Travel Diary: Isla Holbox, Mexico
I find travel to be one of the most inspirational aspects of my life. I love discovering new places, cultures and delicious food from the far reaches of the earth. Typically, those experiences influence my design work and personal style. Travel for me also provides a much needed time to relax and reconnect with my loved ones. I consider myself a somewhat adventurous traveler- my college summers were spent galavanting through Europe, my honeymoon consisted of a whirlwind tour through Thailand and Cambodia, I have safari’d in Botswana and South Africa, scoured the markets of Marrakesch and snorkeled through a barrier reef in Belize with a toddler in tow. Parenthood has slowed down my adventures for sure, but as my children get older I am more determined than ever to expose them to as many wondrous places this world has to offer as possible.
This new years my family traveled to Isla Holbox, Mexico for the second time. Isla Holbox is such a special and unusual place that I wanted to share my experience with my readers.
How did I discover Isla Holbox?
My husband and I began visiting Playa del Carmen and Tuluum Mexico about 15 years ago. Both are located about a 2-3 hours drive south from Cancun. During the first few years of travel there, both towns had a quiet, small beach town vibe with quaint outdoor restaurants and boutiques. The road to the beach was a dirt road and the beach clubs in Playa always had a palapa available for a day spent at the beach with fresh ceviche and margaritas served chair side. Most travelers there were European and the town definitely seemed a far cry from the spring break party zone of Cancun.
Around 5 years ago, my husband and I returned to Playa del Carmen and Tulum for New Year’s with our young children. Disappointment of our experience was an understatement. The town was mobbed with 20-something party goers, dirt roads to the beach were now paved with multi-level condominiums flanking either side, palapas on the beach were scarce and a few quaint boutiques had been replaced with sex shops. It was definitely not the relaxing experience that we so had cherished several years before. So after speaking with a few locals about our dismay, we heard about Isla Holbox.
How to get to Isla Holbox?
Isla Holbox is an island located off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, about 2.5 hours north of Cancun. It is only accessible by boat or a small 2-4 person Cessna airplane. The island has no paved roads, so once on the island, transportation is only provided by golf carts and bikes.
Where to stay?
By far my favorite place to stay on the island is Ser Casasandra. The hotel is designed by Cuban artist Sandra Pérez and truly reflects the integrity and spirit of the island. Original artwork decorates the walls and furniture by Spanish/Italian designer Patricia Urquiola inhabits the main public spaces alongside interesting antiques and bohemian crystals. The al-fresco restaurant is not to be missed and was our go to spot for New Year’s eve dinner.
Another inspiring place to stay is Villas Palalpas and it’s located right next door to Ser Casasandra. Villas Palapas is a series of individual “palapa” style villas, each with it’s own dipping pool. The outdoor restaurant is just off the pool and serves delicious Mexican fare. On top of the restaurant is a sky pool and sushi restaurant offering unbelievable roof top views of the beach below and an ideal spot to see the island’s unbelievable sunsets.
If you want to really feel secluded and away from the rest of the world, I would suggest the Las Nubes hotel, located at the far end of the inhabited part of the island, slightly separated from the other hotels. The hotel is situated right off a long sand bar that you can walk on that will take you to what feels like the middle of the ocean with crystal blue water surrounding you on all sides. The romantic restaurant juts out into the ocean and was one of the best meals we had on the island. In the shallow waters surrounding the hotel you can find plenty of sea urchin shells and starfish.
Things To Do
Isla Holbox is well known for it’s opportunities to swim with one of earth’s most mysterious creatures- the whale shark. You can snorkel with this gentle giant during it’s annual migration season from June to September. Fishing expeditions are readily available and offer an incredible way to experience the local cuisine- the boat’s captain will take whatever you catch for the day and make fresh ceviche right on the boat for you to enjoy.
There are two islands close by that are interesting to visit. One has a fresh water cenoté in which you can take a swim in. The other is called Passion Island and it is a small uninhabited island surrounded by very shallow water on all sides and makes for the perfect Instagram worthy photo.
The unique thing about the beach at Isla Holbox is the very shallow and calm ocean. You can walk for at least 100 yards in the ocean before the water reaches your waist. The waters make for the ideal place to go kite surfing on a windy day. There are several schools and outfits offering lessons and rentals. Paddle boarding and kayaks are also popular and readily available at most hotels.
The small town is not much to look at but does have several souvenir boutiques with some interesting finds. You’ll also find hostels for young backpackers and several outdoor cafés catering to both the locals and the young bohemian crowd.
Lastly, the gorgeous sunsets each day are a must see. Ideally seen from the beach, time seems to stand still has everyone pauses to take in the breath taking view.
Know Before You Go
There is no postal service on the island. There are no banks or ATM’s either so bringing currency is important before you come to the island. Credit cards are taken throughout the island and locals and businesses also are amendable to dealing in American dollars or Euros. English is not as common as in Cancun or Playa del Carmen so you may want to brush up on some Spanish before you come. My Spanish vocabulary is atrocious and I was able to muster through but my husband’s vocabulary was definitely useful.
The island is very laid back and casual so leave your designer duds and pretenses at home. Mosquitos can be quite bothersome at dusk so bring plenty of bug spray. Our family of 4 felt very safe during our travel to the island and also during our stay.
One last word of advice, go NOW before this well kept secret is out of the bag.
Any exciting travels on your horizon? If so, please do tell. I adore discovering exciting new places.