Hotels in Ecuador

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Hacienda Cusin
San Pablo del Lago, Otavalo

by Sarah Shuckburgh

Beautifully furnished hacienda in the Andean highlands, run by a charismatic Englishman.

The Hacienda Cusin has a long history, dating from 1602, when 50,000 hectares of Ecuador highlands were purchased at auction in Seville. Today, the hotel is brilliantly run by Nicholas Millhouse, who claims to have trained for the job by watching Fawlty Towers. He divides his time between here and New York, but his brand of benevolent paternalism has enabled 45 local Otavalo Indians to work here full time, as well as another dozen who are employed occasionally on building projects. Believing that responsible tourism is a good way to empower the indigenous population after centuries of exploitation, Millhouse has helped his staff to set up their own bank, and to buy their own houses in the village. He is rewarded with a high degree of professionalism and loyalty, and a sense of involvement which makes guests feel very welcome.

First Impressions:
The hotel is an easy 90-minute drive from Ecaudor's capital, Quito, in the high Andes, just north of the equator. The hacienda is in the shabby village of San Pablo, with further straggly development around a lake, and (when we were there) a dry river bed with ugly drifts of rubbish. But inside the hotel gates, everything is beautiful. Surrounded by lush gardens, the main hacienda is elegantly furnished with antiques, tapestries, icons, paintings and an interesting collection of chasubles.

Log fires are lit in every room, and there are huge vases of flowers from the garden. In an annexe, there is a reading room with a kettle for making tea, and another sitting room with TV and 300 videos. The vegetable garden grows tree tomato, papaya, chillies, avocado, and much more. Huge frogs croak in the ponds.


Most bedrooms have log fires, heavy furniture, Indian wall-paintings, and locally woven bedspreads, and many are dotted about the cobbled courtyards and gardens, with verandahs looking out on tall trees, mown grass, and beds of foxgloves, cosmos and other colourful flowers. Next to the hacienda is the "monastery", an annexe built by the owner 8 years ago, but looking quite convincingly authentic.

Stone steps lead up to the rooftop and a tower lookout, and small whitewashed courtyards with some faux-antique features (blocked-up doorways, crucifixes in niches, etc) give a peaceful, meditative atmosphere.

Reasons to come:
1. Twenty minutes away by car or taxi is Otovalo’s famous craft market - at its biggest and best on Saturdays.
2. Within an easy drive are misty cloud forests, volcanic crater lakes, the 4263 metre mountain of Mojanda, and other spectacular highland scenery.
3. Other pursuits: the hotel can arrange Spanish lessons (taught by one of  the waitresses), horse-riding, cycling, and suggestions for walks or drives.
4. Be like at least one American film star, and take over the whole hotel for your wedding.
5. Bird-watching: 50 species have been seen here.
6. Lovely climate - cool nights, and reliable equatorial sunshine by day.

Not for:
1. Clubbers or beachbums.
2. One-night stays - you need several nights to enjoy the calm, and the beauty of the highland scenery.

Eating in:
The food is superb. Using fresh, local produce, including vegetables from the garden, the menu offers little choice, but everything is delicious. Waiters and waitresses wear Otavaleno traditional costume.

Hacienda Cusin
PO Box 123
San Pablo del Lago
Telephone: 00593 291 8013
Fax: 00593 22288 690

First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd

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