The Best of South America's Haciendas
Published: April 2009
By Amy E. Robertson
From the peaks of the Andes to the windswept pampas of Argentina, we reveal 15 of our favorite haciendas and estancias, where you can live the country life—South American style.
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.
Los Lingues, Colchagua Valley
Chile's oldest hacienda derives its charm from the extensive collection of extravagant antiques it houses—priceless pieces crowd each room. Sixteenth-century silver fighting cocks from Peru stand guard at the dining table; an ivory statue of Christ once owned by Pope Pius IX hangs in the chapel; ornate Mapuche necklaces sit under the glass top of the coffee table in the sitting room. The bedrooms in the main house are more lavish than those in the guesthouse. Breakfast is not included, but the sumptuous spread is worth the extra $24, with farm-fresh eggs and an entire hock from which to carve a slice of ham. Getting There Los Lingues is 80 miles south of Santiago, about three miles off the Pan-American Highway. 56-2/431-0510; loslingues.com; doubles from $238.
Hacienda San Agustín de Callo, Cotopaxi
San Agustín de Callo lies in the foothills of the snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano and was built on the ruins of an Incan tambo, an inn that once lodged royalty traveling along the Inca Trail. The hotel's name stems from a later incarnation as an Augustinian monastery in the 1500's. The current owner, Mignon Plaza, inherited the hacienda from her grandfather Leonidas Plaza, two-time president of Ecuador. Eleven spacious suites in a newer building have frescoed walls, wood-beam ceilings, and views of Cotopaxi. The five more rustic rooms in the main house have the original Incan walls, and fireplaces in some of the bathrooms. Feeding carrots to the hacienda's llamas in the stone courtyard may be the highlight for younger travelers; the horseback riding and gourmet meals will appeal to all. The kitchen will cook up trout caught in the fish pond and serve it with the hacienda's famous locro (potato-and-cheese soup). Getting There The hacienda is 48 miles from Quito, following the Pan-American Highway south. 593-2/290-6157; incahacienda.com; doubles from $250, including meals and most activities.
Hacienda Zuleta, Imbabura
Although Hacienda Zuleta's 15 bedrooms share some 4,000 acres, a stay here is an intimate affair. On cool days guests gather in the sitting room, where wine is served in front of a perpetually burning fire, along with cheeses made on the premises. Meals bring visitors together at a common table where affable German-born managers Christina and Thomas Ring relate the history of the hacienda and keep the conversation lively. Horses are Zuleta's pride, and there is no better way to reach the nearby 800-year-old Caranqui pyramid mounds, the trout farm, or the condor reserve than on the back of a purebred Andalusian. Hacienda Zuleta is also a working farm: 300 cows and 2,000 sheep share the vast pastures. Guests can mountain bike, hike, bird-watch, fish, milk the cows, and even take lessons from one of the renowned embroiderers in the village. Getting There The hacienda is 68 miles north of Quito; private-car service to and from the capital is an additional $120 each way. 593-6/266-2182; zuleta.com; doubles from $510, including meals and three hours of horseback riding.
La Mirage, Cotacachi
Romantic La Mirage, where peacocks wander the grounds and hummingbirds flit through the gardens, is not a place to visit alone. Meals begin with an amuse-bouche served in a hand-carved wood box on a pewter charger. Crystal chandeliers dangle over linen-covered tables, and women dressed in ankle-length black skirts and embroidered blouses typical of the region attend to guests. The small cottages dispersed throughout the gardens are of more recent construction than the 200-year-old hacienda, but are decorated in old-world style; each has a fireplace that's lit at turndown. The only incongruent details are the odd Greek and Roman embellishments in the spa. Getting There La Mirage is 118 miles from Quito; a private car and driver from the capital are included in some packages. 800/327-3573 or 593-6/291-5237; mirage.com.ec; doubles from $280, including breakfast and dinner.
Hacienda PinsaquÍ, PinsaquÍ
This 217-year-old hacienda is an ideal base for visits to the legendary Otavalo market and to craft villages specializing in wood carving, weaving, and leatherwork. Adventurers can ride horses at the hacienda or hike to a nearby crater lake. Every evening, cheese empanadas and canelazo (a hot drink brewed from cinnamon and bitter oranges) are served in the cellar bar, accompanied by the melodies of an Andean panpipe band.
Save space for dinner at one of the hacienda's two restaurants, which serve top-notch renditions of local dishes. Two of the best are carne colorado (beef colored red with peppery annatto) and fritada (fried pork) served with locro and avocado. The antiques-filled suites with four-poster beds are havens for weary travelers. Getting There Transportation to and from Quito's airport, 53 miles south of the hacienda, can be arranged for an additional $50. 593-6/294-6116; haciendapinsaqui.com; doubles from $108, including breakfast.
