|Hotel San Agustin de Callo
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.
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
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
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
5. Get married in the Inca chapel, which can hold 18.
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