Have you ever found yourself in a calm, unassuming haven, blissfully unaware of its extraordinary past? Well, that’s precisely what happened to me in Espita. Nicknamed the “Athens of Yucatán” due to its rich history and its prominence as a cultural hub in Yucatán, allow me to share my experience in this charming “Villa” (the Spanish name for a town larger than a village, but smaller than a city), along with some historical context that will transform every moment and corner you visit into a truly enchanting experience.
Located at 162 km (or 102 miles) and roughly a 2-hour drive from Mérida, the Magical Town of Espita is conveniently close to Tizimín, Valladolid, Uayma, Chichén Itzá and coastal towns like San Felipe, Río Lagartos, and Las Coloradas, captivating municipalities that are well worth the trip. My advice to you is to bring good company, pre-download your favorite playlists, and pack a few snacks because you’re in for a ride.
The history of Espita
Now, here’s a tidbit of history for you. The name Espita comes from Xppithá, which is the name of the Maya community that originally settled here. These inhabitants were part of the Cupul chieftaincy, one of the most populated provinces of its time. Xppithá, interpreted by some as “Scant Water” due to the limited availability of freshwater, and by others as “Water that Leaps Over”, is cited in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel as one of the places visited by the Itzáes during their pilgrimages.
Once you’ve spent a while singing to your heart’s delight and gazing out the window to admire the lush greenery of our state, you’ll notice a steady stream of motorcycle taxis—known locally as Tricitaxis—zooming by every few minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be welcomed by the lovely buildings and lively atmosphere of Espita.
Eating in Espita
As you pause to absorb the beauty around you, your stomach might announce its presence. How about you try one of Espita’s staple dishes? The delicious Kots’ob. Resembling a rolled tamale, Kots’ob is made from white beans, ground chili, pumpkin seed, dough, and other local ingredients wrapped in Hoja Santa (Mexican pepperleaf, or Piper auritum). If you’re looking for the perfect place to savor this tasty dish, you definitely need to get in touch with Doña Chica.
Doña Eusebia, fondly known as Doña Chica, is famous for preparing this culinary delight along with many others like Panuchos, Tortas, and Salbutes. She treasures these recipes as part of her family legacy. You can contact her at 986 861 3775 to confirm availability or pay a visit to her home on Calle 28 x 31 y 33.
If your visit to Espita falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, chances are you’ll find Doña Chica selling Kots’obes for $15 pesos each at the evening Tianguis located in the central park. This beloved Tianguis, which recently celebrated its 9th anniversary, is a gathering (and selling) point for over 30 women every week, a true reflection of Espita’s vibrant daily life.
But that’s not the only traditional dish that Espita has to offer: head to Georgina Martínez Cortés’s home, where you’ll learn how to prepare Xupiik. This flavorful dish, (which some say translates to ‘the Chili is gone,’ due to the preparation involving deveining and boiling the chili to tame its heat) is a delicious combination of marinated meat, chilies, tomatoes, and other local flavors that will delight your palate. Maestra Georgina will guide you (under previous reservation) through the steps to masterfully prepare this dish, and once it’s ready, you can savor it with a side of rice and freshly baked bread. If you’re in a rush, Maestra Georgina also offers Xupiiks and Buli Wah (bean bread) for sale upon request on FB Georgina Martínez Cortés.
The sights in Espita
Returning to the central park, take a moment to stroll through it and pause to explore the neighboring buildings. You’ll come across the Casa de la Cultura (the House of Culture), formerly the Manuela Olivares Primary School (named after one of the first headmistresses of Espita’s first girls’ school in 1868). This venue now hosts classes in Maya, English, music, dance, gastronomy, and painting. Additionally, it houses a well-stocked library, offering insights into Espita’s history.
If you’re facing Casa de la Cultura, to your right you’ll see the beautiful San José (Saint Joseph) church and, across from it, the Juan José Méndez municipal market, which hosts a cute fountain with a Mestiza in its center. Both the market, its side street, and the square with the fountain are usually bustling with life every morning. Fun fact about the church: it underwent reconstruction in 1738 following the unfortunate fire that razed the original chapel. Today, it’s considered to be a Yucatán Cultural Heritage site.
The church and its surroundings come alive each December as Espita commemorates its patron saints, the Christ Child and Saint Joseph, with festive celebrations by various guilds lasting from December 8 to 28. The highlight is the Vaquería (traditional dance) held on December 19, where music and dance are the main protagonists.
Continuing your stroll around the church, you’ll come across a quaint park and a peculiar monument—an obelisk representing the ’15 Greats of Espita.’ This event dates to February 15, 1848, during the Caste War. During that fateful day, these “Great 15” were children, young adults, and elders who defended Espita against Maya rebels. Taking advantage of the absence of many men from Espita, Tizimín, and Valladolid, who had left certain areas undefended as part of a strategic move, the rebels attacked. However, the “Great 15” managed to repel the attackers.
An obelisk was erected on the centenary of this event; it’s important to note that during the unveiling ceremony, a speech discussing the causes of the Maya uprising was delivered. It emphasized that the homage was paid to the bravery of the defenders, rather than their ideology.
