Restaurants and street stalls
El Sabor de las Nubes (below) at Hotel Las Nubes at the far end of the beach is a little more expensive but has high-end Mexican and European cooking and excellent cocktails. You can also feed the raccoons, which is fun and slightly scary.
Casa Maya hotel bar (below), open only during the day when I was there, served fantastic fare. Chilaquiles verde, aka nachos for breakfast, became the new normal. (Make them at home with my chilaquiles recipe.)
On Sundays, it is traditional to eat cochinita pibil, which is pig marinated in achiote and sour orange and cooked Mayan-style slowly over a wood fire, or traditionally in a fire pit covered with banana leaves. It takes a long time to cook so it’s a once-a-week treat, accompanied by red pickled onions and yellow habanero sauce.
There are two main stalls to buy it in Holbox. Local residents Juan and Alexandra spend all Saturday night making it in their back yard (below). Cooks from Cancún travel to Holbox on Sundays, setting up a stall in a side alley in a street near the market (further below).
El Changarrito Street Stall, just back from the beach. Incredibly fresh fish.
At night, street stalls are set up in the main square, where you can get a drink and a snack.
I liked a bar on the beach, just before Hotel Las Nubes, part of the hotel Villas Flamingas. The hammocks were actually in the water.
The Hot Corner is a nightspot for drinks, where dancing can spill over into the street. Rumour has it you can buy some weed nearby if you ask around.
2. Eat the freshest, bestest ceviche in the world.
I highly recommend a fishing boat trip with these super cool, tanned wiry guys in their 60s, who help you land a fish and make it into ceviche. I caught a small one and carefully undid the hook from its cheek, throwing it back. We made it on the boat with lime, red onion, fresh coriander, a little habanero and salt. I stood beside the boat in cataract blue water, my legs being nibbled by gaping catfish, while I gobble two consecutive bowls. This is the best ceviche I’ve had in my life. I’m dismayed when they pour the tiger milk into the water, yelping:
I wanted to drink that!
But the catfish go crazy for it, leaping out of the water, their flat wide mouths gaping, whiskers quivering. They obviously don’t mind a bit of habanero chilli.
3. Go on boat trips.
You can visit adjacent islands on boat trips; thrillingly, along the way, dolphins black backs arching, followed us. Go to the Isla de Pajaros (Island of the Birds) to see the pink flamingos and pelicans. On Isla Passion, there is a good fish barbecue, where you can eat lunch after taking a dip in the cenote, a fresh water pool. You will also see mangroves, amphibian trees with roots that grow above still water, and small crocodiles.
4. See the wildlife.
- Flamingos: Although I’d just missed the big season, which must be a spectacular blur of fluo pink, I still got to see a few. April – October.
- Whale sharks: I didn’t see this, but Holbox has one of the largest populations of whale sharks, which feed on plankton and are therefore harmless. Go early in the morning before they disappear into deeper waters in the afternoon. June – mid-September.
- Catfish: They can be seen and felt (nibbling at your legs) in the shallows.
- Snorkelling: Not the best, being in the gulf of Mexico rather than the Caribbean. The water is iridescent green and slightly cloudy rather than clear and turquoise. But it’s possible to take a boat out to some areas for a nice snorkel.
- Phytoplankton: This is a rare effect that can be seen in Holbox. Go to the northern tip of the island, where a boat takes you out to snorkel at night. The effect of bioluminescence is sparkling starry water with glowing plankton. Sadly I only found out about this on the last day. Next time.
5. Walk around town.
Virtually every property has a hand-painted colourful mural; the town is a street-level art gallery with works the size of buildings. Decorative and often political, murals have a long history in Mexico. You could say the popularity of today’s street art stems from the Mexican ‘muralism’ art movement of the 1920s – see the works of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s husband.
6. Go to the beach.
Learn to kite surf on windy days. Read a trashy novel. Drink cocktails. Walk along the shore at sunset or sun rise. The beach and the sea are a constantly evolving production – you won’t get bored.
There are hammocks everywhere, little beach bars, and sun beds the size of four-posters. The water, being shallow for quite a distance, is suitable for young children. Some sections of the beach have seaweed; they used to clear it but realised this affected the ecology of the island. Before and after storms, the seaweed may be worse.
8. Ride a bike.
You can either hire a bike or borrow one from your hotel. The entire length of the island can be covered in a day, culminating in watching the sunset from the northern end. Cycle along the road adjacent to the beach, where the sand is compacted, rather than the interior road, which can be flooded.
9. Get a massage.
Most of the hotels have masseuses. Book one for the day you arrive to help ease the jet lag.
I was lucky enough to stay at the Hotel Las Nubes (around £250 a night but negotiable in low-season or for longer stays) in a room with a balcony overlooking the sea. I love to sleep to the sound of waves, the only cure for my menopausal insomnia. The hotel has a spa and several pools, plus charming touches, such as being sent a little dessert every night; their patisseries and breads are a particular speciality.
Casa Maya, where I also stayed, has a few rooms on the beach side. These are around £90 a night, but again you can negotiate in the off-seasons (January-April; October-November).
Other options are cheaper hotels off the beach in town (it’s noisier though), hostels, campsites (watch out for sandflies) and Airbnb. I booked an Airbnb location, which wasn’t really as advertised and became flooded when it rained. I cancelled after seeing it and had no problem getting my money back.