Isla Holbox, The Yucatan, Mexico Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Welcoming chic bolthole, with an excellent Mexican-Cuban restaurant, artistic flair and stylish suites
When Cuban music producer, poet and artist Sandra Pérez first came to the Yucatán, she felt an instant affinity with its people, colours, sounds and scents. Friends advised her to visit unspoiled Isla Holbox, the last vestige of uncommercial living on the Maya Riviera; she fell in love with its raw beauty. When she bought a plum spot of land on the Playa Norte, then covered only with fine white sand and coconut palms, the local fishermen threw a 3-day party to celebrate.

CasaSandra is her passion project and it shows. Sandra's influence is evident in the carefully sourced Cuban antiques, the bespoke colonial-style furniture from Guadalajara, and the romantic guest rooms. Little details - lights made from conch shells, Mexican fabrics given a contemporary twist - contribute to the stylish and welcoming ambiance. Add the best restaurant on the island, vast double loungers, palapa daybeds and a pool, and you have the perfect formula for lusciously lazy days.


  • The seriously sexy rooms all have access to a balcony or terrace, with hammocks perfectly positioned for gazing at the white beach, jade ocean, lavender skies and flaming sunsets
  • The delicious Cuban-Mexican seafood was some of the best we had in Mexico
  • The charming staff provide warm service which makes you feel part of the family
  • There's a stylish mix of rustic Mexican features (palapa thatched roofs, hand-embroidered cushions) and original artwork, some by Sandra herself
  • Isla Holbox is a serene destination for fishing, birdwatching, blissful beach strolls, shells and sunsets


  • It’s quite expensive, and the food isn’t cheap, but you’re paying for style and top-quality meals
  • We found the rooms got pretty hot by the afternoon and we needed to use the air-conditioning a lot
  • There may be some noise and building work nearby
  • If you're a vegetarian or not that keen on seafood, you'll find the menu limited
  • Holbox is 3 hours from Cancún and you need to take a ferry; there's little nightlife or shopping, and limited activities - bliss for some!

Best time to go

May to September is best for seeing nature's wonders, including flamingos and whale sharks. But this is also the hottest time of year, so you may prefer to visit between January and May, before the high humidity kicks in. Temperatures peak in August. The low season is September to November, when the island tends to be less crowded, but be aware that there can be heavy downpours and a strong northerly wind. The rains usually end in early November, so late November and early December are good times to visit, before the onset of the busy and pricey Christmas period.

Our top tips

Bear in mind that there are only 3 ATM machines on the island, so you will need to bring cash; not all restaurants and shops take credit cards. Note that the wind and glare can be very strong so sunblock up accordingly.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 19
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym


CasaSandra has grown gradually and organically since its opening in the early Noughties. Most of the rooms and suites have sea views and all are individually styled, but all showcase Sandra's excellent taste. Walls are crisp white, floors are cool tiled terracotta, and cushions and runners embroidered by an artist in Mexico City give a sophisticated twist to a traditional craft.

Balconies or terraces are festooned with bright hammocks, beds are often muslin-draped; all are extremely comfortable with 500-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Larger rooms have luxurious walk-in wardrobes or dressing areas.

There’s both air-conditioning and fans - very necessary in the height of summer. Our only complaint about our lovely suite was that it didn't have enough meshed windows to allow the breeze through, and it did get uncomfortably warm in the afternoons.

The main building houses most of the Superior Deluxe Rooms on the first floor above the restaurant, these share a balcony overlooking the ocean and the beachfront lounging area. The rest of the Superior Deluxe Rooms are in a casita in the garden, close to the pool.

Over time, other 2-storey dwellings have been added. Nicely spaced apart, these are all white with palapa roofs and strong gnarled beams. One houses a Master Suite, which has an additional sitting area and 2 divans that could work well for a small family. It can be connected to a Superior Deluxe Room next door to create a proper family apartment. The palapa next to the main house holds 2 Suites with stunning views across the beach towards the setting sun; their seating areas have built-in sofas with cushions. Another 2 buildings were completed in 2008, housing more suites which we have not seen yet.

Bathrooms feature hand-painted bowl sinks and conch shell shower heads. You get bathrobes, a hairdryer, CasaSandra-branded toiletries, incense and mosquito repellent (although we never saw any mozzies).

