Hacienda Havens

The historic inland area of the Yucatan Peninsula has traditionally been explored via day trips from Mexican Caribbean beach resorts, but a budding lineup of former haciendas-turned-luxury inns is drawing discriminating travelers to the region for multiday stays.

By: Lori Tenny

The historic inland area of the Yucatan Peninsula has traditionally been explored via day trips from Mexican Caribbean beach resorts, but a budding lineup of former haciendas-turned-luxury inns is drawing discriminating travelers to the region for multiday stays.

The exclusive properties were extravagant estates and plantations from the 17th to the 19th centuries, when the region was booming with the production of agricultural products, namely henequen, a natural fiber that fell out of favor with the advent of synthetic material. The wealthy properties were eventually abandoned and left in disrepair until the 1990s, when a move took shape to revive the heritage of the region by restoring the haciendas to their original splendor, taking special care to maintain the unique character of each estate.

Over the past few years, a handful of boutique jewels housed in the immaculately preserved and renovated properties have surfaced. As a stand-alone getaway or a multiday add-on to a Mexican Caribbean vacation, the haciendas allow visitors to immerse themselves in a centuries-old ambience while enjoying the many lures of the region.

Located in the area surrounding the Colonial City of Merida, the haciendas provide an ideal base for exploring the wealth of Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen-Itza, Uxmal and Kabah, and historic villages filled with colonial churches and monasteries. Natural wonders also dot the landscape, including cenotes (underground caverns with natural wells) and Celestun, a nature reserve filled with hundreds of pink flamingos.

The haciendas can arrange tours of the region, or clients can rent cars and explore on their own.


Three of the Yucatan Peninsula’s restored haciendas are now operated under Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ Luxury Collection: Hacienda San Jose, Hacienda Santa Rosa and Hacienda Temozon.

Located 32 miles east of Merida near Chichen-Itza, Hacienda San Jose is an 18th century architectural gem. Historians, archaeologists and architects were involved in the restoration of the property, which paid special attention to utilizing original materials and techniques.

The property’s 15 guest units surround a central courtyard and encompass 11 deluxe rooms and four Mayan-themed villas, each featuring handcrafted wooden furnishings, tile floors, high ceilings and terraces, while many of the units open onto lush gardens and private plunge pools.

Hacienda San Jose’s original chapel, which also was restored, is adorned with historic murals. The chapel is available for weddings, including Mayan-style ceremonies with traditional dress. Also available are a pool, a gym and a restaurant that serves gourmet regional dishes.

Hacienda Temozon is the largest of the Starwood Luxury Collection haciendas in the Yucatan, but the 17th-century property still exudes an intimate atmosphere. Set on 1,300 acres 24 miles south of Merida, the hacienda’s original quarters are now a masterwork of restoration and renovation, offering 26 guest rooms and suites detailed with period furnishings, high-beamed ceilings and luxury linens.

Many of the units also have private outdoor plunge pools. The renovation of the property added several modern-day amenities, including a restaurant serving Southeastern Mexican specialties, a spa, a gym, swimming pools, tennis courts and a jogging track. The extensive grounds are also crisscrossed with numerous hiking and bicycling trails.

Hacienda Santa Rosa, located 35 miles southwest of Merida, was built in the 18th century and grew to become one of the world’s main suppliers of henequen. Nowadays, the luxury inn is an exotic retreat in the jungle featuring 10 guest rooms and suites and one Mayan-themed villa.

Each unit was designed to reflect the aristocratic lifestyle of the hacienda’s heyday, with such appointments as antique furniture and bronze beds with hand-embroidered linens. All of the units have terraces that lead to manicured gardens. Some of the suites share a swimming pool, and the Mayan-themed villa is a free-standing unit with a private plunge pool. The property’s restaurant specializes in Yucatecan cuisine.

Peninsula Package

Starwood’s Luxury Collection offers a Hacienda Hopping package that makes it easy for clients to experience the inland Yucatan Peninsula by staying at one or more of the unique properties.

The program, available for three, five or seven nights, includes accommodations at the haciendas of choice, roundtrip transfers from Merida Airport, a welcome drink and a fruit basket, breakfast daily, one dinner and one lunch. Through Dec. 19, rates start at $957 per room, double, for three nights.

Call 800-325-3589. Web site: www.luxurycollection.com.

Estate Planning

Other restored estates in the Yucatan include Hacienda Katanchel and Hacienda Xcanatun.

Set amid 740 acres of tropical jungle and Mayan ruins 15 miles east of Merida, Hacienda Katanchel was a 17th-century estate and plantation. The property offers a main hacienda complex and 33 bungalow-style units, which originally served as housing for the workers. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the property is a standout for its luxury accommodations, which consist of 39 suites featuring colonial antiques, gardens and terraces with hammocks, as well as for its regional Yucatecan and continental cuisine, much of which incorporates organic produce from the hacienda’s gardens.

The property has a spa offering a variety of facials and body treatments. Excursions include tours of the expansive hacienda grounds, as well as trips to major archaeological sites and historic villages in the countryside. Through April 30, 2003, nightly room rates start at $275.

Call 800-525-4800.

Web site: www.hacienda-katanchel.com.

Hacienda Xcanatun, located eight miles north of Merida, is an oasis of tropical gardens, ponds and fountains and an architectural showpiece that was painstakingly restored to its original 18th-century grandeur by master wood and stone craftsmen.

Outstanding features of the hacienda’s 18 guest rooms and suites include period furnishings and private verandas surrounded by blossoming gardens, in addition to hand-carved stone tubs in some of the units.

The property also has two swimming pools, spa services and Casa de Piedra, a well-known gourmet restaurant that blends European, Yucatecan and Caribbean cuisine to create interesting nouvelle dishes.

Golf, horseback riding and tennis are some of the activities available nearby.

The hacienda is a member of Mexico Boutique Hotels, a Puerto Vallarta-based company representing small luxury retreats throughout Mexico.

Through April 30, 2003, nightly rates start at $215 per room, single or double.

Call 877-278-8018 from the United States, and 866-818-8342 from Canada.

Web site: www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com.