A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part III

Day Five

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After a breakfast of fresh papaya juice and egg casserole with rustic potatoes and vegetables (and copious amounts of buttered bread), we decided to spend some time exploring the island.

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Today was the only day that low tide was mid-day, allowing us a chance to visit the beautiful sandbar that we had heard about on the other end of the beach.

We rented a golf cart and set about our mini-adventure.

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A short ride down the beachfront took us to the “end of the road.” We found ourselves at Punta Mosquito, an endless shallow sea of impossibly clear water, sundrenched hammocks, and soft, sandy beaches with virtually no one in sight.

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We spent the morning lounging in the clear water, chasing schools of tiny rays, and walking the extensive sandbar as far as we could go.

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This was the most activity we had encountered in 5 days, so we had to follow that with a trip to Barquito for cold beverages with a side order of blue-eyed puppies.

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A ride through town took us past the colorful art that wove its way into every street corner and across every building.

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We followed the road as far as it went in the opposite direction and found ourselves at Punta Coco, another shallow, deserted beach.

It seemed this tiny island had no limit to the sleepy beaches one could find a hammock and endless clear water.

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As we made our way back through town, we stopped for lunch at Viva Zapata. The restaurant was brightly painted with colorful murals and swings hung from the bar.

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We grossly over ordered and found ourselves faced with a table full of food we couldn’t possibly eat: ceviche and chips, queso fundido with spicy chorizo, garlicky shrimp, chicken nachos covered in melty cheese, and a pile of guacamole.

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We did our best, but eventually threw in the towel. Who were we kidding?

We waddled back to our beach and collapsed.

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When we finally roused ourselves, we strolled into town for cocktails at Bar Arena, a rooftop bar in the center of town.

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The drinks were creative and wonderful, the décor was very cool, and the breeze was a welcome respite from the evening heat.

They also served these wickedly addictive candy coated peanuts that we simply couldn't stop eating.

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With no actual plans for dinner, we simply wandered through town looking for something that caught our eye.

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We decided to stop at La Parilla de Juan, which I had heard good things about.

As we climbed the stairs to the upper floor, we really weren’t sure what to expect.

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We were pleasantly surprised by a very elegant, open-air restaurant with an outdoor terrace.

We chose to sit outside where we could watch the chef prepare the meats on the open fire.

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While the restaurant is known for its pasta, the smell of grilled steak was almost more than we could bear.

We compromised with a lobster linquine and surf and turf, served with their amazing grilled bread and a caprese salad.

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We continued to be amazed by the food offerings on Holbox.

Matt was ready to call it a night, but I had spent all week smelling the delicious crepes and marquesitas on the square each night as we passed by. When La Parilla informed us that they had run out of the apple pie, I knew tonight was the night.

Matt has always been perplexed by my inexplicable fondness for street food. If it comes out of the trunk of a car or is being whipped up on a greasy grill on the side of a highway, I’m all over it.

Sure, it has led to more than one bout with some serious digestive distress, but it has also resulted in some of my favorite food experiences.

My very soul needed a marquesita.

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The combination of cheese and chocolate inside a crispy sweet crepe was more than I could resist. It sounded delicious and terrible all at the same time.

I took a bite.

It was a perfect combination of sweet and savory, crispy and soft at the same time. It was the best $1 I had ever spent.

My stint in the long marquesita line had made Matt thirsty, so we popped into Luuma for a couple of cocktails before heading back to Casa las Tortugas.

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It was officially time to call it a night.

Day Six

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It was my favorite time of day: breakfast.

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“What day is it?” Matt asked lazily, taking a sip of his fresh watermelon juice as we waited for breakfast to arrive. I watched as a big drip of condensation lazily made its way down the side of the glass.

“Wednesday. No, wait, Thursday. Friday?”

We had discovered that it was easy to lose time on Holbox.

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The name means “black hole.” The name originally came from the very deep, very dark lagoon found on the island, but I think the name more accurately describes the way you can simply vanish here. I felt like we were disappearing into a void of sunshine and chilled tequila….never to be seen again.

We had settled into the languid rhythm of the island. Days seemed longer. Nights seemed later. Our hair was getting lighter. Our skin was getting darker. The water felt warmer. Drinks tasted colder.

Life was sweeter.

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There was sand and sun, but something was different. Something really set this place apart from anything I had ever experienced…The people. The food. The sounds. The slow warmth of it spread into your limbs until you felt you could simply fade into the soft cotton of your daybed.

It really seemed that time had stood still here on Holbox. Maybe that was why we weren’t even sure what day it was.

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I spent the entirety of our last day at Casa las Tortugas in my bikini. I never put my shoes on. I wasn’t even sure where they were at this point. I smelled like honey and coconut oil.

I tried to keep a cocktail in my hand at all times. If I felt too lazy, someone from Mandarina would bring it to me.

Our day was spent on the horizontal, alternating between a hammock, a soft shady daybed, and a thatched-roof palapa near the beach.

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It was official. We had come undone.

