Main house of the Hacienda Temozon.
Many travelers may be surprised to know it, but at the turn of the
last century Mexico’s Yucatan region was one of the wealthiest
places in the world. The area’s plantations centered around the
city of Merida were so successful that the Yucatan was like the
Silicon Valley of the time, with Yucatecan sisal (made from the
green agave cactus and used to make string and rope among other
things) shipped all over the world. As an indication of how
successful the area was, in 1902, over 200 tons of sisal were
shipped from this region & in just a single month. One result
of this great concentration of wealth was the rise of the hacienda
culture. These haciendas were huge plantations that covered
hundreds of acres granted by the government. Close to the main
house were often other living quarters for plantation workers and
Today, while the ranching and farming is mostly defunct, many of
the haciendas in the area have been converted into luxury hotels.
These hacienda hotels are one-of-a-kind properties, with unique
details and old-world charm, and they have become a great niche
business in the region, so much so that tour operators such as
Pleasant Holidays and hoteliers like Starwood have gotten into the
act as well.
“Haciendas are booming in the U.S. market,” said Daniel Mellado,
director of sales and marketing for Starwood’s Luxury Collection of
haciendas. “Probably 90 percent of the market is generated by word
of mouth. There’s a lot of room for growth for travel agents in
Temozon features the Spa Hol-be.
The best first stop for clients in the Yucatan should be the
Sotuta De Peon. This working plantation uses turn-of-the-century
machinery to demonstrate how sisal was processed at the height of
After touring the restored hacienda, visitors watch as the agave
leaves are crushed by steam engine and finished and turned into
string by hand. It’s a fascinating procedure and the plantation is
a labor of love for Adolfo Flores, director general of Sotuta De
“I’m a country guy,” Flores said. “When I was a kid, I used to
see this sort of production everywhere around here. Now it’s all
gone. I just felt I had to save some of it.”
In addition to the sisal production and hacienda tour, guests
can also tour the agave fields by horse-drawn cart. This includes
stopping to meet Don Antonio, a Mayan farmer who lives on the
property. Don Antonio teaches guests his language, as well as gives
tours of his Mayan home and explains customs of the Mayan
Also on the plantation is a cenote (an underground cave with
water). Guests are invited to change into swimsuits and take a dip
in the cool underground pool a great antidote for a hot day touring
the agave fields.
While Sotuta De Peon will educate clients, there are several
haciendas that will pamper them.
One of the best of these properties is Hacienda Xcanatun
(pronounced ssh-kana-toon). Once part of a working sisal operation
at the turn of the 19th century, and refurbished by Cristina Baker
and Jorge Ruiz in 1999, the hacienda is now part of Virtuoso and
Mexico Boutique Hotels, and has a Four-Diamond rating from AAA.
Xcanatun has beautiful lush gardens filled with nothing but the
sounds of birds, so you feel like you’re the only person there.
Baker is usually on-site herself and looks after her guests like
they are part of the family. In fact, at times a stay at Xcanatun
feels like a stay at a friend’s country home.
The hacienda has 18 suites, all decorated in period furnishings
with unique architectural details. For instance, some rooms have a
Jacuzzi tub on the porch (in addition to the property’s two
swimming pools), and the Patricia Suite has a skylight built into
its 17-foot-tall ceilings. The hacienda also features a top-notch
restaurant, Casa de Piedra, where President Bush dined on a recent
visit to Merida.
Hacienda Xcanatun is also ideal for weddings and small groups.
There is a spot in the garden for Mayan marriage ceremonies and vow
renewals, and a former chapel can be used for weddings or
Another option is the Hacienda Temozon, part of the Starwood
Luxury Collection and a Virtuoso property.
Temozon is a completely refurbished plantation with spectacular
grounds and amenities, including a cenote-fed infinity-edged
swimming pool, a billiards room, a party area, a gourmet restaurant
Temozon also features the Spa Hol-be, with some massage tables
actually in a cenote, so guests can get spa treatments and take a
dip inside the underground cavern. With many of the hacienda’s 28
rooms dating back to the 1600s, Temozon is a creative blend of old
Mexico and modern comfort, with tile floors, huge bathrooms,
antique furnishings and modern amenities. Some rooms even come with
their own plunge pool, and all rooms feature a hammock for naps on
a hot afternoon.
According to Mellado, all the haciendas in the Starwood Luxury
Collection are growing in popularity. He feels one reason for this
is that these properties represent the best of old and new
combining unique historic accommodations with Starwood’s
management, ease of booking and quality standards, “not to mention
Starwood’s points program,” he said. Regardless of what property
you book, the Yucatan’s haciendas will give your clients a glimpse
into a world of luxury when plantations were at their height, and
make them feel like a millionaire of a bygone era.
One of the things the Yucatan is famous for is its unique cuisine,
which is a blend of Spanish, Mayan and Caribbean influences. Chefs
come here from all over the world to study the region’s food.
At the Hacienda Teya, visitors can enjoy
authentic and delicious Yucatecan dishes, such as pibil (meat and
fish wrapped in banana leaves) and poc chuc (grilled Yucatecan pork
steak) in the setting of a historic hacienda. The restaurant uses
the ground floor of the main house, originally built in 1683, while
the rest of the grounds can be reserved for special events up to
Hacienda Teya is open from noon to six p.m. and is located just
15 minutes from Merida.
Sotuta De Peon
PLEASANT IN THE YUCATAN
Pleasant Holidays, offers trips to Merida,
including stays at Hacienda Xcanatun, Hacienda Temozon, Hacienda
San Jose and Hacienda Santa Rosa.
The company also operates a three-night, four-day tour called
The Mayan Experience that includes visits to Merida and the Mayan
sites of Uxmal, Izamal and Chichen Itza. Add-ons to Cancun and the
Riviera Maya are available.