A charming historic retreat. You can stay the night, or just come for a meal or a stroll.
You come here for a little taste of Mexico's past and the advantage is that there are plenty of places to explore nearby. I certainly recommend Acanceh town, which is the first stop on the convent route, just 11km down the road. Check out its church on the main square. It also offers the ancient Acanceh ruins with large zoomorphic masks of the Sun God and a very intriguing stucco frieze. You can see Mayapán ruins (20 minutes away), the last city kingdom of the ancient Maya people in Yucatán. It was built as a replica of Chichén Itzá, with El Castillo pyramid, observatories and intriguing murals. The difference is that you will have it to yourself, unlike Chichén. Maní is also on the convent route, with its interesting church where the friar Fray Diego de Landa burnt all the ancient Maya books. Or you can just stay at the hacienda and read a book by the pool, in the middle of the jungle.
If you do browse around, the hacienda offers tranquillity on your return. What I like most about Tepich is that it is not painted a strong colour, like most of the restored haciendas (they are usually striking red or blue). The rustic look makes it romantic and nostalgic. Hacienda Tepich is also referred to as Casa Vargas (named after its current owner, Mr Vargas).
The crumbling Yucatán haciendas are slowly being repaired and we can literally feel the colonial times when staying in one of them. They are all set in the dry tropical jungle and Tepich is no exception. The drive is palm-lined; the gardens have flamboyant trees, bougainvillea, jasmine, and an orange grove. The hacienda has beautiful grounds to walk in, and you can admire the horses, the parrots and you may spot an occasional lizard.
The house has typical colonial hacienda décor, with a front portico with arches supported by pillars and local early 20th century hand-carved furniture. The veranda is accessed by a large stone staircase and flanked by iron rails. At the entry to the property there is a small house, which at one time could have been the company store (that is my guess). The shops were for the peons, who were paid in the currency that was produced by each hacienda and they could not use their salary elsewhere; they had to shop at the hacienda store.
There were quite a few haciendas in the near vicinity, such as Yabucú, Sac Chich, Tepich, Itzincab Cámara and Kankirixche, to name a few. Some of them are now restored. On this particular visit in May 2018, we combined Tepich with a visit to the ruins of Mayapán, the town of Acanceh with its ruins and Hacienda Yabucú. We were not able to dine in Yabucú, as they are only open to corporate events and large private parties but we were allowed to walk about. The same happened to us in Tepich. Here the restaurant is actually open to the public but we happened to be there at 11am, when breakfast had finished and lunch has not started yet. In any case, we saw the dining room, and the living room, the veranda and the gardens.
We liked the Maya statues around the pool as well as some friezes, and the number of ancient Maya artefacts displayed in the long arched veranda. They seem to live in symbiosis now, after the turbulent past times. After all, the ancient city of Acanceh had apparently 160 structures spread over an area of more than two square km so no wonder some have been found on the hacienda land (which was larger than today at its peak). It was ancestral Maya land, and the foreign owners got the land from the Spanish Crown for their military services or political support to the new government. Yes, the history of haciendas has a bitter past.
At the beginning, all hacienda owners in Yucatán were breeding livestock and growing maize, fruit, vegetables and sugar cane imported by the Spaniards from Europe. From the 19th century they turned to processing henequén fibre, or green gold, as they used to call it. Henequén made rich oligarchs who built beautiful houses in Mérida and owned a lot of land across the countryside, bringing changes to the society. In earlier days, when Indian labour was more valuable than land, traditional villages were little disrupted. Later, haciendas expropriated communal land, destroying self-sufficient Maya communities, ending traditional corn growing and restricting hunting.
With a third (if not more) of the Peninsula’s population lost in the Caste War of Yucatán (the rebellion of the Maya against bad treatment by their Spanish masters), the distribution of workers shifted; smaller haciendas lost workers and had to shut down, or were absorbed into larger haciendas. Henequén growers imported contract workers from central Mexico, the Canary Islands, Cuba, Korea, and China. All haciendas around Acanceh used these contracted workers as slaves. The agrarian land reform implemented by President Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s finally turned the haciendas into collective Maya ejidos, allowing the Spanish owners to have only 150 hectares. Some owners fled their haciendas during the bloody Caste War out of fear; others had to leave after they lost their lands due to the reform.
I always try to imagine how real people lived in places in the past. The main house, or Casa Principal, was usually the largest building, where the haciendado had his living quarters. He lived in Mérida but would come here visiting with his family. Henequén processing took place in the machine house, or Casa de Máquinas. There was usually a Capilla, or chapel although I could not see one at Tepich. It could be just outside but we did not specifically look for it. El mayordomo was the representative of the owner, who decided about everything in the owner's absence. The foremen were his assistants; they supervised the workers. Whippings were common, and so were sexual abuse and forced marriages (between workers from different haciendas, that belonged to the same owner, to keep them as their labourers). Jail was used for drunkenness.
The Maya avoided military service in the national guard by working at the hacienda. And some workers got a little piece of land by their hut where they could grow fruit and vegetables; for this they had to pay tribute to the owners every Monday. Those workers were called luneros (lunes means Monday in Spanish). Some villagers were contracted for labour and others lived on the hacienda. For the latter group, debts bound them to stay at the hacienda forever: they were paid for their work upfront so they were simply always in debt and could not leave without being punished by law.
Another way to get into debt was the marriage loan, which covered church fees and the cost of social gathering. This was put on the worker's nohoch cuenta (large account). It was usually not repaid but tied the worker even more to the hacienda. Workers were charged equally for their tools, funerals, baptism, medical fees, and church services. Salaried servants were almost unknown; instead they received food and clothing. No wonder that during the Caste War rebellion the Maya tried to kill all dzuleob (plural of dzul, 'the man who came from the sea'), the foreigners who had power over them.
Today the hacienda employs the local villagers but they get an average Mexican salary. Not the best salary in the world, but they are certainly treated better than in the past (bear that in mind when you tip them). I am sure you will find the staff very pleasant and helpful as that is what the Maya are made of.
How to get there:
It depends where you are driving from but most likely you will be driving on Highway 180D (Cancún-Mérida) first, then turn to road 184 (the Convent Route) that goes to Acanceh and eventually to Chetumal (via Mayapán). You will see the hacienda well sign-posted. It is 11km before reaching the town of Acanceh.
Buses from Mérida cover this route.
Mix & Match:
Visit the town of Acanceh, with its ancient ruins right on the zócalo. If you have more time, Mayapán ruins are just half an hour drive south from Acanceh.