In the late afternoon we roused ourselves long enough to grab some cocktails at a nearby beach bar and find some lunch.

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We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at Pizzeria Edelyn to try the famous “lobster pizza” that the island claims you can’t leave without sampling.

Our consensus was that we probably could have left the island without sampling it.

It was fine, it just wasn’t worth prying ourselves off our beach chairs for.

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It was worth the walk, however, simply to find the only salon in existence that specializes in that "Duran Duran" look.

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We enjoyed our final sunset with cocktails at Casa Sandra’s small beachfront bar. A mariachi band strolled down the sand. Dogs played at our feet.

It was bittersweet.

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We had decided to have our final dinner at El Chapulim.

Rated #1 on nearly every travel site for Holbox that existed, I felt certain this place would be overhyped.

And we were late.

Everyone knows that if you want to eat at El Chapulim, you show up early. They don’t take reservations and the chef prepares a set amount of exactly 4 entrees each night. When you arrive, if you are lucky enough to be seated, the chef comes out to tell you what he has prepared. Your order is taken, and your food is brought out to you in minutes.

I had read that you must arrive by 6:30 if you wanted to get a seat. It was almost 8:00. I knew we would be turned away in shame.

As luck would have it, we were seated. And we were the last ones that got a table.

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It was Holbox magic.

We had eaten a lot of good meals on the trip. Matt and I both agreed that this was easily one of our best overall food vacations, with the only exceptions being Greece and Italy. The meals had been outstanding.

El Chapulim was the best meal of the trip.

It really lived up to the hype.

Maybe it was the chef’s dog laying under our table. Maybe it was the glow of candlelight that made everything seem magical. Maybe it was just the remnants of the tequila haze that I had lived in for the past week.

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But everything about our dinner seemed perfect.

It was the perfect way to end this trip.

Day Seven

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We couldn’t believe it was our last Mandarina breakfast. We went big, not only ordering the fruit and the omelet, but tackling a giant plate of banana and Nutella waffles too.

We had to leave Mexico.

We were getting fat.

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We had time to take one last look around.

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We had arrived a week ago not really knowing what to expect. We had not found cookie-cutter luxury. It was not a Four Seasons.

Holbox’s edges were rough, but the simple beauty of it shone anyway. There was a gypsy sensibility, an undercurrent of rustic stylishness, and a touch of “beach chic” everywhere we looked. It’s an island of sleepy days and mellow sunsets.

Holbox was lazy. It was vibrant. It conjured images of colorful art, wild flamingoes, and endless palapas rustling in the breeze.

I could still taste the smoky mescal and tangy ceviche and feel the gritty sand between my toes.

We had found an unspoiled island that combined awe-inspiring encounters with nature, true Mexican hospitality and a laid-back European vibe. We found fishermen and wooden boats falling apart at the water’s edge, random dogs lying under our feet at even the nicest restaurants, and an uncomplicated simplicity that we found irresistible.

As I packed to leave, I realized I didn’t even know where my shoes were, and that made me happy.

We’re back home now and Holbox is a distant memory, fading more with each workday.

But somewhere, on a remote stretch of underdeveloped paradise on the Yucatan Peninsula, a swaying hammock waits for my return. 

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Posted by vicki_h 18:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (3)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part II

Day Three

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By the third day, we had pretty well established a routine of swinging lazily on a daybed by the ocean until our stomachs began to rumble. We then wandered lazily, without shoes, over to Mandarina, selected a table, and slipped into the soft cushions of a sofa as we stared out at the emerald sea and listened to the palms rustle above our heads.

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One of the sweet, attentive wait staff would tell us the juice selections of the day and ask which we wanted, bringing that along with coffee and tea. Shortly after, our basket of bread would show up with soft butter and jam.

We sipped and munched, watching random dogs play at the water’s edge until our breakfast selections arrived – always the fruit for Matt (what is WRONG with him??) and the hot breakfast for me.

This morning it was a toasted ham and cheese with a boiled egg. Delicious. I was seriously enjoying the daily breakfast at Casa las Tortugas. It was a lazy and decadent affair.

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There wasn’t a lot to do on Isla Holbox. I knew this going in, and, as this isn’t our norm, I had warned Matt that this vacation was about forced relaxation, not finding a lot to do.

As such, our days followed a pattern of lazy mornings on the beach at Casa las Tortugas with a break for lunch, only to return and spend the afternoon lazing about in the pool or napping on a beachfront daybed.

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We found ourselves moving more slowly. Then slower still. We were adjusting to the slow rhythm of this island and our bodies needed it.
We were sun drunk and it was heavenly.

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Because laying in semi-catatonic state for hours on end really works up an appetite, we decided to walk the hot, sandy streets to Colibri, an insanely colorful restaurant on a busy corner of town.

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It was too hot to sit outside, so we opted for an indoor table by the open doors with a breezy fan blowing overhead and walls plastered with Frida Kahlo portraits, dreamcatchers, and bright paintings. It was tacky cool.

