Many places claim to be paradise on earth. However, this year I found my personal paradise at Isla Holbox. Located to the north of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean, this little island has been one of the most wonderful and serene places I have visited in Mexico.
Getting to isla Holbox is not easy, however. There are buses from Mérida, Cancun and Playa del Carmen to Chiquilá. The trip takes about 4 hours on roads that are not always in the best conditions. From there, ferries cross over the Yalahau lagoon to the island every hour or so. Delivery trucks, construction materials and other cargo must wait up to a day to cross the lagoon; you can see long lines of trucks waiting to unload onto the cargo ferries. But once you set foot on the island it is easy to forget the adversities of the road.
Wildlife, ocean and stunning sunsets
Holbox population is less than 2000 people and, because it is part of the Yum Balam nature reserve, cars are not allowed on the island. People commute on golf carts and bicycles, which for us was a lot of fun and a great way to get around and see most of it.
The island is not yet heavily touristed and the main industry is fishing, although many locals have turned to tourist activities such as hospitality, wildlife sightseeing by boat, and restaurants. For what we could see, it is a very sustainable way of life.
Isla Holbox is known for its whale shark and flamingo sightseeing. Unfortunately for us, the season for those two species had just started and we didn’t have any luck when we rode our bikes to the other end of the islands to find flamingos. However, we did find the sand bank where they usually stop to eat. We sat on it, 100 meters offshore, and enjoyed a beautiful morning, the calm waters and natural scenery.
Because of its geographic location, Holbox faces west towards the Gulf of Mexico. This favored position gives visitors the opportunity to witness some of the most stunning sunsets in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta is my personal favorite place to watch sunsets, though). We didn’t miss this chance and enjoyed them on the beach every evening of our stay. For me, watching sunsets is realizing how small we are compared to the universe. It is a spiritual experience that connects me with nature in a deeper way—groovy, isn’t it?
Adventurous eating at Isla Holbox
Eating in Isla Holbox was also an adventure. Despite its growing popularity as a tourist destination, Holbox still has that small-Mexican-town feeling where life is slow and very, very relaxed. Addresses don’t mean much here and business hours are highly variable. When we asked at the front desk of our hostel about the best places to eat, we were directed to several restaurants. But we were also warned that some of those places might or might not be open. One of the places we were looking forward to trying was Las Panchas (highly recommended on tourist guides and by our hostel staff). Unfortunately, it didn’t open during our three-day stay due to what seemed to be a friends-and-family-only celebration.
All towns have a fabled restaurant or dish that tourist guides say it can’t be missed. Holbox is no exception to this rule. When we started making plans for this trip, a few friends told us we had to try the famous lobster pizza. Some locals, however, told us it was nothing out of this world and the place was no more than a tourist trap. We thought it over and decided we didn’t have anything to lose if we tried the legendary pizza. It was a good decision. Pizzeria Edelyn is the self-proclaimed originator of this delicious combination of pie, tomato sauce, cheese and fresh lobster that now is offered by other restaurants as well.
However, the best meal we had in Holbox was at Restaurante Miriam, a small establishment in the front of a house where Miriam and her husband live. She cooks and he waits tables. This was another one of those places we were warned that might be closed. Fortunately for us, it was open the day we visited. The menu is simple, but everything we had was delicious—starting with the empanadas, one shrimp and one lobster. Our main dish was Pescado Holbox, a fried fish fillet with a special maracuyá sauce that Miriam created, according to her husband. The sauce is made with passion fruit and habanero peppers. It had that sweet-spicy combination Mexicans love so much and works perfectly with seafood.
The trip to this beautiful Mexican getaway was a memorable one. One can forget about time walking lazily among its bright-colored buildings with surrealist paintings on the sides. Swimming in the tranquil waters of its beaches brings you peace. The spectacular sunsets make you examine the relevance of our “busy” schedules. And eating delicious, local, and fresh seafood is the icing of the cake. I could definitely get used to a simpler life.