A Paradise in Mexico – Isla Hotbox
Written by: Jon Haggins
Photos by: David Fasano
If ever you’d like to really get away from the stress of life, then Holbox is a perfect destination. Holbox is a true island seven miles north of the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and about 40 miles NW of Cancun. The most convenient way to get there, after arriving at Cancun International Airport, is to drive 2 1/5 hours on long, long roads, through the forest, passing small villages where you can peek into the homes or stop for a refreshment. Then you arrive at Port Chiquila to board a twenty-minute ferry ride to the precious idyllic island of Holbox.
Holbox is a quaint, quiet, sleepy fishing village. There are no cars or trucks on the island and the only means of transportation is by motorbike, bicycle or golf cart. The golf carts are used as taxis to transport you around the island. The island is 25 miles long and 1 1/4 miles wide, with a population of 1,600 plus. You can experience its sense of history as a fishing paradise. It is also a natural reserve where you can go whale and dolphin watching. Bird watching and shark-spotting tours take the place of jet-skis and speedboats.
There are seven families on the island, so everyone knows everybody. There is a lively and colorful small central town where you can shop in the boutiques or dine on the freshest dishes. If you need to exchange money, there is also a bank on the island. The exchange at this writing is 16 pesos per dollar. Pristine white sand and endless stretches of beach surround the island. A beach is just across the dirt road from Casa Sandra, arguably the best hotel on the island. Sandra Pérez, the owner of Casa Sandra, is a Cuban-born writer and artist who came to Holbox looking for solitude, a place to create art, and a way to renew her childhood fascination with nature. She opened the doors of her home to guests in 2003 as a way to share the blessings and rejuvenation of this special destination. Sandra transformed a little resort that is now intended to be as much like a home as a hotel can reasonably be; just a dozen rooms and suites spread among a few low buildings with sunset views looking over the sea.
By joining a unique sensibility and attention to detail she has created a place to refresh and escape the routine: the hotel is her authentic work of art. The hotel is filled with her dreams and decorated with original works of art made by Sandra and other Cuban artists such as Roberto Fabelo and Noel Morera and is appointed with handmade Mexican furniture and Cuban antiques. Casa Sandra’s villas have very large rooms and a tropical feel. They are personalized and tastefully designed by Sandra. The grounds are filled with palm trees and friendly iguanas that scurry over the grounds. The decorated lush heavenly beds are covered with 800 thread count sheets. The white bedding is decorated with lots of pillows and surrounded by white mosquito netting. Through the large glass doors is a clear view of swaying palm trees and the Gulf of Mexico. This must be what heaven is like.
It’s pretty much the opposite of a “design hotel,” with its locally crafted antique furnishings and a bohemian feeling that fits well with the low-key anti-resort vibe of the place. This is a paradise inside of a paradise on this tiny Island. It’s a fantasy for those who enjoy nature, who believe in the power of dreaming, romance and intimate connections with loved ones. Casa Sandra offers a personal touch, so each guest feels as if they are visiting family.
The outdoor pool has a dining area and a bar for delicious tropical drinks and a number of chaises. I discovered that Margaritas are for tourists because locals drink Tequila straight. Hammocks were strewn about the property. The intimate little restaurant and pool bar are the extent of the nightlife. The main building has a fine dining room, which offers delicious fresh local dishes. The chef at Casa Sandra prepares gourmet cuisine with a combination of Cuban and Mexican touches. Grouper is the local fish and it’s oh so fresh. Breakfast is also served in the main dining room or you have a choice of sitting on the front porch with a gentle breeze from the sea. The fruit choices are naturally grown;the papaya is unbelievably delicious.
The tranquil turquoise water splashes against the white sand beach, which is a stones throw from the front door. Here the luxury is in the small things, like the endless stretch of beach that’s lined with chaises covered by grass-roofed palapas and hammocks stretched between palm trees. There is also a beach bar for your convenience. You can walk for what seems like a mile before the water reaches your waist. There is no pressure of time; time just slips away as the sunrises and sets. Think of a true holiday and you think of Holbox because it’s magical, it’s a true paradise. There is nothing is the world like Holbox. You won’t be able to wait to return.