Ecuador’s high altitude haciendas
High altitude hotel
About 60km south of Quito, beyond the robust little town of Machachi and set in grassy highlands at a breathtaking 3,600m, Hacienda El Porvenir is something a little different. This is the homestead of a 4,500 hectare working cattle property. Grass roofed and terracotta walled, the hacienda is heated by roaring log fires beside which you can enjoy hearty Ecuadorian highland meals like locro de papa (a creamy potato soup served with avocado and cheese) or llapingachos (potato and cheese pancakes). This is a relaxed, rural accommodation – and an excellent base for mountain adventures. The estate’s property borders Cotopaxi National Park, the centrepiece of which is the magnificent snow-capped, active volcano Cotopaxi. Many visitors use the hacienda as a base for acclimatisation before an attempt on Cotopaxi’s summit; however, there are also excellent trails for lower altitude trekking and mountain biking. Horse riding, of course, is also on the menu of activities; kitted out in a highland poncho and llama-skin chaps to keep out the cold, you will feel like one of the chagras (cowboys) who are the hacienda’s expert riding guides.
Also about 60km south of Quito, at an altitude of 3,000m, the colonial San Augustin de Callo hacienda was constructed on the site of an Inca palace that was established in 1440 AD and built by one of the last Inca emperors, Huayna-Capac; it is one of the two most significant Inca sites in Ecuador. After the defeat of the Incas, parts of the ruined palace, with its perfect Inca stone work, were incorporated into what then became an Augustinian convent – a base for the French Geodesic Mission that verified the shape of the Earth – and finally the private home of General Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez, leader of Ecuador’s liberal revolution (and of the same illustrious family that own Hacienda Zuleta). The estate is now home to the general’s granddaughter, whose father, the well-known Ecuadorian congressman and legendary amateur bullfighter Jose María Plaza, played a pivotal role in the country’s politics.
San Augustin de Callo is also an ideal base for outdoor adventures. Follow Inca pathways on horseback or on foot to explore the traditional rural villages that dot the surrounding countryside, or visit the fragrant rose plantations that produce one of this country’s least known exports. There are plenty of mountain walks on the estate and you can also fish for trout in the mountain streams. Dining at night on the farm’s fresh produce – a thoroughly Andean menu with upmarket flair – guests marvel at the precision-cut stones of the dining room’s Inca palace walls, which meld seamlessly into the subsequent architecture – the most eloquent visual metaphor, perhaps, for the ancient roots of all Ecuador’s richly historic, colonial haciendas.