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Colibri, a family-run restaurant just off the main town square, was painted all colors under the sun, both inside and out. It immediately made me happy. The interior was a vibrant mish-mash of paintings, bird murals, Mexican sugar skulls and kitschy table cloths.

Even the sangria was exploding with color.

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We enjoyed ceviche, garlic shrimp, and chicken enchiladas oozing with gooey cheese along with one of their colossal margaritas.

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As we made the very hot walk back toward Casa las Tortugas I saw two words that literally made my heart jump:

Air Conditioning.

That’s how we found ourselves inside Porque No, Holbox’s tiny ice-cream shop even though we were so full we felt like ceviche was about to come out our noses.

It was a hardship, but I managed to choke down a chocolate and coconut cone in order to spend a few blissful minutes in air conditioned comfort.

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The afternoon was a warm haze of sun, sea, sand, and sips.

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The closest thing to a “schedule” that we found on Holbox was our tendency to find someplace for a sunset cocktail each evening, somewhere to watch as the sky turned sherbet-hued and the water turned to mercury. In the evenings, we would always hear someone blowing a conch shell, a low moan that carried across the island.

We began our sunset cocktails back at Huacalito at Casa Iguana, because we had loved the carefully crafted mango margaritas and passionfruit caipirinhas.

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We followed that with a trip back to Il Chiringuito because it looked like it was actually going to be clear sky with a spectacular sunset. I loved the laid back hippy-vibe of the place and Matt had fallen in love with the creamy mango cocktail that the bartender made slowly and carefully.

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As the sun dipped into the sea, we considered our dinner options.

We decided to discuss it over more cocktails at Luuma. The trendy upscale tapas and cocktail bar had wowed us on our first night, so we wanted to return to see if that was simply a mirage generated by travel fatigue.

The intimate alfresco restaurant was just as enchanting as we remembered. The crowd was stylish and the décor was inspiring. The beautiful garden was scattered with locally hand-crafted tables, mismatched chairs and sofas, wicker pendants and Buddha statues. The effect was bewitching.

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As our cocktails were prepared, I took a moment to stroll through the adjacent boutique, Le Bazaar, where I found designer treasures and one very spoiled dog.

We ordered “snacks” again and were presented with another huge platter of exceptional food, despite the small price tag.

The “earth platter” featured several grilled meats – steak, lamb, duck, and house made sausages as well as spicy patatas bravas.

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We were so full after leaving Luuma, that we decided to simply grab a wood fired pizza from newcomer Roots pizza.

I was several cocktails in and a long way from my high school Spanish, so I literally had NO IDEA what I ordered. I saw the word “peperoni” and latched onto it.

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That pizza was AMAZING.

Thin, crispy-chewy, and covered with a delightful combination of zesty cheese, pepperoni, black olives, and fresh zucchini – it was just what we needed.

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We licked the salty greasy from our fingers as we wandered hand in hand down the streets of Holbox.

Day Four

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It was Matt’s birthday, so routines had to be broken. Our lethargic stupor was interrupted by an actual alarm clock rousing us at 6:00 so that we could make it to a scheduled whale shark tour that we had booked for the day.

While the light breakfast that was provided was delicious and completely adequate….I wondered wistfully what I was missing at Mandarina. What if they were serving chilaquiles?

After a breakfast of fresh made yogurt, hot mango pastries straight from the oven, and fruit, we were guided to our boat. We were going looking for the elusive whale sharks.

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On Holbox, they call it the Domino Effect – Whale sharks are affectionately called dominoes due to the pattern on their backs. These gentle giants migrate to the waters off Holbox from May through September and several tour operators offer visitors the chance to swim with these placid beasts.

I knew the chance of finding one so early in the season was unlikely, but I thought actually finding one would make for an amazing birthday.

Let’s just say…..the whale shark tour was not exactly what we expected.

While the weather had been exceptionally beautiful for our entire trip, this, of course, was the ugliest day we had seen yet. Ominous black clouds thickened on the horizon as 8 of us climbed onto the small boat.

Knowing that the ride to where the whale sharks were supposed to be found was approximately 2 hours over rough seas, I expected a bigger, more comfortable boat. The boat was relatively small with nothing but hard benches for minimal seating.

We piled in, expectations high.

To say the 2 hour ride was rough is an understatement. There is a way to boat on rough water that won’t kill your passengers, but our boat captain apparently lacked this special bit of knowledge, evident by the manner in which he pushed the boat forward at maximum speed, no matter how drenched the passengers got or how violently they were bounced around.

I tried holding on, but between the violent waves and the slippery hard seat, I was flying up and down more than a hooker’s underpants. After the 116th time I brutally smashed down on the hard bench, the captain suggested I move to the back of the boat. While the movement was less, the water was more. I was getting drenched again and again with salt water.

Matt and I looked at each other with pity, unsure who was more miserable.

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After the miserable 2 hour ride, we reached the area where the whale sharks tend to show up and began searching. Back and forth. Forth and back. The boat made endless circles in search of the great beasts.

