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.
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.
1. Clubbers or beachbums.
2. One-night stays - you need several nights to enjoy the
calm, and the beauty of the highland scenery.
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.
PO Box 123
San Pablo del Lago
Telephone: 00593 291 8013
Fax: 00593 22288 690
First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd