Hacienda Petac – a luxurious Yucatan experience
I woke up in a comfortable bed with crisp linen and propped myself up on the soft, large pillows. Light was streaming in through an open window, gently illuminating the magnificent room. Everything about this room is on a grand scale. The old wooden doors and windows, the tall, heavy armoire, the soaring ceiling and the spacious, elegant bathroom, all reminiscent of colonial style of past era, yet luxurious in a very contemporary way.
We are staying at Hacienda Petac in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula for a few days of R&R and exploration. Having stayed at a number of Yucatan haciendas before I can say that we could not have chosen better. We are here as guests of the hacienda together with another journalist and her partner and have the hacienda and it’s staff of 23 all to ourselves. I have an internal GPS for luxurious experiences and it hit a home run with this stay.
What sets Hacienda Petac apart from other haciendas in the Yucatan is the philosophy of its owners. While other haciendas open their doors to mixed groups of guests like any hotel, Hacienda Petac operates under a different philosophy, offering their luxurious accommodation as a whole to only one group at a time. Imagine the hacienda being your home for the week, delivering colonial style grandeur with modern conveniences and a staff of 23 at your service and you get the picture. It is an ideal venue for family gatherings, girlfriends getaway, weddings, cooking vacations, writers and artists retreats, bird watchers and more, with groups of up to 14 guests at a time.
The Hacienda Petac’s story
Hacienda Petac begun its life as a livestock plantation serving the local economy and transitioned into a henequen hacienda in early 19 century using henequen fiber to make ropes. The haciendas were largely owned by wealthy Europeans who lived in mansions on Paseo de Montejo in Mérida. The haciendas business was booming until mid 1900s when the henequen production collapsed as an industry and most haciendas were abandoned and ruined by the passage of time, Hacienda Petac included.
In the 20th century the decaying haciendas were beginning to be purchased and restored as luxury hotels built in colonial grandeur with modern conveniences. Around 2000 the crumbled Hacienda Petac was purchased by an American couple with a vision to make it into a luxurious retreat. They restored the property over three years with the help of Arq. Salvador Reyes Ríos into a magnificent estate that preserves the integrity of a 17th century colonial architecture yet creates “a contemporary recreation and not simply a copy of the old” according to Reyes. Furniture and other elements are designed by Reyes in collaboration with local artisans. The result is an architecturally gorgeous estate furnished to perfection with all of the luxuries of a modern 5 star resort. To top it off, the hacienda is set amidst 250 acres of gardens and natural habitat that you can explore along the various paths winding around the property.
The Hacienda is located about half an hour south of Merida in the small Mayan village of Petac. Airport transfers come with your stay. Fly in to Merida’s airport and a driver will pick you up and deliver you comfortably to the hacienda. Since we are spending a few months in this area we drove here from the coast and made our way to the hacienda on our own using our trusted GPS. With a slight adjustment at the end (turn left on calle 21, not 23) we pulled in through the gate and proceeded along towards the main house.
The Hacienda experience
As soon as we caught sight of the Casa Principal (main house) we knew we were in for something special. As we walked onto the front porch a beautiful Mayan woman in traditional dress greeted us with refreshing glasses of chilled aqua de Jamaica. The manager par excellence and ex-pat Colleen walked us through the main house pointing out details of this beautiful space. The Casa Principal is the main house of the hacienda, restored to showcase the beautiful colonial architecture. It houses a kitchen, dining room, living room, library, a bar, a small chapel and several sitting areas both inside and under cover outdoors. Unlike a hotel lobby, it has a feel of a warm and luxurious private home. The casa principal used to function as the main house of the working hacienda and the signs of the past still remain. Hooks for the workers hammocks are seen on the walls and remnants of old machinery are on display throughout.
Colleen then took us to our room in an adjacent building where miraculously our luggage was already waiting. Our room was spacious and elegant with soaring ceiling, exquisite artisanal furnishing and it even has a name: Chu Jun, meaning “woodpeckers” and indeed we could hear resident woodpeckers pecking on nearby trees. The bed and bathroom were covered with beautiful fresh flower art arranged by the staff with flowers and greens picked from the Hacienda’s gardens.
We settled in to unpack and enjoyed a refreshment of local fruits beautifully arranged in a bowl that was replenished daily throughout our stay. There was plenty of bottled water, enough plug-ins for all my electronic needs and easy and reliable wifi access to keep us connected to the real world outside if we so wish (Guilty. I like my wifi). There are no TVs in the rooms (thank goodness) but an extra large TV is available at the newly built Casa Ramon in a modern living room setting and my husband made good use of it during our stay.
