Ecuador's colonial-era haciendas present a glimpse of the country’s dramatic Andean highlands. And high-altitude meets high-end at some of the country's haute hacienda hotels that are steeped in charm and character, history and hospitality. Pairing elegant accommodations with bucolic landscapes, most are tucked into volcano-fringed valleys, complete with working farms where horses, cattle, and llamas roam, and farm-to-table meals deliver delectable fine dining. After touring Ecuador's haceinda country for two weeks, here are the five most transporting high-end haciendas worth packing your bags for.
Hacienda Zuleta: Best Grounds
Angochagua, Imbabura Province
Set on the fringes of Zuleta village (known for its exquisite embroidery) and cradled by a sweeping stretch of picture-perfect Andean valley, Hacienda Zuleta anchors a 4,000-acre working farm, complete with its own cheese factory, dairy and trout farms, organic gardens, and more. Home of late Ecuadorian president Galo Plaza Lasso—whose descendants still run the place—the 17th-century hacienda’s 15 elegant rooms come trimmed with roaring fireplaces, antique furnishings, and family photographs. Vast grounds reveal unexpected diversions like pre-Incan Caranqui mounds and a condor rehabilitation center, and are best explored while out horseback riding, hiking, or cycling along the numerous estate trails. Back at the house, a two-level library/living room comes alive for evening wine-and-cheese receptions, while Ecuadorian-inspired fare, sourced from traditional family recipes and served up family-style nightly, highlights handmade cheeses, home-baked breads, fresh-caught trout, and dairy and produce straight from the farm. Rates from $430/night, including three meals daily.
Hacienda San Agustin de Callo: Best History
Lasso, Cotopaxi Province
While most of Ecuador’s haciendas tout at least a few centuries of history, beautifully preserved Hacienda San Agustin de Callo’s roots reach deeper still, to the times of the Inca. Built upon the 15th-century ruins of an Incan palace-fortress, the hacienda incorporates generous remnants of Incan walls, with their precisely carved, mortar-less stonework, and signature trapezoidal doors (archaeological investigation is ongoing). Subsequent architectural styles showcase 18th-century Spanish Colonial and 19th-century Republican elements—you can view distinctive sections from all three periods from the central courtyard. Set in the foothills of the snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano, guests here can head out horseback riding, sign up for bullfighting lessons in the old bullfighting ring, or feed the resident llamas and vicunas that roam the courtyard each afternoon. Eleven individually decorated rooms, spread out over three buildings, feature frescoed walls, wood-burning fireplaces, and beamed ceilings; be sure to request one with original Incan walls intact. The walls also feature prominently in the dining areas for an atmospheric backdrop; pair the transporting ambiance with the hacienda’s signature locro, a traditional Ecuadorian potato, cheese, and avocado soup. The family-run estate also once housed an Ecuadorian president, in this case Leónidas Plaza; they’re a branch of the same illustrious clan behind Hacienda Zuleta. Rates from $425/night, including three meals daily.
Hacienda Pinsaqui: Best Value
Otavalo, Imbabura Province
Once the site of a massive colonial-era textile workshop, the illustrious guestbook of the 18th-century Hacienda Pinsaqui has included the likes of revered South American liberator Simón Bolivar. The family-run affair is a nod to the owners’ equestrian flair, with well-maintained stables beckoning guests to horseback trots and an equestrian-themed cellar bar. Well-based for excursions to local handicraft villages and the Otavalo market, guests needn’t wander further than outside to enjoy resplendently manicured grounds, littered with ponds and roaming peacocks and llamas, set in the shadow of the Imbabura Volcano. A restaurant doles out Ecuadorian cuisine alongside live Andean music (at lunchtime), while refined public spaces come drenched in antiques, artwork, chandeliers, and roaring fireplaces. Thirty airy rooms tout antique furnishings and well-used fireplaces; book one in the main lodge for the most atmospheric digs. Rates from $122/night, including breakfast.
Hacienda Piman: Best Newcomer
Tulcan, Imbabura Province
A newcomer to the hacienda-hotel circuit, the recently restored—and newly public—Hacienda Piman’s history actually dates back far further, to the late 17th century. Seventeen antique-littered rooms spill out from the quaint units in the traditional hacienda house to a newly built series of spacious cottage rooms touting expansive windows, high ceilings, and large balconies. A modern dining room serves up home-style Ecuadorian dishes, culling ingredients from the on-site organic garden; an adjacent bar and garden terrace welcome lingering, with panoramas over the expansive grounds. The remote hacienda comes tucked into a scenic, off-the-beaten-path mountain-fringed valley, primed for hiking or mountain biking. Spend a day lazing away in the on-site swimming pool, or head out on a day trip to the Otavalo indigenous market or El Ángel Ecological Reserve. Rates from $240/night, including breakfast and dinner.
Hacienda Uzhupud: Best Reinvention
Paute, Azuay Province
Set about 30 minutes outside of the colonial stunner of a city, UNESCO-designated Cuenca, the nearly 250-year-old Hacienda Uzhupud offers a rustic-yet-refined Southern Andes retreat, on the banks of the Paute River. Nearing the end of a massive renovation that has transformed the property from a rather humdrum hotel into a plush hacienda, 62 rooms have been updated to include thoughtful design schemes reflective of local culture (i.e. the Andes, Cuenca, etc.) with handicrafts and antiques, while not skimping on modern amenities (all come with cable TV and Wi-Fi). Guests can fuel up on fare sourced from traditional family recipes at the on-site restaurant, and kids will love learning more about farm-fresh foods, while having a go at milking the cows, feeding the farm animals (like rabbits and guinea pigs), and collecting fresh eggs from the hens here. Sugar cane juice can be pressed in the on-site mill, or, sample fresh herbal teas with herbs plucked straight from the garden. A pool, complimentary horseback rides, tennis court, game room, and perhaps a hacienda exclusive—a new nightclub—round out the on-site offerings. Rates from $99/night, including breakfast.
Modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe Elissa Richard has set out circumnavigating the globe on an ambitious 14-month adventure. Tag along on her travels through Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America—and on the high seas in between—as she reports back to Fodors.com on captivating cruises, hot hotels, and timely travel trends.
Photo credits: Hacienda Zuleta courtesy of Hacienda Zuleta; Hacienda San Agustin de Callo courtesy of Hacienda San Agustin de Callo; Hacienda Piman courtesy of Hacienda Piman; Hacienda Pinsaqui and Hotel Uzhupud courtesy of John Garay