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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Cristina Baker: A pioneer in hacienda rescue has always felt at home in Mexico

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Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Writer and educator Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado co-founded the TTT school and raised two children after moving to Mérida in 1976. The British Columbia native, author of "Magic Made in Mexico," blogs at Changes In Our Lives.
Cristina Baker. Photo: Laura Sánchez

Born in New York City in 1951, Cristina Baker was just a toddler when she moved with her family to Mexico.

After high school, she returned to the United States and studied a BA in Latin American Studies at Smith College.

“When they gave me the option to spend my senior year abroad, I chose UNAM, and immediately following my graduation, moved back to Mexico City,” she says. “I spent 15 years there, in advertising at Noble y Asociados DMB&B and at Procter & Gamble. And then went to cooking school at the Anahuac university program, “better know how a restaurant works!” she says.

She married Jorge Ruz Buenfil, the son of a renowned archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, the discoverer of King Pakal’s tomb in Palenque. Indeed the couple’s ties to Yucatán and archaeology run deep, and in his honor, they named their daughter, Maya.

In 1993, these ties grew even closer when Jorge bought Hacienda Xcanatun, which means, “tall stone house” in Maya. He personally supervised the reconstruction, flying from Mexico City every two weeks. Cristina was more involved in design, furnishings, or as she says, “shopping.” Over seven years, the sprawling, but the dilapidated 18th-century estate was transformed into a luxurious hotel, restaurant, and spa. Yucatán is famous for its majestic haciendas, but Cristina and Jorge were among the very first entrepreneurs to have this vision.

Inaugurated on New Year’s Eve 2000, Xcanatun soon became known as the most elegant destination in Yucatán. Cristina’s dedicated attention to every management and aesthetic detail is recognized as having raised the bar for the hospitality and tourism industry in Yucatán.

“Originally, we intended to sell Xcanatun to coincide with Jorge’s semi-retirement from the commercial film industry in 2008,” Cristina explains, “but political and financial situations in Mexico were not ideal in those years.”

And then, in 2019, Banyan Tree Ltd. came calling. Banyan now operates Xcanatun under its luxury Angsana brand. With three new local partners, the property has expanded from 18 to 54 suites, an impressive new pool and informal restaurant, and a Banyan Tree Spa. Future plans include exclusive branded residences.

During this time, Cristina was diagnosed with cancer: ”The bright side to the pandemic, I had to stay home!”

But she faced the illness with the same fortitude that had served her well during her earlier challenges.

Cristina and her husband are now “semi” retired, not having to deal with the day-to-day hotel operations. But “we are life-consultants at Xcanatun, so we get to stay involved with the tourism community of Yucatan,” she says.

The two love traveling, and when not on a trip, they are surrounded by family and friends, and Cristina Baker enjoys a justly deserved, relaxing life in our beautiful corner of the world.

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