Of course, they were nowhere to be found.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the black clouds tripled and a hole literally opened up in the sky and dumped everything it had on our heads. The rain was so heavy, we couldn’t see 10 feet past the boat. This only increased the waves.

All we could do was sit helplessly, still, and hope it passed.

At this point, I was pretty sure my tailbone was no longer attached to my spine, Matt was a wet mess, and two other passengers were vomiting loudly off the sides of the boat.

Oh, joy!

I looked at Matt and shouted over the wretched puke noises, “Isn’t this the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER?????”

He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

Not only had this been the single most miserable boat ride in the history of EVER, we were going to have to go all the way back without even seeing the stupid whale sharks.

And that’s when it happened.

Right in the middle of the moaning and the rain and the vomiting…..a whale shark was sighted.

Our moment of jubilation was immediately squashed when we were informed that 1) Only 2 of us could get in the water at a time, 2) You could only be in the water for 1 minute, and 3) After 2 of us got in, we had to get in the “back of the line” before the next 2 could go.

I looked at the 24 boats that suddenly appeared out of nowhere and surrounded us.

The process was basically this: Two people jumped in the water, swam with the shark for 1 minute, got back in the boat, and then our boat moved to the back of the boat line. Approximately 30 minutes later, we’d be back at the front of the line and 2 more could get in the water. We had 8 people. You do the math.

A long, boring hour and a half later, that was filled with bouts of vomiting from other guests, Matt and I got our turn.

Don’t ask me how I had managed to wait and hour and a half for this moment and then wasn’t ready when it came….but I wasn’t.

Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved in the water, GoPro in hand. All I saw was a massive mouth coming straight toward me.

I was simply in awe. I was frozen. The camera in my hand was forgotten as the massive gentle monster glided straight toward me and turned, moving about 2 feet from my face – his massive spotted side slipping past my face as I simply stared stupidly.

I suddenly remembered the camera about the time his tail passed me and I snapped one pathetic photo.

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And then our minute was up. The shark was gone and it was someone else’s turn.

But….wow.

At least all the suffering was for something, right?

While the whale shark swimming hadn’t been quite what I expected, it was still something memorable. My vision had been that we’d be the only boat and we would spent abundant time frolicking in the waves with the sharks.

Not so much.

The rain had stopped and we were all soggy and slightly broken, but happy. At least we had seen one.

I was looking forward to the other parts of the day that the trip had promised – a beachside lunch of freshly prepared ceviche, a snorkel stop at an abundant reef filled with turtles and stingrays, and a visit to the island’s famous flamingoes.

Our first stop was the “snorkeling reef.” I am not sure how they define a reef, but all Matt and I found were endless stretches of sea grass. The “turtles and sting rays?” No. Just tons of weird looking catfish.

Boat ride? Fail.

Snorkeling? Fail.

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Maybe the beach picnic would make everything right with the world.

As we passed miles and miles of stunningly beautiful deserted beaches, I was baffled when we finally stopped, not at a beach, but at the marshy lagoon found in the island’s interior. This was….unexpected. It was not stunningly beautiful.

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While we all walked around and explored our less than amazing surroundings, our captain made us ceviche for lunch.

The ceviche was extremely good, but we had to eat it without utensils.

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It would have been better if they had given us a fork or spoon, but in the effort of ecotourism, we were supposed to use only tortilla chips to scoop up the bits of zesty fish and peppers. This would have worked fine if they hadn’t had ONE BAG OF CHIPS FOR 10 PEOPLE.

I had 4 sorry little chips.

Still delicious, even if it was awkward as hell.

Beach? Fail.

Lunch? Fail.

There was one last vestige of hope: the flamingoes. I couldn’t wait to see them.

I should have known. Like everything else on this boat trip, the visit to the flamingoes of Holbox was “almost” awesome, but not quite. It’s like everything they tried to do, they almost got right, but then just missed it at the end.

Technically, they did take us to see the flamingoes as promised. What they failed to tell us up front, however, was that we would be so far away from them that we would only be able to discern tiny pink blobs on the horizon.

Seriously, this is how far away we were.

See those pink dots? Flamingos.

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Can't tell those are flamingos? Me either. I had to zoom in with Photoshop to be sure.

Yep. Flamingos.

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We were parched. We were tired. Our backs ached and we longed for the comfort of our daybed.

I was glad I had the chance to swim with a whale shark, even if it was only for a minute. Was it worth the rest of the day to do it? Probably not.

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Happy Birthday Matt?

At least Casa las Tortugas came through with my birthday dinner plans and salvaged an otherwise less-than-amazing day.

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A table was set at the water’s edge where we enjoyed a perfect sunset dinner.

Our meal started with cocktails at the bar.

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As the sun began to set, we walked down to our table and enjoyed a bottle of wine as we looked over the menu.

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We started off with the fried smoked provolone, topped with freshly sliced tomatoes and crispy bread. We also had the brioche stuffed with spinach and mushrooms and drowning in a decadent cream sauce.

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For our entrees, I had the filet medallions with chorizo ravioli and Matt had the roasted pork loin which sat atop a mountain of fluffy garlic potatoes.

