Yes, Zuleta is its hacienda; an old, beautifully appointed, carefully-restored hacienda; a wonderful place to overnight that defines the Andes and life in the Ecuadorian countryside. But Zuleta is also the art of embroidery of talented local artisans; the organic produce harvested throughout its green pastures and fields; its ecological vision to restore emblematic species such as the Andean Condor or the Andean Bear; the close-knit relationship it maintains with its local community and pre-Inca past… Hacienda Zuleta is an age-old story that unfolds the longer you stay and explore.
To mention Hacienda Zuleta today, you must start from the beginning. But which? A recent instance is the creation of the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, in 1995, through which its main projects operate. We can go back to the late-19th century, when the farm was acquired by José María Lasso, who would then inherit the property to his daughter “Doña Avelina”, at the time wife of former Ecuadorian President Leonidas Plaza. We can even go back further, to 1713, when it was bought by Canon Gabriel Zuleta, after whom the hacienda was named. But the true story begins earlier stil, after the great eruption of Mount Quilotoa when the native Karanki people moved into the area.
Given its privileged location in the heart of the Andes, Zuleta rests surrounded by imposing landscapes. The endless valleys that lie within the property, are eternal witnesses of its surrounding magnificence. Pre-historic Karanki remains here are found throughout the valley, giving certainty of their presence. They are among the best-preserved remnants of this ancient culture and, therefore, an extremely important place to study and understand its archeology, history, and anthropology. But it is only one thread from which to draw to understand the significance and legacy of a place like Hacienda Zuleta…
A few meters from the church, we find the entrance to the hacienda. In fact, the town church and communal square have lied within the property since forever. Now, a new store — ‘La Casa Zuleta’— sells products made exclusively by local craftsmen and women.
Cows and horses roam free throughout the fields, revealing a deep-rooted farmer’s tradition. It is common to see local inhabitants passing by, carrying milk to produce the delicious mature cheeses that dominate the quality cheese market in the country. Around 7,500 liters of milk are processed here every day!
A square with its imposing cross in the middle surrounded by its traditional façade, which still preserves its original materials, allows us to imagine day-to-day life when former President Galo Plaza Lasso roamed the property with his eternal overalls. Those who knew him have said it was all he ever wore; even during family gatherings.
The bounties of a pastoral life
Today, the hacienda offers twenty-one rooms, each named after a former relative. The rooms house the essence of the original construction, respecting the large and colorful windows, the décor of yesteryear, restored to provide the utmost comfort, a maxim of the ‘Zuleta’ experience.
In the dining room(s), fireplaces are preserved, and cheese mornings or afternoons are always welcome to accompany meals. Most vegetables, fruits, spices, and herbs on the menu come from the hacienda’s own organic vegetable garden, christened “Rosario Plaza”, in honor of president Galo Plaza’s wife. The property also features a library, decorated with paintings, embroidery, and photographs that mark the historical essence of the estate.
Hacienda Zuleta cheeses are, of course, the star product. At its visionary Cheese Museum, learn and take part in the production process, a visit that lasts half an hour (if you fancy the full hands-on adventure, don’t miss the daily milking of the cows).
Currently, there are fifteen types of cheeses, all artisanally made. My recommendation? The mix of four cheeses: “Pategras”, “Danbo”, “Angochagua” (a semi-mature and semi-soft cheese) and “Don Galo” (mature and firm).
The farm also produces cream, wool, wood, compost from its worm farm… In short, this is a prodigious window into country life: self-sufficient, sustainable, that has it all.
In fact, everything either produced, bought, or sold at the hacienda is detailed in a general diary, an extensive handwritten document that specifies, by day, everything that has ever happened here. Day by day… for decades!
This is just a brief example of just how much there is to discover about Hacienda Zuleta, one of Ecuador’s eternal haciendas, a place that offers those who delve into its mysteries and fascinations, endless real (and imaginary) paths through which to walk and explore.
Comuna Zuleta, Imbabura – Ecuador
(+593) 6 2662 182
Photographs: Paula Holguín