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi


The excellent Cuban-Mexican seafood restaurant, Restaurante Gourmet CasaSandra, occupies the whole ground floor of the main house. It has funky star lights, rattan furniture, vivid artwork, candles in hurricane lamps, a bar and sofas for lounging. It's the heart of the hotel, where time slips past as you gaze out to the ocean and chat to other guests.

Breakfast is served from 7am until a very civilised 11am. Included in the room rate are jugs of iced juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, granola, cakes made for drenching with honey, and several variations of coffee and tea. The à la carte menu features eggs served many different ways, including huevos a la mexicana, huevos motulenos and huevos divorciados - we liked leaping into the unknown with these, although we could have just asked the serving staff. 'Divorced eggs' turned out to be 2 fried eggs, each with a different hot sauce, one green, one red. Other options include mole, hot cakes, quesadillas and French toast.

Lunch and dinner share the same menu, which we thoroughly enjoyed eating our way through. Starters included a variety of ceviches, the local speciality, where seafood is marinated in lime and lemon juice, here inventively presented with shrimp and lobster tails resplendent above the dish. You could also try excellent guacamole, fish croquettes, several salads and stuffed avocados with shrimps.

Although main courses sounded deceptively simple - seafood with rice, fish papillote, shrimp with garlic - they were anything but. Cooked perfectly to order and beautifully arranged on the plate, they tickled the taste buds with clever flavour combinations. Service was sometimes slow but always delightful, and we weren't in a hurry to go anywhere, so it gave us the opportunity to get to know our fellow diners. Meals are accompanied by an eclectic range of music, often Cuban.

The pool bar is open until midnight (assuming demand warrants) and serves some of the most delicious cocktails we've ever tried. You can also lounge in a very louche way on the daybeds around the pool or at the front of the hotel and sip your drinks there - bliss.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Explore Isla Holbox, a largely uninhabited 25-mile spit of land off the north-eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It's largely flat scrubland, with mangroves to the south, white beaches in the north, and a small town of simple brightly-painted houses and sand roads (there are no cars) at one end
  • If you're here from May to September, take a whale shark tour; this is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with these harmless gentle giants - the largest known fish in the world
  • Or join a kayak tour of the mangroves and rivers to see resident and migratory birds in their natural habitat, including pelicans, pink spoonbills, flamingos (up to 40,000 in season), ibis, herons, storks, ospreys and cormorants, as well as the occasional sleepy crocodile
  • The fishing, both deep sea and fly, is excellent. You can rent boats nearby - mornings are best to go out. Hugely experienced guide Alejandro Vega takes a regular fly fishing tour
  • The boat tour to Isla Pajaros (Bird Island) also includes a swim in the fresh bubbling cenote (sink well) of Yalahau Spring, set in a reserve just across the lagoon
  • Take a kitesurfing lesson - this is one of the best places for the sport in the region
  • Go riding along the blissful beach, or hire a bicycle (available 300m from the hotel) to explore the island
  • Snorkelling is best on the other side of the island - you get taken around in a motor boat
  • Artists, writers and painters are welcomed as kindred spirits at CasaSandra and regular writing workshops are held here; the best-known one happens every November
  • Ask if yoga classes at a nearby hotel are in season when you're here
  • Back on the mainland, you can visit Nuevo Durango (a Mayan village) with a bilingual guide, discover Mayan culture, see the ceiba (the Mayans' sacred tree), visit an orchid sanctuary, venture deep into the jungle to climb a 20m watchtower, and kayak through watery forests filled with cork trees, myriad birds and spider monkeys
  • CasaSandra also arranges day trips to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and to colonial Valladolid

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Creative writing
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Kitesurfing
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife
  • Windsurfing


Children are welcomed at CasaSandra; cots and extra beds are available, and babysitting can be arranged. Only children 13+ are allowed January thru March, July to August, and December. Young children stay for free, while over 12s are charged at adult rates. Sandra has a son herself, and the staff are very charming and helpful with little ones. If your child requires lots of organised activities then Holbox may not be the place for him/her, but swimming, boat trips, birding, cycling, whale sharks, kayaking and splashing about in the pool will keep most amused. The heat and humidity can be very high in the summer, so consider travelling outside May to September.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

One Master Suite has 2 divans that could work well for a small family, and can be connected to a Superior Deluxe Room next door to create a proper family apartment.


Babysitting is available by arrangement

Baby equipment:

Baby cots

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

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