HISTORY OF THE HACIENDAS AND ESTANCIAS
A stay at a hacienda or estancia in South America is not to be missed. On this website you will find the finest selection of haciendas and estancias in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. They vary enormously from country to country but each offer their own piece of history.
Haciendas and estancias can be best described as farms, plantations, estates or ranches. As you travel the continent you will see those found in the Andean regions of South America are different to those found in the Pampas and other southern parts. They all generally started life as a working farm but the agriculture and history is different from country to country and place to place. Some in our collection are still working ranches and many offer their guests the chance to experience real farm life. Each country has something unique and even if you only include a stay on a hacienda or estancia for a few days of your trip it may well turn out to be one of the highlights. We have a selection of different style haciendas, some of which are very luxurious. However, regardless of their standard, they all offer a warm and hospitable welcome and a taste of hacienda and estancia life. As most of the haciendas and estancias are steeped in history we believe having a little background knowledge before your visit can only enhance your time there.
The Hacienda System
The oldest haciendas originated in land grants mainly made to Spanish conquistadors hundreds of years ago. The Andean region of South America (Andes valleys are at around 2000m) provided rich agricultural land and from the first days of Spanish rule huge estates called haciendas were created through land grants. The Spanish settlers then used forced indigenous labour to work the land implemented by the Encomienda system. This system was enforced by the Spanish crown by means of granting a settler a specific number of natives for whom they were to take responsibility for. They were supposed to teach these natives the Spanish language and Catholicism as well as use this indigenous population for labour, similar to slavery. This was the original system but all of the countries have their own history and so do their haciendas.
The tourist haciendas here are generally found in the coffee area (Zona Cafetera). Also known as the "Coffee Triangle," it is located in the Andean region of Colombia halfway between Bogota and the Pacific. It is made up of three states - Quindío, Risaralda and Caldas, all of which are regarded as growing some of the world's best coffee. There is also stunning scenery to see and quaint towns to visit here. Some of the hacienda hotels are found on sprawling plantations where coffee is planted, harvested, and prepared for exportation all over the world.
The haciendas tended to be built when Colombia experienced a lot of internal migration. The present day owners are often the descendants of these settlers who arrived in the 1800s, founded communities and started coffee production. Years ago coffee made up 80% of Colombia’s exports and consequently this region reaped the benefits. However this affluent era was not to last and farmers had to consequently diversify their crops turning to bananas, berries and macadamia nuts as well as tourism.
The traditional hacienda found here is a two storey, colonial style building with a wraparound verandah. They are often built with a lot of wood therefore making them very creaky but full of charm. Their situation on the estate means that they usually have spectacular vistas and are surrounded by tropical plants, fruit trees and an amazing array of flowers. They are also generally colourful with red being a popular and traditional choice in this region.
This coffee country gives a view of traditional Colombia, where most people lived on farms and coffee was all important. There is plenty of history to discover at these haciendas and some offer the opportunity to learn all about the coffee process as well. The countryside here is beautiful and a stay ensures you enjoy the slow pace of farm life and the overall tranquility of the area.
Ecuador still has many of its historical haciendas dating back to the colonial era. Some of which have been converted into hotels offering one of the best experiences for an authentic hacienda visit in South America. Hacienda tourism is well established in Ecuador. These grand farming estates from colonial times can be very luxurious and offer a wonderful stay in a historic building surrounded by stunning countryside. Some are still working haciendas where the guest can see and participate themselves in day to day farm life.
In Ecuador the hacienda system dates back to the colonization by Spain when the King gave extensive land to the most important families in the country. The local indigenous population worked these fields in exchange for food and shelter. When centuries later the country modernized and land reforms took place many of the original families were able to keep the main house and a smaller surrounding area. Seeing the potential for tourism some have been converted into hotels. Staying in one these colonial and often grand haciendas gives you a profound sense of the history of the region as some of them have been around since the 17th century.
The majority of these haciendas are found in the highlands region of Ecuador. Here you will find a spring like climate all year and therefore a favourable one for farming and agriculture. A stay here combines historic surroundings, beautiful countryside and undoubtedly a hospitable welcome.
