A lovely hacienda with sweeping views of the Andes, traditional homemade cuisine, and access to the day-to-day happenings of a working ranch. In short, a getaway that offers real access into the local culture, rather than costumed folklore shows and pan-pipe music. Zuleta hits the spot, plus a few more, which explains why the ranch is no longer a little-known refuge but a famed destination, lauded in most of the big-name print publications.
Located in the Andean foothills about a two-hour drive north of Quito, Hacienda Zuleta is a 4,000-acre working ranch that dates from the 16th century; for the past 100 years, it’s been under the ownership of the family of one of Ecuador’s mid-century presidents. The hacienda itself has fourteen guest rooms, all impeccable, with fresh flowers, colorful paintings and locally produced basketry, wooden writing desks and quaint fireplaces – but the sleeping arrangements are not what’s important here.
One comes here to Zuleta to hike and horseback ride, feast on abundant, farm-fresh cuisine and space out (or watch birds, if that’s your persuasion) in front of some stunning mountain vistas. There’s an on-site creamery and cheese factory where you can sample the region’s famous semi-hard cheese, a rehabilitation center for the local condors, a fair-trade embroidery workshop where you can watch local artisans at work and purchase their products.
And in the evening, having had your fill of fresh air, you’ll retire to the hacienda’s rustic wood tables for freshly caught rainbow trout – prepared according to the longtime family recipe – then rest easy with the knowledge that you’re experiencing the real Ecuador.
Visitors flock here mainly to take in the markets, which are stocked with goods from some of the most respected craftspeople in the world. Many of the locals wear traditional clothing, and sell their leather-work, weaving and wood carvings at the daily markets. The horse riding is fantastic here, and the traditional haciendas are sublime places to dine and rest your head.