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Yucatan’s Green Gold

Plantio de henequen

The haciendas henequeneras (henequen plantations) in the state of Yucatan first emerged in the 17th century as family-owned cattle ranches, farming and manufacturing centers that produced products for export, before later converting to henequen production.


Henequen is a type of agave plant that grows extensively in the Yucatan region. Henequen was first discovered and cultivated by the indigenous Mayans in the eastern region of the Yucatan Peninsula. The leaves of the henequen plant are used to make a fiber which can be used to make rope or twine. When the Spanish arrived they renamed the fiber “agave sisal,” mechanized the production process and began exporting agave sisal to other parts of the world.


Agave sisal was an important export of the region as early as the late 1800’s, but never on a large scale due to the lack of shredding machinery. The invention of shredding machines in the late 19th century revolutionized henequen processing and led to a boom of prosperity in the region surrounding Merida.


As a result of the fortunes made from henequen processing and export during the late 19th and 20th centuries, the haciendas in Yucatan became a symbol of wealth and culture in the region and agave sisal was dubbed “green gold.” It was also around this time that the plantation owners began building extravagant homes and mansions along the Paseo de Montejo street in Merida.


Today, the haciendas in Yucatan are in varying states of restoration. Some have been converted into private homes and are closed to the public, while others have been fully renovated and converted into luxury boutique hotels and spas, vacation rentals, restaurants, and event spaces.


Some of the region’s best known haciendas turned luxury hotels and spas include Haciendas Santa Cruz, Misne and Nophat. Haciendas Petac and Sac Chic have been converted into vacation rentals, and Haciendas Yaxcopoil and Ochil now house restored workshops, antique furnishings, on-site museums and guest houses that provide an authentic small-town experience.


Don’t miss a visit to Hacienda Chichen, a luxury hotel, spa and nature reserve located next to the Chichen Itza archaeological site and housed in the oldest hacienda in Yucatan.