At the end of the long and verdant Cayara Valley lies the tiny village of the same name. It looks like any ordinary Bolivian village: red tiles in the Spanish fashion sit atop adobe houses nestled into hillsides; braying donkeys occasionally breach the peace as they’re pursued by old ladies wearing colourful clothes; men and women tend their crops in the surrounding fields; and there is an all pervasive sense of timelessness about the whole place.
For me timelessness has a double meaning in Cayara. When you are there it is as if time has been suspended, as if the world of the valley sits on a different plain of reality, isolating you from the madness of the world outside its borders; and then there is the Museo Hacienda Cayara, a hacienda dating back to the earliest phase of the Spanish conquest of the Bolivian part of the Inca empire.
The hacienda is tucked away at one end of the village, hidden from sight by the surrounding hills and trees, so that when you approach its gates it is as if something ancient and secret is being revealed for the first time. Founded in 1557 in a region the Spanish had renamed New Toledo, the hacienda literally drips with history, and it has been the home to Spanish nobility and refuge to pioneers of Bolivia’s independence.
Today it has been completed renovated and transformed by the current owner into a hotel, which is a description that doesn’t do the hacienda justice. It is a living museum, but there is also a museum in the building with items from colonial times through to the present. There are beautiful gardens and grounds, the hacienda has its own farm, including a dairy farm, providing fresh produce for all meals, and I doubt there is a more welcoming place to stay in the whole of Bolivia.
Inside, the hacienda is decorated with original paintings, furniture, light fittings and pre- and post-hispanic artworks and artefacts. It is a treasure trove of Bolivian history, there are even two libraries containing books dating back to the 17th Century. It is a privilege to be able to wander through the house.
As well as providing excellent walking opportunities in the valley or to nearby villages, just a short walk behind the hacienda is a beautiful waterfall that also give an indication of why this valley is so green – water is year-round in the valley, appearing from a underground source above the valley and then plunging down its cliffs to the the valley floor. The power of the water has been harnessed to provide hydroelectric power to the entire valley.