The haciendas of South America are a varied lot. In Chile, travelers can sip a local Cabernet while staying at a 19th-century winery; farther north, llama farms are more common. At the cattle ranches of Argentina, where haciendas are known as estancias, it is possible to experience, however briefly, the world of the land barons of the pampas. Other haciendas date from the 16th century, and the earliest days of Spanish colonization.
We asked T+L contributors who live in the region, our A-List travel agents who know it well, and other South American experts to recommend haciendas that stand out for their charm, service, style, uniqueness, and value. Ecuador and Argentina dominate our highly selective and eclectic list simply because those countries have more spectacular properties, and Brazil is absent only because we are saving its fazendas for another day.
Estancia Candelaria del Monte, San Miguel del Monte
The Candelaria del Monte sits on nearly 200 acres of the country's famous pampas, the vast pastureland whose striking topography is broken only by occasional stands of eucalyptus. The estate was bought by the Goñi family 30 years ago, and the country house was rebuilt by Sebastián Goñi, then opened to guests in 2004. The intimate four- bedroom, two-suite estancia is surrounded by grounds, first laid out in the 1850's, that are dotted with ancient oak and pine trees. Many of the furnishings in the rooms date from the 19th century. Guests can spend time relaxing in the swimming pool, taking horseback riding lessons, or playing paddle tennis. Much of the food (fruit juice, eggs, vegetables, and, of course, beef) is homegrown, but the Goñis are particularly proud of the honey they produce. Getting There The estancia is 60 miles from Buenos Aires; the owners can arrange transportation in a private car to and from the capital for $50 each way. 54-2271/442-431; candelariadelmonte.com.ar; doubles from $280, including meals and most activities.
Estancia El Rocio, San Miguel del Monte
The colonial five-bedroom estancia El Rocio was restored by French-born Patrice Gravière and his wife, Macarena Llambi, 12 years ago. Today, this 400-acre working farm allows guests to experience the gaucho's way of life—albeit in rooms meticulously decorated in Mediterranean hues of eucalyptus green, terra-cotta, and golden yellow, with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi and cable TV. Request the Las Rosas suite, with its blue claw-foot bathtub and corner fireplace. The experienced players at the on-site polo clinic instruct guests of all levels. Biking, shooting, and bird-watching provide opportunities to explore the pampas. Another option is simply lounging: by the pool in summer, and during cooler months in the library or la matera, a traditionally decorated living room where gauchos gather for maté and pastries. Getting There El Rocio is 60 miles by car from Buenos Aires, and just 10 minutes from Candelaria. 54-2271/420-488; estanciaelrocio.com; doubles from $500, including most activities. (See page 214 for three more Argentinean estancias.)
Casa Real Hotel, Maipo Valley
Built in 1880 as the manor house of the Santa Rita vineyards, Casa Real was converted into a luxury hotel in 1996. Some of the 16 rooms have soaring ceilings and French doors that open onto a grassy courtyard with a stone fountain at its center. Service is both attentive and unobtrusive—housekeeping manages to keep the fruit basket full and bottled water stocked without ever being seen. There are horse and cart tours to take guests through the vineyards and to the cellars and state-of-the-art bottling plant. Wine tastings are not regularly scheduled, but the knowledgeable staff will arrange an evening of sampling upon request. Getting There Casa Real is 25 miles from Santiago, following the Pan-American Highway south. 56-2/821-9966; santarita.cl; doubles from $295, including breakfast.