513 Calle Robles
Tel: 593 2 2224 271
Local architect-designer László Károlyi's beautifully restored mansion on the edge of the historic city center is certainly not the most hotel-y hotel in the capital (those would be the JW Marriott and the Swissôtel). For instance, there's no cable TV or AC in the 26 rooms (though there is a communal television in the lobby). It is, however, Quito's hippest lodging, a sanctuary of warm lighting, bemuraled walls (by the same artist who adorned Hacienda San Agustin), and theatrical Art Nouveau–ish detail, with a fantastic restaurant to boot. The rooms range from a tiny sunlit box with cavorting bulls painted on the walls to a generous corner honeymoon suite with a curtained king bed, fireplace, balcony, and claw-foot tub. (Go for the latter: It's a mere $20 or so more.) The hotel's rusty-ocher palette, candlelight, wood paneling, eccentric if well-intentioned service, and perfunctory attempt at soundproofing make the entire place feel like a fabulous stage set for some avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Santa Cruz Island
Tel: 888 572 0166 (toll-free)
Tel: 593 2 988 0200
Any conscientious traveler knows a trip to Galápagos comes with a responsibility to leave as little a footprint as possible on the fragile islands. Guests can stay guilt-free and assured of their good stewardship in one of 27 rooms at Finch Bay Eco Resort housed in low-rise buildings connected by wooden walkways (so you don't trample the foliage) to the funky restaurant/bar and pool area. The camping-chic decor is really nondecor in the best sense—solid unvarnished wood furniture and earth-tone cotton textiles. It's just the basics here: comfy beds with cotton sheets and blankets, bamboo shades, jute rugs, and full bathrooms. AC is also available in certain rooms, and an ample breakfast buffet is included in rates. The best rooms are the six romance-inducing Ocean View rooms with private outdoor decks looking out onto the white-sand beach. While the raw wilderness of the Galápagos islands is not entirely welcoming to small children, the beach here is fronted by the kind of protected bay that moms dream about finding on vacation.—Cathay Che
San Pablo del Lago
Tel: 593 6 2918 013
Tel: 800 670 6984
Tucked into the Andean foothills amid a riot of bougainvillea and walnut trees, Hacienda Cusin is a rambling 16th-century estate that attracts Nobel Prize winners (scientist Murray Gell-Mann), actors (Meg Ryan), and pink tourists just back from the Galápagos. Owner Nick Millhouse, a chatty Brit, has worked since 1990 to convert the "fine ruin" into the current complex of stately dining halls, Spanish-style courtyards, and 42 guest rooms. Cozy taverns and creaky reading rooms are stuffed with objets d'art: Bolivian tapestries, afghan rugs, pre-Columbian pottery, and kooky murals. Guest rooms are simple, with folk art, writing desks, and handwoven blankets; instead of televisions, there are big windows that let in the light. Restless types can ride horses or mountain bike through fields cut by farmers whose descendants fought off the Incas. The Otavalo market, one of the best on the continent for indigenous wares, is just a 15-minute drive away.
Kilometer 5, Panamericana Norte
Tel: 593 6 2946 116
Take a crash course in living Ecuadoran history at this most atmospheric of haciendas, site of the 1863 signing of the Treaty of Pinsaquí (the peace accord between Ecuador and Colombia) and still home to the same Freile-Larrea family who had the place built in the 1780s. The house is decked out with 18th-century French and Mexican antiques, crystal chandeliers, roaring fires, miles of marble and mirrors, and brocade chaise longues from which to contemplate the formal landscaped gardens. The showiest of the 29 rooms are in the main house; others, past the family chapel across the courtyard, are more rustic (though very comfortable and with their own fireplaces). Arriving groups get a welcome drink in the medieval cellar, where they'll likely be joined by the owner riding his favorite stallion down the stone steps. Photo ops ensue, with slightly drunk tourists sitting like toddlers on the long-suffering horse. The next day, they can ride for real; the property's stable has five horses. Non-equestrians can visit the nearby Otavalo market.
Tel: 593 3 2719 160
Occupying the site of a mid-15th-century Inca palace-fortress, parts of which are still being restored, San Agustin de Callo is today one of Ecuador's most luxurious haciendas. Owner Mignon Plaza (granddaughter of former president general Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez) lives on the property, and she's made the common areas richly comfortable. The living rooms are packed with rare manuscripts and monographs, antiques, plush couches, and photos of the hacienda's many renovations (in the 16th century, the property briefly housed an Augustine convent). The lodgings include 11 rooms spread through three buildings; the most atmospheric are those in the Inca House, which have cast-iron chandeliers, beamed ceilings, stone floors, claw-foot bathtubs, and views over the green Andean plains. Rooms in the newer Callo House and Cotopaxi House are also luxurious, with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs, but with a more modern aesthetic. At dusk, you can wander outside to watch the resident llamas grazing in the common courtyard, then repair to the volcanic-stone dining room for the nightly feast, presided over by a rotating cast of visiting chefs from around the world.
