Best Hacienda Experience
One of the most important and interesting subjects of Yucatan's past and present is the haciendas. We knew nothing about them when we moved here. We grew up in California, where the word "hacienda" was vaguely related to a hotel chain. We didn't know what we didn't know!
We were lucky enough to meet and befriend well-known architect Salvador Reyes-Rios and his lovely designer wife Josefina Larrain. Through our friendship and working relationship with them, we were introduced to the Grupo Plan haciendas, now operated by Starwood, that had just been renovated by Salvador and others for Roberto Hernandez, an executive at Banamex and a big investor in Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula. Salvador and Josefina took us around to see various haciendas, employed us to photograph some of their work and introduced us to their associates at the UADY School of Architecture (FAUADY), where we worked on their book about Yucatan haciendas.
We have visited more than forty haciendas in the Yucatan, and we hear there are over 170 haciendas, leaving us many more to go before we've seen them all! In the process of visiting our first forty, we have had a myriad of lovely experiences. Highlights of our visits include watching the lunar eclipse on the huge lawn in front of Hacienda Tabi, almost falling down an abandoned well into a cenote at Hacienda Mucuyche, a lovely afternoon rainstorm at Hacienda Yunku, as well as numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners at various renovated haciendas.
No two haciendas are alike, which makes their renovation and repurposing into hotels, private homes, B&B's, event locations and museums so interesting, and it makes visiting them so much fun. The history of haciendas is not so fun, as it includes many chapters of oppression of the Maya people. We've heard that the abandoned haciendas that are the most decrepit are the ones whose dueños (owners) were the most cruel. We find it difficult to visit a hacienda without reflecting on the hard work and sacrifice they represent.
For this Reader's Choice poll, we would like to know where our readers have enjoyed their Best Hacienda Experience, as a destination to appreciate and enjoy the architecture, history and culture of these unique monuments. We have included ONLY those haciendas that are commercial endeavors, open to the public on a daily basis, but are NOT hotels or vacation rentals. We hasten to add that there are many haciendas in varying states of decay that are interesting to explore (be careful, though! watch out for open wells!! We aren't kidding...). There are also many haciendas that have been turned into wonderful hotels and vacation rentals. We may publish separate polls for these categories in the months to come.
Here are our five nominations for Best Hacienda Experience. As always, we hope that you will add your nominations if you don't see your favorite on the initial list by leaving a comment, and we will add it to the poll.
Nominations are open until October 15th and the voting will be open until midnight on December 31st, 2007. The winner of this and our other polls will be announced early in January 2008.
The nominees for Best Hacienda Experience in alphabetical order are...
Hacienda Ake - Hacienda Ake has a public and private section. The Casa Principal is currently used as a part-time home by the venerable Don Solis and family, but the Casa Maquina and other working areas of the hacienda are open to the public. Hacienda Ake is still a functioning hacienda, which processes henequen and turns it into balls of sisal twine for sale. The little town of Ake is barely more than what surrounds the central fields, which is partially cultivated with vegetables by some of the townspeople. There is also an archaeological zone, with a hilltop full of mysterious columns that offers a nice view of the surrounding area and cool breezes on a hot day.
Website: www.ruinasake.com (in Spanish. Note the call for investment towards a plan to upgrade facilities.)
Hacienda Ochil - The actual buildings of this Grupo Plan hacienda maybe weren't large enough to be used as a hotel, so Hacienda Ochil was renovated into a restaurant with a museum, gift shop and artisan's workshops. Ochil is a truly lovely place, complete with a small henequen field, railway and drying area. The workshops are only open sporadically, but when they are, you can see local Mayas carving horn or stone, embroidering huipiles, or weaving henequen into placemats and other items. The food is well-executed Yucatecan cuisine, the service is impeccable and the grounds are lovely. A great place to stop for lunch on the way to Uxmal.
Sotuta de Peon - This hacienda presents the "way it used to be" on a hacienda one-hundred years ago. The owners have recreated hacienda life at the height of the henequen era and present it to visitors for a day-long, hacienda tour in the tourist tradition. The hacienda buildings, Maya houses and processing plants are part of the tour. There is also an underground cenote that is open to guests for swimming. Sotuta de Peon provides a unique chance to see it all and to see, as they say, history come alive!
Hacienda Teya - If you drive to Merida from Cancun, you can't help but see the signs to Hacienda Teya. Teya is close to Merida (just on the other side of the Periferico) and was one of the first to open its doors for events like weddings and other parties. Teya is famous for it's ballroom that features a swimming pool in the middle of the dance floor! We do hear there are rooms you can stay in overnight, but they are only available to the wedding party if you rent the hacienda for a wedding. Seeing the ballroom might be worth the trip, but Teya is famous for its restaurant, with some of the best regional food around. A visit to Hacienda Teya for lunch and a stroll is a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil - Yaxcopoil is really in a class by itself. You don't go to Yaxcopoil to eat... you go to explore, to observe and to dream. Yaxcopoil has been preserved in a state of arrested decay and now has become a hacienda museum. Everything has been left the way it was. Still owned by descendants of the family that owned it during the henequen boom, Hacienda Yaxcopoil also boasts some of the most beautiful hacienda architecture we have seen in its Casa Maquina toward the back of the property. The place has been used multiple times as a setting for TV shows and movies (and even a video game!) Yaxcopoil does have one guest house available for overnight rental, but we don't think this disqualifies it.
Please let us know if you would like to add a contestant to the poll. We look forward to finding out our Reader's Choice for the Best Hacienda Experience!