Sacha Ji means “beloved mountain” in the Quechua language and the Sacha Ji Wellness Hotel and Retreat, which opened in 2013 just outside the town of Otavalo in Northern Ecuador, is surrounded by such beloved mountains, including four volcanoes. Lago San Pablo shimmers in the distance. Look long enough and you might see an Andean condor soar by.
The setting is a natural paradise and Maria Teresa Ponce, an Ecuadorian architect and photographer, has created a hotel that celebrates its natural surrounding and embraces eco building innovations that help protect the environment. Maria Teresa’s father is a well-known and accomplished architect, but Sacha Ji is Maria Teresa’s first build. The best part? This stylish resort starts at just $75 per night.
She incorporated more than 2,000 recycled tires into the foundations of the buildings to provide insulation and earthquake proofing. Rain water is collected in blue tarps, arranged like outdoor sculptures, and then funneled into a cistern for use at the hotel. Invasive eucalyptus trees have been removed and a large portion of her six-acre property has been reforested in native trees and plants. Solar panels heat the water and provide most of the hotel’s electricity. All kitchen waste is composted and all grey and black water is filtered and reused on the grounds. Solar windows absorb and trap the sun’s considerable heat to keep rooms warmer longer and all the buildings (except the suite) have living roofs for added insulation. These roof gardens are also prime relaxation spots with tempting hammocks and expansive views.
However, these eco elements don’t crowd out comfort and style. Each of the 11 double rooms and one suite (which has a living room and a kitchenette) have crisp, minimalistic décor plus welcoming touches like fresh-cut flowers, traditional Andean wool ponchos, and a sofa that folds out futon-style to accommodate a third person if necessary. All of the shower curtains are hand embroidered by women in a nearby village, which is famous for needlework, and all of the rugs are woven locally using natural dyes.
It gets chilly at more than 9,600 feet, so rooms are heated with fireplaces fueled with naturally fallen wood, and hot water bottles are tucked into your bed at turndown. Shoes are not allowed inside the rooms, so don't forget a pair of warm socks or slippers.
Working largely with native ingredients and fruits and vegetables from Sacha Ji’s own organic garden, the chef turns out fresh and clean dishes like amaranth soup and breaded eggplant topped with spinach stewed tomatoes. Meat is sometimes part of the menu but vegetarians are well cared for at Sacha Ji. Breakfast is included (don’t miss the walnut pancakes), and lunch and dinner are available at around $20 per plate.
Yoga, meditation, and other wellness classes and workshops are regularly available in Sacha Ji’s lovely curved yoga room that can accommodate 45 people. Maria Teresa is a Kundalini yoga instructor and sometimes leads classes in the sun-drenched space that features a wall of windows. The resort also welcomes guest instructors; a Reiki practitioner is available, and a local female shaman is on call to perform Andean cleansing ceremonies that involve sacred volcanic rocks, herbs, and a fair amount of spitting. Massages, a sweat lodge, and guided meditation are also available.
Even if you’re not into yoga, meditation, or cleansing ceremonies, the natural serenity of Sacha Ji coupled with its impressive eco efforts and bargain rates are enough to have you chanting Om.