Arrive at Cancun and most will head south to the regions of Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, or Tulum. However, head north a couple of hours and you can be on the remote, golf-cart-only island of Isla Holbox, with its expanse of powder-sand beaches and boho culture. There’s a slew of new openings in each destination this year. Here, your guide to having some fun in the sun.
It’s hard to argue that the journey to Isla Holbox from the West Coast isn’t a trek. There’s the 4.5-hour flight from LAX to Cancun, then a two-hour drive to Chiquilá, followed by a 30-minute ferry boat to the tiny island occupying a 26-mile-long by 1-mile-wide stretch off the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Even with multiple nonstop daily flights and ferries running every 30 minutes on the hour, it’s not the kind of place that makes for an ideal weekend jaunt. Instead, succumb to the half day of travel and settle into the low-key island for several days. Its laid-back vibe (flip-flops can take you anywhere), mellow setting (not the place for nightlife), and stunning surroundings (beaches with hammocks dangling above the water) are the instant decompress that many of us might need toward the end of the year.
Nômade and Margaritaville St. Somewhere are the first chain hotels to come to town. Each debuted earlier this year on the western edge of the island, but those seeking something more boutique will find solace in one of the island’s original gems, Ser Casasandra, which opened in 2003 on the island’s best beach and was just fully renovated by the owner herself, Cuban-born songwriter Sandra Pérez Lozano. Each of the 18 rooms features unique touches like hand-picked glassware and coffee table books. There isn’t a gym, but daily yoga is offered on a platform by the pool. When it comes time to eat, linger on the property’s porch at Ser Esencia for breakfast or evening drinks, or hop a few steps across the beach to the feet-in-the-sand Mojito’s Beach Club for locally sourced cuisine like four kinds of ceviche. Shopping is plentiful on the island (definitely pack light so you have room in your suitcase for tunics, ceramics, and other treasures), but the boutique on-site sources some of the best handmade caftans from Oaxaca, which the owner specifically commissions for her shop.
There are no cars on the island, but bicycles are plentiful for exploring the plethora of local boutiques, taco stands, and vendors selling churros around the town square. Don’t like to pedal? Bring extra cash and opt for a golf-cart taxi (it’s about $15 each way to most places).
Spoiler alert: The trek home is worse. After days spent relaxing and unwinding on the tranquil island, the ferry, car, and plane ride are the hardest parts about going home.
Less than 45 minutes south of the Cancun airport, from Maroma to Mayakoba, pockets of gated developments have been emerging with a range of complementary resorts, each offering a unique experience, as well as the convenience to easily access another property—along with its restaurants, shops, and spa—without ever leaving the resort gates. The latest is Kanai.
Unlike neighboring Mayakoba, where its four hotels spread out among mangroves and cenotes—requiring golf carts to go from resort to beach and shuttles to go from hotel to hotel—Kanai keeps its three resorts in close proximity, opting for vertical rooms in low-slung buildings that stretch out just a stone’s throw away from one another. The first to debut this past spring was Auberge Resorts’ Etéreo. Comprised of 75 rooms and suites, most with stunning sea views, the property is just as compelling for its design as its outstanding culinary offerings. At 875 square feet, even the smallest studio rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, soaking tubs, private terraces, and design touches like carved screens and woodwork. Need more space? The 3,925-square-foot, three-bedroom ocean penthouse features private plunge pools and daybeds for each of its bedrooms and comes with its own butler.
Even those staying at properties outside of Kanai will want to venture to Etéreo’s signature restaurant, Itzam. A life-size comal greets visitors at the entrance where the wood fire heats freshly made tortillas. The menu of contemporary Mexican fare can be enjoyed on any of its terraced tables, but make sure to grab a sunset drink ahead of time and sit by one of the sunken firepits surrounded by reflecting pools.
When it comes to enjoying the sunshine, there is never a shortage of lounge chairs at any of the adult or children’s pools, while the beachfront offers its own plethora of daybeds and a special beach menu for lunch and drinks. Explore the sea on a kayak—in just a few minutes, you can snorkel to a blue hole just beyond the shore, where an abundance of fish swim up through the protected cave. Other on-site experiences include cooking classes, scuba diving, and wine and sake tastings.
By the middle of next year, the adjacent properties of the St. Regis and Edition hotels are slated to open. The former is designed by Edmonds International as a series of interlinked circles and semi-circles. The contemporary property will also feature a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and series of pools just steps from the sea. Riviera Maya marks the debut Mexican locale for Ian Schrager’s upscale-chic Edition brand. Its 180 guestrooms and suites are designed by Morris Adjmi and will include six food and beverage outlets. For those who like to plan ahead, it might not hurt to start working on a visit for NYE 2023.