Mexico is one of my favourite countries. The food, variety of landscapes, people, traditions, cultures and colours make me buzz with excitement and always leave me wanting more.
I have not yet had the chance to visit the Pacific coast of the country, but on the Atlantic / Carribean side Isla Holbox has been my most memorable spot so far.
It is located 25 minutes via ferry/boat north of the top point of the Yucatan Peninsula and you can only get there via the teeny tiny town of Chiquilá. This is where tourists park their cars and hitch a ride on one of two ferries or small fishing boats that look like they could possibly not make the trip (we opted for the red ferry company and tickets cost 20 USD which was a total rip off but hey ho).
Once on the island, you wont see a single car but rather a multitude of golf buggys, quad bikes and bicycles. Most people are bare foot and everyone is incredibly relaxed and smiley.
Some say that this small town is the new Tulum because it compares to the way the latter used to be 20 years ago. All I can say having also been to Tulum, is that I hope Holbox does not transform or become similar because it is far more wonderful the way it is currently.
The centre of this tiny island is made up of dirt streets and colourful houses with hand painted murals and signs inviting you in for tacos, churros or embroidered dresses. Everything is re-used (maybe because all, including fresh water has to arrive via boat) so whether it be bottle tops, bottles themselves, drift wood or rope - an art sculpture, swing or feature wall will be produced from the waste.
There is one line of small, boutique hotels along the beach and then a 'centre' of town where you find the shops and restaurants is a 1-5 minute walk from most accommodation. We stayed at Casa Tortuga which was utterly idyllic and perfectly situated. The rooms are named after the stars, moon or flowers and people eat dinner in their bikinis straight from the beach. The no fuss, no frills vibe is exactly what you hope to find island living but so often don't get because things have been dressed up and smartened to look more expensive.
There is a swimming pool, yoga studio with complimentary classes each morning (book your slot on arrival or it fills up) and a massage room where you can have treatments. Every corner of this wonderful property is different, and round each corner a surprise in every pop of colour you could imagine. The best rooms are right on the beach, but all are decorated with driftwood, linen, white lace and have polished stone floor-ceiling walls/floors and shell decorated mirrors in the bathrooms.
The main restaurant Mandarina is where one eats breakfast (included) on the sand in the morning sun. Every fresh fruit juice, acai bowl or smoothie you could possibly want are on the menu, as well as home-made danish pastries, toasts and eggs for those wanting something a little heartier. The wifi in the restaurant is super for those 'working from home' too.
Casa Tortuga happened to have the best beach set up on the island (some argue hotel Catalina does, which is 2 hotels down) and I would have been perfectly happy going from room, to beach, to hotel restaurant on repeat for a week. However, I had a list of other food spots to try and so we wondered out and explored other parts of the island which of course, made our stay even more special.
For food, these were the best:
Luuma (casa tortuga 2nd restaurant) for heavy tapas and delicious cocktails. Outdoors with a jungle vibe and great music.
Mahi - the best guac on the island (and possibly the world in my opinion). Fresh fish is what they do best with a Mexican twist. Think tuna tostadas, shrimp tacos etc. We went back 3 times.
Piedrasanta Holbox - meant to be the 'fanciest' restaurant on the island and definitely the most romantic. Outdoors, great vibe and good food (especially the vegetarian options).
La Tapatia - meat only, local tacos.
Las planchas - authentic mexican spot for lunch. Go for the Baja fish tacos.
El Chapulim - traditional interior design and no menu. Go early to get a table and make sure you're hungry.
For drinks -
Ser Esencia at SerCasandra is a mojito shack on the beach, great for sunset drinks.
Mandarina at Casa Tortugas turns from delicious breakfast into a fresh, simple lunch spot and then a gorgeous sunset drinks area with a big open fire pit, sofas on the sand and the best alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktails with fresh fruit juices and spices from the island.
Clandestino is a coffee shop which recently opened a second location on the island. The coffee, iced chai lattes, matcha and smoothies were to-die-for, as were the interiors of the place. There is a bakery area where they make and sell possibly the best banana bread I've ever tried as well as vegan brownies and granola to take home (yes some came back to London). We went here minimum once a day and I still dream about the smooth, stone ceiling to wall surfaces and shiny coffee machines that look like they should be in a hotel in Beverly Hills rather than this dusty (but charming) island on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Activity wise, my most special memory of the trip was renting bicycles and cycling to the furthest western point of the island to an isolated beach with the most incredible views of the sunset. Take your own drinks, towels and speaker to create some very memorable moments.
You can rent a fishing boat, and depending on the season head off into the deeper waters to find turtles, whales and all other kinds of local wildlife. There are Kayak trips to see the fluorescent algae once the sun has gone down, and an island nearby with natural cenotes and a resident (friendly) alligator.
The island as a great selection of small boutiques selling anything from watercolours to bikinis and pottery pieces to take home and remind you of your trip for years to come. There is only one cash machine on the island (which runs out of money regularly) and many places don't take card. Prepare for this by taking money out at the airport or before you leave home.
To get to Holbox, there are direct flights from London to Cancun (nearest airport) and then rent a car or take a taxi for 2 hours to reach the ferry port. Once on Holbox, there are golf buggys to help you with your luggage and take you to your hotel.
If Mexico is on your travel bucket-list, I couldn't recommend Isla Holbox more. It has so much character, still remains off the beaten track (just) and if you can bare to put your phone on airplane mode I'd say the perfect place to really, really switch-off.