Yucatan’s Historic Haciendas

Restored hotels make clients feel like millionaires

By: Kenneth Shapiro

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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 visiting guests.

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 this.”

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Temozon features the Spa Hol-be.
Country Stars
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 the boom.

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 Peon.

“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 lifestyle.

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 meetings.

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 and more.

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 2,000 people.

Hacienda Teya is open from noon to six p.m. and is located just 15 minutes from Merida.



Hacienda Tomozon

Hacienda Xcanatun

Sotuta De Peon

Yucatan Information


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.


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