A day trip with a car and driver that begins in Mérida and includes visits to several of the region’s atmospheric haciendas — built by wealthy 19th-century sisal barons — and the great Mayan archaeological site of Uxmal should be a mandatory excursion in the Yucatán.
The sisal boom began during the 1830s as global trade grew steadily and demand exploded for the strong fibers that can be obtained by processing several of the Yucatán’s native agave species, notably henequen and sisal. These plants had been selected and domesticated by the Mayans and their fibers used to produce rope and twine. The Yucatán was the principal region of production until the 1920s.
By 1880, the “green gold” of the Yucatán had made it one of the wealthiest states in Mexico, and the sisal barons had built sumptuous villas along Mérida’s Paseo de Montejo, as well as mansions on the haciendas where the henequen and sisal plants were cultivated. The latter were magnificently furnished, with chandeliers and furniture brought to Mexico from the United States and Europe. They also carried the heavy machinery needed to process sisal, which is why today you can still spot equipment that was made in Glasgow or Chicago when you tour their agricultural outbuildings.