Wonderful finds in Ecuador

by Dave

Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/02/2008

For such a small country (about the size of Colorado), Ecuador is remarkably diverse. Tucked between Colombia and Peru on South America’s west coast, it’s probably best known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. But it has three other ecosystems: the Amazon, the Pacific coast and the Andes, or Sierra, each with its own climate, terrain and culture.

It was the Andes that captured our attention. Running half the length of the country, the mountains are home to a dramatic avenue of volcanoes (including Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world), deep valleys, lakes and farmland, not to mention the grand old haciendas we hoped to stay in.

The haciendas, also called hosterias, were established during the country’s Spanish colonization, when they were awarded as land grants by the king. As the estates flourished, their wealthy owners incorporated ornate tile work, terra cotta roofs, archways, verandas, murals, and central courtyards into their designs.

After the land reforms of the 1960s, many of the haciendas were broken up, refurbished and turned into inns, some with spas and activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.

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