A Winter Escape to Isla Holbox, the Yucatan's Secluded Gem

Rather than diving straight into work after New Year's, my wife and I took a weeklong trip to Mexico's Isla Holbox. Our timing couldn't have been better — not only were we soaking up rays and dipping our feet in the warm water while Los Angeles was getting drenched by some torrential El Niño madness, but also word is getting out about this secluded 20-square-mile gem off the northern Yucatán Peninsula coast. When we returned to blue skies in Los Angeles, we found Isla Hotbox had been ranked No. 32 on the New York Times' "52 Places to Go in 2016" list.

Accessed by ferry from nearby Chiquita — itself around a two hour drive from Cancun — Holbox's immediate appeal is the beachfront. The water is calm and warm, the sand is inviting, and it takes no more than an hour to walk the entire length of the main strip. It's easy to grab a towel and lie down wherever you please. Or, if you so desire something more plush, there are plenty of low-key beach clubs with full length chairs.

Lying in the sun and sipping a mojito (the island's inexplicable cocktail of choice) on the beach would have alone made for a sufficient vacation, but one would be remiss not to venture out and explore Holbox's vast natural beauty.

We spent an afternoon exploring the mangroves, walking northeast along a sandbank towards Punta Mosquito for some of the birdwatching the island is famous for. It was arduous trekking through the wet sand and shallow water, but the reward was well worth it as flamingos, pelicans, and any number of the more than 150 other species known to inhabit Isla Holbox dotted our path.

In the summertime, whale sharks congregate near the island and are a main attraction for naturalists and even though we missed those gentle giants due to timing, we still succumbed to the allure of a three island boat tour. The day trip was nice, but it was hard not to think that if it hadn't been for the incredible ceviche we ate for lunch our time would have been better spent renting kayaks and exploring the island's many inlets.

There are no cars on Holbox. The only motorized transport you'll see are taxi-cab golf carts — a charming quirk that plays to the island's relaxed atmosphere. We only ended up needing one of these buggies to and from the ferry with our luggage, otherwise getting around the island was easy on foot. Renting a bicycle for the day proved affordable and easy when were looking to venture out a bit further and explore Holbox's varied landscape.

Food on the island varied in quality and expertise, ultimately proving our instincts right to seek out where the locals congregated rather than tourists. Our recommendations: Grab a natural breakfast at Cafe del Mar, pastor tacos for lunch at El Taco Queto, and a fresh caught seafood platter at Raices Beach Club restaurant for dinner. For a fancier option, make a reservation at Casa Sandra — a hotel and restaurant that Noma chef René Redzepi has recently praised as the best fish in Mexico.

The island is filled with hotels, hostels, resorts and rentable houses, each with their own charms and follies. But for those planning a trip, the best bet is to seek out lodging by location: We found the western end of the island to be more peaceful, which is what we were looking for. Even on an island so small, the town center and north-eastern beach fronts felt overly crowded at-times.

On our final night on Holbox, we rented bikes and rode through recently soaked side roads to Punta Coco, the western most tip of the island. Tucked away from the rest of the island, with only a lone fisherman in our periphery we took in a final sunset, stunning in its expanse with nothing between the beach and the endless ocean. Sad to go but ready for home, it was a fitting end to our getaway and a beautiful start to 2016.