Imbabura Province, Ecuador
Hacienda Zuleta is a colonial-era working farm in the Andean Highlands founded in 1691. Located two hours north of Quito at an altitude of 9,600 feet, the historic property was chosen as one of the world’s “Top Ten Finds” by Outside magazine and named one of the best hotels in Ecuador by National Geographic Traveler.
The hacienda has 17 beautifully appointed bedrooms, all with heavy stucco walls, glossy hardwood floors, fine wooden furniture and a wood-burning fireplace. Guest rooms are located in the original main building, and each has a different shape and character. All are individually decorated with antiques, authentic family photographs and hand-embroidered linens, lending the feel of a gracious private home. While guests are enjoying dinner, the hotel staff lights the fireplace in each room and places hot water bottles inside intricately embroidered cases in every bed. Guest rooms have mountain and garden views, and some provide access to the hacienda's private gardens, terraces or courtyard where hummingbirds feed.
The hacienda's cozy living and reading rooms have entertained an entourage of famous visitors over the years including past presidents and dignitaries. Today, guests may enjoy satellite television, movies and games, as well as coffee, soft drinks and bar service, in the living rooms. The reading rooms still offer a quiet setting to curl up with a book. Phone calls can be made from the public areas and offices. Wi-Fi is available in some parts of the main farmhouse, and a computer with 24/7 Internet access is also available for guests' use. Fresh Ecuadorian cuisine is prepared daily, incorporating organic vegetables, trout, and dairy products produced at the hacienda. A highlight of a stay at Zuleta is a visit to the cheese factory to learn about the semi-aged handmade cheeses, yogurt and cream produced from the farm’s 300 Holstein-Friesian dairy cows.
Preserving the native flora and fauna surrounding the hacienda has been a priority for its owners, the Plaza family, who operate a foundation to support local conservation efforts. Zuleta has become a preferred sanctuary for spectacled bears, pumas, Andean condors, various owls and other at-risk species. On excursions into the surrounding páramo, a high-elevation tropical tundra ecosystem above the estate, guests may be fortunate to glimpse the rare spectacled bear. The only bear species in South America, this diminutive, shaggy bear—named for the pale rings that encircle its eyes—lives mostly in the lush, isolated cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes. Shy and largely nocturnal, they are sometimes spotted in this more open area overlooking the valley below. At the Condor Huasi project, located near the hacienda in a native forest valley, guests can see rescued Andean condors being rehabilitated in the aviary and learn about the foundation’s conservation efforts—and perhaps spy a wild condor soaring overhead on the thermals.