The little island known as Isla Holbox off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is like something out of a dream. There are no cars on the island, only golf carts. There’s a small settlement of residents, with the expected shops and outdoor restaurants, but if you look at an aerial map it’s mostly green with vegetation. People are only on a small part of it. A couple hours off shore is one of the world’s prime spots to swim with whale sharks in the summer months.
To get to this laid-back paradise, first you have to head to one of the world’s best-known tourist destinations by finding a flight deal to Cancun. (Try here: http://www.cheapoair.com/flights/cheap-flights-to-cancun-cun-mexico). Then unless you’re loaded enough to charter a private prop plane, you rent a car or head to the bus station so you can go two hours through the Yucatan squat jungle areas to a little town called Chiquila. There you board a ferry that chugs across the water to Holbox Island.
There is a hostel, there’s a campground, and there are some inexpensive hotels in the middle of town. If you want to relax in style though, right by the gorgeous water that changes from green to turqoise, here are your best Holbox hotel options:
Hotel Las Nubes Holbox
This resort is the longest haul from the pier and the town, but that gives it a nice “end of the world” feeling since the area immediately after it is part of a protected wildlife reserve. The only wildlife I spotted on the hotel grounds was a crazy raccoon that was in the water digging up shellfish to munch on, but if you pull out some binoculars you’ll likely spot some pink flamingos 100 meters or so down the coast. Pelicans dive into the water offshore and you can sit in the shady restaurant on the deck and watch the sunset.
The 28 spacious rooms are in a variety of categories, some facing the water and some in the lush vegetation or next to one of the three swimming pools. They all have air conditioning, included Wi-Fi, rain showers, and hammocks, while some of the suites have a minibar and TV. There’s a full spa on site at Las Nubes, with outdoor stone baths and several treatment areas. The restaurant gets high marks for its seafood dishes and you can work off a big lunch by using the guest kayaks or bicycles.
Located next to Las Nubes, this stylish and whimsical resort is filled with colorful artistic touches. There’s the shower made out of brightly painted buckets with holes in the bottoms, a chandelier made from glass bottles, painted carved wooden feet that lead directly into the sea. Occasionally the artistry looks better than it actually functions in the bathroom, but they get credit for treating a vacation here as fun time meant to make you smile. As with the other properties on this side of the island, the water lapping the shore never gets above the knees, so there are two hammocks permanently strung up in the water offshore from the gorgeous pool deck. You need to walk for a few minutes into the sea if you want to get totally submerged. (If you’re wondering why, search “Chicxulub Crater Yucatan.”)
There’s a full restaurant and bar facing the water, with a few swing chairs at the latter, plus an air conditioned bar inside with a cafe near reception. Most people don’t seem to want to get up from their lounging space though, with shaded beds and hammocks joining cushioned lounge chairs and one lounger set inside a former fishing boat.
Rooms come in a variety of six styles and even within those categories each is a bit different. Most have some kind of terrace or balcony and some have a second floor lounging area with whirlpool indoors or out. They come with complimentary Wi-Fi, TVs, air conditioning, an in some cases a fridge.
Rates start at $127 in the off season (making them the best bang for the buck of these three) and go up to around $750 for a multi-bedroom villa at peak times. Book one of a variety of rooms at the Villas Flamingos site or check Hotels.com.
This is the most formal and hotel-like place on the island for luxury travelers, but that doesn’t mean it takes itself too seriously. Light fixtures at the beach bar are made from recycled gardening items and the excellent air-conditioned restaurant inside is filled with offbeat antiques and curios, like lamp made out of an old sewing machine or a coffee table fashioned from a steamer trunk.
The beach here has lounge chairs and day beds, while the attractive swimming pool area is more private, in the center of the hotel surrounded by the rooms. Foodie visitors to Holbox head straight to the Amanacer restaurant, which has long had a reputation as the best on the island. For breakfast and lunch it’s an informal affair that spills out onto the sand in front of the hotel. At night it moves inside unless the weather is cool and the dishes get more serious, with a full wine list. The menu is a refreshing mix of Yucatecan, coastal, and Cuban. The Blue Bar by the pool also serves daytime meals and there’s a spa on site with a good menu of treatments.
There are 19 luxurious rooms filled with regional decorative touches and fine artwork from the owner’s collection. Apart from Wi-Fi they’re devoid of technology, reinforcing the idea that this is a laid-back island escape, away from the 24-hour news cycle.
Rates start at around $220, but there are multiple promotions running when it’s not high season. See more at the Casa Sandra site or check rates at Priceline.
After all that chilled-out relaxation on car-less Holbox Island, you might now have the energy to face your flight back home from Cancun on a crappy U.S. airline. Read this air travel secrets article first to be prepared.
Story and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted on an excursion to Isla Holbox by Travel Bloggers Exchange sponsors Cancun Tourism. He slept at one of these three hotels and visited the others.