Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective

The tale of Hacienda Petac and its transition from a quaint agricultural estate to a world-renowned historic resort and spa is one that covers hundreds of years and spans the colonization of an entire region, the founding of a country, a string of political upheavals, and an eclectic collection of owners. The following 5-post series speaks to each segment of the Hacienda’s history and examines the major events, trends, and renovations that make Hacienda Petac what it is today.



As the Spanish colonization of the New World progressed thro
ughout the 16th and 17th centuries so too did the crown’s interest in the natural resources of the agriculture-rich Yucatan. Efforts to ensure control over these resources quickly gave birth to the hacienda system, a land grant scheme established by the Spanish crown as a reward method for Spanish nobles. As thanks for their loyalty or as a means to lure them to the New World, conquistadors and noblemen were given enormous tracts of land and personal estates in the newly colonized territories.


Historical map of the Yucatan, published in 1671.

These estates were known as haciendas, constructed with a main manor house called the casa principal, and an often fully self-sufficient town surrounding it. Many of these haciendas became villages unto themselves.  The estates, whether plantations or mines or even early factories, and the goods produced on them, were the cornerstones of the colonial economy.


It is in this vein that Hacienda Petac was founded. Like some of the immediately surrounding estates, with their uncomplicated and pragmatic constructions, Petac built itself initially upon livestock and simple crops. Cornfields, for example, accounted for a significant portion of Petac’s original footprint, which measured about half a league, or 11,452 square veras. (A vera is an antiquated measurement and, considering it was made from a stick, somewhat arbitrary unit of measurement.)

Although Hacienda Petac produced initially only for the local economy, the emergence of a new, far-reaching agro-industry later propelled the entire region into international fame. This allowed Petac to revitalize entirely the hacienda’s infrastructure and layout.



Link to: http://haciendapetac.com/blog/hacienda/petac-history-part-ii

Have a Calabash

Atree native to Central and South America and one that frequently grows to 30 feet tall, the calabash is often cultivated in modern gardens as far north as Florida for the sake of ornament, but has been valued in the Yucatan for hundreds of years for the fruit it produces.

The large, rounded pieces of fruit, which themselves can be as large as 20 inches in diameter, may be plucked and dried out to be used as bowls, cups, scoops or water jugs, while the fruit’s pulp has historically been used medicinally for the treatment of respiratory illnesses. Over time, practicality was displaced by artistry and the tree’s fruit was increasingly carved, dyed and decorated, used for specific occasions, given as gifts and even made into instruments.


Here in the Yucatan we still use the resilient shell of the fruit, which resembles a carved piece of wood when fully dried. When not being used as a canteen, we cut the fruit in half, dry the pieces, and use them as serving pieces. Known as jicaras in Mexico and lecs throughout the Yucatan, they are perfect for serving hot food. At Petac, we like to use them for serving tortillas to guests or for displaying the beautiful flowers that grow throughout the Hacienda.

Yucatán Food Recipes: Pescado en Tikin-Xic

Made with the classic achiote paste – a blend of cumin, pepper, cloves and the orange seeds of the annatto tree – this fish dish is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and baked in the pibil underground oven. The charm of unwrapping banana leaves to reveal a beautiful and delicious dish makes pescado en tikin-xic a particularly exciting meal for large groups and one that we always like to make for guests of Petac.

Hand-wrapped banana leaves and some of the ingredients to make Tikin-Xic.


4lbs. high quality fish filets, white meat – we often use snapper

Walnut sized amount of achiote paste

½ lb. of white onion sliced in rings

Banana leaves

Salt and pepper

Juice of 3 limes and 5 sour oranges

One head of garlic roasted over flame



1. Dissolve the achiote paste in the juice of the sour oranges and limes. If the filets are from one large fish, cut into one person size portions and marinate the fish in the achiote mixture for fifteen minutes.

2. Banana leaves must be ready to use – for each portion you will need a section of banana leaf approximately 12-inches square.  Spread the banana leaf out and place the marinated fish in the center.

3. Place a slice of tomato and a slice of onion on top of the fish, then fold the banana leaf so that it is a compact little package.

4. Place into a large pyrex dish.

5. When everything is laid in the dish pour the remaining marinade into the dish along with the roasted garlic and a little salt and pepper.

6. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake in medium hot oven for 45-minutes.


To serve, carefully unwrap the fish, tear a piece of the banana leaf and put on the plate, then arrange the fish on top of the section of leaf.  Serve with rice and refried beans and onion salsa.

We cook our fish in the ground as a “pibil” over the hot rocks completely covered over with earth.  Unless you have a pit in the ground that you can do the same, Pyrex will be a good substitute.

Mérida Mexico Things to Do: Yucatecan Excursions

Atrip to Hacienda Petac will surely include a visit to Mayan ruins, a swim (or several) in a local cenote and, of course, plenty of time dedicated to poolside relaxation. Between morning yoga and lessons on how to cook with the traditional Yucatecan oven, a pibil, it’s easy to forget just how much there is to do in bustling, nearby Mérida. Below, find a list of excursions and activities in our favorite city. And when you’re exhausted from exploring? A massage and a cocktail will be waiting for you.


