Henequen haciendas: from plantations to tourism
Yucatan has archaeological sites, colonial convents, cenotes and something found nowhere else in the world, old henequen haciendas (or plantations). At its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, henequen covered over two thirds of the state. Also known as sisal after the port from where it was shipped out, it generated immense wealth in the state. By 1845, over one thousand plantations were reaping incredible profits from the henequen boom, and the state produced 90% of the rope and sacks used worldwide. The advent of synthetic fibers, among other causes, eventually brought the fall of this “green gold”.
Almost a hundred years later, the plantations of Yucatan have begun to recover their splendor and beauty as retreats offering harmony, relaxation, meditation, and above all a unique experience. What were once machine rooms have been transformed into restaurants serving contemporary Yucatecan cuisine, what were once stables and corrals are now pools and spas. The state’s old lordly mansions have become peculiarly enchanting attractions for visitors and locals alike.
There are currently a number of plantations open to the public, and more are being restored every year. Temozón Sur, San José Cholul, Santa Rosa, Xcanatún and Hacienda Misné have been restored and converted into luxury hotels with excellent restaurants open to everyone. Sotuta de Peón is a fantastic journey back in time to the old plantation life style, complete with truck cars running on fully rebuilt narrow-gauge railroads and excellent guided tours. San Pedro Ochil was restored, a restaurant added, handcrafts workshops built nearby and even a henequen field planted. Yaxcopoil is a plantation time capsule on a par with European manor house museums.
Plantation owners sent their sons to Europe (preferably Paris) for their education, with the hope that they would return and help civilize Yucatan a la Europe. This is why many plantations have an obviously European architectural style.
This is a traditional festival born at the plantations and held in honor of the patron saint of the plantation or a village. These celebrations last three days and four nights, and begin with a local orchestra playing a “jarana” tune and dancers taking over the grounds.
The henequen boom was such that the state capital Merida had street lighting and trams before Mexico City, and that by the early 20th Century there more millionaires in this city than in any other in Latin America.