This is a seven-part-story series on the magic of Merida, Mexico rated as one of the best cities to travel to in 2022.

If you travel to Merida or through the Yucatan Peninsula, you learn quickly about the role of haciendas and their contributions to the world. The architecture of Mexican haciendas, along with the Mayan culture and Yucatan’s natural resources, is both captivating and wondrous. Their historical past in the early 1900s and restored beauty are unquestionably intriguing and worthy of a visit. Here’s why….

What are Haciendas?

 Mexican haciendas many times have been compared to old southern plantations of the USA. They were very large estates where both harvesting and manufacturing were done and people lived and worked. The city of Merida was once a great city of wealth tied to a global economy. It was based on the harvesting of “henequen”, part of the agave plant family that can be fashioned into rope twine needed worldwide. Henequen was referred to as the “green gold” which fostered and grew the Hacienda system throughout the Yucatan peninsula. Today, many of these haciendas have been restored as museums, businesses and as luxury hotels. It is estimated there are over 500 haciendas in the peninsula that are still standing in some form. Besides the owner’s mansion, many of these haciendas contain large farm tracts, a machine house for processing the henequen, and a chapel, among other communal facilities where workers lived.

A Bit More History about Haciendas  

Unfortunately, much like plantations in the US, these haciendas were part of a social caste system where both Mayan Indians and Africans were enslaved.  Henequen, known as “sisal,” was the main export from the 16th to the early mid-20th centuries until nylon and other synthetic fibers replaced it. This led to an economic depression for both the hacienda owners and the city’s economy, ultimately causing their abandonment. It’s also important to note that much of the land used to build these haciendas was stolen from the native Mayans. As expected, the hacienda system also resulted in a large concentration of wealth for a few wealthy landowners and profiteers, leading to both long-standing inequality and poverty even after slavery ended (this story is sounding all too familiar to the US).

Is There a Happy Ending Here?

Yes, many lands were reclaimed or returned to the natives, thanks to the Mexican revolution and Pancho Villa (Yup, that guy). I don’t know the details, but he certainly played a role. Today, haciendas are popular for historical tours, weddings, special events and for a luxurious vacation stay ($$$). On my next trip to the peninsula, if it does not break the bank, I would love to stay at least for a weekend at one of these haciendas (will see).

My photos are of several of the mansions that remain in Merida, although on a much smaller scale. I took photos of the interior living spaces, opulent furnishings and the decorative art of that golden era. I also visited the remains of an abandoned hacienda where I took photos of what was left of the hacienda, the machine house where they process the sisal and a chapel. The mansions I visited were on the Paseo de Montejo, the city’s main boulevard comprising of  mansions and residences built during the height of the city’s prosperity by hacienda owners. Most of these house museums charge a small entrance fee for a guided tour. For a few pesos, you get to time travel to another era, well worth it.

Don’t forget to click the center of the photos for a full view.

Also click here to access my friend, Nikisha’s google map list of popular restaurants, cafes, bars, gift shops, museums and historical sites with the intention of it becoming part of your bucket list (thanks Nikisha). There is still more on Merida to come!!

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