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Cancun is a super-charged vacation destination — high-rise beach resorts attempt to out-do each other with appealing activities, world-class shopping and nightclubs that throb into the wee hours. While many visitors are content with barreling through their holiday from start to finish, there may be others who would like to take it down a notch for a couple of days and take a vacation from their vacation. For these travelers, easy-going Isla Holbox (pronounced i-la holebosh) presents an ideal alternative to fast-paced Cancun.
“Isla Holbox is just one of the many treasures of Cancun,” said Jesus Almaguer, director of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s a secluded village forgotten by time, where you’ll find sandy streets, thatched-roof cottages and tiny restaurants serving the freshest seafood around. Holbox is a culinary gem that features lobster pizza as its specialty, among others. Its laidback atmosphere makes it easy to unwind and forget all the troubles of the outside world.”
Isla Holbox lies about 40 miles northwest of Cancun. Clients can get to Isla Holbox by plane, but most people arrive via a 35-minute ferry ride departing from the town of Chiquila. There are generally five crossings a day from early morning to evening. The island’s size actually varies, since it’s made up of shifting sand banks cut through with canals. The inhabited part of the island is on the west side, about seven miles long and a mile wide. There are about 1,600 residents on the island, and legend has it that many families are descended from pirates intermarrying with Maya women. Today, most inhabitants support themselves through fishing and, increasingly, tourism. There are very few cars on the island, which contribute to the caught-in-time ambience. Visitors get around via golf carts, motorbikes and bicycles on streets made of white sand.
There are no high-rise hotels on Isla Holbox. Instead, travelers will find a selection of boutique properties emphasizing the tranquil, natural surroundings of the island. Two of these are Mexico Boutique Hotels properties.
CasaSandra is owned by Sandra Perez, an artist and writer who has furnished the hotel with original work by Cuban artists and natural furnishings, such as mirror frames made of cinnamon sticks, giving the property a laidback ambience of a beach house decorated by a cultivated eye. Rooms have inspired names such as Ilusion (Illusion), Amanecer (Dawn) and Sentido (Feeling). CasaSandra has 12 guestrooms, a Luxury Villa, Internet service, a pool, a lounge bar, a restaurant and a spa.
Eco-conscious Villas Flamingos has 18 thatched-roofed accommodations, all with balconies and hammocks to take in the sea views. It’s an easy walk into town from the hotel, but it’s also far enough away to avoid an intrusive presence.
Beachfront Villas Flamingos has a pool, small library, spa services and Internet connectivity in the rooms. Adding a nice touch in the bathrooms are showerheads constructed out of seashells.
The main order of the day on Isla Holbox is kicking back and relaxing, enjoying the natural environment and wandering the sandy streets to see which restaurant tempts you with the day’s catch. While there are established restaurants such as Restaurante Cine Lupita (the decor showcases photos from Isla Holbox circa 1940s), travelers also have the option of catching a bite in a comida corrida, an informal kitchen at a local’s home.
Swimming with whale sharks is one of the island’s main lures for tourists. Migrating whale sharks, measuring up to 40 feet long, congregate off the coast of Holbox each May through September, with the height of the season in July and August. Although these are the largest fish in the world, they are actually harmless denizens of the deep.
Visitors can also book boat trips to explore Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island), a sanctuary for 140 species of birds; float along the waters of the Yalahau Lagoon, where they may catch a glimpse of pink flamingos, white herons, pelicans and many other bird species; or boat to Cenote Yalahau where travelers can swim in a natural freshwater pool. The best time to visit is in the morning, when the cenote is often visited by dolphins.
Mexico Tourism Boardwww.visitmexico.com