And charming it is. The historic structure houses the reception and bar, while the hotel’s eight rooms are all new construction. One prestige room, The Suite, comes with its own plunge pool. To be clear, this is not a luxury hotel, at least not in the traditional sense. However, this is an enchanting retreat, far removed from the bustle of Mérida, 100 miles to the west, or the tourist frenzy of Tulum and Riviera Maya, an equal distance to the east.
The rooms are very basic, providing just enough creature comforts to satisfy a discerning traveler: solid air conditioning, decent pillows and good mattresses, well-appointed bathrooms, private terraces with hammocks and indoor/outdoor showers. A large bouquet of freshly picked flowers greets me in my room upon arrival. Service, often delivered by Lecué herself, is thoughtful and personalized.
The hotel might not be the primary reason you’ve driven to the middle of the Yucatán jungle. The ultimate destination is more likely the hotel’s indoor/outdoor restaurant, which is headed by chef Jorge Ildefonso and his chef de cuisine, Jose Vidal.
Ildefonso for years has been one of Mexico’s most underrated chefs. I first met him at Viceroy Riviera Maya 10 years ago, and he’s cooked at several top restaurants in Tulum and Punta Mita in-between. Although he’s garnered far less international fanfare, he cooks at nearly the same caliber as his more famous peers, such as Jorge Vallejo at Quintonil or Enrique Olvera at Pujol. He also recently opened La Mata, a far more glamorous restaurant, in downtown Mérida in April. The menu here is cooked almost entirely over wood. And at breakfast that means beautiful wood-fired avocado toast topped with smoked Yucatán-style sausage.
The real draw, however, is the five-course tasting menu at dinner, which likely begins with ceviche, perhaps a snapper from Campeche served in a puddle of gazpacho with mint and a few drops of olive oil. Or maybe it’ll be sea bass tucked underneath a wreath of wild green plums and crispy white cucumber — the latter a surprisingly fat, hollow vegetable that looks and tastes nothing like a cucumber.
If you’re lucky, the chefs will still be pulling up carrots from the hotel garden, which get roasted over the wood grill, covered with ash and served with Sucila goat cheese and caramelized squash seeds. And you do not want to miss Ildefonso’s signature compressed pork with charred sweet potato and banana puree.
To get here, you’ll need to drive from either Mérida or Cancún. And it’s a beautiful trip in either direction. After cruising along the modern Yucatán highway for a couple of hours, you’ll navigate your vehicle onto a quaint, tree-lined country road that feels like it might lead to a private farm, not a town. (Note: Google Maps works just fine out here, but you are guaranteed to get lost if you try using Apple Maps. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Although technically intended as two lanes, the road does not exactly accommodate two automobiles at once. Mostly that won’t be an issue because yours will likely be the only car for miles. But occasionally you will need to follow local custom and slow to a crawl as another car approaches, lest you run each other off the road and into a ditch.
Census data suggests Espita has a population of roughly 12,000, but that number is misleading because it includes not just the village of Espita but 16 other surrounding pueblos, many of which count only a few dozen residents. While the village feels sleepy these days, that wasn’t always the case. For about three hundred years — until the late 1800s — this was a bustling city, relatively speaking. In colonial times, this was the region’s economic center of corn farming, the second most lucrative crop after henequen (an agave plant grown for its fibers, also known as sisal, which is what ropes used to be made of.). But along with the rapid decline in the state’s henequen production (thanks to the invention of nylon) and the resulting collapse of the plantation hierarchy that followed, so too withered Espita — economically, though not its spirit.
Hardly anyone walks around town. Almost no one drives. The preferred mode of transport is the modified motorcycle trishaw. No matter where you find yourself in Espita, you don’t have wait more than a minute before one of these trishaws appears to offer a ride. Twenty pesos gets you just about anywhere you need to go.
Time stands still here. Life moves slowly, even for locals. As a tourist, there is little to do in town besides sway in a hammock or splash in the pool, always with an ice-cold margarita within reach — a good formula for any vacation, no?
Bottom line: Casona Los Cedros is a charming, unpretentious boutique hotel — and a truly fabulous restaurant — in the middle of nowhere in the heart of the Yucatán jungle. Highly Recommended.
Rates from about $225 (includes breakfast); Calle 26, #199 between 23 and 25, Espita, Yucatán casonaloscedros.com