There is no record of Alexander von Humboldt paying a visit to Hacienda Cusín on his travels from modern-day Colombia to Ecuador. He and Bonpland would have made their way from the important town of Ibarra to the north south towards Quito along the old road, just over the hill from the Hacienda Cusín.
Had the Baron and his companion climbed the dormant Imbabura Volcano to gaze down on what he would later name “The Avenue of the Volcanoes”, he would have admired the fertile fields to his south dotted with thousands of sheep, the lands of Hacienda Cusín.
The original sheep farm comprised two valleys and all the land between them and the San Pablo Lake – a vast, rolling estate of some 50,000 hectares (100,000 acres). It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the estate was split up. Today, 12 hectares (30 acres) remain as part of the hacienda-hotel, ideally situated for exploring the Otavalo market as well as Imbabura Province’s stunningly-diverse nature and culture. Furnished with antiques, filled with artful curiosities and imbued with a profound sense of place, Cusín provides the perfect setting for an Andean adventure à la Humboldt and Bonpland.
Without question, the two Europeans would approve of Hacienda Cusín’s food, fine wine and relaxed dining; fireside tea service and hot-water bottles in bed; armchairs and books aplenty. They would have delighted in the eucalyptus-carved columns of its adjoining El Monasterio, with its refectory murals, quirky Baroque altar, parapet with swooping views and handsome guestrooms… the art of fine hacienda living would no doubt have seduced them just as it does today’s modern worldly travellers.
The pair would have taken special pleasure in Hacienda Cusín’s grounds and gardens. The property’s landscaped and passionately-cared-for perennial gardens are a delight: a vibrant paradise of more than 60 plant species including Aztec lilies, agapantha, acanthas, foxgloves, malva, hollyhocks, roses, poppies, daisies, bright bougainvillea and, this being Ecuador, dozens of orchid species.
Cobblestone paths wind their way along carefully-crafted flower beds, coursing between dozens of species of trees such as handsome cholán, avocado, banana, palm, eucalyptus, datura, magnolia, cedro, walnut, laurel, jacaranda, Brazilian pepper and arayán. Through a gap in the weathered adobe walls, the hacienda’s vegetable and fruit gardens extend, full of grapefruit, lemon, tree tomato and babaco trees as well as rows of lettuces, cabbages, carrots, parsnips, beetroots, and dozens of herbs and chilis — all destined for the tables of Cusín’s graceful dining room.
Wander over to the romantic garden cottages, their thick walls latticed with jasmine and thumburgia, or seek out the shorn tree trunk that was artfully carved with a bevy of flora and fauna by local artisans. Perhaps most special of all are the lovingly-landscaped ponds, hemmed by huge gunnera leaves, white cala lillies, papyrus and hydrangeas, where little bridges invite you to cross over to the other side, goldfish slinking between the reflected dappled light, pondweed and water hyacinth.
As in the days of Humboldt and Bonpland, when the descendants of the Luna family would have received their friends and family to stay at their estate, we can count ourselves fortunate this earthly garden of delights is, today, accessible to all.
San Pablo del Lago, Otavalo – Ecuador