Unlike Ecuador Peru has far fewer historic haciendas remaining although they share a similar colonial past. This is mainly due to the agricultural reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s. These left the former large land holdings too small to support the maintenance of the buildings and many of them fell into disrepair and are no longer standing. However there are a few left who have opened their doors to guests and make interesting places to stay.
Similar to Peru, the agricultural haciendas were more prevalent in Bolivia until the 1952 Revolution which led to an extensive program of land distribution. However, as mining was more important in Bolivia than agriculture it did not experience the same hacienda system as its neighbours. The few Bolivian haciendas are namely in the historical silver mining area of Potosi. The Andean heartland found here is generally too barren to provide a rich agriculture living.
Even though Chile was not held with much regard by its colonial power, Spain, the first prominent Spanish settlers were still given land and enforced the Encomienda system. These self sufficient farms owned by Spanish born settlers had the natives forcibly working the land. This system continued for years and kept the rigid class system in place, wealthy Spanish descendants at the top and the local population at the bottom. However none of the haciendas dating back to the 17th century remain to this day.
But Chile does have plenty of estancias (the usual term for haciendas there) which were mainly built in more recent times. Best described as an estate they are sometimes linked to wine production rather than just agriculture. These tend to be found in the central valley, which has a wonderful climate and fertile land. There are also estancias which are used mainly for cattle raising and horse breeding. More estancias can be found in the southern part of Chile and often they are still working farms that offer relevant activities for their guests. Some estancias in Patagonia were founded in the late 19th century with the introduction of sheep farming. The architectural style of Chilean estancias is not consistent and can vary hugely depending on the era built and their location.
The estancias are an important part of Argentine history and still play an active part in the country’s economy. Many of them are ranches where the main house has been converted into a hotel. Some of these are mansions built in the last century reflecting the European roots of the period including English and French styles. They are often luxuriously furnished and many retain a formal, elegant and colonial air. They are usually found where the land is of exceptional quality.
With Argentina being the eighth largest country in the world there was plenty of potential agricultural land for the settlers. Much of this land was put into production and consequently Argentina became one of the world's most prominent meat and grain producers.
The owner of the estancia is called the estanciero or hacendado. Years ago it was quite common for the estanciero to spend the warmer months on the estancia and the winter in Europe. However things did change with the arrival of modern technologies and more trade, the estancieros realised they needed to dedicate more time to maximising the potential of their high quality agricultural land in order not to be left behind on the world scene. These days all working estancias have agriculturists and admnistrators and estancieros generally divide their time between the land and city.
Since the end of the last century, many estancias have been built throughout Argentina from the northern province of Salta, to the southernmost region, Tierra del Fuego. However, a great deal are found in the Pampas and also in Patagonia. A stay will allow the visitor to experience this particular type of Argentine life. Guests can participate in the daily activities of a gaucho which consists of driving cattle, sheep shearing and branding the animals. The gaucho may even share with their guests traditional guitar music and folklore.
The early Uruguayan estancias date back to before 1880 when they were usually large, simple buildings with thick walls. The style was typical Spanish colonial with a lot of wrought iron. Then from 1880 – 1920, Uruguay along with Argentina economically flourished, becoming one of the richest nations in the world.
Due to this advancement in modern agriculture and world trade, Uruguay began exporting round the world. The European settlers had introduced sheep and cattle and as a result beef, wool and grain became the largest exports. These European immigrants also brought a lot of capital and knowledge which helped the Uruguayan economy tremendously. As a result, the estancieros got very wealthy and consequently built homes to reflect this. The architecture and construction became more complicated and ornate and more brick was used. Much of the inspiration came from the homes of wealthy Italians and Spaniards, as well as rural English and French styles depending on the roots of the settlers.
Estancia tourism really took off in Uruguay in the 1980s when agriculture and livestock experienced hard times. Once things improved in the 1990s many closed their doors to tourists, however, it is still possible to stay on one of these working estancias as well as ones that are purely dedicated to tourism.