Calle 20 SN, Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico
Head to the city outskirts for modern luxuries and easy access to Merida at this upscale ex-hacienda that offers fantastic service and cuisine in a boutique hotel setting.
The best place to get the Mexican hacienda experience without being chained to a remote location in the Yucatan region is Xcanatun, a boutique hotel located 15 minutes by car from central Mérida. It's sort of a semi–hacienda experience: you get the 18th–century historic structures and sense of history, but its proximity to the city results in better food offerings on site, as well as a wider selection of amenities and hotel staff with stronger English proficiency.
Xcanatun has continually improved and gotten more upscale over the past two decades, but they are really taking that process to the next level now by becoming part of the Angsana collection by Banyan Tree. This has provided an injection of cash that's leading to an expansion in a large adjoining plot of land, including a larger spa befitting the Thai hospitality brand.
This refined boutique hotel (whose Maya name means "tall stone house") occupies the estate of a colonial-era sisal plantation and also draws on its pre-Colombian roots. The nine-acre layout makes the most of its existing space, with gardens, lily ponds, and meandering paths that snake around private sitting areas flanked by royal palms and balconies draped with bougainvillea. The ample birds singing in the trees usually drown out the distant traffic from the main road heading to Progresso.
Despite a few additional buildings since Xcanatun first opened, the room count has actually gone down since we first set foot in the property back in the '00s. That's because the smaller rooms got swallowed up by others to create an all-suite concept. The smallest accommodations are more than 1,300 square feet and more than half of them are larger than that. They're technically junior suites since they're all one large room plus a terrace, but the lack of walls makes sense for this type of property.
Accommodations are sophisticated, with custom wood beds and inlaid marble or original tile floors. Some rooms are part of the original structures, while others are in a newer section designed to blend in with the old. The original Spanish-colonial decor in the rooms has gotten steadily more contemporary over several renovations, but with a tasteful style that is still authentically Mexican, with a strong sense of place. The lighting and furniture would not be out of place in one of Merida's finest contemporary mansions, but you still get high beamed ceilings, local tile, and items made from the area's "green gold": the sisal fibers that built Merida's wealth.
The terraces and balconies retain their colonial touches in the original building rooms and the outdoor wood furniture, iron work, and hammocks appear much as they would have centuries before. All rooms have furnished terraces, most with hammocks. The top choice is the Yaab Governor's Suite, which comes with its own pool on the terrace, surrounded by greenery to provide privacy.
Amenities have gotten more extensive over the years. For a long time, there were no TVs in any of the rooms in an attempt to maintain tranquility, but now they all have ones with 50- or 60-inch screens. The included Wi-Fi is fast throughout. This hotel is far more sustainable than the resorts lining the Yucatan coast, however. Toiletries are in refillable bottles and there's no throwaway plastic in the rooms: purified water is in returnable glass bottles. Suites have a minibar (with prices that won't make you gasp in shock), a desk area, robes, slippers, and coffee makers. Some have a whirlpool tub in the bath or on the terrace/balcony.
The award–winning Casa de Piedra restaurant features Yucatan–inspired dishes as well as a smattering of others that will please diners ready for a change after being on the peninsula for a while. Dinners here have long been popular with locals from Merida joining the guests and dishes are presented with artistic flair. I mixed Yucatan and international food during my two-night stay, enjoying the ubiquitous cochinita pibil, sopa de lima, some bright ceviche with mango, and a beautiful beet and orange salad with goat cheese. The traditional Mexican breakfast was accompanied by fresh-squeezed juice, warm bread with local jam, and good coffee from Mexican beans.
Located in the former sisal–threshing house, the restaurant comprises one main dining room, a private dining area, and a bar in a gorgeous setting or on the veranda facing the original entrance to the plantation. Be sure to sample the extensive wine list, interesting cocktails made from mezcal or tequila, or a craft beer from Merida.
More top–notch indulgences are available at one of the two freshwater swimming pools, fed by underground springs that were reconstructed from the plantation's original reservoir. The current spa with five treatment rooms, perched over the pool, offers a pared-down menu of body wraps and massages, all utilizing natural herbs, spices, and aromatic oils. When the new section is finished, a larger Angsana spa will open there.
With a high staff–to–guest ratio and now Angsana's international training program in the mix, personal service is consistently attentive. With your request, the hotel can arrange golf (10 minutes away), tennis, fishing, and horseback riding excursions offsite. The restored 18th–century chapel is an atmospheric venue for small weddings. Meeting and event space is available for incentive groups or functions.
If you truly want to get away from it all and have the Mexican equivalent of a plantation all to yourself, try one of the rural properties like Hacienda San Jose. Otherwise, this stylish upscale alternative gives you a more polished experience, with plenty of dining, entertainment, and activity options just a short drive away. If you have a car, you can get to the beach in about 30 minutes.
The best luxury hotel in Merida has gotten better and better over the years and there is far more pampering at Xcanatun than the city properties. It offers better food and service than the more rural hacienda hotels that are run by Marriott.
Web Address: Agsana.com Mexico
Total Number of Rooms: 18
Published rates: $270 to $720 including taxes and mandatory service fee
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.