1. If you plan on being here for an extended period of time, consider taking some Spanish classes. Immersion is a tried and true method. The Centro de Idiomas del Sureste offers Spanish language courses at any level and can be a great group or solo endeavor. We can also arrange group lessons here in the luxury of the Hacienda.


2. Mérida is a city of romantic inclinations. Every Thursday for the past 40 years, the city’s beloved Serenata Yucateca has been performed outdoors at Parque de Santa Lucia. Be sure to see the serenade; it will be the soundtrack to the remainder of your trip.

3. On vacation with your kids? Take them on a walk through a giant aviary at the Centenario Zoo’s bird exhibit or ride the trolley through the park to catch glimpses of the animals of the Yucatan. Thursdays at the Zoo feature live music and dancing and the special show “To Remember is to Live,” which starts at 4 pm.

Just one of the animals you’ll witness aboard the zoo’s trolley.

4. Who doesn’t want to explore the lavish henequen-era mansions of downtown Mérida? The Mérida English Library offers architectural tours of both renovated and to-be-renovated private homes and their gardens every Tuesday during the busy months. Bonus: every week’s tour is different.

Take a tour of Mérida’s most appealing homes and gardens.

5. In need of a pick me up between museums? Swing by Fe y Esperanza, a hole in the wall snack shack that has been popularized for its tacos, tortas, and agua fresca fruit juice. Or, visit Dulcería y Sorbetería Colon, which was founded in 1907 and features tropical sorbets and drinks. They have so many flavors to choose from, it’s hard to pick only one.

For a taste of the city’s favorite sweets, visit La Dulcería.

6. Sundays in Mérida are the most exciting day of the week. The Plaza Grande transforms to become one part marketplace one part concert venue. Roads are closed to traffic and opened up in the morning to bicyclists and seekers of crafts, antiques, food and drink, then to dancers and singers in the evening still partying from Saturday night.

Saturdays nights that bleed into Sunday mornings are the best part of the week.

7. Learn a few dance moves from the locals every Tuesday evening at Santiago Park as a local group plays big band music of the ‘40s.


8. Go cheer for Los Leones, the Yucatan’s baseball team at their baseball stadium, Parque Kukulkan.

Home to the Yucatan nine, Los Leones, the stadium in Mérida is full of spirit.

9. Eat some botanas, traditional appetizers meant to accompany cocktails. Most local cantinas have their own specialties (as well as their own house bands) but definitely order empanadas and ceviche, and try siquilpac, a dip made of roasted calabaza seeds and tomatoes.


10. Particularly if you’re on holiday with the kids, consider a visit to “Miniaturas,” an aptly named shop that sells the traditional Mexican folk art form. From dollhouse furniture to satirical masks, this fun little shop is perfect for souvenirs that you’ll actually keep. Next, take a visit to the Fonart 100% Mexico store in the Casa San Angel Hotel to see their high quality crafts for sale that come from all over the country.

A wonderful shop which is practically a museum in itself.

11.  Mérida’s busy Market District, just a few blocks from the Plaza Grande is where you can measure the pulse of the city. From adobo to hand-woven hats to fresh flowers to live chickens, you can find everything here, and people watch as well.

You can find anything you can think of in Mérida’s market district.

12. Is your Spanish improving? Catch a flick at the Cairo Cinema Café, an independent movie theater and coffee shop where a ticket price includes popcorn and you can bring your own wine.


13. Drink up! The popularized horchata, made with rice and cinnamon, is a wonderfully refreshing drink. But Mérida is all about fresh juices. Sit along the Plaza Grande with an agua fresca made from hibiscus jamaica, limon, sandia (watermelon), cantaloupe, guayaba, pineapple, barley, or chaya (leafy green vegetable with lots of vitamins).

Mérida has the best fresh fruit juices and horchatas around.

 14. Once you’ve experienced true relaxation here at Petac, you’ll want a way to bring the feeling home with you. Hamacas El Aguacate offers traditional hammocks that will help you do just that.


15. Want a traditional Yucatecan outfit to wear on the plane home? Consider a visit to Camisería or Guayabera Jack’s where you can find traditional guayaberas and huipiles and have them custom tailored to fit you.


If you think you’ve seen all that Mérida has to offer and want to explore outside city limits, here are a few day excursions that, while requiring a car and a map, promise adventures in their own right.


1. The Celestún Biosphere Reserve lies west of Mérida in the fishing village of Celestún and is famous for its pink flamingos. The estuary here as the river mixes with the Gulf of Mexico’s saltwater creates the perfect environment for the beautiful birds. You can also take a boat ride to the nearby petrified wood forest.

Famous for the gorgeous flamingos that call it home, Celestún is worth the trip.

2. What’s more exciting than exploring Yucatecan caves in which the earliest Mayans lived worshiped, and even left hand prints? If you’re looking for an adventure, about an hour and 40 minutes south of Mérida are the hard-to-find Loltun Caves, used during the mid 1800s as a hideaway during the War of the Castes.

The Loltun Caves are believed to be the original temples of the Maya.