Tel: 593 6 2662 182
This beautiful late-17th-century hacienda is much more than a place to stay; it's a full cultural-immersion experience. If you score one of the nine rooms at the compound owned by the descendants of former president Galo Plaza Lasso, you become part of the family for the duration of your visit. This is one of only a handful of haciendas in Ecuador that are also working farms—dairy cows and sheep are tended here, and barley, quinoa, potatoes, wheat, and organic vegetables are grown on the property. This produce, plus fish from the on-site trout farm and cheeses, butter, and cream from the huge dairy, are incorporated into the food prepared by the family's genius chef, Jose Maria Pumsacho—making the dinner table here one of the best in the country. After the evening meal, you can ask whichever of the 21 Plaza Lasso cousins are available to take you round the estate to see the impressive gardens and cheese factory, or retire to your Architectural Digest–worthy room, decorated with framed, embroidered Zuleteño yokes and cuffs. Next day, arrange to take one of the hacienda's 90 horses (the Plaza Lassos have their own breed) out to the phenomenal mountainside Condor Rehabilitation Project, where the family is working to save the great Andean bird from extinction. You can also visit nearby pre-Inca archaeological sites like the Caranqui Pyramids.
Calle García Moreno
N5-16 y Chile
Tel: 593 2 2510 777
An antidote to the concrete towers of modern Quito, the Hotel Plaza Grande, on the Centro Histórico's main square, has brought a new level of comfort to the capital. In a $3.5 million restoration of the former Majestic hotel, this five-story neoclassic building was divided into just 15 spacious suites. Heated marble floors in the bathrooms break the Andean night chill, while bath butlers can be summoned to infuse your whirlpool with indigenous essences. The original Majestic drew Ecuador's elite until it closed in 1970, and Quiteños are now returning to the ground-floor café and the cigar and cognac bars on the top floor. The restaurant La Belle Epoque—with its three-foot candelabras and huge sconces—is an overexuberant interpretation of the genre; the ambience is festive in the rustic vaulted-ceiling basement wine lounge, El Claustro. Arrangements of Ecuador's signature roses leave an ever-present scent throughout the hotel.
Calle 10 de Agosto Prolongacion
Tel: 800 327 3573 (toll-free)
Tel: 591 6 2915 237
The only Relais & Chateaux property in all of Ecuador, this converted 200-year-old hacienda is a hidden gem perched on an Andean hillside two hours north of Quito. The whole resort feels like a spa, with landscaped gardens that seem designed for wandering in a robe. As for the spa itself, it's the focal point of the resort, to be sure, with an indoor heated swimming pool and volcanic clay treatments on offer (there's even a resident female shaman for indigenous purification rituals). As exotic as that may sound, there's also something very familiar and comforting about the European-style resort. All the expected modern amenities are on offer here: high-speed Internet, cable TV, turndown service, and attentive staff who unobtrusively seem to intuit your needs and appear just when you need them. Each of the 23 rooms has a view of the gardens in bloom with dahlias, bougainvillea, roses, and hibiscus flowers. Size-wise, the rooms range from spacious to palatial, with slightly over-the-top châteaux decor including draped tapestries, canopy beds, chandeliers, and even fireplaces in the separate living rooms. Daily American breakfast and a four-course dinner are also included in your room rate.—Cathay Che
N13-134 Calle Los Rios and Pasaje Ascencio Gandara
Tel: 800 327 3573 (toll-free)
Tel: 593 2 255 7721
This former waterfront mansion of a tobacco tycoon, built at the turn of last century, has been fully restored to its Ecuadorian Republic–era glory and transformed into a charming 15-room hotel. None of its gilded, opulent rooms are alike: Expect antique furnishings like a brass canopy bed, crystal chandeliers, a fireplace, and Queen Anne–style desks. If the rooms evoke a bit of the Versace Mansion Casa Casuarina, that may be due to the fact that the building was designed by an Italian architect who infused his home country's aesthetic with Ecuadorian architectural styles. Gratis breakfast is served daily in a glass-encased patio where afternoon tea is also offered. Pre-dinner cocktails are available every evening at the rooftop lounge looking out over the adjacent Alameda Park. The only downside to staying at the Mansion is that, true to its period, there are no elevators; be prepared to huff it up at least a couple of flights of stairs.—Cathay Che
Avenida Charles Darwin
Isla Santa Cruz
Tel: 593 5 2526 564
An alternative to the forced march of a Galápagos cruise is the land-based stay, and this Isla Santa Cruz hotel sets you up nicely for day-trip explorations or island-hopping (the hotel is happy to help you coordinate—it has sister properties on Isabella and Floreana islands). On the ocean edge among wild mangroves near downtown Puerto Ayora, Red Mangrove looks kookily Disney-esque with its red adobe and kingfisher-blue curves, tree cross-section tables, fanciful domed roofs, and sushi bar. The 12 rooms have built-in platform beds, terra-cotta tile or wood floors, and bathrooms that seem hand-carved from solid rock. If you'd rather not leave Santa Cruz island, don't worry. The hotel organizes a menu of activities: exploring the island by 4X4, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, surfing, and even scuba diving.—Updated by Cathay Che
Tel: 593 2 2523 777
Tel: 888 922 4262
Deep in the Amazon rain forest, on the banks of the Napo River between Puerto Misahuallí and Coca, is this unique micro-city. Built in 1995, the lodge is a branch of the Foundation for Education and Integral Development (FUNEDESIN), a nonprofit organization that works to educate and support the indigenous Montaña community. Yachana means "a place for learning" in the Quichua language, and indeed this environmentally friendly hotel plunges visitors into the indigenous lifestyle. Guests take river trips in dugout canoes, watch shamans perform healing ceremonies, learn about local flora and fauna, and eat local food, including Yachana Gourmet fair-trade chocolate (which, okay, you can also buy at Whole Foods Markets back home). This all takes place in relative luxuryrelative being the operative word: Solar-powered lights and hot water, twin- or queen-size beds, closets, balconies, and hammocks are the extent of it. But this is the best place to be safely immersed in the fascinating and mysterious ways of El Oriente (not to mention the annual 12 feet of rain).