San Pablo del Labo, 123 Otavalo, Imbabura, Ecuador
Located near the market town of Otavalo and partially housed in buildings dating back to the 1800s, this flower-filled hacienda retreat offers a relaxing retreat in the countryside, close to a lake and a dramatic volcanic mountain.
About an hour and a half from Quito but a world away in terms of pace and atmosphere, Hacienda Cusin is a popular getaway hotel the combines well-tended gardens and a range of colonial touches in historic buildings. It provides a strong sense of place and a feeling of romance appreciated by those looking for a stylish country getaway that's easy to reach.
The main buildings are a mix of original hacienda structures spanning two centuries, while the additional Monastery section was added in 1996 but blends right in. White buildings with original balconies are covered by blooming pink and purple bouganvilla plants and dozens of other flower varieties (including orchids) are usually in bloom throughout the property.
The formal dinner restaurant is an evocative space filled with large guilded oil paintings, antiques, and black wood tables on parquet floors. Another brighter space offers simpler furniture and custom murals instead of oil paintings, while still retaining the cloth napkins, fresh flowers, and fine cutlery. The two bars also serve up two different moods. One is a sleek space with a fireplace, filled with contemporary furniture, polished hardwood floors, and local masks displayed on one wall. The other bar, in a separate section of the complex, is like a cozy country pub. A stone fireplace joins simple wood furniture on plank floors, but the priests' vestments on the wall for decoration could lead to smaller bar tabs from the faithful.
Most multi-day guests use Hacienda Cusin as a base for excursions to rose plantations, the Otavalo market (only a $5 taxi ride away), and the leather center of Cotacachi. There's plenty to keep people occupied on site, with recreational diversions including squash courts, a basketball/volleyball court, a playground, a game room, and a library reading room with TV. The conference room turns into a cinema room at night, with comfortable easy chairs facing a big projection screen for movies from a selection of 300 films. A hiking path from the property leads up to a sacred lake and the hotel furhishes a map for hikes from 1.5 to 2.5 hours. You can book horseback trips, borrow bikes, or take Spanish lessons as well.
Rooms vary widely in decor and layout, with the ones in the oldest buildings being the best bet. These use elaborately carved beds, beamed ceilings, antiques, and paintings, with more than half having their own fireplace. Most have king or two twin beds, but a few have queens and there is a family suite with four beds. A few have mountain views, but most face the gardens. The baths are generally not as impressive as the sleeping quarters, with simple tile and in some cases only a shower—request a room with a tub if that's important. The 15 Monastery rooms have kiva fireplaces but are simpler; these are mostly used for groups and conference attendees. Amenities are not designed with techies in mind: Wi-fi is only available in the library and there are no TVs or MP3 docks in the rooms.
If you are with a small group or family traveling together and want to stick around for a while, ask about the five country houses that Cusin has for rent on the property grounds by the week or month. These have access to all the hotel's facilities, but offer more communal indoor and outdoor space apart from the sleeping quarters.
Some of the staffers here speak English, including the Cornell–educated manager Cesar Arcos. Hacienda Cusin is not so over–the–top elegant as La Mirage down the road in Cotacachi, so it offers a more laid–back, rustic version of the country mansion experience. With rates that are a good value and interesting asthetics to give your eyes plenty to savor, this is a great hideaway for those who want to experience the countryside without getting too far from the capital.
Web Address: www.haciendacusin.com
Total Number of Rooms: 43
Rates: $105 to $300 BB
Review and photos by Timothy Scott