By now, maybe all that walking and learning left you spent and ready to turn in for the night (or simply to take a short nap). Fret not, Espita won’t disappoint with their lodging options.
Where to stay in Espita
Located near Espita’s Centro and with just two years in operation, Casa Kacaya offers a unique lodging experience in Espita. The rooms feature a distinctive ambiance that blends the original 1920s architecture with modern touches. And let’s not forget its restaurant, which seamlessly fuses tradition with gourmet flair in its regional menu. Its restaurant is open to the public, offering a delightful array of beverages including habanero margaritas and chaya mojitos. Pricing fluctuates with the seasons, ranging from $3,000 pesos per night for the coziest room to $6,000 pesos per night for the most lavish accommodation.
Casona Los Cedros is another prominent lodging option in Espita. This renovated architectural project, once owned by a renowned Espita family and later transformed into a beloved cantina, offers eight luxurious rooms with various amenities.
Furthermore, its gourmet restaurant, CASONA, led by Chef Jorge Ildefonso, promises a culinary adventure that’s a must-try during your stay. Notably, the restaurant and bar are also open to the public. Prices vary, starting at $3,850 pesos per night for the King room and reaching $5,950 pesos per night for the suite, which offers an exclusive private pool in addition to the central swimming pool in the beautiful hotel courtyard. All bookings include breakfast.
If you’d prefer to steer away from the bustling center of Espita, follow the Xukúm highway and head to Jardines de Ixchel. Just ten minutes from Villa of Espita by Tricitaxi, you’ll find this mystical and peaceful place—a perfect escape for relaxation and rejuvenation. Opened in 2018, this paradise offers lodging, massages, yoga classes, and more. In this green oasis, visitors can enjoy the local flora and fauna in their one-kilometer nature trail, as well as energy-aligning activities such as Temazcales and sacred fires. They offer three rooms and camping space, so be sure to contact them at 984 205 8874 for availability.
This stunning private hacienda, located near the sub-municipality of Holcá, stands as a testament to the history of Espita and Yucatán as a whole. This cedar tree-filled paradise was one of the several sugarcane haciendas of Espita during the 19th century.
Here’s another sprinkle of historical context for you: during this era, population growth led to a corn shortage in Mérida, prompting the search for new suppliers. México’s Independence also played a huge role in disrupting the state’s economy, leading to a shift in its primary market, Havana (which remained under Spanish rule). In Mérida’s pursuit of a thriving commercial economy, cattle ranch owners were encouraged to diversify into crop cultivation to meet the growing demand for corn. They also lifted the colonial prohibition on sugarcane cultivation. These moves kickstarted the formation of haciendas focusing on sugarcane and Aguardiente production around Espita. This economic boost gained Espita recognition as a sugarcane and, notably, an Aguardiente producer starting from 1844. It also ushered in prosperity for the municipality, reflected in the flourishing trade, enhanced infrastructure, and improved quality of life for its residents.
Hacienda Santa Cruz Regadío, a once-abandoned relic now revitalized and transformed into a breathtaking retreat, serves as a living monument to Espita’s Golden Age. If you’re looking for a place to truly gauge the grandeur and natural beauty that Yucatán holds, this hacienda stands as a perfect testament to Mother Nature’s prowess and a glimpse into the historical opulence that graced Espita in its prime.
There are six rooms in this hacienda, available for individual booking, but you also have the option to reserve the entire hacienda for exclusive events like photoshoots or weddings. Each stay includes a continental breakfast to start your day off right. As for activities, Hacienda Santa Cruz offers a variety of activities under previous reservations including trips to Chichén Itzá, Las Coloradas, or Valladolid, among other destinations. For nature enthusiasts, birdwatching tours, and visits to a Melipona bee farm are also options to do. Be sure to visit their social media (listed below) for pricing details.
Discover the wonders of Espita and delve into the rich tapestry of culture and traditions that grace this delightful corner of Yucatán. With its enthralling past, genuine culinary delights, and one-of-a-kind lodging options, Espita promises an unforgettable escapade for those yearning for a calm retreat. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this hidden gem!
How to get to Espita
From Mérida, take Carretera Mérida – Tizimín, then take the exit south (right) at Sucilá. By public transportation, there are Noreste buses leaving the Mérida station (Calle 67 x 50 y 52, Centro) every day. Note that there are non-stop buses (Directo) and buses that stop along the way (2a. Clase).
Accommodations in Espita
By Sara Alba
Panamanian with a Mexican accent since 2005. Editorial Assistant, a walking jukebox, and always lurking on social media, in the constant search of hidden gems to visit and share.
Photography by Yucatán Today, and Sara Alba for its use in Yucatán Today.
Santiago Pacheco, E. A., López Bates, F. I., & Ramos Domínguez, L. E. (2015). Espita en el crisol del tiempo. Historia e imagen. Impresora y Editora Xalco, S.A. de C.V.
Yucatán Travel. (2023). Estrategia Nacional de Pueblos Mágicos. Proceso de incorporación. Espita. Espita. Obtenido de https://yucatan.travel/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Espita-Expediente-Completo.pdf
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