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And there was still dessert - a molten chocolate cake and a lemon tart.

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Thanks to Casa las Tortugas, we went to bed with visions of lemon tarts instead of salt sucking catfish.

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Posted by vicki_h 18:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (0)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part I

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Isla Holbox popped on my radar when I was planning our trip to Utila, Honduras last year. When trying to decide if it was worth the effort to try to see the famed whale sharks that migrate through Utila each year, I found an article about Holbox.

Pronounced Eeeeyaa Olbosh…… it sounded like a whisper.

I couldn’t get the image of the sleepy little island out of my brain.

A mere wisp of an island, some 2.5 hours from Cancun, this is not the Mexico of jello shots and spring break tattoos. Holbox is the anti-Cancun. The un-Playa-del-Carmen. It’s compared to what the more popular locations in Mexico were 20 years ago.

“Paradise on earth,” “heavenly,” “under the radar,” “hippy chic,” “bohemian,” “Mexico’s Eden,” “Mexico’s best kept secret island,” these were the words used to describe Holbox.

The big secret? It’s apparently not a secret anymore. The last few years have brought a great deal of publicity to this perfect little beach town. The good news? It doesn’t appear that it has had much of an impact yet. So far, Holbox isn’t defined by infinity pools or all-inclusive resorts and you don’t need to dress up for dinner. Travel and Leisure may be writing about it, but it still seems to be relatively undiscovered.

This definitely pulled me in.

A late bloomer on the tourist scene, Holbox didn’t have anything modern until recent years. Locals will tell you with a sigh that “things aren’t what they used to be before Coca-Cola showed up in the 1970s.” Apparently, carbonated beverages paved the way for electricity and television, which inevitably led to Telenovela, and apparently, this led to divorce, as the people of this innocent fishing village learned the ways of the world from soap operas.

Sure, it sounds hokey, like some south of the border Mayberry, but Holbox is the real deal. None of the roads in the town are paved and the people here have an unreasonable fear of cement and the development it could bring. Developers are eyeing the island like vultures, as one of the last untouched spots in the Yucatan.

Holbox is currently caught between two worlds – still a small and simple island with low rise eco-chic hotels but it is heavily on the radar of developers who want to turn it into the next big thing.

I decided that I wanted to see it before it became the next big thing.

Arrival:

I knew Holbox wasn’t easy to get to, but most of the places I go aren’t. This wasn’t a deterrent for me.

An early morning flight from East TN landed us in Cancun just before noon. I saw all I wanted to of Cancun in the time it took me to get through the airport and climb into the cool, air-conditioned van that was waiting outside for us.

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Two hours on potholed, chicken-crossed roads later, I was beginning to question my decision to come to such a remote destination….in Mexico. We passed by luncherias with simple thatched roofs and mini supers with dusty dogs lounging on the front step. Mostly we passed nothing….just endless miles of nothing.

At least I had opted for a private transfer. After our DIY experience in Rio de Janiero, I didn’t want to take any chances by driving ourselves, thankyouverymuch. And I didn’t want to share a van…what if we ended up sharing with a family that had 7 kids???? I also couldn’t fathom the thought of jumping on a hot, crowded bus or shuttle after a long flight, one that would likely smell like a dirty shoe and that would have the grime of three decades ground into the seats.

We were solo in air-conditioned comfort with a basket of snacks and cold drinks, pre-arranged by our hotel.

After 2 ½ hours, we arrived at the port of Chiquila. It was particularly unimpressive.

There was a superficial layer of waste and the port itself stark and unkempt. A few dogs wandered around and a woman had a cooler set up and was selling unmarked juices out of it. For a brief moment, I wondered again if I had made a mistake.

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We were given our ferry tickets (again arranged by the hotel) and, after a short ferry ride, we found ourselves on Isla Holbox. This port wasn’t much more impressive than the last one. It was fairly utilitarian and had nothing in the way of amenities and there was a pervasive odor from the sea that was staggering, an offensive combination of diseased fish and human waste.

Seriously….had I really screwed up this time? Had I finally let my wanderlust propel me into a pit of doom where I would be forced to spend a miserable week with the smell of dead fish while trying to find a decent meal at the mini super?

Our hotel had a golf cart waiting at the ferry for us and we loaded up our bags and bumped our way along roads made entirely of sand.

While the port at Holbox had not made a stunning impression, at the golf cart’s snail’s pace, the layers of the island began to peel away revealing colorful huts, a riot of flowers, incredible art, and carefree locals running barefoot through the sandy streets. The beauty of Holbox began to emerge as we slowly passed by.

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We had to cross the entire island to get to our hotel. This took about 4 minutes. The island was less than ½ mile wide.

We were still marveling at the pretty little town we had passed through when suddenly, Casa Las Tortugas stood before us, a huddle of curvaceous, brightly painted palapa-roofed buildings winding through a tropical garden. As someone tended to our luggage, we were ushered into a tropical courtyard dripping with bougainvillea, past a deliciously glimmering pool, and into a beachy chic reception area where we were quickly checked in.

