Hacienda Uxmal was a pioneer of tourism in Mexico and has a captivating history. It started as a ranch in 1673 and over time turned into a home for famous explorers excavating the ancient city of Uxmal.
Hacienda is a large estate or plantation, originating in the colonial period. Haciendas in Mexico were the basis of an economic system begun by the Spaniards in the 16th century, similar to the feudal system of Europe. Today Hacienda Uxmal has the title of the world’s oldest hacienda hotel, and its full official name is Hacienda Uxmal Plantation and Museum, because they still grow citrus and chilli peppers here and the hotel has a few rooms devoted to the exhibition of the hacienda colonial items of daily use, as well as the Maya Room.
We came here in September 2017 with my husband Rhod. We simply loved the place!
The current owners, descendants of the famous Peón family, turned the ranch into a luxury resort, while integrating into the design the adventures of the explorers, scientists and photographers. For example, the rooms today are named after the famous archeologists who stayed there. The hotel preserved the colonial style by sculpted masonry, hand-painted tiles, long arched verandas (corredores), regional wooden accents and exhibits of colonial memorabilia. At the same time they managed to blend in the Mayan culture and modern décor. Today, the hotel is surrounded by tropical gardens, fruit orchards, chilli fields (which they still grow here) and the remains of the original hacienda.
If you are after a place with cachet and charm while visiting the Puuc area, I highly recommend it. We stayed here with my husband in September 2017 when visiting the ruins of Uxmal, situated just 800 m from hotel. We loved the atmosphere as it was elegant yet not too posh. It was not very expensive either (100US per night), unlike most of other haciendas in Yucatán that have been turned to very expensive luxury hotels. The minute we walked in we 'felt' the history in the air, without yet knowing its compelling and rich tales.
The long terraces overlooking the gardens and the pool felt so royal that we were not surprised to find out later that many famous royals stayed here, including the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of England (they came to open the night light show at Uxmal), the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, Kings of Belgium, Baudouin, and Fabiola, Queen Julianne of Holland, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Today the hotel hosts a resident anthropologist, Enrique Valdes, who oversees Maya cultural and sustainable tourism effort. You can also find a guide for the Uxmal ruins here.I was truly intrigued by the old framed photos in the restaurant and took photos of them. I then asked for more history details at the reception. The have a booklet about the hacienda and I would like to share some of the stories and photos with you.
The old Hacienda Uxmal was established in 1673 when the King of Spain granted the Captain Don Lorenzo de Evia (founder of Hacienda Mucuyché), some uncultivated lands in lands of Mayan Ruins in the Sierra de Ticul region (about 160 km2), for his military merits and services.
Most of the haciendas of the Yucatán Peninsula were built in the 16th century on ancient Mayan settlements. The King was not aware of the commitments made by the Crown Representative in Yucatán, since the Crown had awarded these same lands to a Mayan soldier named Juan Can, who apparently was part of the army of the Xiú dynasty (allies of the Spaniards during the conquest of Yucatán). American explorer John Lloyd Stephens, who stayed in the hacienda in the 1840s, describes this dispute in his book Incidents of Travel in Yucatán (Vols I. And II). According to his account, Juan Can claimed his right of this land and produced some 'confused' papers and maps and Don Lorenzo paid him 74 dollars to settle the dispute.
Don Lorenzo de Evia gave hacienda his name and together with his wife Doña Aurora Sierra de León and their descendants over time built a livestock corn farm, drilled wells (70 m deep) and installed waterwheels.
In 1763, Don Alonso Manuel Peón y Valdés (a native of La Cuesta in Spain) and his wife Doña Leonor de Cárdenas became the second owners of the hacienda. It was then called a Sugar Mill. Don Alonso Manuel was also a Captain who fought against English and French that were attacking Spanish ships crossing between New Spain and the colonial Motherland. The ports of the Yucatán peninsula were at that time frequently assaulted by pirates. Don Alonso's hacienda flourished (his export was mainly to Cuba).
