A day or so into my week on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, I was faced with an overwhelming desire to dabble in still-life painting.
Perhaps it was inspired by my stay at a series of historic haciendas managed by Marriott’s Luxury Collection brand; I had, quite literally, discovered natural beauty in a new light.
Each of the hacienda structures date from an era prior to the widespread use of electricity, and windows are cleverly placed, bathing guestrooms in the type of soft natural light so expertly captured in an impressionist painting. And this light alone was nearly enough to complete the illusion that I’d left not only a large U.S. city — but also the 21st century — long behind.
Throughout the week, I visited three of Marriott’s five Luxury Collection haciendas in Mexico (three are in the state of Yucatan; the remaining two are in neighboring Campeche). Although the definition of a hacienda is imprecise — and can range from an estate or plantation to a working factory — the common aesthetic of each pairs vaguely industrial sensibility with lush vegetation.
And while there are many similarities between each of the three properties I visited (Hacienda San Jose, Hacienda Temozon and Hacienda Santa Rose), they each have their own distinct personality.
Hacienda San Jose
The 15-room, 18th-century Hacienda San Jose felt the most secluded of the three haciendas. While the other two are located within Maya communities, San Jose stands alone in the middle of the jungle. Several miles from the main road and through a narrow lane of scampering geckos and bright-yellow butterflies, the compound seems to emerge from the trees as though it were concealed by design.
Brightly painted stone-and-wood-beam buildings appear almost haunting in their natural stillness, as though the workers of decades past had simply put down their tools and left. A small chapel and neighboring library cluster around a small plaza, which offers a good place to watch the stars come out and dream about the prayers of long-past generations within the small sanctuary.
Guestroom and restaurant terraces overlook gardens or dense thickets of jungle. Nearly the entire property, save for the swimming pool, is shaded by the forest canopy; this shade is pierced by leopard spots of light in constant motion as the sun and clouds traverse the skies, making each glance up from a hibiscus margarita or a favorite book a one-off tableau of light and color.
Located 40 minutes east of Merida, Hacienda San Jose is best situated for daytrips to the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza and Ek Balam (recommend that clients get an early start and arrive before the Cancun tour buses in order to have the place nearly all to themselves). The “Yellow City” of Izamal and the Pueblo Magico [https://www.travelagewest.com/Travel/Mexico/Historical-Mexico-Pueblos-Magicos ] of Valladolid are also nearby for those who choose some additional exploration.
The largest of the haciendas is the 28-room Hacienda Temozon. Coming from the more intimate Hacienda San Jose, I found Temozon to be much grander in scale, thanks to its vibrant white-trimmed, deep-red main building juxtaposed against a bright green expanse of manicured lawn.
The 19th-century hacienda was once devoted to the manufacture of henequen fiber, and it feels the most industrial of the group. The rusting skeleton of a narrow-gauge railway remains on the grounds, and the canopied cars that transported workers and materials still dot the landscape.
The long terrace of the main building is clearly this resort’s showpiece; here, guests can sip drinks leisurely and peer out over the lawn and columns of palm trees. Special-occasion dinners can also be set up on the grass, complete with candle and torchlight under the stars.
The resort pool forms a long avenue toward the Historic Machines Building, where guests can view the remnants of henequen machines and find the property’s meeting rooms and spa. Guests indulging in the Maya massage benefit from traditional botanicals and techniques, along with a Maya prayer to begin and end the treatment.
Many of the guestrooms in the building that once housed the carpenter’s shop and pharmacy now have an expansive verandah strung up with hammocks (where it was difficult for me not to waste an entire day), and several guestrooms in these buildings also have bathrooms that open directly to outdoor plunge pools in private gardens.
The closest hacienda to Merida (just 35 minutes away), Hacienda Temozon is a good base for spending the day in Mexico’s White City. The Maya ruins at Uxmal are also within a comfortable driving distance.
Hacienda Santa Rosa
An hour south of Merida, the flat coastal rainforest starts to give way to rolling hills, and Hacienda Santa Rosa, the smallest of the haciendas (at just 11 guestrooms), lies in the center of a cozy village.
Passed down through generations by a family with noble roots, Hacienda Santa Rosa has two pools and an extensive botanical garden with the names of the plants labeled for budding horticulturists to learn. (Guests can also practice archery on the expansive lawn or take cocktails on the terrace.)
Each of the three haciendas has a terrace restaurant and spa, with menus featuring the same items across the three properties. Featured items include Maya favorites such as cochinita pibil (a spicy-sour pork stew) and queso relleno (a ball of edam cheese stuffed with ground pork, beef, raisins, capers, black olives and bell peppers).
As it happened to be Dia de los Muertos during my stay at Hacienda San Jose, the culinary team had a special treat: Mukbil Pollo, known colloquially as “Pib” (a chicken stew encased in a corn masa dough that’s wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked underground). The result is a smoky, earthy flavor. In the Mayan language, Dia de los Muertos is known as Hanal Pixan, and legend holds that Pib — also called “food of souls” — only tastes good during this specific time of year, when souls return to feast upon it.
Of course, there are plenty of vegetarian options, too, and all dishes make significant use of chaya (a local spinach), pumpkin (including seeds and flowers), squash blossoms, peppers and chiles. Naturally, mezcal and tequila figure heavily in the range of libations found on cocktail menus.
Know Before You Go
For clients who prefer not to rent a car, the haciendas can arrange airport transfers and private tours to attractions. There are also experiences on each property, ranging from Maya cooking classes to prayer rituals that allow guests to immerse themselves in the rich culture of the Yucatan — which is notably distinct from the rest of this large, diverse country.
Guestrooms at each property have all the standard amenities required by Marriott’s Luxury Collection brand, although bath amenities are notably produced locally from endemic botanicals (such as cucumber and aloe), and kept in hand-painted clay pots to reduce garbage waste. Rooms all have high ceilings with heritage furnishings that harken to the eras in which the haciendas were built.
Notably, none of the haciendas have ATMs on-site, so clients should be advised to bring cash or pick up some local currency before leaving the airport.
Ultimately, the magic of each of these special places is in the tiniest of moments, such as happening upon the resident iguana that lives under the steps at Hacienda Temozon; watching the sky turn from pink to ink-blue in an outdoor plunge pool; or watching a room attendant in a flowery, embroidered white dress gather bright orange sunflowers growing by the pool for the Dia de los Muertos.
However clients choose to discover Mexico’s unforgettable Yucatan, a visit to the Marriott’s Luxury Collection haciendas puts them in prime, socially distanced position to feel the incredible warmth of its ancient heart.
The Haciendas, Marriott’s Luxury Collection