In the blurry waters where the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico meet, at the very top of the Yucatan, you'll find Isla Holbox. It's tiny, quiet, and somewhat remote; the kind of place that elicits a myriad of reactions from people who've been or heard things. They'll say it's beautiful or sad or peaceful or lonely. Some even say it's the best place they've ever been.
In many ways it's all those things. Holbox (pronounced ol-bosh) may be just a few hours from Cancun, and only a 30 minute ferry ride from the port town of Chiquila, but it's very different from the Yucatan's other, more well-known destinations. There aren't any cars, and the streets are made of sand. It's not obviously chic like Tulum or outwardly cultural like Vallodolid, and most of the time — save for a few weeks each spring when boatloads of tourists descend to take advantage of the island's proximity to migrating whale sharks — the vibe can best be described as sleepy. The ocean that surrounds Holbox is sleepy, too, with calm, flat water that seems to stay shallow for miles.
Despite all this — or maybe because of it — Holbox has the odd tendency to remind you ever so slightly of somewhere else. Your head will spin if you think too much about where, so don't even try. Just accept Holbox for what it is. Rent a golf cart and drive to the far eastern part of the island. Wade across the river at low tide to the place where pink flamingos feed. In this spot, with the sun setting behind you, you'll feel sad and lonely and beautiful and peaceful — and maybe even like you've found the best place you've ever been.
To get to Isla Holbox, you'll first need to get to Chiquila. It's about two hours drive from Cancun and even shorter from Valladolid; You can park your rental car safely and easily in the lot near the ferry for under $6 a day. If you'd rather not rent a car, take the bus — but give yourself a little more time. The Nine Hermanos from Chiquila to Holbox runs about every thirty minutes and is under $10 US. If you miss the ferry, hire a local fisherman to scoot you across.
where to stay
This little hotel perched right on the edge of town is one of the prettiest spots around, and sits on the island's best stretch of beach. Every single detail of the decor has been careful planned — from the comfy Mayan-inspired rooms with traditional palapa roofs to the canopied beach-bed loungers that sway under the palms. There's a yoga room with daily classes, free stand-up paddle boards, and an inviting pool with neon lights that slowly change from purple to green to blue like some kind of watery acid trip. You'll live in that pool. The hotel's restaurant and beachfront bar are pretty great, and breakfast is free for guests.
If you'd rather skip the hotel scene and stay Robinson Crueso-style in a beachfront bungalow, then Los Cocos is the place to be — if you can get a reservation, that is; This rustic-chic cabana is almost always booked. If you do manage to nab a free weekend, you'll have everything you need for total relaxation in paradise: There's a small kitchen, screened-in dining room, AC, two kayaks, bikes, and pretty stellar ocean view from the hammock that swings between two coconut trees in the front yard.
Los Cocos VRBO
where to eat and drink
This place is funny. Instead of stools, there are wooden-seated rope swings along the bar, and the decor is very foreign-exchange-student-meets-Pirates of the Caribbean. Still, we're big fans: The service is friendly, the atmosphere is vibrant, and there are lots of cool dogs taking naps near the entrance. Order a margarita and the seafood grill half plate, which features a fillet of fresh-caught fish, mussels, shrimp, and lobster.
Rosa Mexicana is one of the fancier places near the main square, and a great option if you're looking for an upscale Yucatan dining experience outside the hotels. You'll be impressed with the way your dish is plated (sprinkles of herbs! drizzles of mole!), but you'll be even more impressed with the way it tastes. Try the coconut shrimp, lobster risotto, ceviche verde, and make sure you save room for dessert — the chocolate tamale is kind of insane.
osa Mexicana Facebook
Il Chiringuito is owned by the same couple that owns Viva Zapata — you can tell by the swings that sway in place of chairs along the tiny al fresco palapa's beachfront bar. Grab your swing well before sunset; There are only eight of them, and you'll want to be settled in with your tequila in time to enjoy the fiery sky as the sun dips below the jade green horizon. There's no website or address, but if you walk along the beach, you'll find it. Or just ask someone. Isla Holbox isn't that big.