The large bathroom has a huge marble tub, single sink, a rain shower, plenty of hot water and towels in abundance. Large doors open in the back into a cluster of trees and I loved the fresh breeze it provided in the bathroom with your privacy intact.
The room is located in what used to be the Casa de Maquinas, or the machine room of the original hacienda. The only reminder of the original use is the tall chimney rising in front of the room. The machines in the hacienda used to be operated by steam and the fire was needed to heat the water. Now the old chimney is left standing with reflecting pools built round it and water lilies floating over the water. There are only two rooms in this building and a covered porch running in front furnished with originally designed and crafted furnitures.
Every morning before breakfast we hung the “cafe please” sign on our door knob and in what seemed like magic a tray with freshly brewed coffee and leche caliente appeared at our door. We developed a ritual of settling on the porch each morning in our bathrobes in the magnificent butaca style rocking chairs designed by architect Reyes, taking in the beautiful scene around us. A coffee refill came soon after and we took the second cup with us as we walked around the various stone lined paths, still wrapped in our bathrobes, exploring the gardens around the hacienda. The attentive staff always found us wherever we were with an offer of refill of steaming hot coffee should we want it. Inevitably we ended our morning excursions either by the pool on the lounge chairs or the hammocks, or on the porch of Casa Ramon, a newly built structure containing two bedrooms connected by a living room where the Hacienda’s owners stay during their visits.
Breakfast at the hacienda is a wonderful ritual that we never missed. As the only guests (with your group) you can let Colleen know the evening before when you want breakfast served and even where to serve it. We had all of our breakfasts outdoor either on the porch of the casa principal or near the pool on the beautiful stone patio in the partial shade of large trees. How many time did I say beautiful? Well, it goes with the territory. They take any breakfast requests but you can easily leave it to them and I promise you will not be disappointed. Fresh fruits, smoothies, freshly squeezed juice, eggs, tortilla dishes, the chef’s special banana bread, toasted bread, homemade jams and freshly brewed coffee are de rigueur.
Dinner was always an event. We dressed up for it and made our way to the casa principal along a stone path lit with dozens of candles flickering and lighting our way. The casa principal itself was glowing with warm lights and candles and the table in the diningroom was beautifully laid out with artisanal dishes and stemware, flowers and candles. The romance of the scene was overwhelming and it was hard to tear ourselves away at the end of the evening. We wanted to linger and take in the sights, sounds of the night and aromas of flowers wafting in the air.
All the cooking is done by the kitchen staff consisting of Mayan women from the nearby village. The food is authentic, made with local ingredients entirely in the hacienda’s kitchen except for two items: chocolate and gelato, both sourced from specialty shops in nearby Merida. They made delicious soups (caldo poblano and sopa de lima), a queso relleno dish where edam cheese is hollowed out and filled with ground meat and baked, originally made in honour of Dutch royal visit to the area. We had chicken pibil which is a take on cochinita pibil, a traditional Yucatan dish of slow cooked meat marinated in local spice paste achiote and the juice of sour oranges. One of the highlights for me was a simple everyday item: fresh yellow corn tortillas pressed by hand and cooked to order in the kitchen. They were packed with flavour and hard to resists (not that I tried). All the flavours were as authentic as the ingredients used in their preparation. With local Mayan women in the kitchen, how can you go wrong.
Desserts were a special treat in which we shamelessly indulged at lunch and dinner regardless of how much we ate. I loved the perfectly smooth crema catalana with the burnt caramel sauce, the lime and coconut pies, poached pears with chocolate sauce, caballeros pobres dessert (similar to pain perdu or French toast) and many more. Sorbets from Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon and chocolates from Ki Xocolat were offered daily.
Needless to say you can order any drink you want any time you want and the attentive staff find you wherever you choose to settle with the gentle offer “Desea algo de tomar?” (would you like something to drink?), whether by the pool, in the hot tub, on chairs in the gardens, near your room or anywhere else.
Spa and Pool
One of the nice features of the hacienda is the outdoor pool. We lounged on the comfortable chairs in the morning with our pre-breakfast coffees, taking in the morning scene and sounds of the many birds. We watched the staff set the breakfast table on a nearby patio, indulging in the flower artistry that decorated every table. The two hammocks, hanging over the shallow part of the pool were wonderful to gently sway in, contemplating how lucky we were to be in such a unique place, removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
A spa building is located behind the pool area and features a well equipped fitness room, yoga mats, aesthetic services room and a two person massage room. There is also an outdoor treatment area and open air hydro jet shower. We were treated to a massage and enjoyed soaking in the outdoor hot tub beforehand, then lounging on the comfortable lounge bed near the tub waiting for our treatment. The deep tissue massage was excellent and much appreciated after all the hard work of eating and lounging all day at the hacienda. Needless to say, a chilled glass of agua de jamaica was waiting for me as I left.
Flowers, flowers and more flowers
The staff is trained in the art of decoration with flowers and surprised and fascinated us daily with gorgeous flower decorations that covered the tables and arranged in our rooms. I almost thought of sleeping on the couch so I don’t disturb the beautiful arrangements on the bed and in the bathrooms. I relented though. Stepping out of bed or the shower onto a flower covered mat was something no one should ever miss. I watched the ladies painstakingly take each leaf and petal, cutting it in various lace-like shapes and arranging them carefully in various designs on the tables, around the napkins, towels and beds. All of the flowers and leaves were from the hacienda’s vast gardens. Their skills in napkin folding was also raised to an art level. They tried to teach us how to fold napkins at the cooking class but to varying degrees of success.
Another unique feature of Hacienda Petac that I have not seen elsewhere is their state of the art modern teaching kitchen. I was thrilled to have a cooking class offered to us during our stay. The large kitchen can accommodate up to 14 guests for a hands on class taught by the hacienda’s cook with Colleen interpreting and explaining. The four of us gathered in the kitchen and learned how to make hand pressed tortillas with yellow corn masa, a delicious roasted poblano soup and a salad of shredded beef marinated in sour orange and cilantro. The food we prepared under the watchful eye of the cook was served to us at lunch shortly after. The hacienda has a 6 night cooking class itinerary that you can personalize to your group’s needs. More on the cooking class with a couple of recipes in an upcoming post.
The hacienda’s salon de juegos (games room) is an ideal place to gather with your group wether you like playing games or not. A gorgeous space, it’s walls decorated with fragments of the original hacienda’s wall where workers used to write and draw on, is one of the most beautiful room on the property. The scale of this room is magnificent, with tall, heavy doors and windows and a soaring ceiling. Several board games, cards, chess, pool table and ping pong are available, or just sit and relax in the lovely living room like area with a bar stocked to your specifications. We sat in the games room early evening before dinner and in no time staff came and offered us a drink. They seem to anticipate your needs wherever you are.
The Yucatan is a treasure trove of sight seeing opportunities to suit any style. If you want to see the area the hacienda can arrange for excursions to nearby destinations and has access to excellent guides. Here are some of the possible excursions:
- Mayan archeological sites such as Uxmal and Chichen Itza (we were taken to Uxmal by a private tour guide and had a fascinating day)
- City excursions to Merida
- Beach day at Progresso
- Day trip to Celestun – a biosphere reserve where you can see turtle and pink flamingos colonies in their natural habitat.
- Rope making and hacienda history at hacienda Sotuta de Peon
In a nutshell
Hacienda Petac offers luxurious accommodation for travellers seeking to relax and experience a private and secluded estate with friends, family or groups that share their interest. For those who want to add more activity there are many sights nearby where you can see history, nature and culture on day excursions arranged by the hacienda or on your own. If you like to travel, the hacienda stay alone is a “must” on your travel “repertoire” at least once if not regularly.
At the hacienda you can walk, bike, swim, exercise, enjoy the spa, write, cook, practice your photography, play games or just rest and visit with your party. The staff, headed by the manager Colleen who is on the property 24/7 when guests are in house, will look after you like a VIP and make every effort to meet your individual needs.
Rates at the Hacienda are more reasonable that you may think and you can book groups for 2 to 14.
I have visited several haciendas in the Yucatan before and can say with confidence that Hacienda Petac is special and unique among them. It felt like a luxurious home that was made available to us for the duration of our stay. As we piled our luggage back into the car preparing to drive back to the coast I promised Colleen that I will be back and I intend to keep my promise, sooner rather than later. I hope you join me there next time I go.
Domicilio Conocido S/N
Mérida, Yucatán 97300 Mexico