Seashells, Lobster, Golf Carts and You
Isla Holbox, Mexico
The island of Holbox, (pronounced hohl-bosh) which lies off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan penninsula, is an old-school jewel of character and oddity. Depending on the season, you may be one of a handful or one of a couple handfulls of travelers visiting Isla Holbox, but either way, you’ll find it easy to relax and go slow on the beaches and in town.
The islanders "time-release" a delightful and very low-pressure "take it easy" vibe. Naturally, this is wonderful thing, but it also makes it virtually impossible for you to get anything done. The only people who seem to be in a rush to do anything on this island are the fisherman, who’ve probably already returned with their catch of lobsters and fish by the time you get your lazy self out of bed.
Therefore, I advise that when you come here, you leave any type of "to-do" list on the mainland. There are no ATMs, groceries can be expensive, and the prospect of doing laundry or developing film will leave you baffled. Come prepared with batteries, film, small change in Pesos, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and anything else you can’t live without for the time you’re here. You won’t find more than a few small general stores for staples here, and you might be paying four or five times as much as you would normally for them. Don’t think "highway robbery" when you’re shelling out cash, just think "stupid me" for not having come prepared…also remember to save enough cash for your boat ride back to the mainland, and your bus ticket back to civilization.
The island is large, 25km by 3km, but the main central section of town is small. This is where the "action" is. The "action" usually regarded as buying some beers and then drinking them on the main plaza. Here you may spend some time watching the locals play basketball or entertain friendly local dogs and curious children. Other than that, you can count the number of motorized vehicles go by (on one hand), and marvel that there is actually a miniature beer truck/golf cart making deliveries to keep you happy. Relax, this is Holbox.
There is a beach on the lonely northern part of the island, an easy 10-15 minute walk from the central plaza. As with all of the "roads" in town, the path is made of fine white sand, so leave your shoes behind and let your toes enjoy some freedom.
Murky waters, Isla Holbox
From here you can walk along the beach as long as you like while admiring the fishing boats at anchor, the murky greenish water, and the birds swooping overhead. Don’t expect blue crystal-clear waters here, as this agua is a mix of both Caribbean and Gulf waters. Try wading out into the ocean and you’ll be surprised how far out you can go without the water coming up past your knees.
As you beachcomb, you may find interesting pieces of driftwood, an abundance of brightly colored seashells, or just a lot of seaweed, but either way, you’ll definitely find a peaceful moment. Eventually, just as you’re thinking to turn around, you may come across flocks of strange white flamingoes. Earliest in the morning is the best time to see them, but ask locally if the flamingoes are in season.
Where to Stay
The most economical place to stay on the island is on the beach in your own tent or in your hammock, but if this isn’t ideal or if there’s heavy rain or wind, consider staying in a local’s spare room. Just ask around when you get off the boat, there will definitely be a taxi driver (taxis being of the peddle variety) with contacts ready to point you in the right direction.
There are also some palapas on the northern beach near town for less than $10 a night and very basic. The only other option comes if you continue walking along the beach, where you’ll find a set of newer more expensive hotels. They are your typical gringo-style lodgings for gringo prices, and probably more expensive than you want to pay (upwards of $50 a night!). One of these hotels is a real tiki-village charmer however, with thatched roofs and sea view going from $40 a night for two people. It’s expensive but wonderful, with pool, mosquito nets, balcony with hammocks, communal kitchen, gym, and lovely decorations. You can’t miss it. A splurge-worthy place to spend a night, and friendly too.
Where to Eat
I have been traveling throughout seafood-laden North, Central, and South American countries for years now, and I can truly say that the biggest, cheapest (120 pesos) and most delicious seafood ceviche I have ever tasted can be found right here, on the main plaza of Isla Holbox. The restaurant serving this masterpiece of culinary marvel has no name, but is on the south corner of the plaza. You’ll see it with it’s wooden tables and small black dog named Pirata. Friendly owners too. They also have lobster pasta (80 pesos) and cold beers. There is an Italian restaurant run by Argentinians around the corner, just off the plaza, called Pinocchio’s. The local ex-patriates gather here at night, and the food is excellent (steak and seafood). Other than a few small local comedors and snack shops, you don’t have that many choices. Groceries are expensive too, so bring them with you if you’re planning on cooking.
How to Get There
From the transportation hubs of Cancun or Merida, there are several buses a day to the tiny, unimpressive town of Chiquila, where you catch the supposedly waiting ferry to the island. The last ferry leaves at 5pm, so make sure you don’t get stuck in this town, as there are no hotels to speak of, and the people are not too friendly (probably because everybody prefers to go to Holbox). If you are in Valladolid, Chichen Itza, or other smaller towns in the area, ask locally for when the bus passes through going to Chiquila. The earlier you leave the better the outcome. The trip from Cancun is about three hours. The ferry costs 35 pesos one-way.