by land by the time they get around to arranging another flight and a clear landing.
Can we get to Vilcabamba by bus from Peru?
Yes, you can, but the only option to arrange reservations online is starting from Piura to Loja (and then just take a local bus or taxi from Loja to Vilcabamba). You can also get there through the jungle crossing at Las Balsas near Zumba, but this is a very rough ride and goes on dirt roads, with lots of delays, so don’t do it if you’re on a tight schedule.
Is there a best or worst time to visit Vilcabamba?
In terms of climate, Vilcamba has a steady early summer climate year-round. Carnival (the 10 days leading up to the beginning of Lent) tends to be a little unruly if you're looking for peace and quiet.
What are the ticket policies?
It depends on the carrier you choose, but their specific policies can be previewed during checkout or in the summaries printed on your ticket email. For a general overview, see the Ticket Policy page.

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