“Cubana Air is always late!” were the wise words of our host, Hilda, from our casa particular in Havana. She was right. They were – an hour late. This made things galling for those on board desperate to meet connecting flights and us all having to ‘remain seated’ on our plane on the tarmac for far too long, waiting for a vacant gate through which to disembark.
We thought we had an extra hour up our sleeve in landing in Cancun, only to discover that they are on the same time as Havana and Miami. Damn, we’d be late for our check in at Hacienda Chichen near the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza, AND we’d miss dinner. Our delay was further extended while waiting for the hire car company to put us in a van and drive us to the depot to pick up our car. After much paper work and checking over of the vehicle we got going, not at ease with the 3 hours added to our expected travel time.
Driving through the dark from Cancun to Chichen Itza was pleasantly uneventful – no stops for random checks or speeding, which meant not having to act out any of the prepared scenarios in case of corrupt officers looking for bribes. All went smoothly, apart from turning up at the gate to the ancient site in our search for our hacienda, but we eventually found it. We thought that we had arrived at 8pm, only to discover that in our 1hr 45min dash to the resort, we had crossed into another time zone and it was only 7pm. Outstanding! Got some time ‘back.’
It certainly is a good first impression when you slump into a comfy chair at reception in the hotel and there is the soothing sound of a water fountain in the background and a trio of musicians accompanying those already at dinner, and then Jose Luis says, as greeting, “Welcome home.” Bliss. Already disappointed that our stay is only one night. We were escorted to our Tatiana Suite by smiling Alejandro who made brief conversation with his broken English, and we responded with our almost non-existent Spanish.
The suite was spacious, with the cream brocade covered king bed commanding attention in the middle of the room, its satin-smooth carved wood a warm contrast to the pale bed coverings and walls. Terracotta tiles were cool underfoot throughout the space, leading to an expansive pale, limestone bathroom. The walk in closet provided plenty of room to stash bags and fully unpack for a longer stay, while a mini-bar, 3-seater lounge and coffee table invited us to sit down and unwind after our journey.
All of the rooms at Hacienda Chichen are designed with the same level of care, seamlessly combining contemporary luxuries with traditional details, such as colonial furniture and colourful textiles. The fresh, green waxy tropical leaves in vases and the vibrant red hibiscus flowers accenting the bed, bathroom and basin were a thoughtful touch; fresh flowers in a room immediately remind you that you are on holiday.
Dinner was on the terrace with views of the atmospherically lit garden, which provided further accompaniment for the guitarists in the form of the crickets and cicadas. Piña coladas set the tone for immediate relaxation, and some fresh bread and salsa arrived while we deliberated over our food order. Chef Josue Cime and his Mayan fusion menus have garnered much praise from top food critics, both local and international. All food prepared at Hacienda Chichen is healthy, organic, top quality and delicious, with fresh produce being locally sourced, some even from their own gardens.
Having fallen in love with the Mexican delicacy huitlacoche (‘corn smut’) during our stay in the capital, I was eager to try Cime’s huitlacoche crepes. This black fungus that grows on corn (and ruins the crop) bears a strong similarity to truffles in flavour, and in our Mexican travels I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. The crepes were served as neatly tied ‘money bags’ atop a corn crema and surrounded by tiny mounds of the black huitlacoche and fresh corn, garnished with a burst of red in the form of a bougainvillea blossom. This is a dish the chef is renowned for, and it was perfect.
A fresh salad with our favourite greens followed, simply adorned and flavoured with lime, with plenty of avocado, which suited me nicely. A fresh, seasonal vegetable pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and a fresh grated parmesan finished our meal, leaving no room for the tempting array of sweetness on offer in the range of desserts. I was already looking forward to breakfast and lunch! For non-vegetarians, the choice of dishes was vast, each an exquisite composition of taste and texture, with the perfect fusion of tradition and creativity.
