Hacienda Haute

These haciendas shine once again in the Yucatan, thanks to Starwood

By: By Jim Calio


The idea of sustainable tourism extends to the people in the communities where the Las Haciendas properties are located. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the managing company of The Luxury Collection, is working with Haciendas of the Mayan World Foundation to provide jobs and income for local residents. Many work in the hotels and spas and also live in nearby communities attached to the resorts. In that way, local customs and heritages are protected. Some adjacent communities even have stores with locally made clothing, ceramics and pottery.


Las Haciendas
Rates at all of the Las Haciendas properties in the Yucatan Peninsula start at $330.
Commission: 10 percent

A pool at Hacienda Puerta Campeche // © Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide 
A pool at Hacienda Puerta Campeche
Are you comfortable?” the old woman asked me as she stepped up to the massage table.

I was lying on my stomach in the spa at the Hacienda Temozon, one of the Las Haciendas in Starwood’s The Luxury Collection on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. I knew what treatment I was about to get: sobada, a special kind of Mayan massage now adapted to modern times.

At least, I hoped so. In the old days sobada was pretty rough, intended mainly for pregnant women in an attempt to realign their bodies in a radical way. Think modern-day Rolfing, and you get the idea.

“The women who did it back then were nicknamed bone crunchers,” said Reto Kade, spa director for the five Las Haciendas properties. “But that’s all changed. I’ve been going from village to village to find women who still practice it. And then we adapt it. Today, if a guy complains about a pain, one of the women — called sobadoras —will find it and treat it. It’s not like the old days when they’d put you on the floor.”

Discovering sobada was only one of the delights of Las Haciendas. The five properties are scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula, all within easy driving distance from the capital, Merida, which, with its colonial architecture and warm, friendly manner is worth a trip in itself. They are: Hacienda Uayamon, Hacienda Puerta Campeche, Hacienda Temozon, Hacienda Santa Rosa and Hacienda San Jose.

Haciendas in the Yucatan date back many centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they prospered with the manufacture of rope made from the fibers of the sisal, a cactus-like henequen plant. Such was the demand for sisal that plantation owners became rich beyond their wildest dreams, building huge haciendas that resembled English manor houses or small French chateaus in order to flaunt their wealth and incredible success.

But when synthetic rope began to appear on world markets, the sisal business fell flat and, eventually, most of the proud haciendas fell in to disrepair, some overtaken by the jungle, others just rotting away and still visible as ruins along the side of the Yucatan’s modern highways.

In the 1990s, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide began a program to rebuild and rehabilitate some of these haciendas, and today, the result is a collection of lovely old plantations with beautifully restored main buildings, outbuildings and, in some cases, the old sisal manufacturing machinery. At Hacienda Temozon, the narrow-gauge railroad that ran through the property still works.

All properties boast the most modern amenities and up-to-date technology — Wi-Fi, air conditioning and iPod dock stations included. Every night, guests find red bougainvillea petals delicately arranged on their pillows and towels. Although you’ll occasionally spot a friendly gecko peering down from the high ceilings, it only adds to the charm of the place.

Some haciendas reflect the tastes of their original owners or the local customs. At Hacienda Campeche, for example, some of the rooms have glass roofs for stargazing, and Hacienda Santa Rosa has faux French paintings on the adobe walls of the lobby and living room. The Hacienda Uayamon has thick pegs set in the walls for hanging hammocks, the manufacture of which the area is famous for.

At all the Las Haciendas properties, the spa treatments, especially some of the massages, are done by women who have been trained in the sobada method, which is handed down from one generation to the next. It’s part of Starwood’s plan to preserve local customs.

“The Mayan treatment is different from traditional massage,” said Kade. “It’s given by Mayans with an open heart and warmth, unlike what you’d find in the big city. They are open and friendly.”

And they know exactly what they are doing. In the end, after I’d been worked over by a sobadora in the most friendly way; I was very comfortable — very comfortable indeed. When she was finished, I could actually move my neck from side to side for the first time in months.