If you’re looking to expand your horizons, see a pretty little town, and enjoy a visit to a hacienda (a former sisal plantation), this outing might be right up your alley.
Grab your swimsuit, a towel, some comfortable shoes, and maybe a cooler for drinks. Then jump in the car and head for the Cancún exit from Mérida’s Periférico (beltway/ring road), driving until just before the militarized checkpoint. There, exit to the right onto the Mérida – Chetumal highway. You’re not going all the way to Quintana Roo’s less touristy state capital, though; you’re only going as far as Tecoh.
Tecoh is Maya for “the place of the puma” (“Coh” is puma, and “Te” means place). When you take the exit, you’ll notice the entrance is pretty, with plenty of green on either side of the road along with carefully painted rocks. Once in the center of this small town, stop for a moment and take some photos of the lovely church, built on the base of what was a Maya structure, and enjoy the view of the freshly-painted bright yellow municipal hall and market. Notice the stone sitting outside the church with a Latin inscription on it. Fun family riddle: have the kids attempt to decipher what the letters mean.
The church can only be visited at certain times of the day through the side doors. Once you’ve admired it, pop into the market which has a bit of everything including a large number of Mestizas in Hipiles, both buying and selling. Flash a smile and you’ll get an even bigger one in return. Try a Maya greeting like “Ma’alob K’iin” (good morning / good day) and you’ll be practically accepted as family. And don’t forget to buy something: a Tamal to enjoy there, some fresh fruit for later, veggies to take home, honey, or flowers. Buying something makes you a welcome participant and not just a photo-taking tourist passing through. You’ll get more out of the experience in a setting such as this if you become a part of their day, even if only for a moment.
Now, back to your trip!
From Tecoh and its market charms, you’ll continue to Sabacché, a tiny village built around a former sisal hacienda on the road between Tecoh and San Pedro Ochil. Look for the Ochil exit from the highway you were on previously, but note that depending on where you leave from Tecoh, you may have to backtrack towards Mérida to find it.
The drive is on a smooth, albeit narrow, secondary road that is crowded by exuberant vegetation thanks to our rainy season at the time of this writing. At the 13 kilometer mark, you’ll arrive at Hacienda Sabacché; you can drive right through their front gate, flanked by stone pillars.
Once at the hacienda, I recommend getting a tour of the grounds and buildings. You’ll learn much about the history not only of the hacienda itself, but of the whole hacienda system, the sisal industry, and even the history of the Yucatán! Like many haciendas, Sabacché started as a cattle ranch at the end of the 16th century, converted to sisal during the henequen boom, and was abandoned in the 1970s. Even if you know a lot about Yucatán, it’s interesting to learn details not covered in your regular history books. The tour, with its lessons about the past, is not just about the hacienda industry; it also includes stops to notice and discuss the many flowers, bushes, and trees.
You see, the owners of Sabacché, Arturo and Francisco Novelo, have spent the past 22 years restoring the structures, but also 40 years replanting and ensuring the return of many endemic species of flora that were lost over many decades of a destructive sisal monoculture. There are 56 varieties of trees, both fruit and ornamental; as well 26 types of orchids alongside smaller varieties of plants that are not only replanted but actually thriving. If you are at all concerned about the planet or have an interest in plants, you will love this part of the tour! What they are doing is truly laudable.
Once the walking tour of the grounds is complete, you may order up a drink at the bar, leave your lunch order – traditional Yucatecan menu – with one of the friendly staff, and go explore the cenote. The hacienda has not only a family-friendly pool but a massive cenote that is as natural as can be, with swallows and the occasional bat (they sleep during the day) fluttering overhead. The effect, floating in the deliciously refreshing water, is otherworldly.
After your swim, head back out to the restaurant and have a great meal. The Poc Chuc is excellent, as are the Lomitos de Valladolid. Both are pork, but there are other options as well. Leave room for the flan, which is particularly good here.
If you like, you are welcome to stay on the grounds to relax, perhaps visit the pool and have another snack before starting the 1 hour and 15 minutes drive back to the “big city”.
A refreshingly relaxing day in the Yucatecan countryside!
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
A Yucatecan born in Germany and raised in Canada, with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Ralf has experience in leisure tourism, journalism, research, editing, writing, and creative writing. He’s also a musician.
Photography by Ralf Hollmann for use in Yucatán Today.
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