Checking In and Checking Out

Low-Key Architectural Glory on Mexico's Isla Holbox

by Paul Jebara
Plunge Dive in at Punta Caliza. All photos courtesy of Punta Caliza.

At Punta Caliza, the essence of Isla Holbox is elevated with a sophisticated and sustainable design hotel.

ISLA HOLBOX, Mexico — Utter relaxation. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I found on Isla Holbox, Mexico’s Gulf Coast paradise.

The proverbial weight on my shoulders felt very real this winter, but it seemed to lift in palpable increments with each mode of transport (a flight, a car, a ferry, and finally, a golf cart) that got me closer to the newly-opened Punta Caliza hotel. The fact that there was no official website or guest reviews at the time of booking didn’t matter — I was instantly captivated by the handful of photos I stumbled upon, each showing an incredibly unique design.

They say the journey matters more than the destination. While getting to Holbox is a trek, a stay at Punta Caliza is just as memorable and rewarding as the lengthy journey.

Punta Caliza is “boutique” in every sense, with each detail tastefully curated to create an approachable luxury. It oozes quality and intention, but is quite delicate and unassuming in its appearance and service. You feel like a houseguest because, in a sense, you are — developed as a passion project by a Mexican architect and his artist wife, it is constructed with cedar from their tree farm in Tabasco, planted in the birth year of their firstborn son (who now helps manage the hotel with his sister). The goal was to reinterpret local Maya architecture through a sustainable, contemporary lens, without making it overly modern. The property’s aesthetic is so unique that it was chosen as one of Mexico’s architectural submissions to the 2018 Venice Biennale.

Book It

Rates start at $240 depending on room type. Click here for reservations. Or get in touch with the Fathom Travel Desk, and let an expert plan your trip for you.

Punta Caliza outdoor pool and chaises
Punta Caliza cedar architecture design
Punta Caliza thatched roof and plunge pool

Checking In

Punta Caliza is on Holbox, a sandy island north of the sun-drenched Yucatán Peninsula. A ferry from the port town of Chiquilá or a chartered puddle jumper from Cancún will get you to the island. Hail a golf cart taxi for the final stretch to the hotel. It’s a quick ten-minute walk into town, though bike and golf cart rentals are popular.

Hotel Style
Polished, eco-chic minimalism with clean lines, earthy wood tones, and white accents. Walking around the property barefoot feels right, from the warm concrete floors in the room to the cedar–planked lobby.

This Place is Perfect For
Couples, friends, or anyone who appreciates subtle luxury and eco-sustainability in an intimate one-of-a-kind boutique hotel with an endearing story.

But Not So Perfect For
Holbox generally isn’t considered a luxury destination, and while Punta Caliza has upscale touches, it does not offer all the bells and whistles of a top-tier resort. There’s no room service, spa, full restaurant (at the moment), or other sought-after amenities. Families would fare better at a hotel with a larger pool for their kids and where excessive noise won’t disturb other guests, as all of the rooms are in close proximity, especially with sound easily reverberating over the pool.

What's On Site
Instead of a traditional Mayan courtyard, there’s a shallow triangular pool that anchors the property. It’s surrounded by several thatched-roofed huts that contain the guest rooms, each with their own private plunge pool that connects to the main one so you can swim right up to your room. Now that’s special. There is a main outdoor common area to lounge poolside, where breakfast and drinks are also served. Adjacent to the lobby, the owners built a tall cedar tower that houses another common space up top.  I climbed the stairs each evening for sprawling views of the whole island, arguably the best place to perch for marveling at the sunset. While it’s not exactly beachside, they do have a dedicated area right on the sand, about a five-minute walk from the property. With no cars or paved roads in sight, I didn’t mind walking barefoot anywhere on the island. Lounge chairs and hammocks, along with beer, were waiting.

Punta Caliza suite
Punta Caliza chaise chairs and plunge pool
Punta Caliza adjoining plunge pools

Food + Drink
Punta Caliza had opened just two months prior to my stay and was still crafting their all-day food menu. However, daily breakfast was included and it was a simple way to begin the day, with fresh fruit and made-to-order eggs. Beer and custom cocktails are also available. The guests unintentionally seemed to have created their own cocktail hour right around sunset, organically mingling with one another in the common area before heading their separate ways to dinner. It’s an intimate and comfortable setting, almost like an outdoor living room.

Number of Rooms
Twelve, including five family rooms (two queen size beds) and seven suite rooms (one king size bed).

In-Room Amenities
All the rooms are incredibly lofty and minimalistically appointed to let the architecture shine. The interior woodwork is the focus here, so much so that the smell of cedar hits you right in the face upon entry. Oh, how refreshing it was to be welcomed by the scent of wood instead of air freshener or synthetic fragrance! It made me feel like I was glamping, an aspect I didn’t mind since we were, after all, within the Yum Balam Nature Reserve. While there’s air conditioning, the sleek ceiling fan was strong enough to allow cool air to circulate and provided a much-needed obstacle to any stray mosquitos that somehow snuck in. The bed was memorably comfortable, especially the soft sheets spun from organic cotton. And whenever I wanted to take a refreshing dip, my private plunge pool was waiting for me, hidden from the main pool behind a wooden door.

It’s close to the beach, but not on it. Walking a block or two to the water isn’t a chore, but could be considered a drawback. There’s also no full bar within their dedicated beach area, so my wishes for a seaside margarita were left unfulfilled. The rooms are generally quiet, but you can definitely hear when your neighbors are coming and going since the doors face each other.

Standout Details
Instant calm, attentive service, and stunning architecture.

Punta Caliza exterior cedar architecture
Punta Caliza interior suites

Checking Out

The obvious main attraction is the beach, so spend the whole day admiring the calm emerald waters, snow-like sand, and diverse avian wildlife. A morning walk along the sandbar to Punta Mosquito will reward you with possible flamingo and stingray sightings, minimal crowds, and even more pristine spots to park your towel.

Tour the Street Art
Murals abound on every corner of Holbox's sand roads, with illustrations that bring the island's Mayan heritage, unique ecology, and female empowerment to life. Follow the colors from one façade to another to see a diverse representation of street artists from around the world.

I was surprised to find several impressive boutiques and arts and crafts shops. Le Bazaar caters to the style-conscious visitor seeking swimwear, jewelry, and an array of sweet-smelling candles. Hecho Con Amor is another shop that sells handmade gifts, tchotchkes, and fabulous accessories, all “made with love.” Located west of town is Caravana, which sells Mexican-made clothes and leather accessories in a breezy tent.

Isla Holbox beach
Photo by Paul Jebara.
Punta Caliza grafitti
Photo by Paul Jebara.
Photo by Paul Jebara.

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