Unplug yourself and take life slowly on a Mexican island
Dirt roads, patchy internet and power cuts just add to the authentic charm of Holbox
Holbox has been a popular tourist destination for years, particularly for mainland Mexicans, but its island status has sheltered it somewhat from the wheels of progress
‘Downtown’ on Holbox Island. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, but the area still retains its authenticity
Pink flamingos on the beach
Rustic buildings on Holbox
When it comes to choosing a holiday where relaxation is the goal, a digital detox must be strictly enforced. For me anyway. Whether at work or play, devices tend to get the better of me. But there’s almost no escaping wifi in the modern age, which means one must choose to put the smartphone away. (Yeah, like it’s a choice.)
So when a friend returned after six months working at a hostel on a little island off the north-west coast of Mexico with tales of digital desolation, I put down my phone for a moment.
Holbox Island isn’t some primitive tropical utopia. It has been a popular tourist destination for years, particularly for mainland Mexicans. But its island status has sheltered it somewhat from the wheels of progress.
Located on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox (which means ‘Black Hole’ in Mayan) is 40km long and only 1.5km wide. Ferries go back and forth each day from the mainland town of Chiquila. There are no cars allowed on the island (except for police vehicles) so locals get around in an assortment of buggies, scooters and motorbikes.
Cars are forbidden in order to protect the local habitat. But even if they were, most wouldn’t stand a chance on the island’s dirt road infrastructure. After heavy rainfall many routes literally become little rivers. So road rage must be left behind on the mainland. No complaints there. Besides the roads are the least of it. In the week we spent on Holbox power for part of the island went out for a couple of hours on two occasions. The only thing more inconvenient was when the water stopped flowing for a whole night a couple of days later. Then there’s the alleged internet. Of course there is no corner of the globe left where wifi cannot be accessed, but in many instances signal was either patchy or non-existent. All water off a ‘pato’s’ back for the inhabitants of Holbox Island. Living as they do in their secluded tropical paradise, they don’t seem all that concerned with access to decent wifi or the need to stay on top of global current affairs.
Of course, this all sounds like the naive ramblings of a westerner romanticising the simple life. However, I did conduct some deeply satisfying anecdotal research to support my delusions: many locals I spoke with had never even heard of Donald Trump, let alone his plans to build a wall to keep them out.
For Holbox Island, any wall built is more likely to keep European and North American holidaymakers out, and not the other way around.
The main industry is still fishing but the island also possesses a rich and tempting ecosystem that is the foundation for the growing tourism sector. Flamingos, pelicans, giant manta rays, as well as tropical fruits all add to the allure of the island. However, it is the frequent presence of the largest known fish species in existence – the whale shark – along its shores that has truly put the island on many travellers’ maps.
Tour operators offering day trips to swim with whale sharks can be found on every street corner. Reports from other tourists were entirely positive and frequently included melodramatic phrases such as ‘life-changing’, ‘a deeply spiritual encounter’ and other such hippy nonsense. We did not swim with whale sharks. Any day trip – however deeply spiritual an encounter could be – would take up one of our scarce days on vacation and we weren’t about to lose one unit of time swimming with sea monsters who could care less about us when we could be lying on a white sandy beach with pina coladas fed to us intravenously.
If adventure is your thang, Holbox has excellent kite surfing, bird watching and boat trips to bird sanctuaries and natural springs/cenotes. However, if, like me, sitting on the beach all day is what holidays are about, the island offers ample opportunity to do so.
Although getting from Ireland to Holbox Island in Mexico is neither cheap nor easy, once there everything from food to accommodation is a steal by European standards.
We stayed in a large, air-conditioned, en-suite private room at the Tribu Hostel for $40 (€35) per night. The room was huge and had a private balcony. But there are numerous other accommodation options ranging from the most basic hostel dorm to five-star luxury.
Eating out is very cheap, especially if you’re happy to eat seafood morning, noon and night. (The exception being lobster which, despite caught locally, was still on the expensive side).
The town square has numerous bars and restaurants, including a really good sushi joint, to choose from and has a warm and bustling atmosphere most nights of the week.
It’s clear Holbox Island is no secret with construction raging in many spots. But it is yet to become as over developed as other Mexican hotspots such as Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. So it would be advisable to get there sooner rather than later.
HOW TO . . . HOLBOX ISLAND
Getting there There are no direct flights from Dublin to Cancun but Delta, Air France and American Airlines all offer routes with one stopover in various American cities for around €900 return. The easiest and cheapest way to reach Holbox from Cancun is on the daily direct bus for Chiquilá (three hours), the closest mainland town by ferry. The bus leaves at 7.45am, 10.30am, 12.45 pm and finally at 1.45pm each day and costs $65 pesos (€3) per person. If, like us, you arrive after the last bus it is advisable to pre-order a spot in a taxi shuttle service which will take about two hours and cost approximately €55. This can be organised by the hotel where you plan to stay on the island. At Chiquila a 15-minute ferry trip to Holbox Island will cost $80 pesos (€4) for adults and $50 pesos (€2.30) for children (en-holbox.com/transport/ferry- chiquila-holbox)
Eating Viva Zapata Grill Calle Damero s/n, Isla Holbox México, vivazapataholbox.com
Sleeping Tribu Hostel rates as low as $10 (€9) per person, tribuhostel.com; Casa Del Viento 3 Star Hotel Around €80 per night; booking.com/hotel/mx/casa-del-viento-isla-holbox
Drinking The Hot Corner Gastro Bar; facebook.com/thehotcornerholbox