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By Valeria Hinojosa, Contributing Editor

To me, travel is living and I don’t mean the 5-star-first-row-Chauffer-waiting-outside type of travel, but those full of adventures, homemade food and genuinely kindhearted people. The places and faces that feel like a cup of hot chocolate to the soul. Holbox, Mexico, felt exactly like that.

Most of you might have never heard of this secluded island in Mexico. Neither did I until a month ago. It’s small town within a Nature Reserve called Yum Balam and the home of colorful house walls turn into magical pieces of art, seven to twelve meter whale sharks, streets covered in the softest white sand, clear blue waters, an animal shelter called Refugio Holbox, and, last but not least, Posada Mawimbi…the beautiful 11-bedroom boutique hotel I had the pleasure of staying at.HOLBOX_MEXICO_ECO_TRAVELFrom the minute I arrived in Holbox, was welcomed by a dozen yellow golf carts with signs that read “Taxi” and realized I was surrounded by local people instead of tourists, I knew this trip was off to an wonderful start. Five minutes down a sandy road was Posada Mawimbi. One of the first hotels built in Holbox and one of the only ones that still treasures and respects nature to such an extend that its architecture and interior design screams nature preservation. Built by Carmello and Ornella, a globetrotting couple that visited Holbox 21 years ago as tourists and four years later decided to settle there, Posada Mawimbi is a beach front paradise carefully designed using products and techniques of the ancient Mayan culture. HOLBOX_MEXICO_POSADA_MAWIMBIOnly two blocks away from town Holbox, this little eco hotel blew me away the minute we walked through its doors and were welcomed by neon color hammocks among the palm trees, swing beds on the beach, and a bedroom with a balcony big enough to fit a hammock and a breakfast area for two (rustic wood table and chairs) yet small enough to give it its coziness, and a bar and restaurant that showed every bright color in the Mayan culture. Absolutely stunning. Raw details in every corner, vegetarian and vegan food options, and the most delicious blueberry daiquiris. Heaven.

Let’s start with the basics. How did I end up in Holbox, Mexico? Well, it’s not as simple as you would imagine but it’s very much worth it! In summary, a friend of mine and I flew from Miami to Cancun, rented a car near the airport and drove for about 3.5 hours from Cancun to Chiquila. Even though the drive was a bit long, the road we drove through was astonishing. Green trees and blue skies guiding our way the whole time! From Chiquila, we took a 20-minute ferry to Holbox, and from there we took one of the yellow golf cart taxis to the hotel.

Our first day was pretty relaxing. We unpacked, headed to the restaurant to enjoy some veggie fajitas and then fell asleep on a swing bed on the beach. The breeze was warm and salty, the water was clear blue and the sand as soft as butter. I have never seen something like that, not even in Bahamas. At night we decided to walk to town, visit some shops (almost all sell eco-friendly handmade products) and then decided to try the restaurant Isla del Colibri. I ordered a green juice and the vegetarian rice (rice, spinach, carrots, apples and plantains), which was to die for.HOLBOX_MEXICO_FOODDay two started with a delicious breakfast at Mawimbi. Oatmeal, fresh pineapple juice, cappuccino with soy milk, and bread with homemade papaya jelly. All this served on beautiful Mexican tableware, while sitting next to the ocean and sinking our feet on the sand. After breakfast we decided to skip the beach and head to the animal shelter everyone at the hotel had been talking about, Refugio Holbox. To my surprise, the shelter was so much more than I expected. Founded by a hotel owner who sold her property and now dedicates her time to saving animals, Refugio Holbox has about 22 rescued dogs, 40 cats, four birds and four raccoons How incredible is that? For all animal lovers, this place is seriously a must. If any of you end up visiting it, make sure you spend some time playing with the baby raccoons, feeding Benancio cookies (the oldest raccoon at shelter), taking the dogs for a walk, or talking with the vet about adoption and volunteer opportunities. They need all the help they can get.HOLBOX_MEXICO_ACTIVITIESDay three was something out of this world. We woke up at 6 am, did a 30-min yoga session on the beach, had breakfast and then headed out to meet our captain and tour guide to go swim with a beautiful seven meter whale shark. The tour started at 7am with us meeting at the nearest boat docking area (two blocks away from the hotel) and after a 40-60 minute boat ride found ourselves right next to the biggest animal I’ve ever seen. The water was extremely calm, the sun was shining bright, and dozens of jellyfishes were swimming next to the whale shark. It was like a scene taken out of a movie. Unforgettable. Even though our boat was carrying eight people, only two at a time were allowed to swim with the shark, none of us were allowed to touch it, and everyone was required to use eco-friendly biodegradable sunblock only. I’m not going to lie, all those rules (Mexican federal law) put a huge smile on my face, because they show how far Mexico goes to protect nature and its animals. From there, the captain took us to an island within Yum Balam to rest, swim in clear blue waters with fishes that looked like baby sharks, enjoy a ceviche the captain prepared for everyone on the boat before heading back to Holbox.HOLBOX_MEXICO_GREEN_TRAVELOn our fourth and final day, we woke up early to have a delicious breakfast at the hotel, say goodbye to Onnie and all the staff, and head back to Chiquila to pick up our car to drive to Cancun. On the way we made a quick stop in Solferino to pay the Millennium Tree a visit. This tree is over 1000 years old, 35 meters tall and full of an indescribable energy. Very much worth the stop!

Photo Credit: Valeria Hinojosa/Water Thru Skin, Posada Mawimbi