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A Journey Through Uzhupud Garden: Orchids, History and Tranquility

I invite you to join me for a remarkable story described to me by my wife, Margaret, who visited the captivating Uzhupud Garden in nearby Paute. On her return, she eagerly shared the highlights of its colonial charm, splendid gardens, and a rich heritage spanning over 250 years. 

She had made a casual, previous visit before but wanted to dig deeper so she chose to join a tour with a professional guide who would shed more light on the history and culture. Margaret toured the hacienda, with its architecture and garden sanctuary, culinary excellence, and exquisite grounds.

Read on to find out why Uzhupud Garden is an enchanting destination worth exploring. This article takes you on a journey through its colonial charm, rich heritage spanning over 250 years, and the remarkable resilience of the local community following the La Josefina disaster.

Guided vs. Self-led Tours

On this trip, she chose to go with a guide and operator whose fluency in both English and Spanish made it easy for her. It also provided the convenience of doorstep pickup, a personal approach that enhanced the trip. Margaret chose to rely upon a guided group tour that offered a blend of discovery, fellowship, and guidance. The companionship of fellow travelers, coupled with his expertise turned out to be a winning combination. 

Alternatively, one can travel there independently by public buses or private drivers and gain flexibility in timing and itinerary customization. But while self-led tours provide more control over pace and choice of attractions, they miss out on the guide’s cultural and historical insights.

Sights En Route to Uzhupud Garden

The route to Uzhupud from Cuenca became a tale of exploration that offered glimpses into the region’s heritage and landscapes.

Just before leaving Cuenca, the guide pointed out a particular mural series conveying the city’s creative spirit. Cuenca enacted an ordinance regarding street art in 2013. This series was among the pioneering contemporary works of art that highlight Cuenca’s commitment to a mural culture vs. tagging. The recent growth of murals has played a significant role in reducing tagging and urban graffiti which often mars many cities.

Further along in the Paute valley, Margaret passed large, white tents sheltering rose fields. These roses, cultivated carefully, wait to brighten up homes and events. Apart from the blooms, she also encountered sugarcane. Great fields of it stretch across the landscape and provide the main ingredient for San Miguel light rums. 

Photo by San Miguel Distillery

Community Response to the La Josefina Disaster

The La Josefina disaster reshaped the valley. In 1993, the collapse of Tamuga Hill unleashed a torrent of debris that cascaded through the valley, writing a painful chapter in the region’s history. The cascading debris claimed the lives of many, leaving the community shattered and grappling with grief. Homes were buried, and the landscape bore the scars of the devastation.

Photo by El Mercurio Newspaper

In fact, hundreds of houses were covered with water after the earthen dam’s venting, which destroyed Paute. For more information, read this article published by El Mercurio Newspaper on March 29, 2023.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the tragedy, the residents showed remarkable resilience and solidarity, galvanizing themselves to rebuild their lives and homes through strength and unity. Through collective efforts, they managed to overcome the devastation, forging a renewed sense of community and hope.

Today, the area speaks to the region’s ability to endure and rebuild. The scars serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by its people and a symbol of their determination.

Orchid Extravaganza

What drew Margaret to Uzhupud Garden was a spectacle that presented itself only briefly on her first visit and so held a special allure.  

Fortunate visitors are treated to a world of exquisite orchid blooms presented in educational exhibits as well as in displays reminiscent of fairy gardens that appear painted in a kaleidoscope of colors and forms. The event offers a unique glimpse into the meticulous art of their cultivation and the outcome of carefully creating new species and nurturing their growth.

A bustling market makes it easy for visitors to bring home a piece of the extravaganza. While Margaret refrained from purchasing because our apartment lacked windows, others loaded up on flowers to take home. 

Visiting the Property

The hacienda welcomed the group with an array of accommodations mixing contemporary comfort with historic charm. Guest rooms show off Cuencano, Andean, country, or boutique styles that project the property’s evolution, capturing its transformation from a colonial farmhouse to a modern-day retreat.

Deeper into the grounds, the conference center’s grandeur caught everybody’s eye. Surrounded by plazoletas and lush gardens, the venue can accommodate up to 500 individuals for business or celebratory functions.

The outdoor pool and inviting hot tub promised an additional form of relaxation for a warmer day.

The grandeur of the estate extends to its culinary offerings. The dining room offered a culinary experience that honored Ecuador’s rich gastronomic heritage. Beyond the dining room, the main lobby building blends history with modernity, and, as mentioned, visitors find flowers available for purchase.

After over 250 years, the estate is an example of colonial history and the resilience of the families who shaped its evolution. What began as a farmhouse has been transformed into a modern retreat.

Culinary Delights on the Patio 

The group consisting of 4 members and two friendly dogs enjoyed the beautiful weather of the Paute Valley as they dined on the charming courtyard patio. Yes, Uzhupud is pet-friendly. Indoor dining is also available. 

The tour menu presented a number of Ecuadorian options. Margaret went with a traditional Ecuadorian locro de papas con aguacate (traditional potato soup with avocado). Her main course was the fritada pauteña (fried pork), llapingacho (potato cake), mote sucio (hominy cooked in pork fat) and ensalada (side salad). For postre (dessert) she enjoyed the tres leches cake. The regular menu offers more options than the tour menu. Whichever menu one chooses, the beautiful setting makes for an inspiring dining experience.

Overnight Stay and Nearby Escapes

Uzhupud Garden is a retreat as well as a launchpad for nearby excursions. Those who extend their stay in one of the hacienda’s rooms find charm and modern comforts. These project calmness through an old-world elegance, surrounded by lush gardens and other exquisite landscapes, fringed by the Paute River and hills. A short distance from the Hacienda l lies the Museo Interactivo de Pirotecnia Artesanal (MIPA)—exhibiting authentic Ecuadorian fireworks and founded by a young married couple, Wilson and Marcela.

Homeward Bound: A Quiet Reflection

As the sun descended below the Andean horizon, quiet overtook the van on its way back to Cuenca—a peaceful contrast to the day’s animated conversations. The guide stopped speaking and let the beauty of the scenery and the memories of the day sink in uninterrupted. The distant melody of the Paute River created a quiet backdrop for reflection.

The tour ended where it began but the stories, images, and feelings of the day poured from group members as they spoke excitedly about returning to Uzhupud.

Whether part of a guided or independent tour, Uzhupud Garden is a recommended destination for its timeless charm, scenic beauty, and cultural riches. 

Where to Find Uzhupud Gardens and Hacienda

Photo by Despegar Travel Agency

Thanks to Margaret Westlake for the photos and information.

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