Holbox or a flavour of paradise


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I have read many good things about Holbox (pronounced: “Holbosch”) lately, starting with an article in the FT. Hence, when I had the chance to see this so-called paradise first hand I didn’t hesitate. I had the most wonderful time sipping on my drink in a hammock, swimming, walking on the beach, exploring the island in a golf cart (no cars go are allowed).

Holbox can easily be reached from Cancun by bus or (better) car. The drive takes you through the jungle. The narrow roads don’t allow speeding, thus the journey seemed to be endless. From the tiny port of Chiquila there are two passenger ferry companies that run quite infrequently. Cars need to be parked in Chiquila. That’s not a problem, since many families run small businesses offering parking spaces in their backyards at reasonable prices.

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Sandy roads and colourful houses in “downtown” Holbox.

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DSC07218_1The beach(es).

Where to stay?

I spent 48 wonderful hours at a small hotel called “Dreams”. Touring Holbox I saw many more places and from the outside I would recommend all of them. I have to add that Holbox is pricy. There is a small hostel for those who like backpacking or are on a budged (although haven’t checked prices) and there are some B&Bs, too. Although the beach view and direct access is reserved for those who do not mind spending a view bucks extra. From what I have heard “Casa las tortugas” and “Las nubes” should be quite fancy. Here is a link to a whole list of places.

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DSC07033_1 DSC07045_1 DSC07051_1Fantastic run set at the beach.

What to do?

  • Rent a golf cart and explore the island. Drive to remote beaches and through mangrove woods.
  • Book a tour to see nature reserves and islands and fauna that is close by. Holbox is also famous for its flamingos – unfortunately, it wasn’t flamingo-season when I was there. See dolphins in their natural environment.
  • Swim with the whale shark (again, it wasn’t whale shark season… :-()
  • Take a break and a view moments to breath – life is really, really slow there.
  • Eat the “world” famous lobster pizza.
  • Have a shrimp cocktail or taco and a cocktail.
  • Have breakfast/lunch/dinner at the beach (or with a view).
  • Enjoy life and have fun.

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Where to eat?

The “centre” of Holbox is full of restaurants. I haven’t had enough time to pick a favourite. However, you definitely won’t go hungry.

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Good to know.

  • Bring something that protects you against mosquito bites – Holbox is infamous for having loads of mosquitos (especially during/after the rainy season). Haven’t “seen” (referring to seeing animals above) them either – I guess that’s lucky.
  • Check ferry times in advance if you don’t want to wait 1-2 hours for the next one.
  • Travel light – bring nothing but shorts, a shirt, a towel and a bathing suit, shoes.

Travel companions

  • Great for families, couples or elder people.

How long to stay

This really depends on what you like doing. Holbox might be the perfect ending of a fantastic trip in Mexico or just a weekend getaway if you live close by. In my case I wasn’t happy to leave after two days, but I wouldn’t want to spend a week there…You’ve seen it all in a day…

But…

I want to add a second thought here, because I think, and I have discussed that with Mexicans, too, that Holbox is a little bit overrated. No doubt it is a lovely place. But it is not the “true” Mexico as many like to think of it (the true Mexico is in Chiapas, Oaxaca etc).

Of course, more and more people come to visit and it will loose it’s charm…hopefully there won’t be any big tourist developments like hotels etc…

– Catherine

(Sorry for the picture overkill. So many great opportunities to take nice ones)

 

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Cancun: The Miami of Mexico

I have been meaning to dedicate an entry to Cancun for a long time. The title probably doesn’t do it justice in any way because there is only one thing you could compare to Miami in Cancun: The hotel zone aka tall buildings and probably as many American tourists there, and students, esp. during Springbreak.

After spending more than a week there, I came up with a couple of pro’s and con’s and why I think, in the end, it makes sense to visit Cancun.

Starting off, I’d like to say that there is nothing more boring for me than spending a week solely on the beach, esp when you travel as far as Mexico (consider: European standpoint here!) and there are so many other things to see and do. So, yes – Cancun is great for a beach holiday, although there are way nicer beaches close by (posts to follow suit!).

