With Fernando Polanco | Hacienda Zuleta in Ecuador


With Fernando Polanco | Hacienda Zuleta in Ecuador

With misinformation and greenwashing rife in tourism, ‘Behind The Green’ takes it back to basics. Back to storytelling and human connection. Hear from the visionaries behind the world’s leading sustainable travel experiences, as well as inspiring experts who help us to REIMAGINE, RESET, and REINVENT tourism.

Meet Fernando, general manager at Hacienda Zuleta, his grandfather was president of Ecuador. Fernando describes himself as being in love with nature first and foremost. He arrived 26+ years ago to Hacienda Zuleta, trained as an economist and anthropologist. His favourite hobbies are sailing and river rafting, which is said to be amazing in Ecuador.

Did the sustainable approach and vision for Hacienda Zuleta evolve overtime or was it clear from the very beginning?

“In 1898 my family bought this place as a farm. In 1948, my grandfather, president of Ecuador, was known to preach to ministers about caring for the environment. This was before the time of tourism as we know it today. My grandfather left us all very clear instructions to follow, we are and always have been committed to the environment, but also socially to the communities which surround us. It is very natural and very real for us, it is not something that we say to impress or speak on trend. This has been a part of us for a very long time.”

What is the best local dish your serve that future guests can get excited about?

“It might not be glamorous, but our food is all about the taste. There are 3 dishes worth mentioning. The first is our soups, they are very famous in this region, the sheer variety of soups is unique. We have the Quinoa soup which is popular, the small grain most people know of comes from the Andes. We also serve guests fresh trout with vegetables from our organic garden. If you really want to impress guests, then the Guinea-pig (which many people may think of as pets) is actually considered a real treat here. 72% of all our food comes from close by communities.”

In your opinion, what is the best activity for guests to do whilst staying with you, to gain a sense of place and to connect with nature?

“We work with endangered species like the Spectacled bear, which guests have the opportunity to volunteer in the valuable research we conduct here. Alternatively, guests can simply take part in our organic garden. There is so much to do here it would take too long to list them all out.”

What is the most challenging aspect of running Hacienda Zuleta?

“It is always to keep moving forward. We are learning from others and Kiwano is a great place to get inspired by what others are doing. We can always be better. It is a catch 22 in many ways, as we bring more people to visit us this, in turn, has a carbon footprint, so we have to ask how can we balance this? We need tourism to help us to maintain and protect ecosystems and help communities too. It is a constant balance to think about.”

Tell us about the latest green initiative you implemented there?

“We are reintroducing native tree species. We are calling it ‘Forests for life’! Staff, friends and guests can all get involved to plant these trees. We commit to never cut down these trees, that is our promise. The idea is that our guests sons and daughters can visit Hacienda Zuleta at some point and visit the trees that their parents planted. The trees grow slowly overtime, the tree is symbolising us thinking of the future and it also supports carbon offsetting.”
People enjoying a picnic at Hacienda Zuleta as advertised by Kiwano Hotels
Cooking lessons at Hacienda Zuleta as advertised by Kiwano Hotels

What would you do differently if you could start again?

“I would not be so careful, in a sense I would tell myself to trust your gut. I knew that what we do and stand for at Hacienda Zuleta is something that people want to experience and feel a part of. Back then I wasn’t bold enough to drive forward what I believed in. We took 10-12 years to get started as we had to encourage some of the family to get on board with the idea of tourism.”

What’s next for Hacienda Zuleta?

“I’m just getting started! Our family has many dreams and as the leader, I have new exciting projects for the hotel. I have a real passion for ‘the underdog’, there are many endangered species in Ecuador that no one pays any attention to. No one cares about the Ecuadorian Mice or the Porcupine for example. One of my projects is to protect these less flashy animals, encouraging students to come to learn about them!”
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