Destination: Isla Holbox, Mexico
In the language of the Yucatec Mayans, Holbox means ‘black hole’. It refers to the dark bottom of an otherwise azure lagoon but it could also suggest the pure indulgence of vacationing in paradise. That soulful place you get to when the real world disappears and time is suspended somewhere between breakfast and sunset drinks. The tiny island of Isla Holbox in Mexico is all about that kind of black hole.
Tucked into the northeast corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, this tiny slice of paradise straddling the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea is only 40 kilometres long and one and a half wide. There are no cars; they wouldn’t do well on the sand covered streets. People get about in golf carts and barefoot – wearing shoes is the quickest way to be identified as a visitor. It’s the place long-term Tulum fanatics go when they need to escape the influx of hipsters or get in touch with their creative selves.
Indeed, Isla Holbox maybe the perfect place to spark a creative fire, as painters, writers, musicians and dreamers have been setting down roots and hanging up hammocks here for decades. The colour and light is particularly appealing, with the golden Mexican sun bouncing off white sand, the brightly painted walls and white-toothed smiles beaming out of tanned faces. Think rustic, laidback, sublimely beautiful and completely secluded.
Unlike many other parts of Mexico, Isla Holbox has managed to maintain a salt-of-the-earth scene. That said there are a smattering of high-end boutique hotels, many of them situated right on the icing sugar sands of the beach.
Casa Sandra has vast rooms with canopied beds and a gorgeous rustic colonialism. Owner, Sandra Perez, is an artist, poet and producer of Cuban music and her handmade place is a carefully curated cornucopia of an artistic life lived well.
Casa Las Tortugas is an eco-friendly family run hotel with a gorgeous aesthetic; whitewashed walls, antique wood furniture and Mexican art throughout. The hotel has an excellent restaurant and a luxe spa using their own organic skincare range.
Villa Flamingos has the island’s one and only beachside pool. Rooms boast towering ceilings, private Jacuzzis and incredible views. Saturdays see a massive barbecue of local seafood accompanied by incredible salads.
Breakfast at La Chaya is a must; eggs any style (rancheros, montuleños, Americano) plus tacos groaning with tasty morsels and delectable freshly prepared fruit and vegetable juices.
Casa Sandra, Las Tortugas and Villa Flamingos all have exceptional restaurants but a foray into where the locals eat is required for all adventurous travellers. Stop off at La Cooperativa de Pescadores where the catch of the day is turns into lunch for fishermen, locals and visitors alike. El Sushi twists up Japanese techniques with Mexican flavours resulting in a delightful fusion, while TacoQueto serve up traditional tacos amongst a crowd of chattering Holboxeños.
Isla Holbox has become somewhat of a wellness hub with most hotels offering exclusive spa treatments and packages in addition to yoga and fitness experiences. Try and nab an appointment with the ubiquitous ‘Selene’, the island’s local massage guru.
As part of the Yum Balam nature reserve, Isla Holbox is home to over 150 native species of bird and a trip to Isla Pajaro is a must do. Even the most cynical city dwellers will be awestruck at the natural grace of bright pink flamingos and the white as a cloud herons.
From June to September the waters around Holbox become a playpen for whale sharks, serene and docile beasts that are quite happy to allow you to swim alongside and share their waters for a while. Kayaking through ancient mangroves brings out your inner adventurer while horseback riding along soft sands is apt to make one swoon at the romance of it all. Or forget all that activity and just slip quietly into a hammock and allow it all to just simply melt away as you watch the incredible sunset.