After we returned to Quito from the Galapagos we went straight from the airport about 2 hours north to Hacienda Zuleta. Zuleta is a 4,000 acre working farm that is owned by the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, the former President of Ecuador.
As I was putting together our itinerary for Ecuador, Hacienda Zuleta was the part that gave me the biggest pause and I worried the kids wouldn’t enjoy it. Ironically, our stay at Hacienda Zuleta was the highlight of their stay in mainland Ecuador.
The origins of the hacienda are shadowy, but it was likely founded in the second half of the 16th century. In 1898 the Lasso family purchased the hacienda and it has been in the family ever since.
All meals at the hacienda were included and served family style with the other guests in the dining room. There is a creamery on site which makes the cheeses on the table below. While we were there we got a tour of the small factory and got to watch cheese making in progress. It was delicious!
Our favorite activities at Hacienda Zuleta were:
One of the highlights of our stay was horseback riding to a condor reserve. The horses were very well-trained and stayed behind our guide who led us through the trails. The kids loved it because they were able to ride by themselves (without a lead rope), felt like they had a lot of control over their own horse, and could all jockey for the lead position behind our guide. Sometimes the horses started trotting (or what felt like galloping to me!) if they got too far behind.
Visiting the Condor Reserve
We rode about 5km to Condor Huasi, a condor rehabilitation project and reserve where we saw four condors in captivity. We also saw some condors flying free in the mountains. None of the wild birds had been spotted the few days before our arrival so we were thrilled we got to see them.
The wild condors would fly back & forth across the valley between the two mountains. There are only about 100 condors in Ecuador and this rehabilitation center is working hard to increase the population. They had two condor couples at the center and one couple had an egg. Hoping that it hatched successfully after we left!
Another favorite activity was making empanadas. One afternoon while Mike & I got massages, the hotel manager Fernanda, arranged for the kids to have some time in the kitchen. Each kid had his or her own job and they were so proud of their finished product! They even asked for the recipe so they could make them again when we got home.
The empanadas were delicious and the staff even set out plates full of them at the evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour.
There were quite a few hiking trails throughout the property and we chose a relatively flat & easy walk to a waterfall. A couple of the dogs from the hacienda decided to join us so Kate was thrilled! We passed some other guests from the hacienda who had biked to the waterfall, but the terrain was a little rough for our littlest biker.
Local residents in the town of Zuleta are able to rent pasture space for their cattle on the hacienda grounds. They walk to & from town twice a day (over a mile one way) to milk the cows and walk back with containers full of milk. We walked out to one of the fields and the kids were able to help the locals milk their cows.
Exploring the Pyramids
Beyond the cows are some square pyramids with no top. There were five of these on the property which date back to the 1200s and are thought to be the bases of elite residences of the Caranqui culture, as well as over a hundred small mounds dating from 700AD. Glimpses into horticultural practices and some hidden treasures are buried within. We couldn’t believe that we had the freedom to walk all over them (they were right in the middle of the pasture!) and they weren’t protected as historical sites. Our guide said that there is nothing really stopping anyone from digging these up, but no one really does.
Cotacachi is a dormant volcano about an hour from Zuleta. We stopped here quickly to view the crater lake and lots of wildflowers. I wish we would have had more time to hike around (there’s a trail that goes around the rim) or take the ferry which tours around the lake.
Otavalo is South America’s largest outdoor market. This was another stop along our way that was probably too quick. We aren’t big shoppers on vacation and I am usually skeptical about the authenticity of the items I’m purchasing – was it really made by an artist or is mass-produced? One of the things I liked about having a guide with us during our trip was that he could speak to the locals and I felt like he was speaking up for me, the tourist. However, he left us at the market and said he’d meet us later so we were on our own. I’m sure this is because it removed him from the awkward situation of negotiating with the sellers on my behalf, but I would have like to have his input on the goods we were looking at.
Kate really wanted this backpack and I could tell it wasn’t very well made, but I think it was only $10 so I figured it was worth at least that. We wandered through the market stalls and came away with some scarves, bracelets, and a blanket. I’m sure we could have found some great artisanal pieces, but just didn’t have the patience to hunt. On our way out of Zuleta, our guide recommended we stop at an Embroidery store (I think the name translated to “Made by Hand” in English) where I purchased two beautiful handmade pillow covers so I felt less pressure at Otavalo.
The Rose Hacienda
After Otavalo we stopped at a rose hacienda for lunch. The Hacienda La Compania de Jesus in Cayambe was built by the Jesuits 300 years ago and has been in the Jarrin family for the last 5 generations. The home is still used by the family for special occasions and gatherings including holiday celebrations and weddings. We were lucky enough to be invited into the home for a private lunch.
Afterwards we received a tour of the grounds and their rose plantation, Rosadex.
After visiting the hacienda and showroom, we drove a short distance on the property to the plantation where they harvest 40,000 roses a day and export to over 48 countries on 5 continents. We really enjoyed learning about the various processes of how the roses are produced and how different countries prefer different styles of roses: some with longer stems and shorter heads and others with shorter stems and longer heads. Some countries prefer roses of natural colors and others prefer brighter, deeper, artificially colored petals.
I was surprised by how interesting the tour and presentation were. All 5 of us were extremely engaged the entire time and it seemed we never ran out of questions for our host.
After the roses are cut, they come to this room to be hydrated, measured, and packed up for shipping. The best part is it’s possible to buy direct from Rosadex with only a 2 dozen minimum! I know where I’m getting my roses from now on.
Up Next: The Galapagos