We just returned from 6 days in Mexico and had a lovely time. Our dear friends, Bruce and Rosie, helped us plan our trip. Rosie is from Cancun; over a few meals in the last several months, she helped us map out a trip that turned out to be one of my absolute favorites.
Over the last seven years of traveling together, Scott and I have slowly refined our trips. We have learned that we like the areas that feel authentic—no canned tourist traps. We really don’t love resorts where you eat all your meals at the same place and pay big prices. We really love food experiences. And going to bed early. And pina coladas on the beach.
Southwest Airlines now flies directly from Austin to Cancun, which makes getting to the Yucatan Peninsula easy. Rosie told us about Isla Holbox, northwest of Cancun by about 2 hours, and it turned out to be our spot. We also spent three days in Playa del Carmen. Over the next few posts, I will highlight my favorite things from the trip.
Holbox is remote. Leaving the Cancun airport, we quickly found our road to Chiquila and started out. We mistakenly passed one gas station, certain there would be another. Another 15-20 miles went by and we had not seen another car, yet alone another gas station. But we did see a sign that said the next gas station was in 145 kilometers. So we turned around. Darn it. Lesson learned.
We think without the gas hiccup, it would have taken us less than two hours to get to Chiquila. We parked in a very sketchy looking gated parking lot, in a long line of gated parking lots where all the parking lot keepers were waving flags and yelling for us to enter. And so we did. And then a nice man on a rickety looking taxi bike thing loaded our bags and took us to the ferry, less than ¼ mile away.
The two competing ferry companies yell over each other to get you to buy from them. Welcome to Mexico! We picked the one that seemed to be leaving soonest, even though the boat looked like it had seen better days. Our luggage went in the front part, along with the avocados and onions that needed a ride. We were loaded on the back. No air-conditioning on this one, but the one on the return trip did have air-conditioning.
In about 25 minutes, we landed at Holbox, and were greeted with another taxi driver, this time on a golf cart, to drive us to our hotel. On dirt roads, we travelled by golf cart to Casa las Tortugas, were greeted by a lovely woman named Azul, whom we later learned was saving money to open her own hotel. Azul showed us to our room, which was a beach front bungalow, with a hammock on the shaded porch. The room was charming, simple, and all we needed. The view out front was remarkable. The beach was the most beautiful I have seen.
At Rosie and Bruce’s recommendation, we found lobster pizza for dinner that night, and had our first pina colada of many. I am not a big pina colada drinker, but something about the fresh juices and the beach turn me into a pina colada fan. And those we had at Holbox did not disappoint. Fresh, lovely, huge, and cheap. I think our meal that night was about $13 bucks, and we had an appetizer. It was open air, full of Mexicans, and the waiter did not speak english. Perfection.
Each morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel. There were always two options–something sweet and something savory, along with toast with homemade jam and fresh squeezed juices. Lovely.
The next day, with the help of our hotel friend, Azul, we rented a golf cart and explored the whole island. We drove to one end of the road (though the island went another 20 miles only accessible by boat) and swam in shallow, beautiful waters without another human in sight. We drove to the other end and did the same. We had civeche for lunch, in an open air restaurant. Scott had a beer (cheaper than water) and I had a jamaica water (hibiscus tea). Yum.
In the picture below, you can see where we parked our golf cart and how far out we could wade, ankle deep in the water.
The next day, we went on a whale shark tour. We were a little worried that this would be canned, as tours tend to be. But Bruce and Rosie made us promise to do it, and so we did. And it did not disappoint. We were on a boat with 2 guides and 8 other tourists—French, Mexicans, and Americans. We drove out for about an hour and then joined a circle of about 6-8 other boats who had already found the sharks. We put on snorkel equipment and two at a time, jumped in and swam just above the sharks. We found two of them, and each of us had two turns in the water. We then boated a bit further, unclear what would be next. Our guides gave us spools of fishing line with a hook and a weight on the end, and told us to fish for lunch. We each sort of laughed and thought, “no really, what is for lunch?” A few of the folks caught fish but mainly one of the guides would drop a hook in the water and two seconds later pull out a fish, repeatedly. And then we snorkeled while one of the guildes fileted the fish, soaked it in lime juice for an hour or so, and proceeded to make the freshest ceviche I have ever had. They passed around a bag of chips, handed us a water or coke, whichever we preferred, and we had ourselves lunch. Back on the boat, we headed to the farthest edge of Holbox, and walked in the lagoons. Beautiful, remote, and vast. Unlike anything I have seen before. Back on the boat, we headed home, encountering a flock of pink flamingos on our way. 8 am until 3 pm.
We ate at the hotel that night, enjoying a lovely meal without shoes on. Our waitress was a beautiful young woman named Luna, who had multiple friendship bracelets on each of her limbs. I asked her about one of them because it looked different than what I had seen before. I asked if I could buy one from her and she said yes. She delivered it to me the next day, having stayed up most of the night making it. I wish I could help her start her own little friendship bracelet business. She was delightful.
The rest of out time in Hotbox was spent laying in lounge chairs, exploring the cute town, swinging in the hammock, and doing very little. The town has bright colors and funny little things to see. Lots of locals riding bikes, meandering through town and taking life slow.
Scott and I want to go back. Maybe tomorrow. And stay longer. There was one little piece of property for sale–a 3 bedroom home right on the water. We discussed in great detail the idea of buying it and moving. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Our gastro systems are happy to be back on US soil.
But here are the things I want to remember for our next trip or to share with those who may want to go. Except maybe don’t go. Because we want to keep this little place our secret.
- Gas up the car immediately, because once you are out of Cancun, THERE ARE NO MORE OPTIONS. Or maybe, hire a small Cessna. There is a small airstrip in town–that is just dirt.
- Pack a lunch for the drive because there is no “grab and go” spot on your way out of town.
- When you reach Chiquila, park in any of the lots, they pare pretty much all the same price. You pay when you return for your car. We realized that our car did not lock at this time. But, lo and behold, our car was still in one piece when we returned. Parking is about $2 a day.
- Get pesos at the airport, because ATMs are few and par between and you need cash for the ferry.
- Buy only a one-way ferry ticket, because there are two ferry companies and you really want to ride on the one leaving soonest..
- At the Casa de Tortugas, bring your own shampoo, conditioner, body soap, etc, because their organic versions are fairly useless and sparsely supplied.
- We really didn’t need to pack exercise clothes, or shoes for that matter. And we probably could have gone without underwear or pants of any kind. We pretty much lived in swimsuits, a hat, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.
- Explore the island by golf cart.
- Do the shark tour. It is worth it.
- Try to quickly get on Mexican time–which is not a time zone, it is a mentality. Things happen perfectly slowly in Mexico.