Isla Holbox, Mexico

Photo: Dronepicr [CC BY 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons
Cheap cervezas. A flamboyance of flamingos. Hammocks. Kiteboarders. Lobster fishermen. Overgrown mangroves. Sandy roads. Street art. Whale sharks. This is what Tulum used to look like. So where do you go now?

The Yucatán Peninsula’s best-kept secret is now Isla Holbox. Never heard of it? Perfect. That’s how many people would like to keep it. The Black Hole, as the Mayans called it, is still undeveloped. Tourists have yet to take over the long (26 miles by less than one-mile wide) island. Its south shore is still covered with dense mangroves. Scrubby vegetation and low concrete houses, painted in cheerful colors, fill the interior. While a windswept, white-sand beach lines the north coast. It sounds like a pretty nice black hole.

Due to its location—six miles off the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula—Holbox used to be run by pirates. It was also a place where the Mayans fled when they were attacked. But hurricanes were—and still are—frequent. The island was destroyed and rebuilt many times over. Despite government pleas to relocate, no one wants to leave. It’s easy to see why.

Photo: Hotel Punta Caliza

Isla Holbox isn’t a quick escape. A flight to Cancún is followed by a two-hour drive to Chiquilá and a half-hour ferry to the island. Then you either have to walk or ride a golf cart to your hotel. There are few cars on Holbox. Though it’s easy to rent golf carts, mopeds, or bicycles, most people just walk, usually barefoot, once they get situated. Kiteboarders come during the windy winter months. Whale sharks congregate here from May or June until September. The beach—with its hammock-strung palapas right in the water—is a year-round draw. It’s a new boutique hotel that finally convinced you to come.

Stunning Hotel Punta Caliza just opened earlier this year. A Mexican artist and his wife from Guadalajara built the sustainable hotel using cedar from their tree farm in Tabasco. (The woodsy scent now mixes with the salty air.) A shallow pool, instead of corridors, connect the lounge and the 12 rooms. The result is a dramatic, unique hotel that features minimal spaces, clean lines, and earth tones.

You’re welcomed to Punta Caliza with a margarita, a bit of design history, and a tour. Cool concrete floors, board games, and a now-quiet bar are in the lounge. This is where breakfast is served in the morning and impromptu cocktail hours occur before guests head their separate ways for dinner. It’s also next to a cedar tower that you can climb to find another common space and views of the entire island. A walk through the courtyard pool brings you to your king suite. With little decoration, the room feels bigger than it really is. The high ceiling makes it feel even larger. It has a comfy bed and another door that leads to your private plunge pool. You’d be happy to stay right here. But there’s more.

Though you can’t see it from your suite, the beach is just a few minutes from the hotel. Punta Caliza even has its own beach club. Chairs and sun loungers, pillows and hammocks are set up right on the sand. There’s a little bar, serving just beer and margaritas, as well. But the best part is the view of the nearly-clear water. You immediately see why everyone wants to keep Holbox a secret. Now you do, too.


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