Returning to Ecuador’s mainland after a week in the Galápagos, we weren’t yet ready to go back to real life. Instead, we booked a stay at the Hacienda Zuleta, situated 90 minutes northeast of the international airport in the Andean highlands. The curvy drive to the property was at times awfully bumpy, yet the astounding scenery often caused us to forget the discomfort. Any lingering doubts about coming here dissipated as we pulled into the hotel’s cobblestone square, encircled by sturdy whitewashed buildings bedecked with geraniums. We received a warm greeting from our host and three playful resident dogs.
More than a thousand years ago, the land was a sacred place for the pre-Incan Caranqui people, and in the 17th century, it was transformed into an agricultural estate. Later it became the property of two Ecuadorian presidents, a father and son, and the 4,000-acre working farm remains under the private ownership of the family of former president Galo Plaza. Throughout the years, the hacienda has been carefully preserved and meticulously restored, maintaining original architectural features.
Our sincerely welcoming host, Santiago, ushered us inside, escorting us past a cozy living room and through a flowery courtyard to our room, Luz. (The hotel’s 21 accommodations are each named after a former Plaza family member.) Our room, appointed with original colonial-era furnishings, hand-embroidered linens, a woodburning stove and family photos, exuded authentic character and charm. Santiago departed with the words “make yourself at home,” and we soon did.