But Cancun is especially great if you like to think of it as your base for trips in Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

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Or put your feet into the white sand and enjoy the sea. The water is really enjoyable; like taking a bath in your bathtub! 🙂

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More “Cancun-beach”.

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This is one of the first public playas (beaches) – Las Perlas – and actually one of the least beautiful (there is a lot of sea weed and the sand isn’t as nice).

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Looking at the hotel zone from the “back”.

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In Cancun you can even : Beware of the crocodile. (Of course not in the sea, but in the lagoon that spans the space between the hotel zone and “the continent”.

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Party-zone.

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The con’s

  • Cancun is far away from being “authentic” Mexican. The hotel zone with it’s massive hotels and shopping malls reminds me of Miami.
  • The beaches are not picturesque and…
  • …there isn’t much is nothing to see in downtown.

The pro’s

  • Cancun is great if you want to use it as a “base” and go on day trips and explore other sights/places like Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Valladolid, Tulum, Akumal, party in Playa del Carmen, maybe even go to Merida (although that’s almost 300km drive in one direction – not sure about the day-trip), Holbox or eventually move further south towards Chetumal.
  • It’s absolutely worth exploring Xcaret if you can. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures when I was there, but it’s the best “high-profile-entertainment-zoo” I have ever been to. Yes, it’s a little bit expensive. But the service is great, the food is plenty and the show the put on every night goes on for over two hours and displays Mexican culture and history and you’ll leave with a sparkle in your eyes. It’s simple an awesome experience.
  • People are friendly.
  • Getting around is easy. Simply hop onto on of the buses or take a cap. Both are inexpensive.
  • Food is great. Oh, sure. It’s Mexican…what am I thinking! 😉
  • Aircrafts take you into Cancun.

I have to admit that I am really thinking hard to come up with a longer list of pro’s but personally I think the first one outweighs the con’s by far. Cancun is definitely not a “must-see” on a Mexico trip, but there are reasons why it’s worthwhile thinking about it.

Good to know: I came across this tour provider – Tour Xichen – which seems to have fantastic offers at reasonable prices. I saw their buses all over Cancun and at the hotel zone (and I am sure the hotels, too) there are countless stales that offer different tours.

– Catherine

Cafe Tacuba

I have been talking about places to see and things to do in Mexico a lot. I also want to touch on other things like culture and food a little bit. The first things that come to our mind when we thing about Mexico (yes, my dear friends, I have to say it, and it couldn’t be a bigger stereotype) are Corona, sombreros, cacti and probably not tacos but fajitas (and europeanised burritos), and of course the Mariachi. (In my case also Speedy Gonzales and I love to mention that because this little mouse for sure was my childhood hero!) But, there is so much more that defines this big country. Talking about size, consider that: One of the states, Veracruz, is as big as Austria! (There are probably more, but I haven’t been comparing all the 32 states to the size of Austria)

Today I’d like to share a song from my favourite Chilango musicians. Why did it take me so long to discover them – or should I say, why are they that unknown in Europe?

While the Mariachi are as Mexican as tacos, little about the pop- and rock scene is known outside the country. I have to say, although not a big fan of commercial pop, I have been impressed by the huge number of artists that has been featured in the breakfast show on Televisa (Mexican mass media company, and the second largest in Latin America) every morning.

– Catherine

Discovering the Yucatán peninsula: Ek Balam

I think one could spend a whole year traveling in Mexico and would not get bored. There are so many things to discover, so many places to see. Recently I have been to another Maya-archeological side on the Yukatan peninsula: Ek Balam. It’s only 51 km northeast of Chichen Itza. From the Preclassic until the Postclassic period, it was the seat of a Mayan kingdom.

Ek Balam had been rediscovered in the late 1800s but it was not until the 1980/1990s that further work had been done.

Today the stunning architecture and beautiful side can be visited in the middle of the Yucatec jungle.

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This little oasis can be reached after a 2km walk (or bike-ride). Swimming in the cenote was really refreshing after an exhausting walk around the archeological site.

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There’s also a small  restaurant that offers authentic Mayan plates (and “modern-world” refrescos like beer, Coke and water, too).

