Photo: Kapawi Ecolodge in Ecuador

The sun sets over the pristine rain forest surrounding Kapawi Ecolodge.

Photograph courtesy Kapawi Ecolodge

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The most authentic and unique hotels in Ecuador, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

1. Black Sheep Inn, Chugchilán, Cotopaxi

Stunningly sited in the high Andes at 10,400 feet. Even the bathrooms have views. The inn, green to the core, is built of local renewable materials: adobe, rock, eucalyptus, grass (for roofs). A day's hike can be followed up by a sauna and massage. As for local culture, not only is there a wealth of indigenous markets nearby, the inn has helped develop a women's knitting co-op. Proud of its zero-waste output, the inn has dry composting toilets; all gray water is treated onsite before being given to the plants and trees. And, yes, black sheep live here. 9 rooms; from $35 for bunkhouse accommodations and $120 for a private double room, incl. three meals (vegetarian).

2. Hacienda Rumiloma, Quito

High in the Andean cloud forest, overlooking the country's capital city, Rumiloma leaves no design stone unturned. Rooms are filled with antiques and local crafts; toilets are painted with 17th-century regional designs and some tubs have claw feet or mosaics. Conservation-minded owners Amber and Oswaldo Freire take pride in sourcing food for the restaurant from local suppliers. Oswaldo, a professional mountain climber, steers guests to superb hikes. The 45-minute daybreak llama trek—with breakfast at a dazzling lookout point—is an unparalleled way to start the day. 7 suites; from $305, including breakfast and airport transfers.

3. Hacienda Zuleta, Imbabura

A classic Spanish colonial hacienda encompassing 5,200 acres and best explored atop one of the gentle horses lucky enough to call this place home. Owned by the same family for more than a hundred years, the 17th-century house overflows with comfy furniture and antiques from the 16th to 19th centuries. Zuleta remains a working farm whose vegetables (17 varieties), fruits, herbs, and spices end up on guest tables along with cheeses, cream, and yogurt courtesy of the resident cows. Great hikes, including one that leads to a large, well-preserved pre-Incan archaeological site. 14 rooms; from $290, incl. all meals, taxes.

4. Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, Zamora

This faraway jungle place in biodiverse Yasuní National Park is green to the bone, from sound environmental practice to ongoing community give-back. Indeed, the property is owned and managed by a local Achuar community. Well-planned and nicely outfitted thatched digs. Endless rivers, lagoons, and streams to kayak. Fly-in only. The closest road is a ten-day walk from the lodge. 18 rooms; from $2,332 for four days, incl. jungle excursions, canoe transportation, and all meals.

5. Napo Wildlife Center, Mariana de Jesús

It sits within biodiverse Amazon Basin, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve sparsely inhabited by indigenous populations. The tropical rain forest retreat was built in 2000 to echo elements of the Kichwa culture. Local designs and materials throughout. Well-versed naturalists who really know the lay of the land lead the way. A 120-foot viewing tower in the jungle offers enhanced viewing of Amazonian Ecuador. There are 565 bird species and 11 monkey species hereabouts, and that's just for starters. 12 rooms; from $1,520 for three nights, all inclusive.

6. Río Muchacho Organic Farm

A buzzing hive of students, volunteers, and travelers there mostly to learn about agro ecology. Located in a transition zone, where the dry forest meets the wet forest, the inn sits amid a lush tangle of trees and plants. A packed three-day program runs the gamut, from milking cows and making cheese to a horseback ride to look in on a community of howler monkeys. You also learn how to make cups and spoons from gourds. The farm's tilt toward teaching is wide-reaching. Río Muchacho supports a school for the local kids. Rooms and dorms can accommodate 50 people; from $240 for three days, incl. food and activities.

7. Sacha Lodge, Quito

Ecolodge sits on 5,000 acres of a private ecological reserve near Yasuní Natural Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Rooms provide sanctuary from the wild outdoor landscape. Sway in a porch hammock or climb the canopy walk, about 100 feet above the forest floor. Visit the Butterfly House, where 40 species of butterflies are bred to be released back into the wild. Bird-watching, nature hikes, swimming. 26 cabins; from $1,458 for three nights, incl. aquatic transport, meals, and activities with native guides.

8. Yachana Lodge, Coca

Located in a 4,300-acre protected forest and accessible only by canoe (motorized) along the Napo River, deep in the Amazon. Some 140 species of plants grow in the lodge's botanical garden. Biological research station studies human impact on the forest. Participate in a traditional cleansing ceremony performed by a local medicine man. Special gastronomy and culinary tour helps preserve and share the cooking of the Amazon—tilapia wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over an open fire, for example. Pick your own cacao beans to turn into jungle chocolate. 18 rooms; from $1,260 for three nights, all-inclusive.

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