In the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, Isla Holbox – Holbox Island – has become something of a holiday holy grail among laid-back young travelers. This should come as no surprise as this laid-back outcrop, spread over a lagoon off the Yucatan Peninsula, serves up dreamy white beaches with all the paradise-isle trimmings. Those who enjoy a drink or two can expect a slew of diverse bars ranging from chic cocktail spots to vibrant dives open well into the morning.
Polished log-slice tables dot the sand, a bar lurks under an artily-woven, open-sided palapa, lambent basket-lamps hang from coconut palms at this hip watering hole. There’s a modish menu of mezcalito cocktails, martinis and craft beers at what is essentially a chic shack under the stars, moments from the ocean. Tapas – among the best on the island – are vegan-friendly: think chickpea and vegetable pakora and beany falafels served up alongside the usual meaty tacos.
Not all Holbox bars play music so soft you can hear the sound of the waves. This bonsai, palm-roofed joint, with space for a small scattering of tables, has live bands most nights, squeezed onto a tiny stage. When things get busy there’s dancing in the adjacent sandy street, as a lively young backpacker crowd necks strong margaritas and mezcal cocktails. Bar snacks include seafood tempura, tacos and the ubiquitous guacamole with nachos.
It’s not on the beach, but the rooftop bar at the Arena hotel is perfectly positioned for searing late-afternoon views, as the sun sets over the island, silhouetting palm fronds and turning the sky shades of deep orange and red. There’s a small pool (open to all-comers) and a big drinks and bar-snack menu. House-cocktail favorites include huge mojitos and piña coladas (made with fresh green coconut and served in tankards) and a potent banana-ball daiquiri.
The formula is simple at this popular bar restaurant a block from the sea – great cocktails, great bar food and great prices. It’s one of the few places in the state of Quintana Roo to craft its own cocktail ingredients: the house special, Bitter Paloma, is made from bar-distilled grapefruit oil, lemon-cardamom bitters and citric syrup, added to Don Julio Reposado Claro premium tequila. The tacos, made of hand-rolled white maize, are among the best in Holbox.
Moskito is the first bar you see on the way back from the long trek to the Punta Mosquito Reserve; right on the sand at the eastern end of the village beach, where the sea is at its clearest. Naturally, this watering hole is a hit among thirsty hikers. Drinks – long, ice-cold and cheap – include lemon-flavored margaritas and strong mezcalitos. The best way to enjoy them? While swinging in the hammocks outside the bar, between dips in the turquoise sea.
The brashest backpacker party bar in Holbox? It’s at the Tribu hostel, where the drinks are cheap and you’ll find a stack of social activities, from salsa classes and live music to DJ-driven dance sounds. House cocktails are winners, among them the icy rum-fuelled Mango Jungle, the potent Embrace mezcal-martini and the long, refreshing Green Kiss, with passion fruit and tequila. The bar opens at 7pm (happy hour) and is one of the last to close.
With basket seats for two, sun loungers and a restaurant bar set right on the white sand, Coquitos is one of the best-loved chill-out venues in Holbox: a place to sit back and watch the waves. Mojitos, margaritas and mezcal cocktails are whisked from the wattle-walled bar to guests lazing on sunloungers by the pool or on the beach. There’s also a decent menu of Mexican comfort food (tacos, ceviches and quesadillas), served at beachside bench tables.
A rooftop bar in low-rise Holbox village? Yep, at Tortugas, a barefoot-chic beach boutique hotel such as gets double-page spreads in glossy magazines. Pop-art Frida Kahlo reimaginings adorn the walls, above warm woods and polished concrete; artfully whittled driftwood sculptures dot the public spaces and the bar is in an open-sided palm-weave palapa over a white-sand beach. The cocktail mixology and sushi tapas are as good as the views.
Cocktails in the hand and toes in the sand. You get both at La Palapa, right on Holbox village’s main beach. Most visitors grab a sun lounger, a minty mojito or a glass of the mezcal-infused house special El Nopal and sit under the shady coconut palms within earshot of the waves. Like most bars here, La Palapa doubles up as a restaurant, with a menu of Mexican faves served at log tables, under a palm-roofed palapa with sea views.
Within rough wattle walls, Ibiza chill-out sounds blend into the whoosh of waves and the calls of terns. Guests lounge in swing seats suspended from the palapa roof on pink ropes. All in all, Salma is as soothing as a dip in the Caribbean until after dark, when DJs pump up the sounds and the dancing begins. Expect a great drinks list, with potent house cocktails (try the Hercules, with Aperol, mezcal and whiskey), good food and the town beach right outside.
If you’re looking for a greater taste of Holbox, why not try one of the best restaurants in town? There are countless reasons why you should visit this beautiful island, but for some specific ideas for your itinerary, check out our list of the best things to do while you’re here. And look no further for the best places to stay.
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