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– Catherine

Isla Mujeres

A couple of days ago I finally managed to jump onto a ferry and explore Isla Mujeres. I say finally, because I have been wondering for so long what Isla Mujeres might be and look like.

I should probably have started off with a post about Cancun – be assured it’s in the making. I am saying this because Isla Mujeres is great for a day-trip or a weekend, but personally I wouldn’t stay there for a whole week or longer (but that’s just me and there is so much more to explore here). From Cancun it’s easy to get there. The ferry takes roughly 20 minutes and costs around USD19 (return). Ferries run frequently (every half-an-hour).

Getting around is easy and hazel free – rent a golf cart, a motorbike or simply hire a taxi to take you where you want to go to. The island is 7km long – which, in theory, would it even make possible to walk!

 

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Almost an iconic picture. The two things you’ll find on every corner (right after tacos – but we’re not talking about food here!) are Coca Cola and Sol. I should, at some point, dedicate a post to the high number of Coca Cola murals I have seen here – meaning in Mexico. Mexico is the biggest consumer of “refrescos” (everything sugary with a fizz) in the world. And even consumes more Coke than the US does.

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Beautiful sunset. Since Isla Mujeres is only 13km of the coast of Cancun you can still see the skyline (should I say, hotel-line?!) in the distance. The beaches in the West are sandy, while the ones in the East are rocky and the waves are much higher.

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Cancun in the background.

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I would definitely not miss out on a fun day exploring the island. Maybe go snorkeling or swim with dolphins or even go diving. One of the bigger attractions is definitely the MUSA (Cancun Underwater Museum).

– Catherine

Culture and the city: Mexico City

Two weeks ago I have visited Mexico City for the second time. I spend a fantastic couple of days exploring the city and this time seeing it through different eyes. (Find impressions from the first visit here!) It’s always great coming back to a place; things can be quite overwhelming when you visit a massive place like this one for the first time. But besides getting a better sense of the city I also managed to see places I have always wanted to visit.

First, I’d like to share a picture taken from a skyscraper that shows the impressive vastness of Mexico City. Flying in, and the airport is really “central” (if such a thing exists in this case), it took a good ten minutes from the first settlements to actually landing. It was already dark and therefor one could even get a better idea of how busy it was – the cars on the ground were moving like ants in an ant colony. EVERYWHERE!

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The city just goes on, and on and on and on and on….If I wouldn’t have had a guiding hand I would have been totally lost. However, I have to admit that it was just good to hear from my chilango- (citizens of Mexico City) friends that even they do get lost. This certainly made me feel less like a tourist.

One of the long anticipated stops was at Carlos Slim’s private art collection. Should I stress this even a little more? Carlos Slim is the richest Mexican and the richest man in the world. The Museo Soumaya has a collection of over 66,000 pieces of art. The majority of the exhibits consists of European works from the 15th to the 20th century. It also holds Mexican art, religious relics, and historical documents and coins.

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Right next to the museum is a shopping mall (owned by Slim, too) that features a couple of Dali’s on the ground floor, too. (I assume they are not real, but who knows?) One thing is for sure, that’s the fanciest accessories a mall can have!

We then jumped into the car again and basically crossed town until we ended up in Coyoacán to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum. I wished I had more time to explore the neighbourhood. Coyoacán seems to be like an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. It felt like a quiet village, far away from everything. The streets were neat and clean and colourful houses and flowers and trees were simply eye-candy.

It was great to explore the Frida Kahlo Museum and to dig a little deeper into the life and mindset of this fascinating woman.

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I think I’d like to end this post with one additional thought. There is no doubt about the many challenges cities like these face. And there is inequality – it’s visible! You just need to open your eyes. But as with so many things, it’s a fascinating place with so many faces. Of course, having lived in London for some time and having been brought up in Austria I am used to things just working smoothly and hell, signs everywhere (you need to have been on the roads in Mexico to know what I am referring to). But there is a reason why it’s not only the capital of Mexico but also the capital of Latin America: Arts, culture, music, festivals, food, lifestyle – you name it.

– Catherine