3. There are a number of wonderful museums in Mérida, but one of the most fun is the EcoMuseo del Cacao, about an hour and twenty minutes from downtown Mérida, a museum dedicated to the history, cultivation and uses of cocoa by the Maya. Depending on when you go you can catch reenactments of a traditional Mayan ceremonies and, of course, enjoy some samples.

At the EcoMuseo del Cacao, learn about the place of cocao in Mayan history and its modern cultivation.

4. For an overnight trek outside of Mérida, a worthwhile trip is one to Isla Holbox, the island village off the northeastern tip of the Peninsula. Known for its beautiful stretches of beach, it is the only port in Mexico where visitors are allowed to swim with the incredible (and peaceful) whale sharks.

Make the trek for the beautiful waters and the peaceful whale sharks.

El Grito de Dolores —The Cry Heard Around the World

The 16th of September marks the anniversary of Mexico’s 1810 declaration of independence from Spain after 300 years of colonial rule. The celebratory day, known as “El Grito de Dolores,” is named for the battle cry uttered in Dolores, Mexico that began the revolution. “El Grito” was first proclaimed by a charismatic and irreverent Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. A rejector of clerical celibacy, questioner of the existence of hell, and lover of gambling, he also vehemently opposed the colonial government. After Hidalgo’s secret coup d’etat was squashed by a disloyal church member, he rang the church bells of his small Dolores parish and delivered a speech that–although never actually written down and the details debated for 200 years –called upon his parishioners to declare war against Spain.

“Long Live Father Hidalgo,” celebrates a 1900 print. Courtesy Library of Congress

“My children,” he is said to have claimed, “a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government!” Hidalgo rallied very early on for the redistribution of land and racial equality in Mexico while never condemning either the embrace of monarchy or loyalty to the Catholic church. In 1810, with a mounting and racially mixed militia, Hidalgo led a trail of bloodshed all the way to Mexico City, where he was ultimately defeated and executed in 1811.

Although the War carried on for another decade and independence wouldn’t actually be achieved until the 1821 Treaty of Córdoba – wherein Mexico was named an independent constitutional monarchy–it is Hidalgo’s call to arms that remains proudly in the memories of Mexican citizens as the moment of independence. Now of almost mythic proportions, the “grito” has come to be synonymous with the very notion of Mexican independence. In modern Mexico, it is a holiday whose celebration begins the evening before, on the 15th of September at exactly 11 pm, with political leaders all over the country reenacting Hidalgo’s historic speech in public squares. The President of Mexico rings the bell in the National Palace, acknowledges the famous heroes of the Revolution, and leads the country in a patriotic cry of “¡Viva México!” (said three times.) The largest of these takes place in El Zócalo, the central square in Mexico City, where over 150,000 people gather to join in the celebration.

Independence Day Celebrations in Mexico City, Courtesy Condé Nast Traveler

The 16th of September, which is a fiesta patria or national holiday, is dedicated to family, food, parades, bullfights, rodeos and dancing. Although quite a distance from Mexico City, here at Hacienda Petac we are already planning the celebration with our favorite foods and cocktails. Nearby, Mérida will be awash in green, red and white as the holiday is celebrated in typical Yucatan fashion – a blend of Mexican and Mayan traditions – with the city gathering downtown to shout the “grito” in Spanish while dressed in Mayan outfits. A spectacle indeed, don’t worry if you can’t make the celebration itself; all of September is, in fact, El Mes de la Patria– Patriot Month–and is a wonderful time to visit in its entirety.

Local dancers celebrate el Grito de Dolores in the Yucatán, Courtesy Yucatán-Holidays

Uxmal Photography: Magic Lantern Slides

We’ve found a fantastic portal to Hacienda Petac’s past in a previously forgotten collection of magic lantern slides from the late 19th century. Magic lantern slides, the predecessor of the slide projector, have been around since the 1600s, long before the advent of photography. A relatively simple premise, magic lanterns use small glass slides with images hand painted on them. Illuminated originally by candle – then kerosene lamp and, later, electricity – they are projected onto a wall so that the image appears much larger than it actually is. Once all hand drawn and used primarily as a means for entertainment, magic lantern slide images of the late 19th century grew serious and became reliable historical tools with the technological advances of modern photography. Although by the 20th century they had lost favor after the invention of the more practical slide and overhead projectors, magic lanterns still offer us a charm-filled glimpse into our area’s history.

Frederick Catherwood’s 1844 drawing of Uxmal

Our own collection includes photograph slides from the Yucatán before restorations were made to Maya ruins as well as images of henequen haciendas from their heyday. While some of the glass slides were hand painted and colored, others are in black and white, but they are all 3.5” x 4”, a size common of the late 19th, early 20th centuries. This first set – some of our favorite images – show the ancient Maya city of Uxmal, now a UNESCO historical site, about an hour south of Petac.

Magic Lantern photographic slide of Uxmal

Magic Lantern photographic slide of The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

Magic Lantern photographic slide of The Governor’s Palace at Uxmal

About Hacienda Petac

Hacienda Petac is one of the most extraordinary vacation experiences in the world. A Premier Class Resort, this historic estate near Mérida, Yucatán offers five-star luxury to just one group at a time.

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