More often than not, it's the simplest ingredients that make the best meals, and nowhere in Ecuador did we find this to be more so the case than at the Juice Factory in Vilcabamba.
Vilcabamba is apparently famous in Ecuador for being a place where people often live to be over 100, earning the area the moniker Valley of Longevity, however, whether or not there is evidence to support this is questionable.
Either way, the climate in this part of Ecuador (lots of sun, lots of rain and more or less constantly moderate temperatures) is such that there is a year round growing season for most fruits and vegetables. You'll even find papaya growing wild, like a weed by the side of the roads! This of course means an abundant supply of fresh, organic and local produce.
The Juice Factory, a gringo hotspot in Vilcabamba's main square, takes full advantage of this, and owners Dennis and Maria have their own farm just outside town, where they grow all the fruits and vegetables used in the myriad of smoothies on offer.
We tried the mango and banana smoothie and the rescate de chocolate with raw cocoa paste, almond milk, banana, strawberry, maca and cane juice. Both were gorgeous, but if I could just choose one now, it'd be the rescate de chocolate without question. At $3 each, it felt a little decadent, but was absolutely worth it.
Meal options are quite limited, but that's where the simplicity comes in. I found having fewer things to choose between quite liberating, and in fact, the first time we visited, the only option was salad, so I didn't even have to think about it. $3 for a generous plate of lettuce, cucumber, carrot, tomato, avocado, onion and olives, all organic and locally grown, and you could definitely taste it. There is also sometimes soup for $1.50.
Then of course there are the desserts. Between our two visits, we only managed to try four of the many cakes on offer, all of which were rather nice. They were a mix of vegan and baked ovo-lacto-vegetarian, including chocolate and walnut brownie made with quinoa flower, coconut and chocolate muffins and a rich raw vegan chocolate cake.
As well as this, there is also a small shop in the back of the restaurant selling organic products like cocoa paste, honey, dried fruit, cosmetics and even a few clothes.
For a healthy, light lunch, accompanied by some natural and heavenly liquid concoctions, I absolutely recommend visiting the Juice Factory when in Vilcabamba. Like many of the other establishments on the town's main square, it's very heavily frequented by expats and tourists, so you will certainly hear more English than Spanish spoken there, but the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed and friendly.
- The Juice Factory is on Vilcabamba's main square near the corner with Calle Sucre
- We paid $16 for two salads, two smoothies, and a cake each
- Foursquare; Facebook; website