Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventures in Quito: Hacienda El Porvenir – A Base Camp for Andes Adventures


Over the course of ten days in Ecuador, I have had the privilege of seeing a number of truly wonderful things, while also staying in some fantastic lodges along the way. If you’ve been reading my posts throughout my travels, you have no doubt seen me mention a couple of these great hotels, several of which I have recommended highly. But nothing prepared me for my stay at Hacienda El Porvenir, a traditional mountain lodge that can serve as your base camp for adventure in the Andes.

El Porvenir isn’t likely to impress on first glance, especially if you’ve visited one of the more modern and upscale lodges in the Quito area. But don’t let the exterior fool you. This is a place that will capture your heart, and call you back for future visits. The hacienda has a charm and character all of its own, and a soul that is pure Ecuadorian.

The main house that makes up the lodge belonged to the same family for six generations. About 15 years ago, they decided to convert it into a hotel, first starting with some very basic accommodations that are not unlike something you’d find in hostel. Over the years, they have expanded the operations, and added on additional rooms and buildings, allowing for El Porvenir to meet the needs of more guests. Those additions include incredibly comfortable suites, family rooms, and options for singles and couples. The result is that the lodge pretty much has something for everyone – and every budget.

The entire hacienda covers more than 1000 hectares (2470 acres) of prime real estate on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park. In fact, on clear days, the massive volcano can be easily seen from the hotel itself. Other prominent peaks throughout the area are visible as well, giving El Porvenir some of the best views in all of Ecuador. All of that land is put to good use as well, as guests can book horseback rides into the highlands, hit custom made mountain biking trails, or go hiking on self-guided or full-guided tours. If you like staying active on your travels, and like to stay at a place that can provide several forms of adventurous pursuits, this is definitely the place for you.

El Porvenir is an Ecuadorian ranch at heart, and it stays true to those origins today. The lodge has an impressive herd of horses, and many head of cattle also roam the fertile grasslands that surround the guest quarters. Several times of year, expert horseman from across the globe visit the lodge to take part in an authentic cattle drive, during which the local chalcas – Ecuadorian cowboys – round up wild bulls for use in regional celebrations, mock bull fights, and for use in the kitchen. These popular rodeos are an Andean tradition that remain popular to this day.

Speaking of the kitchen, the management at El Porvenir has worked hard to create a very tasty menu as well, all with food sourced locally. Their gourmet offerings keep guests very satisfied, with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats that are purchased from the local communities. As with several of the lodges I stayed in on my trip, the food was definitely a highlight, with the steak filet in gooseberry sauce – made from berries picked right off the mountain – as a true highlight.

My stay wasn’t all about just soaking up the comforts however, as I got to take part in several activities while I was there, including a nice self-guided hike that provided excellent views of the surrounding countryside. But the true highlight was a morning horseback ride into the Andean highlands on a near-perfect day. The ride took us up above 4200 meters (13,780 ft), with Cotopaxi gleaming like a beacon the entire way.

I have to admit that I am not all that comfortable on horseback. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to ride several times, usually in amazing destinations, but for some reason I have never been entirely comfortable in the saddle. But the sure-footed Andean ponies that are in use at El Porvenir are well trained, good-tempered, and extremely easy to ride. After just a few minutes in the saddle I was feeling comfortable and confident, even as we jogged up well-worn trails into the hills surrounding the lodge.

My ride went on for about four hours, with spectacular views at every stage. The thick grasses of the highlands proved to be no impediment for the stout horses, who are capable of carrying large loads, even at attitude. My steed in particular had to work hard, as I am certainly larger than most of the Ecuadorians that I have met on my travels.
Adventurous travelers who want to explore the Andes by horseback will find excellent guides and horses at El Porvenir. Even if you’ve never been on a horse before, they’ll provide you with good training and support, both before and during your ride. I’m told that about 50% of all visitors are complete beginners, but they all do fine once they get settled in the saddle. Judging from my observations, I’d say that is an accurate statement.

While I didn’t get the opportunity to mountain bike one of the outstanding trails at El Porvenir, I did get to see the bikes that guests have at their disposal. They include some top-notch models with disc breaks, full suspensions, and carbon fiber frames. Often times when you visit a lodge such as this one, you get bikes that are old, and lacking features. That isn’t the case here, allowing visitors to ride with confidence. That certainly makes for a much better experience for both new and experienced riders alike.

As I’ve said previously, one of the things that has impressed me the most about Ecuador is how friendly and accommodating the people are. Everyone I have met has been incredibly hospitable, and that includes the staff at El Porvenir. From the moment you arrive, to the time you checkout, the staff is courtesy, professional, and quick to assist. That includes the front desk managers, the cooks and waitresses, and the friendly ladies who deliver hot water bottles to your door each evening, and light the wood burning stoves in the suites. You’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier crew in any mountain lodge around the world, and I believe it is that level service that keeps brining customers back.

If you’re planning a trip to Ecuador yourself, and you’re looking for an unforgettable place to stay, you really do owe it to yourself to book a room at El Porvenir. With options for every budget, great food and service, and plenty of adventure activities on site, this is a truly great lodge. Whether you just want to relax in a serene, picturesque setting, or fill your days with hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, you’ll no doubt be charmed by this Andean retreat. It is fun, romantic, and comfortable, with distinct feel that is unlike any other place I have ever stayed. Truly a great Ecuadorian escape.

Tierra del Volcan, the company that owns El Porvenir, also has two other Haciendas in Ecuador, and can arrange a number of other adventures for you in the country as well. Be sure to check out their website to see what else they have to offer. 



No comments: