Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, only about 45 minutes from Mérida, promises to offer visitors the chance to ‘travel back in time’ and glimpse the workings of an Hacienda Henequera as it would have been at the height of the henequen ‘boom’ of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its a chance to learn about an important part of the state’s history whilst enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
The haciendas of the Yucatan, owned by Spaniards, were at the centre of what was a feudal system built on the oppression of the local Mayans who lived and worked as indentured servants. Henequen created enormous wealth for the European landowners who then moved to build mansions in Mérida whilst leaving a legacy of poverty in the local population. Although most haciendas laid abandoned for many years after the Mexican Revolution and the invention of synthetic fibres which broke the henequen industry, today many have been restored and turned into luxury hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions.
Sotuta is now a ‘living museum’ and is unique amongst the haciendas as it is the only one in which you can witness the whole henequen process step by step; from plant in the ground, to raw material, to fibre and finished product.
The tour costs 500 pesos (250 for children) and is divided into four parts.
- The hacienda residence
- The henequen processes, both manual and by machine
- Casa Maya
Arriving at the hacienda, all you can see is row upon row of sisal. The sisal agave plant is uniquely suited to the rocky, arid terrain of Northern Yucatan. The hacienda is surrounded by hectare and hectares of the stuff, which was once known as ‘green gold’. We later learned that one plant takes about 6 years to grow to the point of being useful for harvest.
The first part of tour takes you through the house where you can see the luxury in which the owners would have lived.
I most enjoyed the beautiful tiled floors and the the way the dark doorways framed the tropical greenery outside.
During the next part of the tour we were walked through the process of turning henequen plants into rope and bales and other fine products such as rugs. The machinery is all original, sourced from haciendas all over Yucatan and restored to working condition. Its amazing to see the transformation!
Next, we all hopped onto this wagon, legs swinging happily off the side, and an old faithful mule named Julia took us along the mini rail lines past endless henequen terrain.
Soon we arrived at the Casa Maya, where visitors have the chance to see one of these traditional dwellings up close. If you’re in Yucatan, you will have seen these types of houses dotted throughout towns and villages. Here you can learn about the traditional way of living in Mayan houses.
Also here, a charming señor who has worked at the hacienda his whole life, since the very first owner Peon, told us stories about the working at the hacienda and shared with us his knowledge of the plants.
After a little poke around we got back on the wagon and Julia towed us wearily a little way further to a cavernous cenote, named Dzul-Ha, where we swam in the cool water for an hour before heading back to the main house.
I would definitely recommend Hacienda Sotuta de Peon for anyone who wants to learn more about this part of the state’s history. Its a good day trip from Merida and theres something for everyone: history, nature, swimming in an underground cave, beautiful architecture and a ride along the old railways.
There are daily tours departing at 10am and 1pm with a cost of 500 pesos (250 for children). There is also a newly completed hotel and restaurant serving Yucatecan dishes. Visit http://www.haciendaviva.com.