North of Quito: La Mirage, where luxury is real
Ecuador is increasingly popular with travellers seeking a destination different from anyplace else in the world. The country certainly delivers on that count, especially for those who like low-key travel with highly rewarding experiences.
Though Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is already well known among seasoned travellers thanks to an impressive repository of Spanish colonial architecture that earned the city the very first World Heritage Site designation in 1978, the country offers much more than buildings. North of Quito, in Imbabura Province, is the town of Otavalo, where a very famous open-air market is also known the world over for its artisanal products. Otavalo Market, more popular with visitors these days than locals, is a good introduction to the region but does not define one of the most interesting parts of an interesting country. With the help of a guide and driver from VIP Expeditions, a visit to San Antonio de Ibarra will reveal a side of Ecuador that few visitors experience. The small town, rather nondescript, does not look like much on the outside, but inside its workshops are some of the most gifted artisans in the world. San Antonio de Ibarra is the home of woodcarvers who for generations have provided the churches of Latin America with some of their finest religious statuary. Regardless of spiritual affiliation, visitors here will marvel at the craftsmanship applied to create the beautiful statues which range in size from miniature to colossal. Latin America Reservation Center, a leader in travel arrangements in Ecuador with three decades’ worth of knowledge, can set up visits to workshops as well as another insightful, very floral experience along the way.
The export of flowers is an important component of Ecuador’s economy and nowhere do they grow better than in Cayambe, an agricultural town in Pichincha Province easily visited on the way to Imbabura from Quito. As a visit to a rose farm will reveal, Ecuadorean roses are extraordinarily beautiful. The country is one of the world’s biggest producers of fresh flowers, and a visit to a farm provides a much better understanding of why Ecuadorean roses are considered the most beautiful in the world. The completely straight stems sometimes grow more than six feet high, with perfect blooms at the top. Why is that? Ecuador’s fertile volcanic soil is unusually rich in minerals to nourish the plants, and the equatorial sun directly overhead encourage the flowers to grow upward, not to the side as at higher latitudes. At Hacienda La Compañía de Jesús, a working rose farm that is also the former residence of a noble family intent on preserving its heritage, a bountiful lunch is served in the atmospheric surroundings of a historical hacienda before a tour of the very modern facilities reveals the work required to make Ecuador’s roses so beautiful.
Another place of interest to shoppers is the town of Cotacachi. While daytrippers from Quito content themselves with the market in Otavalo, those looking for leather goods know to make their way to this small town, the centre of Ecuador’s leather production. Wholesalers come from all over the world as buyers of jackets, belts, wallets, and other products, but of course individual travellers are welcome to peruse the leather retailers who dominate the shops along the main street.
Venture to the outskirts of Cotacachi to find La Mirage, a resort that certainly lives up to its name. A member of Luxury Destinations Ecuador, La Mirage is a phantasmagorical place that seems like a fairytale come to life. The large gardens, immaculately maintained, have both cold-climate and warm-climate plants and trees; thanks to Cotacachi’s combination of latitude, elevation, rain, and sunshine, this is one of the few places in the world where such a variety of plant life can grow, pines and roses side by side with palms and birds of paradise. Speaking of birds, the resident peacocks lord over the grounds like royalty, which is how guests are treated by the immensely attentive staff members. La Mirage’s spacious rooms are beautifully decorated in an elegant style; the ground floor locations and direct access to the outdoors give the feeling of a private home rather than a hotel room. There is a well-known spa at La Mirage, where a variety of special treatments can be enjoyed, but the truly transcendental experiences take place in the dining room. When the amuse-bouche is served in a music box, you know the place is very special. As with the rest of the La Mirage, the sophisticated atmosphere belies the small-town location.
Arrangements for flights, hotels, tours, and every other aspect of a visit to Ecuador using the services of VIP Expeditions can be made through Latin America Reservation Center.