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We were handed 2 small shells to be exchanged at the bar for welcome drinks and were shown to our room. As we walked, I caught glimpses of the turquoise waters just beyond the palm trees. Flowers waved in the dappled sunlight from thatched roofs and I could hear the waves tumbling onto the sand in the distance.

The day’s tension dissolved.

We were on Holbox and it was exquisite.

Rather than setting about the business of unpacking, we found ourselves stashing our luggage, clutching those two little seashells like they were gold doubloons, and heading out for our free cocktails at the hotel’s breezy open air bar.

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As I settled into a cushy sofa that faced the turquoise sea, palm trees swaying gently above me, sipping an ice cold margarita crusted deliciously with salt, I knew this vacation was going to be special.

With a bit of a tequila buzz, we returned to our room, Tucan, a delightful 2 story affair right on the beach. It was tucked back into the trees for privacy and had a porch that led inside to a wonderful sitting area and table with fresh drinking water (that was refilled daily) on the bottom floor. A winding staircase led to the huge top floor with a king sized bedroom and a quirky bathroom, topped by a high palapa roof. Outside the door was a large balcony with seating and a hammock, perfect for post-margarita naps.

It was very Robinson Crusoe meets boho chic.

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We were in love.

We returned to our room to unpack and get settled and then headed out for some much needed food.

At this point, the only thing we’d had since breakfast had been a turkey sandwich from the Charlotte airport and a basket of curious Mexican snacks that we enjoyed, but could not quite identify, en route from Cancun.

Casa Las Tortugas had a sister property next door: Luuma. Set in a beautiful sandy courtyard, it seemed like the perfect place to grab some cocktails and a light bite before our late night dinner reservation.

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“Light bite” was definitely a misstatement. We ordered 2 spring rolls and what we thought (based on the modest price) was a small platter of seafood. This was the small platter of seafood:

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And it was delicious. Everything was fresh and expertly prepared. We scarfed it down as we enjoyed several of Luuma’s inventive cocktails. Watching the bartender make the cocktails was almost as enjoyable as drinking them. The time she spent with each one was impressive, and oh…..were those cocktails good.

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We had 8:00 dinner reservations just down the beach at Casa Sandra’s Esenica’s Cuban Night.

We took a short, but pleasant stroll down the beach as the sunset filled the sky with soft pastel hues.

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Casa Sandra was elegant.

Their on-site restaurant, Esencia, was beautiful.

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On Saturdays, they offer a 4 course Cuban dinner. We dove in with enthusiasm. Minty mojitos were followed by appetizers, soups, mains, and dessert.

The service was impeccable, the food was outstanding, and the setting was stylish and lovely. Imagine our surprise when the bill came and 4 cocktails, a 4 course dinner each, tax, and tip came to right at $60 US.

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This was, quite literally, the most awesome island in Mexico.

Day One:

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I woke up early, too eager to explore to sleep in. I crept out of the dim coolness of our room to let Matt sleep while I prowled around the hotel.

Every nook and cranny offered something unexpected and delightful. Even the outdoor bathroom by the pool was something special.

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I had come to Holbox because I wanted something authentic, not resorty, but I also wanted enough “posh” to feel like I was on a vacation. Holbox and Casa las Tortugas served up that perfect combination. The hotel was graceful, with a hippy-chic vibe and the postcard perfect beachfront led to a powdery white coastline with clear jade waters.

After checking out my beautiful surroundings, I grabbed a cup of coffee and settled myself on a beachfront daybed to relax until Matt dragged himself out of bed.

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When he finally slept off travel day and stumbled out on the beach, looking refreshed and happy, we wandered over to Mandarina, the hotel’s beachfront restaurant for breakfast.

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Breakfast each morning was included in our stay. The breakfast at Mandarina was so good, it became something I looked forward to each day of our stay.

We were started off with fresh squeezed juice (the flavors changed each day – you never knew if it would be watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple, guava….) and tea or coffee along with a basket of freshly baked bread with butter and home-made jam.

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Each day you could choose a plate of fruit with yogurt and granola or the “hot breakfast.” I went with the hot breakfast every day. It was exceptional.

On our first day, I was introduced to chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are essentially breakfast nachos.

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HOW HAD I GONE 47 YEARS WITHOUT KNOWING THESE EXISTED??????

Chilaquiles changed my life.

One of the things we noticed immediately about Isla Holbox was the abundance of dogs. Not sad, skinny dogs that made my heart ache like we see on many other islands…these were fat and happy, running free, and living the life of Riley.

We LOVED the dogs.

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With breakfast over, we did nothing more than spend the rest of the morning parked on a daybed with the iPod playing and alternating between reading, dipping in the shallow water, and dozing in the sun.

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The beach on Holbox is simply one long stretch that pretty much goes as far as you can walk. While it lacks the soft white sand and clear turquoise waters that I love so much in the Bahamas, it had its own beauty all the same. The beach on Isla Holbox was crushed coral, endless tiny seashells, and insanely clear jade waters. Tangles of dried kelp and coconut husks scattered about lent it a natural wildness, unlike the manicured beaches of an all-inclusive-resort, but it was clean with no trash or debris. The shallow emerald water stretched out for ages. I had to wade an extremely long way before finding waves that lapped at anything more than knee height.

