Everyone knows the Cancun/MTV Spring Break Version of the Yucatan Peninsula, but equipped with a Mexican comrade, a few cases of Modella Especial, and a pack of cigarettes we set off to find a different Yucatan. These are just a few of las delicas pequenas that we found along the way.
Tulum itself, with its impressive Mayan ruins looking stoically east over cliffs which tumble down to the azul Carribbean, is hardly a secret. However, Papaya Playa, hidden by a thick swath of trees which line the road away from Tulum, is an easily overlooked paradise.
When you arrive at Papaya Playa you have to walk through the hostel bar and dinning area to get to your cabana. The small wood bandas are partially sheltered by palms and sit on a hill overlooking the beach. At night you can hear the wind slipping between the boards and through your mosquito net while the ocean murmurs 30 meters from your bed. I must admit it can get a bit chilly, but with some quality company it is irresistible.
When the mid morning sun starts to heat the cabin, it is time for breakfast, and the desayuno at Papaya Playa is delicious. Mexican omelets–complete with goat cheese, fresh veggies, and Mexican salsa. Throw in some freshly squeezed orange or mango juice and you have a breakfast that will cure any ailment. If you still need to relax, grab a drink at the bar and lay on the swinging mattresses down on the beach with a good book.
The beach is wonderful. Small and secluded, and sparsely populated besides a few other tranquillo young travelers and some middle-aged naked Europeans. You can spend the day on hostel-provided mattresses in the sun, or move to the swinging mattresses in the shade. The bar is a few steps away and with so few people you don’t have to worry about losing your spot if you get up to get a drink.
Ok. So the last spot was relaxing, but this next stop is absolutely surreal. In order to get to this rather remote island you have to drive to the northern extent of the peninsula through small villages and country roads to get to a small fishing town. Then you have to consult the locals to find a ferry. It is recommended to arrive during the day time when there is a regular state-run ferry to the island. We however, found ourselves half drunk and bargaining with local boat taxis and fishermen to take us to the island well after nightfall.
The island only has one or two small hotels, and most of the tourists are Latin American families mixed with a few young globe trotters. We stayed at a little place called Ilda y Vuelta Camping. If you’re with a group you can get one of the enclosures with multiple bunk beds, but there is also a little bungalow equipped with a fridge, beds, and a blender. If you’re really strapped for cash there is also tent camping, which would be agreeable on the daily manicured sand within the enclosure.
What is great about this hostel is the row of colorful hammocks and hand crafted stools in the common area next to the barbeque pit. In the middle of the day, when the sun is inflicting pain on us gringos, you can hide out in the hammocks and doze off in the shade with shimmers of sunlight making it through the leaves.
Perhaps my favorite memory from our Mexican odyssey was the effort to procure and prepare dinner our first night in Holbox. Oscar and I borrowed a tricycle with a platform on the front to go looking for provisions. After about a mile of my labor and his enjoyment (he rode on the platform while I peddled) we found ourselves on the port next to the sea. There we found several fishermen bringing in the days catch of jack, snapper, and mackerel. We were able to get two 5 lbs. fish, caught that day, for less than $5.
The friendly caretaker at the hostel showed us how to use the bark from the pine tree to start the fire despite the wind as we cleaned the fish. Stuffed with garlic and salt and cooked over an open fire, the fresh fish was incredible. After eating the days catch with rice and homemade salsa, we washed it down with some cheap tequila and relaxed in the hammocks, blowing smoke rings around the myriad of starts overhead.
We woke up early and hiked to the backside of the island where nobody, except for the resident pelicans, to watch us throw our clothes to the sand and run into the placid water. They birds didn’t seem to mind our blinding tan lines and went along their business of fishing or sitting on the remains of old docks.
If you are looking for a big party scene and chic clubs–this is definitely not the place. People stagger off towards bed, fatigued from the sun and the sea at about midnight. However, if you want to feel revitalized and replenish your soul on a pristine island Isla Holbox is perfect.
By: Austin Price