The cause of the longevity was never pinned down. Some scientists credited genes, others the hard labour and vegetable and fruit diet. Sceptics said the elders exaggerated their age.
There is wide agreement, however, on why the phenomenon seems to be ending: modernity and its sins - noise, chemicals, pollution and stress. Nelson Jurado, a gerontologist in the capital, Quito, said a "tsunami of development" had damaged Vilcabamba's fragile ecosystem. "Now these people live at a faster pace and that has affected their quality of life and longevity."
What was a sleepy hamlet has in less than a generation become a tourist centre. Just a 45-minute drive from an airport, the permanent population has almost doubled to 4,200 and is swollen by hundreds of tourists who pack the more than 30 hotels and hostels.
Mules wander the streets but they are outnumbered by 4x4s, taxis and young people drinking beer. There are dozens of restaurants and bars, two nightclubs, and a shopping centre is due to be built. Few places serve guarapo, sugar cane juice, but most serve Coca-Cola.