Don Alonso Manuel Peón junior inherited this hacienda from his father (with his wife María Joaquina Cano and Roo) and their child Don Simón
Peón y Cano became the fourth owner. The Peón family by then owned many haciendas in a great corridor between Mérida to Uxmal.
The conditions of the Maya who worked on the land were pretty terrible. They earned next to nothing, were paid by the hacienda currency (haciendas produced their own coins), which the workers could use only at the hacienda stores. They became slaves, practically.
So what did the hacienda look like at its peak? The set of buildings was composed of the main house, the corral and the powerhouse with two chimneys. They distilled alcohol from the cane that was grown here (cane was introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards). It also had a Chapel, the Administrator's House, the Dungeon, and the Warehouse in a central square. Haciendas were basically built as self-sufficient communities and covered all the 'needs' of the local Maya. Like most haciendas, it had a Ferris wheel, to draw water from the well using a system of sprockets that needed the strength of an animal circling around an axis. The main house was built in Spanish style, with arches.
In 1843, one of the first uprisings, called 'The rebellion of Nohcacab' took place in the Hacienda Uxmal and Hacienda Chetulix, properties of Don Simón Peón. This revolt was led by the cacique of Nohcacab, Apolonio Che and the cacique of Tixhualahtun, Laureano Abán in which they looted corn and cattle from the haciendas and distributed among settlers of Nohcacab, Sacalum and Tixhualahtun. Soon after, the Caste War of Yucatán began. It was a lengthy war of native Maya people against the European-descended population. While it officially lasted from 1847 to 1901, in reality the last time the Mexican army considered it necessary to take by force a village that had never recognised Mexican law was in April 1933 (the village of Dzula). Some haciendas were destroyed in this war but Uxmal survived.
In the 20th century hacienda hosted a number of archeologists who were excavating at the Uxmal ruin site, given its proximity to the ruins (corn was actually raised even at the ruin site). To name a few, in 1909 it was visited by German archaeologist Eduard Georg Seler and in 1913 by the famous Silvanus Griswold Morley, while in the 1940s the hacienda hosted Eduardo Noguera, Manuel Cicerol Sansores.
The American writer John Lloyd Stephens, and the British architect and draftsman, Frederick Catherwood were guests of Don Simón in 1839. Here they concluded the book 'Incidents of Travel to Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán' (published in 1841) and returned again to Uxmal between 1841-1842, to work on 'Incidents of Trips to Yucatán' (published in 1843).
Today's hotel was built from the stones of the original hacienda. The ranch's arch entrance is today about 2k from the hotel. In 1955, Don Fernando Barbachano Peón, inaugurated the Hotel Hacienda Uxmal and Posada Uxmal, as the camp for the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the first school of guides of Yucatán was also established here.
In the 1980s, the reconstruction works of Uxmal were carried out by the archaeologists Alfredo Barrera Rubio and in the 90s by José Huchim Herrera. In 1996, UNESCO declared the Mayan cities of Uxmal Kabah, Labná and Sayil as World Heritage Sites and the hacienda is now hosting tourists from all over the world.
As for the hotel rooms, here is our room as an example. Beautiful floor tiles, iron-wrought bed frame, Mayan bed covers, on the walls photos of explorers from Uxmal, modern bathroom, A/C.
How to get there:
If you are coming by bus, get to Mérida, then take a bus from there. The buses to Uxmal leave from Terminal de Autobuses TAME (2nd class) Calle 69 x 68 y 70, Centro. This is the second class bus station across the street from the First Class ADO station (CAME).
If travelling by car, follow the road 261 from Mérida.
Mix & Match:
Along the Puuc Route there are the smaller sites of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, and Labná, all within a few kilometres of each other. If you have time, I also recommend the caves of Loltún caves (one hour drive) with mural paintings of hands, faces and animal bones from ancient times.
If you are interested in haciendas, you could visit Hacienda Yaxcopoil, (33 min drive north).