You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store at Ecuadorian farm estate and boutique hideaway Hacienda La Danesa, run by generations of the Olsen-Peet family since 1870. Not just giddy at the prospect of cinematic rides on the quarter-pinto horses bred here, playing beekeeper for the day, helping to milk the dairy farm’s cows and lazily river-tubing through tropical verdure. But because swathes of cacao and sugar plantations, an apiary and orchard ensure a steady supply of chocolate-y treats, dulce de leche, jams, honey, sweet-toothed cocktails… Don’t worry, once the rush wears off, there are converted cottages and stables filled with local handicrafts to crash in.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of sparkling wine and artisanal chocolates
Seven, set across restored garden cottages and stables and in the farmhouse.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability – the hotel is happy to work around flight timings. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £293.84 ($358), including tax at 12 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per booking on check-in.
Rates include breakfast, all excursions and experiences (tree-to-bar chocolate-making, bike hire, milking on the farm, cacao-plantation tour, tubing), and all the tropical fruit you can pick from the gardens.
Unfortunately, this vast rural estate isn’t wheelchair-accessible.
At the hotel
Cacao and sugar-cane plantations, dairy farm and grazing fields, tropical gardens and groves, stables, library lounge and workspace, boutique, free-to-hire bikes, free WiFi (can be intermittent). In rooms: entertainment system, Bose Bluetooth speakers, smart TV, binoculars and bird-watching guide, coffee and fresh juice delivered every morning, yoga mats, Panama hats, refillable water bottles, minibar with free soft drinks, air-conditioning and ceiling fan, coffee- and tea-making kit, and Terra bath products.
Our favourite rooms
A strong sense of locality is felt across all three room types, with handmade teak furnishings, traditional finishings in pebbledash river-stone, and native handicrafts (weavings, paintings and pressed flowers, grilles with rows of small bells, dried palm fronds and upcycled animal horns). But, for the extra private outdoor space, sense of seclusion, and the fact that they’re big enough for in-room spa treatments, we like the Garden Cottages and Restored Stables – the latter, with their barn doors are the pick if you’ve come for the quarter-pinto horses.
If you’re staying in the restored stables or cottages (not available in the Heritage Bedrooms), in-room massages are available.
Saddle-up sorts should pack their jodhpurs and boots, those looking to muck in at the farm will need knock-about gear, and those looking to sample all the Wonka-esque delights on offer here should bring something with a bit of give.
The hotel has a small shop selling their chocolate bars, dulce de leche, jams and local handicrafts (we like the baskets and totes). And if you want to connect with the wider world (spoiler: you won’t), provider Claro offers the best coverage onsite.
Welcome. Babysitters and nannies can be booked with 24 hours’ notice for US$10 an hour; the Garden Cottages and Restored Stable rooms can sleep three and activities such as chocolate-making, football matches and farm fun will keep them entertained.
Any kid old enough to bite into a bar.
The Garden Cottages and Restored Stables offer more room, are more secluded and mostly sleep up to three.
Expect sticky fingers and chocolate-smeared faces – there’s tree-to-bar chocolate-making workshops and tastings of the Hacienda’s sweet treats. Otherwise, kids will love helping out on the farm and searching for local wildlife, playing soccer with kids from nearby villages and gentle horse rides. (Please note, some activities, such as beekeeping, are not suitable for younger children.)
This is a good opportunity to introduce unaccustomed smalls to Ecuadorian cuisine – small plates such as plantain stuffed with bacon and cheese, tamales and empanadas will go down a treat.
Babysitters and nannies can be arranged with 24 hours’ notice for US$10 an hour.
This farm estate has been in the Olsen-Peet family for three generations and they’ve tended the land lovingly, restoring rather than building and respecting the local wildlife. And the land has given back – around 90 per cent of the restaurant’s ingredients are harvested onsite. And the rest comes from neighboring communities, with whom the Hacienda’s owners have strong ties, hiring and training locals, helping with start-ups, and even setting up soccer games between kids staying at the hotel and those from nearby villages. Activities offered promote Andean traditions, and there are zero single-use plastics onsite.
Hacienda La Danesa proves that when it comes to romance, you can never have too many lanterns – on request, they’ll set you up a table in a secluded area of natural beauty or under a leafy pergola and go all out on the set-the-mood lighting.
Add some haute horsepower to your look, swaggering about in long leather boots and form-fitting breeches.
‘Farm-to-table’ has all the more meaning when you can – for the most part – see the farm from the table, so meals are either set outdoors here or in Helge restaurant in the main barn-style building (whose Crittall-glass doors are thrown open to the view). Whatever hasn’t been harvested that day on the menu has been sourced from neighboring communities, and meals tend towards the traditional. Start with a flight of ceviche shots, stuffed plantains, empanadas and tamales in a cheesy sauce; then get stuck into ember-grilled shrimp in hollandaise with spicy quinoa and charcoal-roasted cassava; beef tenderloin in a vanilla-infused demi-glace; or creole chicken with aligot potatoes. The signature ‘ode to chocolate’ (with whipped chocolate in a cacao pod, cacao sorbet, caramelised nibs and cacao honey); guava meringue; and lemongrass crème brûlée with spiced caramel round things off nicely. Breakfasts include homemade breads and jams, fresh juices and coffee, and tropical fruit then a main dish – we like the local choices: cassava croquettes with raw honey, corn pancakes stuffed with house cheese. Lunches involve the likes of pork ribs in a guava glaze or beef in an ishpingo-berry sauce; and, if you’re feeling peckish, you’re welcome to help yourself to tropical fruit from the gardens and groves, where bananas, passionfruit, arasás (a citrusy fruit), watermelons and more grow in abundance.
