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Hiding Out On Holbox, Mexico’s Barefoot-Luxury Islet

Car-free as well as carefree, Holbox, Mexico is a pedestrianised island just off the Yucatán Peninsula which harks back to a more bohemian era on the Riviera Maya.

Isla Holbox (pronounced “hol-bosh”) may be just a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, but this slip of an islet in the Gulf of Mexico feels ripped from another time. Wi-Fi is spotty. You’ll find no cars on its white-sand paths, only golf carts and bicycles. Fringed palapas make up many roofs, under which rattan lampshades and hand-woven dreamcatchers sway lazily in the breeze. And you’ll want to arrive with cash; few ATMs on the island are reliable and, while a good many venues now accept card payment, cold hard pesos are still the only option for many of the smaller shops or food trucks. As bohemian as it is, there’s still a strong thread of luxury and sophistication woven into the fabric of this destination, with thoughtful cuisine, stylish and sumptuous hotels, and a strong creative vibrancy that makes this low-key hideout truly special.


Punta Caliza

On the fringe of the town centre and just a couple minutes walk to the beach – shoes optional – Punta Caliza is an enclave of architectural magic. Twelve rooms sit on the lip of a geometric pool, each of which offers direct access into the cool waters, or lounge at their intimate beach club where you can order lunch bites and plenty of tequila cocktails between swims in the azure water. Rooms are airy with soaring, peaked wood-beam ceilings and traditional palapa roofs; a minimalistic white aesthetic meets lush red cedar harvested from the owner’s family plantation. Breakfast is reliably delicious, with a spread of fresh fruit, honey and granola, fresh juices and specials such as a heaping serving of chilaquiles with egg. Embark on one of the hotel’s activities that include fishing and mezcal tours, or simply sit back and submit to an al fresco full-body massage at the top of Punta Caliza’s breezy tower. Staff – genuinely warm and friendly – are more than happy to help arrange this or any other request to ensure your stay goes off without a hitch.


Las Nubes de Holbox

The last stop at the island’s northern end before the lush Yum Balam Nature Reserve begins, it doesn’t get any more peaceful than this eco-boutique resort. The 26 bungalows and suites are inspired by the surrounding nature and Mayan heritage, with thatched roofs and wooden accents throughout, assuring both comfort and regional authenticity. Decor veers toward the simpler side – but why compete with the exceptional sea views that many rooms boast? This is but one example of how nature is allowed to take centre stage at Las Nubes, which prioritises sustainability through LED lighting, biodegradable products and packaging, and protecting local sea turtles by altering its external lights to avoid confusion during the hatching period when hatchlings are guided by moonlight. As one of the island’s most isolated hotels from light pollution, you may see not only a particularly sparkling night sky but a better chance to glimpse the glowing bioluminescent plankton in the gently lapping waters.


Ser CasaSandra

Named for the hotel’s Cuban owner, visual artist and spiritual leader Sandra Perez, this sophisticated artistic bolthole feels more like a well-designed beach manor than a hotel. Entering via the main house, which sits on a particularly tranquil stretch of beachfront “road” on the northern side of the island, an open-air living space is filled with well-chosen modern furnishings, antiques and colourful art – tropical-hued circles are a theme throughout, but you’ll never spot the same scene twice, with every corner of the property featuring individual touches. The 18 rooms handle the rustic-luxe aesthetic with finesse, mixing exposed wood beams, bright white walls, rattan hanging light fixtures, and ornate macrame hammocks on the rooms’ balconies. Ser Esencia is undoubtedly one of the island’s top culinary destinations, with refined regionally inspired dishes, while the Cuban-inflected Mojito beach club honours Sandra’s homeland with its Cubano flavours. Holistic well-being is the philosophy here, and the AHAL wellness centre features a vast menu of treatments and retreats that go well beyond the usual hotel spa experience.


LUUMA Gathering Bar

Put on your deserted island best for this fashionable, bijou bar-and-tapas spot that epitomises Holbox’s boho vibes, hidden behind a stone wall and shaded by towering palms beneath which a cluster of beachy lights set the mood for its handful of tables. The well-curated food menu has a global outlook, with panko-crusted prawns, juicy lamb kofta, and a light and zesty basil sorbet. The cocktails are also excellent, with refreshing options that include takes on classic drinks such as the pina colada. Be sure to peruse the connected treasure box boutique, Le Bazaar, that’s filled with island-chic items by local artisans such as chunky gold jewellery and gauzy handmade dresses.



