Hotels in Ecuador

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Hotel San Agustin de Callo
Lasso, Cotopaxi

by Sarah Shuckburgh

Historic hacienda with wonderful views of Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s highest active volcano.

Once an Inca palace, this privately-owned working farm makes an eccentric and charming hotel. Parts of the 16th-century royal fortress survive, and form one of the best-preserved Inca sites in Ecuador - the chapel is most impressive, with walls of black, dimpled volcanic stone, with precisely bevelled edges, huge chunks of rock fitted together so precisely that no mortar is needed. Later the palace became an Augustinian monastery, and the French Geodesic mission stayed here in the 18th century when they were carrying out scientific studies which determined the exact shape of the globe. The hotel’s aristocratic owner, Mignon Plaza, is reluctant to advertise or pander to the demands of modern tourism, but gives guests an extremely warm welcome to the hacienda which she obviously adores.

First Impressions:

San Agustin is hard to find. Turning off the Panamerican Highway, we drove through a labyrinth of smooth tracks of volcanic ash, occasionally spotting an arrow daubed on a boulder. Eventually, passing a field of llamas, cows and horses, we arrived at the San Agustin farm buildings, which looked derelict. But from a ramshackle office, two friendly young men came running out, in sweatshirt and jeans, and led us to a pretty flower-filled courtyard, around which are the bedrooms and dining room. The buildings include 15th and 16th-century cloisters, and 19th-century Republican additions, with roofs covered in conical chimneys. The dining room is another complete Inca room, dark and low, with candles flickering on the grey-black stone walls.


The rooms are charming, with a bohemian feel - some have thick pock-marked walls of ancient Inca stones, others are washed with soft terracotta, or painted with murals and colourful Inca designs. Log fires blaze in bedrooms and bathrooms, baths are old and deep, beds are covered with locally woven rugs, and huge vases of fresh flowers - literally three feet across - stand on deep windowsills. Rooms are filled with family mementoes, books and knick-knacks. There are photographs of Mignon’s famous bullfighting father, who was a leading politician, and also of her uncle and grandfather, who were both presidents of Ecuador.
Less charming are three rooms in a new annexe, Callo Lodge.

Reasons to come:
1. Mignon Plaza is charismatic and friendly, and particularly encourages artists and writers to enjoy the peace and quiet of her family home.
2. Archaeologists will be interested in the investigative work which is continuing on the Inca remains. The palace gateway and main halls are currently just earth-floored shells.
3. Explore the smoking volcano of Cotopaxi - Ecuador’s first mainland national park - on horseback or bike, or by car, with a local Indian guide.
4. Visit nearby Indian markets, including Saquisilí and Pujilí , for spices, fruit, woven ponchos, and guinea pigs (to eat).
5. Get married in the Inca chapel, which can hold 18.

Not for:

1. People who suffer from altitude sickness - this hotel stands at 3000 meters above sea level.
2. Gourmets - the menus are long and elaborate, but the waiters, in crumpled shirts, told us that most of the options weren’t available, and that we would be sick if we ate potato and avocado soup before going to bed, so we should change our order.
3. Perfectionists. There is an air of dilapidation, stucco is flaking off walls, the office is cluttered and chaotic, and Mapingo, the dog, is an engaging but scruffy mongrel.

Hotel San Agustin de Callo
Panamericana Sur Km 77
Tel/fax 005932 290 6157, 005933 719 160

First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd

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