Mérida soothes the budget, especially if you've come from the Caribbean resorts. Though winter is the most popular time, the stream of visitors is steadier than on the coast, so many hotels don't have high- and low-season rates. That said, promotional rates are more plentiful during low season. Large trade shows can fill the hotels, so reservations are a good idea. Rates quoted here include the 17% tax (always ask if the price includes tax). Most hotels in Mérida offer at least a few air-conditioned rooms, and some also have pools. But many inexpensive places haven't figured out how to provide a comfortable bed; either the mattresses are hard or the bottom sheet is too small to stay tucked in. Hotels in Mérida that don't have their own parking lots have arrangements with nearby garages, letting you park for a fee. If you can find a parking space on the street, cars are generally safe from vandalism. Some hotels offer free parking, but sometimes it's free only at night, with a charge incurred during the day.

Haciendas & Hotels

During the colonial period, haciendas in the Yucatán were isolated, self-sufficient fiefdoms. Mostly they produced foodstuffs -- enough for the needs of the owners and peasants, plus a little extra that the owners could sell for a small sum in the city. The owners, though sometimes politically powerful, were never rich.

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This changed in the 19th century, when the expanding world market created high demand for henequén -- more commonly known in the U.S. as sisal -- an agave cactus fiber that was used to bale hay. Haciendas shifted to henequén production en masse, and the owners became wealthy as prices and profits climbed through the end of the century and into the 20th. Then came the bust. Throughout the 1920s, prices and demand fell, and no other commodity could replace sisal. The haciendas entered a long decline, but by then, henequén cultivation and processing had become part of local culture.

Visiting a hacienda is a way to see and understand what the golden age was like. Sotuta de Peón has been refurbished and operates much as in the old days -- a living museum involving an entire community. At another, Yaxcopoil, you can wander about the shell of a once-bustling estate and take in the faded splendor.

Today another boom of sorts has brought haciendas back, this time as hotels, retreats, and country residences. The hotels convey an air of the past -- elegant gateways, thick walls, open arches, and high ceilings -- and extravagant suites and personal service make a guest feel like lord and master of their little islands of order and tranquillity in a sea of chaos.

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Six of the region's hacienda hotels are pure luxury. The most opulent is Hacienda Xcanatún on the outskirts of Mérida, off the highway to Progreso.

Four more luxury hotels are owned by Roberto Hernández, one of Mexico's richest men, and are affiliated with Starwood Hotels (www.luxurycollection.com; tel. 800/325-3589 in the U.S. and Canada). They are restored to their original condition, and they are quite beautiful. Temozón, off the highway to Uxmal, is the most magnificent. Uayamón, located between the colonial city of Campeche and the ruins of Edzná, is perhaps the most romantic, with its exterior preserved in a state of arrested decay. Hacienda San José Cholul is east of Mérida toward Izamal, and picturesque Santa Rosa lies southwest of Mérida, near the town of Maxcanú. Packages are available for staying at more than one of these haciendas. All offer personal service, activities, and spas.

Another luxury hotel, Hacienda Misné, is within Mérida city limits and is run by the family who once used it as a summer home.

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One of the more affordable options on the eastern outskirts of Mérida on the highway to Cancún is Hacienda San Pedro Nohpat.

Two more haciendas can be leased by small groups for retreats and vacations: Hacienda Petac (www.haciendapetac.com; tel. 800/225-4255 in the U.S., or 999/911-2601) and Hacienda San Antonio (www.haciendasanantonio.com.mx; tel. 999/910-6144). Both have beautiful rooms, common areas, and grounds.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.