Holbox Island: The road less traveled

by Margot Lee Shetterly

Image:Aran Shetterly

Holbox Island is tucked into a corner where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean meet.

First there's the flight to Cancun, then the taxi to the bus station, followed by a three-and-a-half hour ramble through roadside pueblos and jungly Yucatan brush. When I finally arrive in Chiquila, all cramped legs and aching back, the 30 minute water taxi ride is still ahead of me. I schlep the bags and my weary bones into the boat and wonder if a package tour to Acapulco wouldn't have been the ticket.

But it comes into view: a mirage on the horizon takes the form of briny mangrove swamp, then sandy beach and shallow green-blue waters bobbled with brightly-colored fishing boats. The cares of everyday life ebb away, and even my overstuffed luggage seems miraculously lighter.

Holbox Island, 26 miles long and in most places less than a mile wide, is tucked into the corner where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean meet. It has exactly one town, also called Holbox.

Nature here is abundant and diverse. Holbox is part of the Yum Balam nature preserve, home to turtles, dolphins, jaguars, and panthers. Gigantic whale sharks-the cornerstone of the island's tourist industry-feed in nearby plankton-rich waters and allow curious humans to swim alongside. And there are lots of birds: Holbox and tiny Isla Pajaro, 30 minutes away by boat, give refuge to 155 bird species that come and go during the course of each year.

There are no paved roads on Holbox, and, in fact, no cars. Residents and tourists of all ages zip around the dusty town square in the island's ubiquitous golf carts (the first time you see a ten-year old wheel around a corner with his younger siblings in tow it's unnerving, but you soon get used to it); others walk along the shore collecting shells.

I follow the breeze to the beach for fried fish and a cerveza. The sun is high overhead and the sea is intensely green. Time stands deliciously still. Work has begun on a highway leading directly from Cancun to Chiquila. Many residents are fighting it, fearful that development will bring what Holbox has successfully resisted for so long: high-rise hotels, traffic, air conditioning and us vs. them social friction. But that's the future. For now, Holbox is a place to leave it all behind and reduce life to its simplest and most beautiful rhythms.