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It was perfect for lounging and cooling off.

We were finding Holbox simple….quirky….rustic….and we loved it.

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The only thing I didn’t love so far was the heat. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I realized this island was hotter than I was accustomed to. For Pete’s sake, it was hotter than hell and half of Texas.

The only relief came from dipping frequently in the cool water of the ocean and sipping on cocktails from our shady daybed.

Literally too hot to move, we debated our lunch options.
1) We could lay on this day bed until we died; or
2) We could drag ourselves out of the shade and head down the beach to find food and hope we managed to do so before we self combusted.

We decided on option 2 because it at least carried some small hope of survival. We strategized before we peeled our languid bodies off the swinging daybed.

Our lunch destination was 1000 feet away. This was simply too far to go in one push. Have you seen the movie Hidalgo, where the man and the horse are trudging through the cracked desert? That was my vision of trying to walk 1000 feet down the beach in that heat.

Barquito at Posada Mawimi offered cool drinks and a shady palapa only 130 feet away. We’d start small and simply try to make it there before heat stroke set in. If we made, it, we’d cool off with beverages before attempting a longer leg of 600 feet to Raices, where additional cocktails would be required before attempting to proceed to Casa Iguana, another 400 feet away.

We could do this.

We became battle ready by slathering on a layer of sunscreen so thick we looked whitewashed and made our way to Barquito.

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Barquito was a delightful palapa style bar and restaurant on the beach next door to our hotel at hotel Posada Mawimbi. It quickly became one of our favorite places to grab a cocktail, not just because it was close enough that we could make it there without getting 3rd degree burns on our feet, but it served awesome drinks, they were cheap, and the view was impossible to beat.

We sucked down a couple of strong, frosty $5 cocktails (seriously!!!).

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Sufficiently refreshed, we slithered down the beach to the next stop – Raices.

In my online perusing, Raices had gotten mixed reviews. Some people said it was the best seafood EVER and other said they have rested on their former reputation too long and the quality has diminished. After a quick look around, I decided that I agreed with those that advised to get a drink, enjoy the view, and move on.

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The setting was casual and cool, the bar swings were awesome, and this was one of the best margaritas of the trip.

I didn’t change my mind about the food, though.

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We moved on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know EXACTLY where Casa Iguana was. I didn’t realize it was practically next door to Raices because it was set back from the beach, and we set off on a hot death march down the beach.

About 10 minutes later, and nearly dead, we realized we had missed it. Matt gave me “that look” (the same one he gave me the time I got us stuck in the back of a rangy alley in Rome with no way to turn our car around) as he hailed a golf cart taxi.

We hoisted our sweaty bodies into the vinyl seats and asked him to take us to Casa Iguana. When we arrived pretty much back at where we started, Matt gave me “that look” again.

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All was forgiven when we slid into two chairs in the breezy shade of Huacalilto, the beachside restaurant at hotel Casa Iguana. I would say it was one of the best meals of the trip, but to be quite honest, we had so many good meals on the trip it’s really hard to choose.

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Strong cold drinks mixed with time and care were brought out along with a plate of fresh, tangy ceviche and hot, crispy, salty tortilla chips.

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Matt’s fish looked gorgeous, but it paled in comparison to my coconut crusted shrimp topped with pineapple salsa.

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It was a 15 minute walk down the beach to Alma Bar and we knew we’d never make it, so we hailed another of those delicious little golf cart taxis and rode in breezy comfort.

We found Alma on the roof of hotel Villas Tiburón, with a cool pool and a stellar view.

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We cooled off in their pool hammocks with a couple of spicy frozen mango margaritas.

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We ended the afternoon back at Casa las Tortugas alternating between daybed naps and floating in the refreshing water.

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Up to this point, we hadn’t ventured into town with the exception of the ride from the port to the hotel, so we cleaned up and decided to wander around a bit before locating some sunset cocktails.

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The village is small and tight, and Casa las Tortugas sits right on the edge. The streets were paved with sand and there wasn’t a car in sight. Golf carts and scooters whizzed down the sandy lanes, and dogs of every shape and size appeared in doorways or simply lay in the middle of the street.

It was a riot of color and art. Several years ago, Isla Holbox participated in Mexico’s first Festival Internacional de Arte Publico (FIAP) and invited artists from around the world to come experience this seaside fishing town and create inspired street art for everybody to see. I absolutely loved the murals painted on every available space I could see.

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We wandered to the central village square, only a block from our hotel. At night, this seemed to be the hub of all activity. The streets were filled with the smell of sweet batter as small carts selling marquesitas, freshly cooked, thin crepes cooked on an iron until crispy and then filled with tangy cheese and Nutella. As the light of the day faded, people seemed to emerge from nowhere, spilling into the square. Music drifted out of open doorways, tiny birds hopped from coconut trees onto streetside tables, and a group of boys played soccer in a sandy corner. A tiny cart sold watermelon juice to people passing by.

