The view of the gardens from the Casa Principal (main house) terrace at Hacienda Xcanatun
It’s the hacienda hotels that make the colonial towns of Mexico a must-visit. And one of the best of these is Hacienda Xcanatun, set on the outskirts of Mérida, in the Yucatan. The historic property has 13 Suites and five Superior rooms, all filled with period detail—coral stone floors, 18-foot beamed wooden ceilings, marble-wrapped bathrooms.
Xcanatun was built in the 1790s as a ranch for raising horses and mules. In the 1800s, it became one of the largest and wealthiest sisal plantations in the area. After the sisal market collapsed, it fell into ruin. Cristina Baker and her husband Jorge Ruz bought the property in 1993 and had a team of master craftspeople and architects restore it before the reopening in January 2000.
It took five years of restoration and renovation to bring the 18th-century hacienda to its present form. Both the hotel and restaurant have been awarded the AAA Four Diamond, the hotel has figured in the National Geographic Traveler “100 Hotels with a Sense of Place,” and the restaurant is a recipient of American Academy of Hospitality Sciences’ Star Diamond Award.
We were told that during the five-year renovation, the owners selected the furnishings as if they were decorating their own home. Each is decked up in hand-carved Carib-colonial furnishings, original Cuzco oil paintings and antiques, and all have a private terrace or patio. Fresh flower decorations on the bed are part of turndown service, with “ultra-special” complimentary bed decorations for wedding nights, honeymoons or anniversaries. Romantic setups around the stone tubs and outdoor Jacuzzi are also complimentary, upon request.
We were told the best room here is the Master Suite, Yleana, whose bathroom consists of a hand-carved coral stone tub with a waterfall. Next is the Deluxe Suite, #316, on the second floor in the middle of the garden. Its private terrace has a hydrotherapy tub, which makes one feel like soaking in a Jacuzzi while being in a tree house.
The Good Life on the Hacienda
The resort’s full-service spa provides signature Mayan treatments, while the hacienda’s gourmet restaurant serves creative fusion Yucatecan cuisine. Hacienda Xcanatun’s Casa de Piedra restaurant was declared one of the top 50 restaurants in Mexico by the New York city-based American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. The restaurant also features the most extensive wine list in the area, including excellent Mexican wines and vintages from around the world, along with a large selection of the best tequilas.
There are two freshwater swimming pools hidden in Hacienda Xcanatun’s 9 acres of manicured, dense tropical gardens with indigenous trees and flowers.
The hotel prides itself on highly personalized service and a series of specially designed private guided excursions with highly trained guides to reveal the “hidden” Yucatan. Golfers qualify for exclusive playing privileges at the first Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Yucatan, five minutes from Xcanatun, at the Yucatan County Club.
Who should agents recommend Hacienda Xcanatun for? It is perfect for destination weddings, romantics of all ages, couples, honeymooners, girlfriend getaways, culture and art buffs, and golfers. Travelers are drawn to the area by the culture and history of both the ancient Maya and the colonial Yucatan, as well as the unique ecology of the area.
Agents should contact Cristina Baker (888-883-3633, [email protected]), director general/co-owner. They can also call the same number for Araceli Ramirez, front desk manager.
The Lowdown on Mérida
Mérida is the capital city of the Yucatan and a place where old meets new, and traditional constructions and modern urban development coexist. If you are looking for postcard-perfect photo ops, Mérida is the ideal departure point for excursions to the main archaeological sites, cities and colonial towns.
In the Yucatan, you can find everything from simple boarding houses to the most luxurious hotels and restaurants. The countless attractions include many archaeological sites, such as Uxmal (World Heritage Site), Chichen Itza (World Heritage Site and Wonder of the World), Dzibilchaltun and Ek Balam, all relatively close to Mérida. In fact, the Yucatan State has more than 2,000 archaeological sites to visit.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the colonial cities such as Valladolid and Izamal. Known as the City of the Three Cultures, Izamal has pre-Hispanic, colonial traces of its past, as well as contemporary influences. Mayan pyramids, colonial-style buildings, horses and buggies and the famous Convent of San Antonio de Padua, built over one of the Mayan pyramids and currently the second largest church in the world after St. Peter’s in the Vatican—it was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993—are Izamal’s attractions.
For ecotourism fanatics, this ancient land of the Mayans has locations where sunlight filters through rocks, illuminating cavernous vaults and cenotes (underwater caves). The Yucatan Peninsula lacks rivers and other surface water bodies as the ground is all limestone and very porous. Rainwater filters through penetrating cracks, forming caves and underground rivers, many of which are interconnected.
The Yucatan’s ecological reserves and UNESCO sites such as Celestun have exotic species, such as pink flamingos in El Palmar and Rio Lagartos.
The Routes of Mexico
Selling colonial towns such as Mérida will now be easier for travel agents with the Mexico Tourism Board’s new The Routes of Mexico program, which aims at promoting the country’s “natural beauty, archaeological sites, charming towns, colonial cities, ecological reserves, sustainable areas, and sun and beach destinations in a more integrated and organic manner,” according to a written release.
The 10 routes included in the program connect the 31 states and Mexico City based on various themes, including food, wine, culture, history, art and more. They are: Wine Country and the Aquarium of the World; The Millenary Tarahumaras; The Magic of Traditions and Nature; The Birthplace of History and Romanticism; The Art of Tequila and Music Under the Sun; The Huastecas and their Outstanding Beauty;Thousand Flavors of Mole; The Mystery and Origin of the Mayan Culture; A Colonial Experience; and The Fascinating Encounter Between History and Modern Day Mexico.
Each of the five Master Suites has coral stone and marble floors, and hand-carved Carib-colonial furnishings.