Holbox, Mexico: the sign in front of the simple, thatched-roof, seaside bar bears a handwritten message: We don’t have Wi-Fi. Enjoy the beach. Drink tequila.
The world-wide web has arrived in Holbox. But anyone who comes to this island for internet engagement came to the wrong place. Holbox is all about being unplugged.
The transition begins by shuttle van as you leave behind the crushing chaos of the Cancun Airport. Gradually, billboards and urban sprawl give way to dense jungle and humble villages. Two and a half hours later, a short ferry ride completes the transformation. You have arrived in another universe – a simple, sun-washed paradise – Holbox Island.
Holbox is virtually devoid of cars. Instead, bicycles, golf carts, pedestrians and the occasional indignant iguana ply the white sand streets. The ramshackle town is painted in vivid, madcap colors. The residents, some 3,000 or so, fish and work basic trades for their livelihood. Unlike so many other Yucatán tourist meccas, Holbox still has a sense of innocence.
The 14-kilometer beach that rims the north shore of Holbox is the social spine of the island. Bohemian watering holes, low-rise bungalow hotels and coconut palm trees fringe the pristine strand. Fishing boats, bearing pelicans as bowsprits, bob in the sea. A protective sand bar reduces crashing waves to gentle laps, where children frolic in tranquil, crystalline water.
Until the balmy weather and tequila overcomes ambition, Holbox offers active options for visitors. The island is a fertile base for sport fishing tarpon, snapper and bone fish. Boat excursions explore the shores and showcase the local wildlife, including flamingos and crocodiles. From June until mid-September, snorkelers can swim with whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea. But mostly, what you do on Holbox is figure out what you do when you don’t have something to do: nap in a hammock, celebrate a fisherman’s catch, rediscover conversation.
That said, toward the end of each day on Holbox, there is a definite collective conclusion about ‘what to do’. In the late afternoon, a universal trance seems to seize the island’s inhabitants. Like zombies, everyone stumbles to the beach, taking positions on the pier, patches of sand and bar swings. They gather to witness what qualifies a real big deal in Holbox: the sunset.
As the blazing orb slips beneath the horizon, a man raises a conch shell to his lips. He blows slow, resonant tones until the fire in the sky flames out. Without the benefit of Wi-Fi transmission, digital enhancement or Google translation, the sounds he creates convey a message which is commonly understood. Thank you for another perfect day on Holbox.
Holbox, Mexico: When You Go
Casa Sandra was a pioneer when the hotel opened on a prime seafront strand in 2003. Artist-owner, Sandra Pérez, imbued this rustic-lux property with her own creations, as well as those of fellow Cuban artists. The 18 rooms and singular luxury villa are devoid of televisions, telephones and alarm clocks, and full of inspiration for blissful idleness.
Holbox is developing a reputation for culinary creativity to rival Yucatán sibling, Tulum. Colorful, kitschy and comfortable, Isla de Colobri is a family-run favorite in town. Order the coconut shrimp and a mind-altering margarita, and thank me later. Gringo-friendly Rosa Mexicano wins high scores for a convivial, alfresco setting, watermelon mojitos and legendary guacamole. Ground central for sunset watching and live music, Raices Beach Club and Marina is known for superlative ceviche and artful grilling of whatever is fresh from the sea.
VIP Tours is a one-stop shop for fishing, whale shark and island exploration excursions. Admirably, VIP Tours offers free boat outings for volunteers to help with beach trash removal.