The magic of Espita and the charm of its people

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A group of women take the opportunity to catch up in front of Espita’s ‘Fuente de la Mestiza’. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Named a Magical Town or Pueblo Magico earlier this summer, Espita hopes to turn a page from relative obscurity to a tourism hotspot. 

A recently refurbished Maya-style home on the outskirts of Espita, Yucatán. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

The tiny community is on its way to being more tourism friendly, with a new yet nearly deserted tourism kiosk and a handful of spots to take selfies. 

Facing sillas confidentes started off in Mérida but have become popular across the state. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Another thing Espita has going for it is that because of its tiny size, it’s extremely walkable and quite clean.

An aerial view of Espita shows the town’s main church and surrounding streets. Photography: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

When arriving in town, one is greeted by a plethora of old-style Mayan homes, simple brick dwellings and businesses, along with a couple of small but neatly tended-to parks. 

Cri-Cri Children’s Park in Espita is full of some characters you are likely to recognize and others only familiar to Mexicans. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

The main plaza, however, is another story, with its lovely Franciscan church lined with palm trees, a tiny but welcoming market, a gazebo-adorned plaza, and city hall. But unlike most towns in Yucatán, these landmarks are distributed along a straight line of sight, instead of in the typical pattern surrounded around a main park or plaza. 

City hall in the tiny town of Espita, Yucatán:  Photograph: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatàn Magazine

Espita’s main church, dedicated to Saint Joseph, is quite typical of the area, with a central nave and two towers with three niches each. It is clearly lovingly maintained and is worth a visit. 

Saint Joseph’s and its surrounding area are fairly busy, at least for Espita standards.  Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

City Hall and its adjacent park are very welcoming, especially in the evenings when vendors gather around the gazebo to sell Yucatecan snacks, including Queso Napolitano (a variety of flan), sandwichon (a type of layered cheese or pate sandwich), and of course esquites, cups full of corn kernels, cream, cheese and just about any topping you can imagine, even bone marrow. 

Espita’s gazebo and the surrounding Melchor Ocampo park are popular spots to get together and enjoy some snacks and good conversation. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Though the town’s main market was last remodeled in the year 2000, its facilities are in extremely good shape and full of good stalls, fruit vendors, and butchers.

The town butcher did not even wait to ask for his photograph to be taken but just stood there and said, “Estoy listo!” Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The town’s market also affords visitors opportunities to interact with Espita’s locals, who are overall talkative and friendly — you can tell they are not used to seeing tourists, at least not yet. 

Adelaida Pol Cem tends to her market kiosk at Espita’s Mercado Municipal. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Just outside the market, there are a couple of loncherias (tiny informal restaurants), including “La Guadalupana” run by the Patrón Rosado sisters, María de la Cruz and Nelsy Noemi.

The sisters cook up typical regional dishes such as lomitos and relleno blanco every day and are fond of cracking jokes. When asked what they think about Espita’s new status as a Pueblo Magico, the answer was basically the same: “It’s always been magical. We don’t need the government to tell us that.” 

The Patrón Rosado sisters serving up lunch. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

This sense of love for their town was echoed everywhere, including the home of the Acereto Triai family that opened their doors for a brief photoshoot. 

Josefina Triai Peniche, 78, and Bernardo Enrique Acereto Sobrino, 75 inside their home in Espita, Yucatán. Photography: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Another curious landmark in Espita is a small obelisk that serves as a roundabout just to the side of Saint Joseph’s church. Known as “Los Quince Grandes de Espita” or the “Fifteen Greats of Espita.” 

The monument, on which is engraved the names of 15 men carved on one side, commemorates a battle in which a group of indigenous Maya attempted to capture the town in 1850. However, the “invaders” were repelled by the efforts of these local men, among them teenagers and old men. 

An obelisk is dedicated to “Los Quince Grandes de Espita.” Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

It is difficult to hear this story of “barbarians at the gates” without the suspicion that this is only half the story. 

Like anywhere in Yucatán, or México for that matter, there is in Espita a clear social demarcation between its white, mestizo, and indigenous population, the latter of which live in modest dwellings while many of the former appear to be considerably better off materially. 

Espita is full of beautiful colonial-era buildings, some being basically ruins while others are meticulously preserved. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In the Yucatec Mayan language, Espita means “the place of little water.” Though nowadays the community has running water, it used to rely heavily on communal wells and chultunes (artificial water reservoirs), much in the way the ancient Maya did.

Although Espita is chock-full of beautiful old colonial homes, many of these appear to have been long abandoned, as their owners have moved to larger communities including Valladolid, Izamal, and Mérida. 

A view into a once great casona that is showing its cracks. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Casona los Cedros began its renovations in 2018 by its architect and owner, Laura Lecué, who originally hails from Britany, France. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Though the community of foreigners in Espita is still relatively small, it appears to be growing at a considerable pace, with small groups of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians already calling it home. 

Hotel Boutique Restaurant Casona los Cedros in Espita, Yucatán, Mexico on July 20, 2023. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

Despite being so small, Espita has a surprisingly active sports and art scene, supported by the city government and the town’s Casa de la Cultura.

A group of young women do basketball drills inside one of Espita’s several sporting complexes. Photo: Bénédicte Desrus for Yucatán Magazine

There are a great many properties for sale in Espita, and according to locals, prices have already begun to increase, given the opening of new amenities such as boutique hotels and the presence of foreigners.

Property hunters would be wise not to wait much longer to make a purchase. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Buses run from cities like Mérida and Valladolid to Espita at regular intervals, but driving is by far the fastest and most hassle-free way of visiting, as no first class busses are available, which means you will be stopping in every single town. 

A Google map of Yucatán shows the location of Espita relative to several other communities.

One thing to keep in mind when visiting Espita is the importance of bringing along coins and smaller denomination bills, as most shops won’t be able to make change for a 500-peso bill or sometimes even a 200. The town has a single ATM, but it is best not to rely on it too heavily as it apparently is often out of order. 

The main downside with Espita is that there are not many “middle of the road” options, which means you will either be spending the night in either a very spartan room for a few hundred pesos or a boutique hotel for thousands. The same applies to eating out. 

Espita is a great hub to explore the Yucatán thanks to its proximity to other towns, including Izamal and Valladolid, as well as several archaeological sites, especially Ek-Balam and Chichén Itzá

The archaeological site of Ek-Balam is just 35 minutes away from Espita by car. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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