We left on a Tuesday afternoon and boarded a ferry with no more than 15 other travelers all headed for the sleepy beach town, Isla Holbox (it’s pronounced hole-bosh). I was eager to experience what some have dubbed Mexico’s last hidden beach town, especially when you compare it to the more popular nearby beach destinations such as Cancun, Tulum, and Playa Del Carmen. I was looking for something less resort-like, and Isla Holbox encompassed everything I was looking for and more.
Once on the island, you may as well turn your phone off cause you won’t need it for much restaurants post signs informing you there is no wifi and advocate talking to one another while sipping on tequila. Also, no point in overpacking only the essentials is required: sundress, swimsuit, sunhat, and sunblock. Shoes are optional. More often than not I noticed locals and travelers alike walking or cruising around on their bikes barefoot.
Life moves slowly on the island. You won’t find a single stoplight, any chain restaurants and you certainly won’t see any of the over the top all-inclusive resorts. What you will find are boutique hotels small and treehouse like with hammocks all over the grounds, from the pool to inside your hotel room. We’d booked ourselves at Hotel Para Ti and upon arriving the message from the hotel was loud and clear… “leave your suitcases and start to be free” was painted on a large wooden sign as you approach the reception desk. My sister and I were quick to drop off our bags and ready to be free. I loved everything about this hotel. But perhaps what I liked most is that Hotel Para Ti is owned by un Italiano y una Cubana who came to the island some 30 years ago and never left.
After a day of traveling and settling into the hotel room my sister and I were starved, and so we headed to Viva Zapata a restaurant recommended to us by our hotel. The island is known for its fresh seafood especially the ceviche. Viva Zapata like many of the bars and restaurants on the island offered swing seats at the bar and an assortment of fresh seafood dishes. In my opinion, Zapata didn’t just have the best ceviche on the island but the best ceviche I’ve ever tasted! My sister who claims she doesn’t like ceviche instantly became a fan after tasting theirs. We ate at Viva Zapata at least once a day during our stay.
Our 1st full day on the island we headed out to Punta Coco. From the center of town, it is about a 45-minute walk. Punta Coco is quiet and relatively untouched. No major services at the beach it is just you, some birds perched on wooden posts, and the water. The water is clear and warm. Aside from my sister and I, there was just one other couple on the beach that day. Punta Coco is the go-to spot for spectacular sunsets as well as the spot to check out the bioluminescent plankton at night.
The bioluminescent excursion was one of the most fun nighttime adventures I’ve had in a long time. Taxi drivers on the island pick you up in their golf carts around 11 pm, and then a trail of golf carts heads out to Punta Coco for the night. It had rained the day prior, and so most of the road was flooded. At times it felt as if you were in a boat cruising through the mangroves, but nope we were in a golf cart driving through the mangroves. As for the actual plankton that was exciting to see as well. My sister would shout, “watch my legs when I walk.” I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop marveling at the night’s sky. While everyone else was looking down at the water, I stood there staring at the stars it was just so bright I couldn’t help but marvel at the sky. After an hour out in the water, we jumped back onto our taxi and headed back to town. It was after midnight when we got back to the center of town. My sister was hungry, and although all the restaurants had shut down for the night, the street vendors were still open. We sat down and ordered food from a vendor who proceeded to tell us the entire storyline from the film Life of Pi; I am not even sure how that subject came up but needless to say she gave us a detailed recap of the film.
Isla Holbox is all about that hammock lifestyle. For those of you who want a day of beach lounging head to Holbox beach. This strip of beach on the island offers a few beach clubs and hammocks that hang from wooden posts out in the ocean. The water is warm, clear and relatively shallow as you walk out to the sandbar. My sister and I spent our days lazily sipping on Sol beers and reading our books. The occasional vendor would bike up with his fresh coconuts and cut one open for you. Other vendors sold popsicles, but for the Mexicana, in me, I was all about the vendor who sold churro chips with chile sauce that got me every time.
Beach lounging was followed by visits to Alma Bar a rooftop lounge on the island with a bohemian atmosphere and zen-like decor. The pool has two side cabanas, and two hammocks and the bartenders serve up some refreshing island cocktails. I loved everything about this bar especially the view!
Again, the island is slow and mellow. If you are looking for a place that offers a lot of excursions or activities outside of hammock lounging, then Holbox may not be for you. During the summer travelers flock to the island to swim with whale sharks. With the whale shark tour not in season, we opted for the island’s classic three Isla tour. This tour takes you to Isla Pajaros, Yalahua a cenote said to have been a watering hole used by pirates and Passion island a tiny island that has been deserted but offers a great spot to see the flamingos.
Isla Holbox was my idea of heaven. Having traveled to many island destinations, I appreciated how uncommercial the island is. I loved being with other travelers all who shared a similar appreciation for my Mexican culture and a carefree pace of life.