Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Pure Luxury

From pristine surroundings to organic food, this splendid colonial hacienda may be the first toxin-free resort in Mexico

As I toured the grounds of Hacienda Katanchel, I began to feel dirty. The 300-hectare nature resort with an organic vegetable garden and fruit orchard, bird sanctuary and rare-wood preserve near Mérida, Mexico, prides itself on being completely toxin- and chemical-free. I'd just spent the week travelling throughout the rest of the Yucatán, filling up on non-organic substances and sleeping with leaky air conditioners. I was covered in a layer of dirt -- albeit ancient dirt from Maya ruins -- but dirt nonetheless.

I crept into my private pavilion. The room was sparsely yet beautifully decorated with a king-size, four-poster bed smack in the middle of it. I wanted more than anything to take a nap, but the Egyptian cotton bed sheets seemed to recoil from my grimy touch.

I felt unworthy of this pristine place and decided to take a dip in my private plunge pool out back (concealed enough for skinny dipping). No need for chlorine here -- the pool was filled with mineral water pumped from old wells.

The history of this Spanish colonial hacienda is woven with Mérida's old sisal plantation economy. The hacienda was built in the 17th century on the grounds of an old Maya settlement in one of the region's many land-grant ranches, where cattle introduced from Spain were raised. In the 19th century, Hacienda Katanchel joined the sisal -- or henequen -- boom, using the strong fibres of the agave cactus for rope manufacturing.

It's a familiar story: as the landowners enjoyed immense wealth and opulence, the farm workers didn't see a peso of the profits and were treated little better than slaves. Workers were often paid in "dollars" that could only be cashed in for overpriced goods at the hacienda's general store and spent most of their lives working off the debt they owed their rich employers.

But that was before nylon and petroleum by-products replaced henequen. In the early 20th century, the sisal empire fell and as a result most of the state's haciendas were abandoned.

So it was a sad and dilapidated Hacienda Katanchel that was eventually bought by Anibal Gonzalez and Monica Hernandez as a rare wood nature preserve. Amid the wild jungle growth they discovered pre-classic Maya ruins and under the tall underbrush they found old workers' dwellings scattered around the main hacienda. They decided to renovate these pavilions and open a luxury resort while maintaining the cultural history of the hacienda and the wildness of the land.

The general store is now a library that doubles as a conference room should you ever be lucky enough to come here on business. Spa services include facial treatments, massage therapy, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy.

Casa de Mçquinas (machine house), in the old henequen processing factory, is ranked among the country's top five restaurants. It serves imaginative Yucatecan nouvelle cuisine that's Maya-inspired. Try the zucchini mousse in fresh lime sauce; the squash soup -- a Maya specialty with baby squash, black corn, mushrooms, poblano peppers and fried corn tortilla chips; the stuffed squid in papaya sauce or the fillet of beef in tequila sauce. Just make sure you leave room for dessert: corn ice cream, anyone?

If life is lived in the details, you'll be living it large here. The owners have gone to great pains to bring you the simple, natural pleasures that grow increasingly hard to come by, from the donkey that pulls your luggage to your pavilion to the hand-cut glass pepita perfume bottle filled with citrus cologne -- DDT-free insect repellent. Your bed is turned down each evening and bougainvillea petals are scattered over it.

But the resort also prides itself on what's missing, and these are the things you'll notice most of all. Take a dip in the Olympic-size swimming pool in chemical-free water or shower with all-natural bath products. This toxic-free area means that there are no pesticides in the food.

Nature definitely seems to approve of this pristine reserve: never before have I seen so many plants or birds in one area. I fell asleep outside in a hammock, gazing at the Milky Way, which is incredibly visible here. The birds woke me in the morning and I took a sunrise walk in the backyard jungle, returning to a veritable breakfast of champions: Mexican coffee and shortbread cookies delivered to my room. I could definitely get used to this.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.