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The Haciendas of Ecuador

History, rural splendor, warm hospitality and colonial elegance


Hacienda Hualilahua, Ecuador

Hacienda Hualilahua, Ecuador


I admit it. My idea of travel is not camping out, or roughing it in any way. I like clean sheets, freshly prepared delicious meals I don't have to cook, hot water and other bathroom amenities, indolent attractions and ease.

In short, I like to be pampered. Throw in a bit of history, scenic views, and I'm happy.

That's why I've been dreaming of visiting the Haciendas of Ecuador. Some of the inns, also called hosterías, offer activities such as horse back riding, wild-life viewing and birding, hiking, swimming, biking, and private tours on their own land. Others offers tours to nearby attractions, such as the market town of Otavalo, the volcanos south of Quito, the ruins at Quitoloma, Oyacachi hot springs, and local events. Some give you the chance to join in the annual rodeo, when Ecuadorian cowboys called chagras take to the hills to bring down thousands of head of cattle, including the wild bravo bulls, bred from Spanish fighting stock. History is a given at the haciendas, since many of them date back hundreds of years.

Ideally, I'd love to spend several days at each to learn the history, soak up the atmosphere, take day trips to nearby attractions and, oh, yes, sit on the veranda and gaze at beautiful Ecuador.

The haciendas developed during the hacendado period of Spanish colonization, when Spaniards were granted large grants in return for services to the crown. In Ecuador, these grants were located mainly in the highlands, the Sierra region, for reasons of climate, soil, and accessibility from Quito, the capital.

With the fertile soil and a year-round springlike climate, these haciendas became self-sufficient and sold their produce and livestock to add to the owner's wealth. Some were built on a grand scale, borrowing building design and techniques from Spain, the Catholic church, and in some cases, building on top of existing Inca buildings.

Over time, many of these estates suffered financial, political and economic setbacks, particularly in the early days of the republic as well as natural disasters and changes in ownership, but a surprising number are owned by descendants of the first owners.

In the last decades, many of the haciendas have enlarged their scope by opening their doors as inns. Offering as taste of Ecuadorian rural life, from simple to vastly wealthy, the haciendas have become a popular place to stay for many visitors to Ecuador's Sierra. Some have very few guests at a time, others have expanded and enlarged guest facilities with cottages, additions or other facilities. In any case, advance reservations are a must.

Interior decorations range from rustic to luxurious, with every shade in between. Some of the haciendas retain their colonial flavor, such as the simple decor, traditional tile work on the floor, murals, and colonial furnishings. Whitewashed walls, tile roofs, arches, gardens and fountains and extensive views of the Andean highlands are common among the haciendas.

The haciendas accept guests, but many are still working farms. As a guest, you may tour the fields, and perhaps get a glimpse of behind-the-scenes everyday life, raising horses, growing crops, feeding the livestock, including ducks, geese and chickens. Hacienda Zuleta is a prime example of a working farm with a dairy, cheese factory, organic garden, tree nursery, trout farm, embroidery workshop, and a condor-raising project.

Remember, though the weather is spring-like, with average temperatures ranging from 22° C / 72° F at midday to 8° C/ 46° F in the early morning and evening, you'll need to dress in layers, with a water-resistant jacket. The driest months are June to September in the nothern highlands nearest the equator. In the southern highlands, the drier months are August through January. Any time else, you'll need an umbrella.

To visit one or more of these historic haciendas, check flights from your area to Quito. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals.

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