Estancia El Ombú, San Antonio de Areco
El Ombú takes its name from the only tree indigenous to the pampas, one of which looms over the yard that separates the estancia's stables from the two main buildings. The nine guest rooms, each assigned the name of a local bird rather than a number, are located in an 1890's building with soaring ceilings and furnished with European and Argentinean antiques such as brass beds and potbellied stoves—which are kept burning during the winter. The estancia has two pools, but few activities are offered beyond morning and afternoon horseback excursions. Thirteen friendly dogs, from German shepherds to dachshunds, roam the grounds and join the horses and guests on rides. Lunch, served fireside in winter and on the patio when the weather is mild, is a traditional asado, with platters of grilled steaks and sausages; the addition of day visitors from Buenos Aires on weekends makes this a boisterous event. Dinner is more subdued, and most guests retire early or take a glass of Malbec to the library or game room. Getting There The estancia is 75 miles by car from Buenos Aires, and private-car service can be arranged by the estancia, for $80 each way. 54-11/4737-0436; estanciaelombu.com; doubles from $500, including meals./p>
Estancia Peuma Hue, Bariloche
After years of searching northern Patagonia's lake district, Evelyn Hoter—then a psychologist in Buenos Aires—chose a 500-acre lot inside Nahuel Huapi National Park on which to construct her estancia, whose name means "place of dreams" in the Mapuche language. Originally she and her ex-husband used it as a private home, but now 27 guests can stay here, in luxurious log cabins filled with handmade rugs, furniture, and crafts by local Indians. In the main house, multicourse organic meals are served, and there's a large public living room facing Lake Gutiérrez. Ask at the front desk where to hike in the surrounding Andean foothills and you'll get a hand-drawn map of trails. Horseback riding, biking, and kayaking can be arranged too, as well as off-property fly-fishing, rafting, and skiing, and Peuma Hue's own tai chi classes and massage treatments make it an estancia for the New Age. Getting There Peuma Hue is 15 miles outside Bariloche, Argentina; rates include airport transfer. 54-92944/501-030; peuma-hue.com; doubles from $430, including all meals and most activities.
Estancia Villa María, Máximo Paz
Sitting on 3,700 acres, the imposing eight-bedroom guesthouse of Villa Maria is a design anomaly for the pampas: English Tudor, inside and out. But guests are welcomed with an authentic asado before they begin exploring the sprawling grounds, on horseback or on foot. Later, a gaucho equestrian demonstration is followed by a dance performance of tangos and milongas in the large dining room. In warm weather, the outdoor pool and tennis courts are also options. Playing on the English influence seen in the public rooms, the bedrooms (eight in the main guesthouse and two in a second building) are filled with 19th-century antiques. The Villa María stands out among the other estancias near Buenos Aires for its polished, gracious, and warm staff, who attend to any empty wineglass quickly. Getting There The estancia is 35 miles southwest of Buenos Aires; a private car service can be arranged for $160, round-trip. 54-11/4322-7785;estanciavillamaria.com; doubles from $260.
Hacienda Cayara, Potosí
Its rich collection of colonial buildings earned Potosí World Heritage Site status from UNESCO; at 13,000 feet above sea level, it is also one of the world's highest cities. After wandering the cobblestone streets and visiting the city's many churches and silver mines, travelers can catch their breath at Hacienda Cayara. Located in rugged red Andean foothills, the estate was built in 1557 and is one of the few in Bolivia of that age that remain intact. Twin iron lamps atop stone pillars frame the massive wooden doorway that leads into the hacienda, where most guest rooms open onto two courtyards; the exception is a newly renovated suite that overlooks the hotel's gardens. Although the rooms are spare, the colonial antiques in the common areas are museum-quality. Getting There Cayara is 12 miles by car from Potosí. 591-2/622-6380; cayarahostal.com; doubles from $50, including breakfast.
Hacienda Tres Lagos, Patagonia
Patagonia's contemporary wood-and-stone Hacienda Tres Lagos ("three lakes") sits on the shore of Black Lake and is a stone's throw from Lake Bertrand and the vast Lake General Carrera. Guests can choose among hiking, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, sailing, and mountain biking to fill their days. Excursions farther afield include visits to natural wonders such as the Fuentes Glacier, the Tamango National Reserve, Explorers Valley, and the limestone caves known as the Marble Caverns. Adventure activities are complemented by opportunities to unwind: afternoon tea, dips in the hot tub, and massages at the hotel's spa. The two restaurants offer local treats such as lamb, rabbit, pheasant, and salmon. Getting There Guests are picked up at the Balmaceda airport (a three-hour flight from Santiago) and transported to the hotel along the winding Southern Highway, a five-hour journey through rugged countryside with a stop for a picnic lunch. 56-2/333-4122; haciendatreslagos.com; doubles from $240, including breakfast.
Hacienda San José, Chincha
Everything feels oversize here. Whitewashed arches tower above wide porches. King-size beds and massive armoires don't begin to fill the vast rooms. Although San José is a simple hotel, its amenities—an attractive pool, tasty food, and pleasant service—add flair. The hacienda was built in 1688, and its sugarcane plantation was originally run by Jesuits, until it was sold in 1767. Its current owners, the Cillóniz family, purchased San José in 1913, and it is one of the few haciendas in Peru to have survived the land reform measures of the 1960's. Tour guides explain the antique farming and household implements in the common areas and lead guests through the eerie catacombs. Chincha itself is a predominantly Afro-Peruvian community, where traditional music and dance are performed on holiday weekends. Getting There San José is 130 miles south of Lima, off the Pan-American Highway. 51-1/444-5242; haciendasanjose.com.pe; doubles from $57, including breakfast.
Royal Inka Pisac, Sacred Valley
This cheery hotel offers an agreeable combination of comfort and convenience—and spectacular views of the Pisac ruins. The buildings are a rainbow of mustard yellow, tomato red, and turquoise; the chapel is painted a deep rose. A giant fire roars in the cozy sitting room near the lobby, and the third floor "special rooms" have individual fireplaces with quirky iron screens depicting Incan gods. Like many other haciendas, the Royal Inka offers horseback riding and biking, but guests can also take classes in wood carving and ceramics taught by local artisans. Getting There Pisac is 45 minutes from Cuzco; some packages include transfers to and from the city center or airport. 866/554-6028 or 51-84/222-284; royalinkahotel.com; doubles from $52. ✚