Full of history, from mysterious pre-Inca mounds to colonial Spanish roots, as well as the home of two former presidents of Ecuador, Zuleta is the perfect place to immerse yourself in Ecuadorean culture and traditions.

An important location for centuries, Zuleta is one of the two best-preserved mound sites of the ancient Caranqui people in Ecuador; the area was later settled by the Incas and then the Spanish. It is a living reflection of the region’s history, starting out as a refuge from volcanoes, a ceremonial location for Caranqui chiefs, and a rich agricultural resource for the conquering Incas and Spanish. Today, Zuleta’s staff carry on the legacy of former president Galo Plaza Lasso and his family, who joined liberal ideals with economic advances to build a community that combines pride in its indigenous past with future-oriented innovations.

1745 BC

Ash deposits from Mount Cayambe and evidence of extensive forest clearing and charcoal burning may indicate settlement and cultivation. Other tantalizing hints of occupation include the nearby areas of El Cunrro, where maize and quinoa crops have been recorded, and La Chimba, where ceramic items have been found.

The people who became known as the Caranquis constructed large earthen mounds and raised fields, or camellones, throughout the region, including at Hacienda Zuleta. They were governed by a complex system of caciques (chiefs), who owed allegiance and paid tribute to a paramount chief.

700 BC to 1500 BC
1260 BC (aprox.)

This massive eruption is thought to have caused a major displacement of people north from the Quito basin. The displaced subsequently created round 60 large ramp mound sites in the areas where they settled, including the one at Zuleta. These probably served as elite residences for the region’s ruling chief and the ceremonial center for its surrounding communities. Archaeologists refer to the period associated with the appearance of these large mound sites as the Late Period.

Intent on expanding their massive empire north, the fierce Incas arrived in force towards the end of the 15th century. Despite alliances the disparate Caranqui peoples formed to defend their homeland, they were defeated at the infamous battle of Yahuarcocha, the Lake of Blood, where, according to chroniclers, up to 50,000 Caranqui warriors were killed. Evidence of Inca domination still exists in the form of hill-forts, or pucarás. The mounds at Zuleta were believed to have been abandoned at this time.

1500 AD (aprox.)
1534 AD

A mere generation later, the Spanish conquistadores arrived, also from the south, fresh from their conquest of Peru. They brought with them Old World diseases and further decimated the indigenous Andean population.

A Spanish establishment was founded here at this time, probably a livestock ranch (estancia) as well as an early textile mill (obraje). Old World agricultural practices changed the landscape completely and the people were forcibly resettled into townships for easier management and tribute collection.

Mid-1600s CE
Late 1600s CE

The land title of this region, conferred by the Spanish Crown, passed to the Jesuits. The order already owned vast tracts of land. By 1691, the main buildings around the principal courtyard were completed, along with the granary and the chapel.

Canon Gabriel Zuleta took over the property in 1713. He owned seventeen haciendas. From then on, the farm became known as Cochicaranqui de Zuleta. On his death, the farm passed to the Posse family who owned it until the end of the 19th century.

1713 CE
1898 CE to present

The hacienda was still a traditional working farm when it was sold to one José María Lasso, the first ancestral link to Hacienda Zuleta’s present owners. Later, it passed to Leonidas Plaza who was president of Ecuador for two terms. His son, Galo Plaza Lasso, was himself a president of Ecuador, as well as a bullfighter and a diplomat. A farmer at heart, Lasso was an ardent supporter of modern agriculture, being the first to bring Holstein cattle, systematic seed selection, and tractors to Ecuador, revolutionizing farming here. Zuleta was his flagship, where each of these technologies was first showcased.

Land reforms, introduced during Galo Plaza’s term as president of Ecuador, returned substantial tracts of land back to the Indian peoples, while abolishing unfair systems. Today the people enjoy independence and some prosperity. Farming and the local cottage industry of embroidery are primary employments, along with the hacienda itself in agriculture and tourism. Festivals, such as Inti Raymi (also known as San Juan), celebrate residents’ ancestral past and folkloric traditions, blending the cultural symbols from pre-Hispanic and colonial with the present day in a richly evolving fusion. In recent years, the hacienda has been transformed into a luxurious hacienda-hotel, offering guests the chance to experience first hand this history and tradition.

Present Day