Hacienda Xcanatun is a boutique hotel in Mexico’s Yucatan

hacienda xcanatun

Walking into Hacienda Xcanatun  just outside of the Yucatecan capital city of Merida is a walk back in time. Except for marveling at the seamless incorporation of modern luxuries into the 18th century estate, it’s easy to leave your modern-day sensibilities and worries behind at this jewel of a boutique hotel with its own restaurant and spa.

It was here that I met Carolina Martinez, granddaughter of a Mayan doctor, who runs the spa. At the entrance to the massage room, Carolina sprinkled me with water from a bouquet of herbs–basil and ruta—in a brief traditional Mayan purifying ritual. Instead of her hands, Carolina used bamboo sticks to massage me, first coating them with oil before kneading my muscles. It was surprisingly effective at turning me into a droopy rag doll. Part of the effect, I believe, was due to Carolina’s kind and nurturing personality, easily putting me at ease to help release stress and tension. Besides the bamboo’s obvious use as a massage tool, Carolina contends it has good energy and helps to get rid of negative energy. I couldn’t disagree, lying blissfully on the massage table.

Hacienda Xcanatun is one of many traditional haciendas from Mexico’s colonial history that have been turned into hotels across Mexico. It’s hard to imagine many of them matching Xcanatun’s revival. During the 18th Century, it was one of the largest sisal plantations in Yucatan. The property was purchased in the 1990s by Jorge Ruz and Cristina Baker, who have turned the estate into a delightful hotel surrounded by acres of tropical gardens enclosed by mustard-colored walls.

Hacienda Xcanatun

Well-tended and traditional. Photo by Terri Colby

After the renovation, which took five years, the Hacienda Xcanatun opened on New Year’s Eve of 2000. Xcanatun (ish-kana-toon) means tall stone house in Maya, and the Mayan history and culture are respected and preserved by Baker and Ruz, whose father was a famous Mexican archeologist.

In addition to the spa services, I also sampled the hacienda’s award-winning Casa de Piedra (Stone House) restaurant. On a hot June afternoon, the restaurant interior was cool and calm, high ceiling fans moving the conditioned air comfortably throughout the clubby, open, two-story space. An inviting bar and expansive windows to the outside terrace kept the interior from feeling closed off from the rest of the estate.

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Casa de Piedra is an award-wining restaurant at Hacienda Xcanatun in Mexico's Yucatan. Photo by Terri Colby

Looking for a light meal, my companion and I opted for the homemade soups and margaritas. After all, it was Mexico. The liquids—drink and meal—were great choices. Typical margarita but atypical soup, at least for an American. I had the chaya soup, a creamy concoction based on the chaya plant—a leafy green Mayan vegetable known as tree spinach in the U.S. It was a perfect post-spa meal in a beautiful and soothing space. The restaurant combines international, Caribbean and Mexican cuisines in a fine-dining setting that has won a five-star diamond award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. It’s pricey by Mexican standards but a treat for Americans used to spending $100 on a dinner for two. 

Hacienda Xcanatun offers 13 suites and five rooms. I wasn’t lucky enough to stay a night, but I toured the rooms and what I saw looked spectacular: stone tiles, fabulous bathrooms, dark wood, style with a traditional flair but lots of luxury. Rates vary depending on dates and room category but begin at $265 a night.

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One of the rooms at Hacienda Xcanatun. Photo by Terri Colby

There are two swimming pools on the grounds.

To my mind, the location is both a plus and a minus, depending you’re your point of view, or your plans.

There is almost nothing else within walking distance, so without making plans for day trips, there’s very little to tempt you to leave the hacienda. So relaxation could be complete; lounging, visiting the spa, pools and restaurant, taking short walks around the grounds. I could imagine happily doing just that for several days. 

The taxi into town takes about 15 minutes and Merida’s town square is worth the trip. It’s a traditional and colorful area with ceramic loveseat type chairs marking the pathways. A 100-year-old ice cream store is on one corner and offers great treats.

For golfers, a Jack Nicklaus course is five minutes by car from the hacienda.

Uxmal

The archeological zone at Uxmal, in Mexico's Yucatan, is breathtaking. Photo by Terri Colby

Day trips can easily be arranged to beaches and any of the many archeological zones in the Yucatan. Chichen Itza and Uxmal are especially noteworthy. My visit to the Yucatan included a day trip to Celestun, a nesting site for flamingos and it was quite  a sight. Worth a trip.

Owners Baker and Ruz with their deep local connections can arrange customized experiences that you might not get elsewhere: Consider a Yucatecan cooking class with a visit to an outdoor market for ingredients, an after-hours trip to a Merida museum, private tastings of rare tequilas or sessions with Mayan scholars eager to talk about their work.

Take a look at their website to see when you can go.

A step back in time, maybe, but so necessary in our current world.

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