Unusual for Mexico, there is very little crime on Holbox which is probably why the island’s few policemen were sitting on a wall unwrapping homemade pork and potato tacos from tinfoil.

Even with the heat, it felt nice here. This was a good place.

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Not wanting to miss the sunset, we headed back to the beachside in search of Il Chiringuito, a small thatched bar on the beach in front of Hotel Zomay, rumored to have amazing drinks and the best sunset view.

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We found both to be true.

Despite the fact that the bar was TINY, the bartender took a tremendous amount of time and care making each drink. This seemed to be the norm for Holbox. We watched as he careful peeled and cut a mango, blended it, added rum and coconut cream and then crafted it into a tasty cocktail for Matt.

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A huge fan of margaritas, my goal was to sample as many as I could while I was on Holbox, so I opted for the traditional margarita. It was hand shaken.

Wow.

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The sun dripped into the haze in an eruption of color as we enjoyed the distinctly bohemian vibe of Il Chiringuito. An eclectic crowd of unconventional types sipped sunset drinks, drifted lazily in swings, and kicked soccer balls around the beach while a menagerie of odd dogs barked happily at their feet.

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Eventually, our stomachs called and we had to answer.

We walked the dusty streets through town to Rosa Mexicano. One of the newer restaurants on Holbox’s dining scene, this open-air restaurant drew us in with its sand colored walls and inviting smells.

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Matt’s watermelon martini was refreshing and my mescal margarita was spectacular.

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Drinks were followed by fresh guacamole and queso fundido, and we rounded the meal out with shrimp enchiladas and chicken mole.

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As Matt and I covertly slipped bits of chicken and cheese to the sweet dog laying across our feet, we knew we were falling under the spell of Holbox.

Day Two:

It was our second morning on Holbox, and as usual, I was awake before Matt. As my suspended daybed swung lazily back and forth, I watched the morning come to life.

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I looked around and saw the hotel staff cleaning off the beach chairs with a brush, chairs that would soon be filled with lazy tourists lounging on the beach all day. At this time of day, there were more fishermen than tourists, and I watched as they carried their equipment down the beach toward boats docked at a distant pier.

Small wooden dinghies banged softly together at the water’s edge, with rows of pelicans perched on their bows, scanning the water for breakfast. A short distance down the beach, a small woman sat in a plastic chair repairing a net. Nearby, inside a sun-worn palapa, someone was setting up cold beer as a smattering of lazy puppies and a chicken or two wandered about. A cart rolled down the beach, it’s vendor preparing to sell freshly baked banana bread and prickly pear juice so sweet it would make your teeth hurt.

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The air smelled like the sea and the sweet honey that Casa las Tortugas used heavily in all of the bath products. I breathed it all in.

Eventually he wandered sleepily out onto the beach and we enjoyed fresh squeezed watermelon juice and warm, crusty bread, smeared thick with mango jam and a hot breakfast of chicken and cheese enchiladas.

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The day was bright and beautiful. We had learned yesterday that, in the heat, it was too hard to do any more than spend the day simply melting into the warm sand, coming up for air only long enough to take a cold sip of a tangy margarita and lick the crusty salt from our fingers.

So that’s exactly what we did.

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For lunch, we walked a short distance down the beach to Villa Mar, a casual beachfront restaurant that was rumored to have amazing fish tacos.

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We enjoyed frosty margaritas crusted thick with salt, fresh ceviche, and their famous fish tacos.

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The food was more than we could eat, but we had a little help from a friend.

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We spent the heat of the afternoon lounging in the sparkling pool.

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That evening, we headed back to Barquito for evening cocktails. They were as lovely as they were delicious.

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The night before, as we sat and noshed on our chips at Rosa Mexicano, we noticed El Sushi de Holbox next door. Sushi? In Mexico?

That sounded like a good way to get a nice bacterial infection to me, or, at a minimum, a good case of diarrhea. We were surprised to see the most amazing looking food coming out.

After 2 days of ceviche and Mexican food, our taste buds wanted something different, so we decided to be bold and try El Sushi de Holbox.

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I quickly understood why it is rated as one of the best restaurants on Holbox, despite how weird Mexican and sushi are together.

The ramen was a delicious start followed by several of their specialty rolls. Everything looked as good as it tasted.

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So far, our meals on Holbox had been OUTSTANDING. The food on this island was spectacular. And so cheap!

We walked back to Casa las Tortugas along the quaint streets of the village, watching the multitude of happy dogs run about, enjoying the string lights that stretched across the streets, and hearing the laughter of children playing in the square. The cinnamon-and-sugar smell of fresh churros wafted into the air from a row of sidewalk food vendors who were selling tacos, fruit drinks and crepes.

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It was only 9:30, but the ease of Holbox had seeped into our bones. We wanted nothing more than our cool room and blissful sleep.

Posted by vicki_h 18:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (0)

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