A 90-minute drive south of Quito, the landscape is dominated by the majestic 19,348-foot snow cone of Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. At its foot, close to the boundary of Cotopaxi National Park, stands the Hacienda San Agustín de Callo, surrounded by bright gardens and a working farm.
The hacienda has enjoyed a colorful history, having housed an Augustinian monastery, as well as served a base for the French Geodesic Mission, whose experiments in 1736 first determined the true shape of the Earth. Its illustrious visitors have included Alexander von Humboldt, the renowned German scientist and explorer; and, in 1859, eminent American artist Frederic Edwin Church of the Hudson River School.
However, the most remarkable phase of the property’s history preceded the Spanish conquest. Then, the site was occupied by an Inca palace constructed around 1440 by one of the last emperors, Huayna Capac. Today, the hacienda contains a dining room and chapel that are still Inca structures, and several bedrooms have sections of Inca wall.
The hacienda was purchased in 1921 by Leónidas Plaza Gutiérrez, twice president of Ecuador, and today, it is owned by his granddaughter, Mignon Plaza. The interior retains the atmosphere of a family home, with photographs, paintings and eclectic memorabilia. Six suites and five double rooms are divided among the main Inca House and two adjacent buildings, Callo Lodge and Cotopaxi House. Individually decorated with lovely old textiles and striking murals, they all come with woodburning fireplaces. The baths are well-appointed, though many have showers over the tubs. The two suites in Cotopaxi House have Jacuzzis.
The hacienda’s dining room is extraordinary, and it is an unforgettable experience to sit in flickering candlelight surrounded by massive Inca masonry. There, we enjoyed a wonderful Ecuadorian potato soup filled with chunks of avocado, followed by grilled trout with rice, and an addictive chocolate cake for dessert.
Activities include horseback riding, fishing and hiking in the national park. This is a unique property of immense charm. It is not a luxury hotel, however, but an extremely comfortable private house.
Hacienda San Agustín de Callo 89 Double Room, $350; Suite, $400. Rates include all meals and some activities; horseback riding is extra. Tamayo N24-607 y Av. Colón, Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Tel. (593) 2-290-6157.