isla holbox, new tulum

Go Here Now: Isla Holbox

Consider this the new Tulum.

Thanks to rich Mayan culture, yogi vibes, and beautiful beaches, towns like Tulum have put the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico on the map. But head north from Tulum and you’ll discover Isla Holbox, an area that is virtually untouched by tourists. Roughly the distance of a marathon, this 26-mile island is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, a wildlife protection program established in 1994. The sandy streets don’t allow for cars, so be prepared to explore on foot or by bike.

GETTING THERE: Isla Holbox, separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, can be accessed only by ferry or charter plane. Fly into Cancun and drive two hours to the town of Chiquilá. From there, you’ll take a 25-minute ferry to Holbox, where you may spot dolphins and sea turtles along the way. Short on time? Opt for a direct 25-minute flight from Cancun to the island. 

WHERE TO STAY: Camp on the beach or even opt for hammocks tied to trees along the water. Holbox Hostel rents both tents and hammocks in designated camping areas.

Located just steps from the beach, CasaSandra Boutique Hotel is a tranquil, intimate inn owned by Cuban artist Sandra Pérez. The device-free space (you won't find televisions, phones or radios) features one-of-a-kind handcrafted furniture, bath products from local artisans, and artwork created by Pérez herself as well as other Latin American artists. The hotel's on-site restaurant is also one of the best on the island, serving Cuban and Asian-inspired specialities like glazed pork tenderloin with pineapple and rosemary, rice with pumpkin seeds, and chili pasilla. For seafood, the fresh catch of the day ranges from grouper, to octopus, to lobster.

WHAT TO DO: Holbox is a sanctuary for animal and wildlife lovers. There are few places in the world where seeing whale sharks (gentle giants you can swim alongside) is a guarantee; Holbox is one of them. You can reserve tours online up to two days prior to your requested date.

If water sports peak your interest, sign up for Holbox Kiteboarding School. The island is a favorite kiteboarding destination because of shallow waters and great wind conditions, especially in the winter months.

Make sure to book a “3 Island Tour” which begins before sunrise. The first stop, Isla Pajaros, translates to Bird Island. From the boat, you can see flamingos, pelicans, and more than 140 other avian species in their natural habitat. (Walking on the island is prohibited in order to maintain the delicate balance of the bird’s ecosystem.) From there, you’ll move to the Yalahau Lagoon, a natural cenote (or sinkhole). Local legend claims that the waters provide a fountain of youth, making swimmers feel 10 years younger. The third stop, a deserted beach named Passion Island, is an endless treasure trove of bright pink seashells. An observation tower offers great views of the Yalahau lagoon and Isla Holbox.