Isla Holbox: The Unknown Paradise

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A view from a walkway to a Holbox beach

I always try to have a vacation–Sophia Loren

Last September I spent a few days in Isla Holbox. This little treasure of an island is located along the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, about three and a half hours from Cancun. Unlike the more developed tourist destinations, Holbox retains much of the rustic allure of Mexico.

A charming aspect of Holbox is the unpaved dirt roads and lack of automobiles. The majority of locals commute by foot, bicycle, scooter or golf cart. Larger vehicles are present, but they are usually for municipal or commercial purposes. The streets are prone to flooding during inclement weather, so golf cart rentals will not be allowed for tourists (unless you are willing to pay a steep premium).

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A photo from atop Hotel Arena

The city of Holbox is quite small. Town square consists of a tiny park with a half-shell stage that has streets peppered with restaurants, hotels, and shops encircling it. A person can easily walk the city center in a few minutes, and travel the entire town in less than a 10-minute jaunt. The ocean is only a stone’s throw away from any part of the island.

Although the city is small, the island is rather sizable. If a person is in or near town everything is in walking distance. For the tourists staying at the large all-inclusive clubs, the easiest way to get around is to rent a bicycle, golf cart, or taxi (which is a modified golf cart). The large hotels outside of town have great beach access, so if you’re staying there you don’t really need to travel anywhere unless you want to sample the local eateries.

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Ciabatta sandwich from Le Jardin Panaderia

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Lemon Tiramisu from Kai Wa

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Pizza from Edalyn’s

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Fish Ceviche

Despite being a rural setting, Holbox offers world class dining. The seafood, which is always caught earlier in the day, is extremely fresh. In fact, some restaurants don’t bother with menus because they base their meals on what the fishing boats bring in.

An added bonus for Holbox tourists is the prices are much lower compared to Cancun, Tulum, and Playa Del Carmen. If a person doesn’t fancy seafood, then there are a variety of restaurants that offer different cuisines.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed spending our mornings at Le Jardin Panaderia. This is a nice little French themed pastry shop that offered great breakfast and lunch deals. Its ambiance is perfect for reading a book or just sitting and contemplating the scenery. The business keeps unusual hours, so I suggest looking them up early in your trip.

We also enjoyed visiting Kai Wa, El Chapulim, and La Tortilleria de Holbox. Kai Wa was second only to Le Jardin Panaderia as our most visited café. Its desserts were delicious and worth the price, in terms of flavor and serving size, you can’t do better.

El Chapulim was great; we dined there once, but wanted to return. Menus are not offered because the nightly specials are based on what the catch of the day is. The owner/cook will come to your table and recite what the evening’s options are (his vocal delivery and tone is nothing short of a seasoned storyteller). He will then personally take your order.

La Tortilleria de Holbox is a great place for breakfast. It is located next door to Hotel Arena. The healthy breakfast options along with the coffee and tea selections were greatly appreciated. It was unfortunate they closed for the season a few days before we left; otherwise, we would have dined there multiple times.

If you are into nature and wildlife, Holbox is a place for you. The island has large areas that are uninhabited. The plant and wildlife in these regions remain untouched by humans. In fact, a short bicycle ride to the eastern side of Holbox will allow a person to see wild Pink Flamingos feeding in an unspoiled environment.

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An evening view from Hotel Arena rooftop lounge

The island does lack the large beaches and the nightlife the aforementioned destinations have, but you can find some nice areas to swim, sunbathe, and, eat and drink at. Another disadvantage is the mosquitoes. If you are on a nature walk you’ll find spots that are thick with the thirsty critters, and in the evening they come out in force all over the island. Be prepared with bug repellent and you’ll be fine (I suggest bringing your own to save money).

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North end of the island.

Isla Holbox is a hidden treasure. We really enjoyed our short stay on the island. Crime is nonexistent. For example, we rented two bikes and left them on the street for several hours with no locks or chains. We experienced no problems at all.

In another case, my wife lost a pair of glasses while walking. We returned to the restaurant we dined at a few hours earlier to see if we left them there. A friendly couple seated at our old table told us that two hours ago they saw someone turn in a pair of lost glasses at a cantina they were visiting. We checked with the barista at that location, and my wife’s glasses were there. Needless to say, we were amazed.

If you prefer a laid back “islander” setting, without the hustle and bustle of major destinations, then look no further. Holbox has what you want. It is still unknown by a vast majority of travelers, but it is growing in popularity. A Crow’s View highly recommend checking out Holbox before it fully develops into another full-blown tourist trap.

Le Jardin Panaderia Facebook Page

Wikipedia Isla Holbox

Tripadvisor La Tortilleria de Holbox

Tripadvisor El Chapulim

Hotel Arena

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