The trail of the Yucatan Haciendas

Hacienda Tamchén (Photo: Google)

Hundreds of Haciendas (plantations) once symbolized the peninsula’s wealth but were abandoned in the 1950s after a sudden downturn in fortune. Over the years, the jungle has taken them back.

As I made my way through thick jungle vegetation, I caught a glimpse of a crumbling stone wall slowly being overtaken by creeping vines and alamo trees. The wall surrounded what must have once been an elegant courtyard. It was part of a larger hacienda, one of the many vast and magnificent estates that had been built with the wealth of Yucatan’s 19th-Century henequen-rope industry, all now a ghost of their former glory.

I chanced upon these ruins while on a motorcycle trip across the Yucatan Peninsula. I’d expected the focus of my bike expedition to be the area’s better-known claims to fame, its cenotes, and ancient Maya sites, but a local guide led me off the main roads and into the lush jungle to show me another layer of Yucatan’s history and heritage: the abandoned henequen haciendas. 

Though few travelers know of them, there are hundreds of these haciendas in the peninsula, many of them spanning thousands of acres. They once symbolized the peninsula’s wealth and power but were abandoned in the 1950s after a sudden downturn of fortune. Some of the ruins are visible from the side of the road, while others require the keen eye and local knowledge of a guide; and whereas some have been left for nature to take back, a few have been reclaimed for a second life.

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