The wine that had accompanied our dinner and our long day of travel made us ready for sleep before expected, so we embraced the ‘sleep wave’ and headed back to our Tatiana Suite. And that is the true test of a luxury resort, the first night of sleep. Ours was uninterrupted bliss – the pillows were perfect (and we both have dodgy necks, so this is a rare find!), and the bed is delightfully soft, yet supportive. Again – WHY did we only choose to stay one night??
Rising rested and relaxed we ambled through the immaculately kept tropical gardens and past the turquoise pool with its white stone surround, to breakfast on the terrace. We had risen early to meet our guide at our allotted time for our tour of Chichen Itza. Arranging a tour guide was something that Jose Luis had taken care of at check in, one of the many services offered at the hacienda.
So after our breakfast of two different dishes of traditional Mexican eggs, we met our guide, Jorge (or ‘Turtle’ as he preferred to be called). He was a third generation tour guide, whose grandfather worked with the original archaeologists at the site, which meant his stories of those times, passed down through family, were authentic as well as fascinating. Turtle’s knowledge was vast and the love of his job apparent. He was also clearly angry about guides who ‘buy’ their qualifications through bribes rather than hard work, study and experience. Understandable. And I am grateful that the resort provides quality in even this area.
The ancient site of Chichen Itza is an extraordinary place. There is much to be said about it, but there were two particular stories that fascinated me. The structures called ‘The Nunnery’ and ‘The Chapel’ are the only two surviving buildings in all the Mayan sites throughout Central America that are fully standing and have not been rebuilt/restored. They are exactly as they were found. This is because they were built at a time (much earlier than other ruins) when everything was stone, including internal walls and roofs. There were no wooden beams or pillars, so there was nothing in the structure that would decompose and compromise the integrity of its construction over time (a very long time, in this case!).
But the tale that really blew my mind was the whole ‘self-sacrifice for your people’ thing. Basically, there would be a gigantic football match (that oddly didn’t involve hands or feet, only hips, shoulders, heads) where other Mayan communities would come to compete against each other with the aim of getting a 1kg rubber ball through the stone rings on the wall on their side of the field. This game would last up to 3 hours (it would stop if the single goal was won – whenever that happened). The captain of the winning team (say Uxmal against Chichen Itza) would be beheaded in honour and glory to take messages and offerings to the gods on behalf of his people. These warriors were raised from a young age to WANT to win this thing. If no team won in the 3 hours, then it was a sad day because no messages would be getting to the gods.
A huge bonus of staying at Hacienda Chichen (apart from the lavishness and the fabulous food!) was that we had access to the Chichen Itza site at 8:15am through a back gate. This was gold. We pretty much had the site to ourselves for the first 45min, and ‘Turtle’ made the most of that ‘alone’ time, allowing us to savour the experience, enhancing the exploration with stories and finding us nice spots in the shade to chat about the history and culture of this wondrous place.
Goodbye, Hacienda Chichen
After our tour with our informative and friendly guide, we parted ways. We had the opportunity to stay longer at the site wandering at our leisure, but we had a long drive to Mérida ahead of us. Instead, we walked back to our idyllic retreat for an early lunch before our journey. We were served another delightful meal – fajitas and quesadillas, with complimentary freshly cooked corn chips and salsa (accompanied by Coronas and mineral waters with lots of lime).
The Hacienda Chichen was an unexpected delight, far exceeding expectations. Being indulged and pampered by a team of exceptional staff is not unusual in this level of hotel, but what truly impressed me were the extra things this place is doing for their community and the future of hospitality in their country. Their employees are Mayan, they adhere to holistic, sustainable green hotel practices (and have been awarded Yucatan’s Best Green Hotel), and they also run not-for-profit sustainable volunteer ventures (check out the NGO section of their Yucatan Adventure site). I even like the thoughtful and respectful touch of their rooms being named after revered people of important cultural or historical significance, many of them women. The community of staff within the resort do everything possible to fulfil the wishes of each guest, providing the best of everything. They completely embody the motto of Hacienda Chichen: “To share Maya traditions and serve you with caring hearts.” And everyone who is part of the Chichen family, excel at this. It will be a sincere pleasure to return one day…and stay a little longer!