“F*ck it, let’s order another Michelada,” I said to my girlfriend as I raised my hand to flag down the server.
Micheladas — a drink made using beer, lime juice, tomato juice, and various spices — is a Mexican staple. Imagine a Red Eye, but with a bit of a kick. And that kick goes down dangerously well.
It was mid-afternoon (I think), and I was on Michelada number four (I think).
But, keeping track of those things isn’t essential on Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh).
No, on Holbox, the only things that matter are the ebb and flow of the tides and which spot you’ll vegetate in today. Oh, and when your next Michelada will be coming. That’s pretty significant, too.
But, is everything good in paradise?
Located in the Gulf of Mexico, this tiny island is only 26 miles long and a mile wide. Because of its small stature, it often flies under travelers’ radar.
Chiquilá, the port city for Holbox, is only two and a half hours from Cancún by car. The short distance makes this an easy getaway for visitors to Cancún. But, the bouncer will tell you to leave your vehicle at the port — no cars allowed on this island.
Due to this, Holbox’s vibe is akin to a hippie island soon-to-be overrun by vacationers and influencers.
These vacationers regularly boast about how they love the “off-the-beaten-path” destinations. Cancún and Tulum? Far too touristy.
For now, it’s visited by travelers who say the same thing — including myself.
Everyone walks around in sandals or bare feet. Bathing suits are the preferred clothing option. And if you’re wearing a t-shirt, you must go home, James Bond. You’re far too formal for this island party.
Bikes and golf carts are the primary transportation methods.
Bike rentals are cheap (starting as low as $2), and shops are always nearby. In fact, everything is nearby.
Golf carts are more expensive, and most businesses have rentals from three hours to a day long. Prices range from $35 to $100, depending on the rental length.
If you’re looking to go to the beaches, there’s plenty to offer.
Depending on the time of year and weather, you can scan the beaches for bioluminescence at night. These tiny organisms give off light and line Holbox’s coasts.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to catch them when I visited. Others have been more successful.
If that’s too much work, grab a drink, plant your ass in the sand, and be a beach bum. There are plenty of bars along the beach, and you can spend an entire day wandering between them. I promise you won’t be the only one.
And the beaches on Holbox are some of the finest I’ve visited. The ocean resembles Evian water with clarity, and the beaches are a Condé Nast model waiting to happen.
Looking to go even further offshore?
How does swimming with whale sharks sound?
You yelled an expletive, followed by “AWESOME!” if you’re like me. That expletive is open to interpretation.
Each year, from May to September, whale sharks migrate to the region to feed. Tour operators are plentiful, so you’ll have no issue finding a tour. But, tours often sell out, so it’s best to book early. Prices average around $150 per person.
Ethical problems are involved, and you should be diligent in your research. Companies that feed the whale sharks, chase them, or surround them to provide an experience are a no-go.
It’s okay to swim with whale sharks, but distressing them or giving them food is unethical. These behaviors hurt the whale sharks and ruin the experience for future travelers.
The plethora of activities sounds fantastic, right? Yet, there are some things you should be aware of before you visit.
This is a small island, and its infrastructure is developing to meet demand.
When I visited, there was a rainstorm the first night. The next day, the sun was out and shining, but the storm had drowned the roads.
Sure, the buildings were fine, but the streets resembled Venice more than Holbox. Sand-paved roads gave way to knee-deep pools of water and I saw Michael Phelps doing laps outside our accommodation.
That’s no bueno on a tiny island.
“But, there aren’t any cars, so why does it matter?”
These pools of water made it challenging to do almost anything besides walk around.
My friends and I decided to rent bikes while we waited for more golf carts to become available.
We were able to pedal around for roughly 30 minutes until we decided to take them back. We had to ride through the water at some point. And, once you did, it was game over for our bikes as our chains popped every 300 feet.
Not the fault of the bike shop by any means. Bike rides and deep, sandy puddles don’t mix well. But, a frustrating experience, to say the least.
Finally, we rented a golf cart, thinking this would be a better option than bikes.
The golf cart got stuck in the massive puddles; there was no way around them. We pushed the cart through ponds on many occasions. We thought we had damaged the cart beyond repair for a time or two.
Passing through an unavoidable puddle that swallowed the entire road, the cart shut off and stopped. Knowing something was wrong, we immediately got out and pushed it out like a team of bobsledders ready to take gold.
We let it sit to let water drain from the engine. Then, after some time, tried starting it.
No luck, it refused to start.
We started planning what we’d do. How much does a golf cart cost? If we each chip in, how much will we owe? Is there some way we can fan out the engine?
We checked our watches, we had 30 minutes until our rental was up.
“Well, I guess we can only try again,” I said. Luckily, this time it worked, and we returned it straight away, just narrowly extra time fees.
The point of this story is to highlight many of Holbox’s issues and its growing tourism sector.
Holbox has to upgrade its infrastructure to handle the incoming tourist boom. Drainage, trash, and sewage are all big problems for an island without the methods to manage them.
Vacationers prefer not to spend their vacation dealing with flooding or sewage issues. Relaxation and simplicity are their biggest concerns.
Know how you don’t get relaxation and simplicity? Smelling nearby trash while enjoying some quality sunshine because sewage is overflowing.
This isn’t to put down any of Holbox’s workers or citizens. They have their hands full dealing with a sudden boost in tourism.
This leads us to the issue of overtourism.
With the internet as widespread as it is, it’s easy for a destination to become a hotspot. And it can happen fast.
Judging by the frequency of Holbox posts I see on the internet, it seems this is occurring.
Let’s assume Holbox’s infrastructure improves enough to handle many visitors — is it sustainable?
Holbox is located in Yum Balam Nature Reserve. At over 150,000 acres large, it is home to many flora and fauna — including many endangered species.
But, this nature reserve is unique for a variety of reasons.
First, remember the whale sharks I mentioned earlier? They migrate here because of the plentiful feeding opportunities. That makes these waters home to the largest concentration of whale sharks globally.
If we contaminate these waters in some way, they’ll migrate elsewhere. That’s bad for the ecosystem and terrible for business owners who rely on them for an income.
Moreover, Yum Balam provides over half the state’s fish. If they lose that industry, they face a considerable human cost.
Conservation of the area isn’t only critical for the ecosystem; it’s vital for the residents.
How long will the protected reserve last under pressure to develop for tourism purposes? And what measures are they taking to protect it from human waste and byproducts?
And the responsibility doesn’t only fall on the shoulders of Holbox’s residents and businesses. As travelers, we are responsible for maintaining the island (and all areas) when we visit. So, how will visitors treat the island?
These answers will decide Holbox’s direction — let’s hope we all choose wisely.
The server placed my Michelada next to me on the table. I took a sip, reclined back, and asked for one more in advance. The sun was beating down on my pale body, but I decided to stay put.
If Holbox’s future is unknown, I should enjoy it while it’s here, even if that means more sunburn in my future.