Isla Holbox is Yucatan’s anti-Cancun

The archway from my Villa Delfines leading to Isla Holbox's beach.
The archway from my Villa Delfines leading to Isla Holbox’s beach.
By John Henderson
Special to Tribune Newspapers
ISLA HOLBOX, Mexico – I watched the dolphins swim and play and feed in the little lagoon a 10-minute boat ride from my beach hut. If they kept swimming, turned the Yucatan Peninsula’s northeast corner and swam south, in 60 miles they’d hit Cancun.

Sixty miles? After one day too long in the cement jungle of American chains and drunk tourists of Cancun, the unspoiled island of Isla Holbox felt another galaxy away.

Isla Holbox (IS-la HOLE-bosh) is a sliver of white sand and crushed shells 18 miles long and a mile wide. There is no golf course, but golf carts are the main mode of transportation.

A golf cart taxi picked me up at the harbor after a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland, and the driver whisked me down the dirt roads as if headed for the first tee. We passed the main village with its colonial square lined with outdoor restaurants serving local fish and guacamole made at your table.

We hit the white-sand beach and he dropped me off at my hotel. Like most Holbox accommodations, Hotel Villas Delfines ($80 a night) was built in Mayan tradition. They used the same round, bamboo design with pointy thatched roofs but those Mayans didn’t have hammocks on their decks and hot water pouring out of conch shells in the showers.

I spent my week in February reading in lanais chairs under palm trees on the beach and drinking at Bar Tuuch (“belly button” in Yucatec Maya), a small, square bamboo beach bar with swings as bar stools.

Holbox also rests in the Yum Balam reserve where a boat took me to see brown pelicans and herons, among 150 species of birds in the area, feeding chicks in treetops. It’s only crowded in July when snorkelers flock to swim with 15-ton whale sharks which come to Holbox to feed on plankton.

Tired of Cancun? Isla Holbox is the anti-Cancun.