When I take a vacation, I like to vacate my normal routine. When we lived in rural Kentucky, for example, Mike and I would hightail back into the city. When we lived in the city we’d hightail it to the woods. So now that we live in the semi-arid countryside San Miguel where did we go? We flew to the beach!
Mikey is the Master of finding offbeat places for us to relax and he truly outdid himself this time. He discovered the island of Holbox (pronounced Whole-bosh) just north of the beachy Mexican Las Vegas you know as Cancun. Here, let the interwebs describe it:
Isla Holbox is an island north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo State. It’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, which is home to flamingos and pelicans. The island is between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, with waters rich in marine life, including sea turtles. Island highlights include laid-back Holbox Village and Punta Coco Beach.
It is full of charm and seafood. Oh, and margaritas. We went there to take a launch out into the sea to see the whale sharks. Not just see them, but to SWIM WITH THEM! Alas, fates had other plans as a Hurricane Earl swept past blasting Belize below and stirring up the ocean sending the big guys out past the reach of the small boats you take to get to where they lounge. Boo hoo, looks like we’ll have to go back! (Also, we send our love and good wishes to everyone who suffered for real from this natural disaster.)
I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you as to what being here feels like too much. It’s absolutely charming, laid back and relaxing. Want a hotel recommendation? We stayed at Marvin Suites, and were quite comfortable there, due to Marvin being an amazingly welcoming host, but his place is not on the beach. For the beach you have to book farther out than we did. But we picked out the next place we’re going to stay. Hotel Mawinbe. It’s beautiful, on the beach and full of that ocean air you go to places like this for.
The restaurants are fun and most are delicious. You can get lobster pizza made in real pizza ovens in any number of places, and of course seafood is a ubiquitous fresh option. We enjoyed the absolute BEST seafood of our lives at a dive on the beach called Raices Beach Club. It was filled with people from everywhere enjoying cervesas, margaritas and super fresh seafood. We had the seafood platter that featured an array of the best the world has to offer cooked to absolute perfection in some sort of seafood broth that in itself could have been a meal. Some places specifically offer gluten free choices (including pasta!) and there truly is something for everyone here. There are also some small tiendas in case you want to assemble some of your own snacks.
The shopping is a lot of fun. There are all sorts of interesting places to pick up Mexican souvenirs from various regions as well as trinkets labeled with Isla Holbox and whale sharks. There was a lovely couple with Oaxacan imports in what I’m calling the Annex off the main road behind one of the sushi places and across from that is a clothing and accessories shop that has a bunch of cute things. About a block away the husband of the cute clothier also has lovely things. But you know what? This place is so small, you’ll have a chance to see them all in a couple of hours, so don’t worry about me not providing names and directions.
This place is all about visiting the whale sharks. You hire an outfit who then send you out in small groups early in the morning in a launch maybe 12 feet long. You rock and roll in the on the waves for maybe 2 hours until you reach where these big boys are. You get out and SWIM WITH THEM!! They are sweet and only eat tiny krill, so though these sharks are friendly. I can’t wait to go back and have another try when there’s no hurricane lurking about making it hard on shark lovers. We’ll try sometime next year between June and September (optimal time when they are about). We’ll book with Willy’s Whale Shark Tours again too. They’re cool, in line with everyone else’s pricing and have a solid rep.
We went horseback riding along the beach one late afternoon, and that was delightful. The horses were in fine shape and nicely taken care of -if you know me, you know this is super important to me. This link shows some additional photos, but you DO NOT have to pre-arrange a ride with them like we did. You can just walk over and make your plans directly with the folks when you arrive. The deposit we paid went for nothing, didn’t hold us a spot and didn’t go to the family who takes care of the horses. Just pay the folk directly when you get there. They are super nice! We also enjoyed a half day boat trip to take a look around some of the smaller islands as well as take a dip in a freshwater sink hole filled with joyous kids, teens and the rest of us.
It is beautiful!! There are a ton of places with beach beds set up. The hotel I suggest staying in below has chairs guests can use, as do all the other hotels along the beach. We weren’t staying at one of those this trip so we plopped down on our towels. Not as much fun. Some have swings!
There are some fun drink shacks and eateries right on the beach too. A couple of the drink dives have swings set up right at the bar! You just sit there swinging, talking to folks from all over and sipping your mezcal whiling away half a day waiting for your horseback ride, or dinner, or shopping spree.
We flew into Cancun, rented a little car and spent the night in a lovely hotel away from the nutty Cancun hotel strips. It’s called El Re Del Caribe and is an eco-hotel. Check it out here. The concierge sent us to a festive restaurant for super. We walked there but took a cab back.
From here we drove to Chiquilla (about 2+ hours) and put the rental in a secure parking lot (there are tons, each about $50 per day or portion thereof). Here are other options. From here you get one of the dudes with a cargo bike to cycle your stuff out onto the pier. You buy your tickets from one of the 2 companies, load up and swoosh over! Your ferry will probably not lose its ‘brakes’ when you’re getting ready to dock, like ours did. You probably won’t blow through one of the wooden piers, through another and up onto the abutment like ours did. But this is Mexico! No major harm was done. They unloaded everyone, got whatever gear was stuck, unstuck and turned around and picked up the folks going back the other way. You may see where our mishap took place when you come, because, you know these things take time to fix, lol.
- Bring a little money to purchase a wrap for the beach, they’re cute here.
- Same too for some souvenirs.
- There’s wifi everywhere so you can post photos across all your platforms and make your friends very happy for you.
- My AT&T Mexican cell phone had ZERO signal here while Mikey’s Telcel worked a treat.
- You can get necessities here so don’t worry about packing in a whole bunch of junk. If it’s necessary, likely you can get it here.
- There’s even an emergency room in case something unfortunate happens. I don’t know how well stocked they are though because nothing happened to us….lol.
- Rent a bike!
- Bring shoes or sandals you don’t mind getting wet, because when it rains it pours here!
- It’s HOT during midday, and things kind of shut down. This is a great time to take a siesta!
- If you rent a car, be sure to DROP A PIN on your maps GPS so you can find your drop off location in the foggy brain of early morning. We had a bit of a hustle remembering where our rental agency was – they had 3 offices each incorrectly located in the GPS system.
So that’s all I’m telling you. The rest you need to just come and see for yourself. Don’t ruin the surprises in store for you. Don’t do too much research. Just book your hotel and whale shark tour early, and let the rest unfold.