This cash-only cafe sits just a block from the beach, offering ample shade and plenty of fans to escape from the heat, alongside a wide menu of beautifully-prepared healthy eats such as açaí bowls and ultra-fresh, unadulterated juices (no water added) and smoothies. Filling plates of eggs and roasted vegetables will sort you out for breakfast, while lunch options include open-face sandwiches on fresh focaccia or crostone that are heaped with a green mix, Oaxaca cheese, and a variety of seafood add-ons: the grilled prawns with honey and chiltepin (a berry-like chilli) is an interesting preparation that pairs remarkably well with the cheese and crisp greens.


Mr. Happy

At the southern edge of the town centre, this super-chilled brunch spot boasts excellent and generously sized house-made waffles topped with fruit, eggs – or even fried chicken. Under a palapa-thatched roof, retro-mod vases and lighting are paired with rattan furnishings and textiles that look pulled straight from a Moroccan market. Chill-out tunes and chatting friends set the soundtrack for this whimsical spot where surfboards and mid-century televisions live in harmony. Sit in the front to watch bicyclists amble through this quiet fringe of town, or head to the back, where low-slung banquettes in earthy hues could transport you to a Saharan outpost. Mr. Happy is ideal for whiling away a morning with iced coffees, fresh juices and a good book. Added bonus, the Wi-Fi connection is strong here (but we advise sticking with your book).


Temoc Tacos & Mezcal 

Although it occupies a more active corner of “downtown” Holbox, Temoc exudes a certain calm and restraint. When the sun sets, grab a seat in the restaurant’s garden set aglow with fairy lights. As the name suggests, tacos – of all sorts: classic, vegetarian, premium (think chapulines (grasshopper) with matcha sauce) – are on the menu, but don’t overlook the tangy and fresh ceviches that show off the local flavours of the sea. A small stage often plays host to talented musicians who will keep you in your seat long after your meal has finished – although the tasty mezcalitas, made with mezcal and fresh ingredients like habanero-pineapple or hibiscus, also help. (Tip: If you like the look of Punta Caliza, pop into Temoc’s connecting boutique, Apollo, which is run by the hotel’s Claudia Muñoz and is from where the property sources its decor.)


Cenote Yalahau and the three-island tour

Spend a morning on the calm Gulf to explore the bounty of the natural surroundings, of which Cenote Yalahau is the main attraction. Set opposite Holbox near the mainland, and a 30-minute boat ride away, this crystal-clear cenote is a refreshing place to spend the morning. Once a pirate hideaway, now its chilled, spring-fed waters shaded by the thick surrounding jungle offer modern-day explorers an isolated respite. Your boat excursion continues to Passion Island, a dot in the Gulf surrounded by knee-high water and mangroves. Step ashore to spot iguanas and climb to the top of the viewing tower for a panoramic look at the paradisiacal surroundings. Finally, Pajaros (Bird) Island gives exactly what the name promises, its trees are heavy with gulls, pelicans and herons – you may even spot some vibrant pink flamingos.


Mandarina Beach Club

This beach club and seafront restaurant is part of Casa Las Tortugas, one of Holbox’s most iconic resorts, which unfortunately suffered a devastating fire in autumn 2022. The hotel is actively rebuilding to reopen to guests soon, and in the meantime, Mandarina is where to get a taste of Tortugas. Against a soundtrack of low-key beats, numerous plush loungers and large swinging beds sit beneath palapas and swaying palm fronds for a stylish day at the beach. Service is attentive and on-point, and the menu features expertly prepared sea bass and other regional fare. Stick around until the evening, when a bonfire is lit and the sky is saturated with the brilliant pinks and oranges of a perfect sunset over the sea.


Night kayak to bioluminescence

The best chance at seeing this natural wonder is from June to September, although it is still possible to see the bioluminescence – even if only in small amounts – throughout the year. Although no matter what time of year you go, the darker the night sky the better, so avoid a full moon. A nighttime kayak journey into the coastal waters of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, away from the light pollution of Holbox’s hotels, offers up the ideal conditions. Stopping at a sand bar about 50-80 metres from the shore, you can get out and swish your hands through the sea, oxidising and activating the plankton to spark and glow at your touch. This is also an excellent opportunity to look up, where a deep black sky full of stars makes constellations easy to find.


Snorkel with whale sharks

Although seeing whale sharks and bioluminescence must be done in separate executions, they are inexorably linked: the bioluminescent plankton is seasonal, and the whale sharks only appear once the plankton is bountiful as they are drawn to the region to feed on it. Like the bioluminescence, the best time to see whale sharks is June to September – you’ll be unlikely to find a tour outside of this season. Prepare for a 6-8-hour boat excursion, where a team will help spot them and safely guide you to snorkel alongside the gentle giants. Keep a look out for giant manta rays, as well as dolphins, sea turtles and other stops along the way to snorkel alongside coral and other reef life.

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