By Theresa Russell
At the top of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico come together, lies Isla Holbox, a charming island with friendly people, uncrowded beaches and amazing wildlife. Our trip to Isla Holbox was a long time coming. We had bicycled around the Yucatan many times with my husband, always dreaming of visiting Isla Holbox (pronounced ees-la hole-boosh), but never quite getting there. Because for cyclists, doing an out and back ride to such a destination eats up precious travel time. No longer. We made it a priority this time and—as a bonus—had a car at our disposal. And so we ventured to this mysterious place at the top of the Yucatan, where the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico come together. We hoped to experience a mostly undiscovered refuge for both birds and tourists. We were not disappointed.
About Isla Holbox
Now part of the nature reserve, Isla Holbox was a popular stop for pirates who more than a century ago sought fresh water for their long journeys. Some of the pirates chose to stay and married locals. The Maya retreated here to escape from the conflicts of the Caste War in the mid-1800s. Today, most of the approximately 1500 islanders who live on Isla Holbox (which means “black hole” in Yucatec Mayan) earn their living from fishing and tourism.
Getting There and Around
Familiar roads took us to the ferry at Chiquila, a small port about three hours from Cancun. The improvements to the road and the signs, even from the quiet Coba road, foretell the future of Holbox. Although we rented a car, Chiquila can be reached by private transport, taxi or bus from Cancun or by air from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Isla Mujeres or Cozumel. The ferries run regularly, taking about 30 minutes to reach Holbox. At just 36 kilometres long and one and a half kilometres wide, the island is not that big, so walking is perfect for exploration. Taxi service consists of golf cart-like ATVs for transportation, but renting bicycles or golf carts is another option for walking-weary, independent folks.
Once off the ferry, we decided to walk to our hotel, the perfect way to get a sense of place. The roads aren’t paved, but not bad enough to make rolling our luggage to our hotel, La Palapa, an unpleasant task. The island offers a good choice of hotels and restaurants with a few touristy shops sprinkled in for good measure. The newer ATM installation has alleviated the problem of getting money, since there are no banks on the island.
What to Do in Isla Holbox
The beach is wild and because the water is so shallow, it is not ideal for swimming. Swimming with and observing whale sharks, the largest living fish species on earth, draws many to the island. It’s only possible from June to September. But Holbox has so much more to offer year-round, including visits to two beautiful spots: Isla Pájaros (the island where birds nest and flock) and Isla de la Pasión, a sandy beach with birds and an observation tower. Truth is, walking along the beach to Punta de Cocos can’t be beat. After all, it’s simple, free and great exercise. While strolling this gorgeous stretch of shoreline, we spotted a variety of birds, interesting shells and even a starfish. As we passed by several properties lining the beach, I said a silent thank you for the law that makes all beaches public in Mexico. A few joggers and walkers passed by, along with a pair on horseback, but we mostly had the beach to ourselves.
Retracing our steps in the other direction, we set out to find the flamingos, spotting pink flecks several more miles away. Stopping along the way, we watched kite-surfers enjoying the wind and water and fishermen bringing in their catch of the day. We returned inland, admiring the mangroves along the way before returning to our island home at La Palapa.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.