The bar and dining areas are in the main building, with a central counter and stools, and comfy seating with a few curios (tables made using whole logs, large-scale artworks). There’s a solid selection of wines and beers from Ecuador and other picks from across South America, but we urge you to try the cocktails, which are made with sugar cane and cacao from the farm, such as the ‘old-fashioned panela’ with whisky, angostura bitters and raw brown sugar; and ‘the great dane’ with tequila, cacao liqueur, passionfruit and lime juice.
Breakfast is from 8am, lunch from 1pm and dinner from 7pm.
You’ll wake to a coffee and fresh-juice delivery every morning; otherwise, in-room dining runs from 8am to 10pm.
Hacienda La Danesa sits on a vast estate and family-run farm about a 90-minute drive from the closest city Guayaquil. A tropical melee of gardens, teak forest, cacao and sugar-cane plantations, it feels like its own not-so-little world.
The closest hub is Guayaquil International (AKA José Joaquín de Olmedo), a 90-minute drive from the hotel. There are direct routes to Colombia, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Florida, New York City, Amsterdam and Madrid, but most far-flung travellers will touch down in Quito, an hour’s flight away. The hotel can arrange transfers (US$182 each way for up to three guests, or US$218 for up to six guests, both with an English-speaking guide).
The hacienda has plenty to keep you occupied, so if you opt for a transfer from the airport then you won’t need to go offsite throughout your stay. If you do bring a car to explore the surrounds, be aware that driving can be trickier in rural parts and more dangerous at night when some rural roads are poorly lit. The drive from Quito is about seven hours; five hours from Latacunga, and three hours from Cajas National Park.
‘Schwoop, schwoop’: what’s that noise? It’s you touching down in style after a scenic helicopter ride over the Guayas Province. Ask staff to help arrange this for you.
Worth getting out of bed for
When Copenhagener Helge Olsen-Friis relocated to Ecuador after World War II, he sought the good life, and found it, marrying his love Pilar Pons and purchasing the 500-hectare plot of land that Hacienda La Danesa sits on today. Initially a family farm producing chocolate and cheese and breeding gentle quarter-pinto horses, small numbers of guests were first invited in in 2003. Happily so, because the life it offers has grown from good to great, whether you’re wandering through teak forest and tropical gardens, taking a tour of the cacao and sugar-cane plantations (where you’ll taste raw cacao and customise a bar to take home), helping to milk the cows on the farm (they produce 2,000 liters of milk a day), or tasting the home-produced chocolate bars, dulce de leche, jams and cheeses (all activities included in your room rate). Also free is bike hire, river tubing, hiking (staff can point you in the right direction), mini safaris (peacocks strut about, and the hotel has set up trap cams to capture ocelots and armadillos), and bird-watching (you’ll find binoculars and a guidebook in your room). And, the hotel offers a range of unique charged experiences, most of which adhere to Andean tradition. Ride out through fields, plantations and over rivers on a quarter-pinto horse; take a chocolate-making class, where you’ll learn about the importance of Fair Trade beans and try trad hot-chocolate; learn how to make seasonal salads and more, attend the local market, get tips and recipes and some fancy knife skills at a cookery class; and get bendy at various kinds of yoga classes (you’ll find a mat in your room). Or – our favourite – play beekeeper for a day, visiting a local colony, gearing up, using a bee-smoker and trying honey from the comb; you’ll learn about the importance of honey bees and how you can help their survival, see their inner workings and maybe even spot the queen. Otherwise, you can day-trip to the ruins at the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex, visit the Guamote Market to see colourful native dress and support the community, ride the vertiginous Devil’s Nose Train through the mountains, or – if you’re staying as a family – ask staff to arrange a soccer game with some of the local kids.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this sweet, sweet farm-stay in leafy Guayas Province and unpacked their house-made chocolate bars and jars of dulce de leche, a full account of their bean-there, done-that break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Hacienda La Danesa in Ecuador’s wilds…
Sweet tooths, you’ve hit the motherlode with rural Ecuadorian estate Hacienda La Danesa. Parts of its 500-hectare spread are cacao and sugar plantations, orchards and an apiary, so you’ll be high on house-grown and made bars, spoonfuls of dulce de leche from the jar, honey from the comb, thick spreadings of jam and curd, cocktails muddled with raw brown sugar and rum, and the final boss of the ‘ode to chocolate’ dessert: whipped chocolate in a cacao pod, cacao sorbet and caramelised nibs drizzled in cacao honey. But sugar’s not the only thing to give you a rush here; the family who’ve owned this estate for three generations (and counting) also breed quarter-pinto horses you can ride through fields and forests, let you muck in with milking the farm’s cows, can send you downstream on a tubing joyride, and can arrange for you to be a beekeeper for the day. Their passion and pride in the locality and their heritage is evident throughout too: staff are local hires, activities such as cookery classes and chocolate-bar making are rooted in Andean tradition, native handicrafts are displayed throughout, and horseshoes are inlaid into the paths that meander through tropical gardens. Add in all the thoughtful details the hosts offer their small cadre of guests – tropical fruit you can pluck from the tree, homegrown coffee and fresh juice delivered to your door each morning, binoculars and a bird-watching guide in your room – and it’s a sweet deal, whichever way you try it.