Travel Notebook

Making a Difference in the Yucatán Peninsula

Imagine staying in a centuries-old hacienda tucked away in the lush Yucatán jungle … a hacienda that has been lovingly restored to modern standards while retaining a rich heritage and traditional décor. Now, imagine that your stay here is not only benefiting your own state of mind and satisfying your wanderlust, but also promoting the social and economic wellbeing of the citizens of the Yucatán Peninsula.

I’ve recently returned from one such Mayan getaway sponsored by our partners, Catherwood Travels and Private Haciendas. While there, I had the opportunity to learn about an incredible foundation — the Haciendas Mundo Maya Foundation – that has been recognized by the Mexican government as a model for other similar organizations and NGOs.

The Haciendas Mundo Maya Foundation works with Mayan communities in the Yucatán Peninsula to implement projects that promote economic and social growth for local citizens. The foundation came about as way to give the Mayans a way to support themselves following the collapse of the haciendas and the sisal industry and in the wake of Hurricane Isidora. Local residents are trained in traditional handicraft techniques – currently, the foundation benefits more than 154 artisans in 16 communities – which are then showcased as the Taller Maya brand through workshops and a boutique. In addition, housing has been improved, child malnutrition has decreased, college scholarships have been awarded and family orchards have been established to promote good nutrition.

Maya workshops for sustainable tourism

During my stay at Hacienda Itzincab Cámara (the largest hacienda offered by Private Haciendas and built on an ancient Maya site), I was fortunate enough to meet Carola, who runs the foundation and was quickly swept up in her incredible passion and dedication to her work. She and her family have lived within the Mayan villages where the foundation works, earning the trust and friendships of the local people. The surrounding town of Itzincab is home to a lovely museum shop, where many pieces created through the foundation’s workshops are for sale, everything from silver jewelry and bone items to textiles, clothes, bags, hammocks, salt and soap – again, all of which have been made by artisans trained through the Haciendas Mundo Maya foundation.

Hacienda Itzincab Cámara

On a side note – your stay at any of the Private Haciendas properties, including the one I enjoyed, gives back to the local Mayan community; each of the haciendas employs local villagers who are eager to introduce world travelers to their communities. That’s just one more reason to stay in these lovingly restored estates … Hacienda Itzincab Camara was truly indulgent, boasting 14 bedrooms in the main house and original hacienda outbuildings (all air conditioned and with ensuite bathrooms), graciously appointed common areas for gathering with friends and family, lush gardens, three swimming pools and a cacophony of resident exotic birds. Absolutely idea for a family reunion or retreat.

To expand your world view, to practice socially responsible tourism and to discover all the Yucatán has to offer, we encourage one and all to travel to the Maya jungle. Our friends at Catherwood Travels are experts in the Yucatán and can design a personalized getaway brimming with villa and private estate stays, exclusive access to cenotes and archaeological excavations and into the homes of friendly locals who want to share the natural and cultural heritage of the Mayas.