By Linda McFarlin
Some places in Ecuador are so special that the memory of them lingers long after the actual experience is over. El Crater Hotel/Restaurant, located about thirty minutes north of Quito, is such a place. This incredible site, the dream of the artist/architect owner, sits perched on a ridge overlooking Pululahua Crater.
The panoramic views are wide and varied, whether you gaze out into the hills far away or cast your eyes downward into the base of the crater, which may be the largest in all of South America. It's a shock to see a patchwork of farms and fields, artfully situated on the floor of a crater - a truly unique place in Ecuador.
Picture of valley from top of ridge
Pululahua Crater and the 3200-hectare Geobotanical Reserve that surrounds it is a subtropical ecosystem. Deep in the heart of the world’s only populated crater lies a thriving network of small farms, pastures and houses.
I first experienced El Crater with a group of women at a book club gathering. Unable to meet at our originally-planned destination, El Crater was the alternate choice. How fortunate we were!
We arrived late afternoon, the only guests at the hotel. Swirling mists hung low over the buildings and grounds, lending mystery to the Camelot-like setting. A minimalistic structure covered in rough stone, the rooms are furnished simply but elegantly.
Each of the two rooms on each floor contains fine wood furniture, excellent linens, wide plank wood floors and ethnic decorations. A double room, including a sumptuous breakfast, is $90.
The hotel straddles the ridge and is positioned to take full advantage of the magnificent views in all directions. The Ecuadorian owner considers the site a place in Ecuador of strong spiritual power and arranged the buildings on his site to take advantage of the energetic vortex there. The hotel is five years old.
The owner built the restaurant first, twelve years ago, and dining there is a thoroughly pleasant experience in every way, from the serenity of the surroundings, the warmth of the stone fireplaces, the impeccable service and delicious cuisine.
Throughout the restaurant are a wide range of fine original art and sculpture.
We ate breakfast in the restaurant’s main dining room, watching the sun rising higher in the morning sky through a large picture window.
Served on large glass plates shaped like blossoms, breakfast included fresh fruit artfully arranged and accompanied by croissants, eggs, coffee or tea.
Behind the restaurant is a small art gallery showcasing the work of some of Ecuador’s best artists, sculptors and craftsmen. Scattered around the grounds are stone sculptures, objets de art and a stone spiral.
I walked with one of the women down to the entrance of El Crater. Turning right, we passed a row of green metal shops where vendors were selling the usual tourist fare plus a few unusual items, like handmade rabbit skin slippers lined with sheepskin.
A local man was giving a lecture on the area with a map and color pictures. For a small fee, he will lead you on a guided tour of the crater. The bottom can be reached in a couple of hours.
We started down a steep path into the crater, where a sign points the way to Pululahua Hostal one-half hour away, but changed our minds and returned to El Crater. Pululahua Hostal offers trekking and a hot tub.
On our way back to Quito a short distance from El Crater, is the imposing Templo de Arte, a stone multi-floored complex built around a central tower. The drive rises around the building in an upward spiral that follows the curve of the structure.
After entering through large double doors that led to the left, we followed a guide down a dark and winding passageway into the bright light of the central tower. (See our newsletter archives for an article about this incredible place in Ecuador. If you don't currently subscribe to our newsletter, you can sign up below.)