Before Richard and Lena Nichols rebuilt Hacienda Dzbikak, the giant estate in Umán had been in a state of deterioration for five decades. The last exciting thing to happen there was a fire that devastated the warehouse.
Their timing was good. It was 2005, and property bargains could still be had. Since then, Richard has been bullish on Yucatán.
“I think the cost of living is important,” Richard says to preface an even bigger concern. “There’s security, and we’re more safe here in Mérida than in London or any British city.”
In their previous lives, Richard — whose mother is Mexican — had a tortilla factory in London. After that, he imported Corona beer throughout Europe. Lena worked in finance. But Mexico was always in his peripheral field of vision.
“All my life, I’ve been coming here on holiday, and I’ve always monitored Mexico in the back of my brain,” he says. Since the early 2000s, he reckons that Mexico and Britain have switched places when it comes to quality of life. “The future prospects of Yucatán look great, and Europe’s in a tailspin at the moment.”
With the hacienda and its 12 acres, there has been plenty of space to raise their son, who is now 14.
There’s nothing much in the historical record about the Hacienda Dzbikak, Mayan for “written with fire.” It is traced to at least 1714, and it was likely a cattle ranch before the henequen boom. Today, some chickens, turkeys, a half-dozen sheep, a large dog and a house cat with an Instagram page and a bell around its neck are the only animals left.
The more historic rooms are lushly decorated, layered with ornaments, books and art. None of it is original to the hacienda. Roughly a third of the furniture, which suits the oldest rooms so well, came from local antique shops. A third they had custom built, and the final third was shipped from London, Richard explains.
It was six years before the property was ready to move in. Today, they rent it out for weddings and corporate events, and it was nearly the setting for an MTV “Big Brother”-type reality show before COVID shut down production. There is an outbuilding in which the family can retreat when paying guests are enjoying the facilities.
The payoff is all the space and privacy — at least between events.
“It’s a lovely environment for children to run wild and safe,” says Richard. “And if you can — for those who are going slightly off-grid, if you like, and trying to get away — take time out from the madness in the modern world, it’s perfect.”