I don’t know when I first started thinking about retirement, but I know it’s a thought that comes up every time I leave the country. Isla Holbox, Mexico, has been my dream retirement spot for a few years now. It’s a far, out-of-the-way fisherman’s island north of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean. If you don’t mind the heat and mosquitoes, you can walk the entire island in a day.
It’s a spot where you won’t find chain restaurants or miles-long, all-inclusive resorts. You’ll find sandy roads, a shallow, wade-pool-like beach, one school and one amphitheater in the center of town that hosts a free monthly concert for the locals.
We were there this past Saturday, and spent the day on a whale shark tour. It’s a 7-hour excursion that’s well worth the $100 price tag. The captain picks us up at our hotel at 7 a.m., and we assume our positions in the 8-seater boat. It’s a 2-hour boat trip to the secret spot in the Caribbean Sea that the whale sharks flock to June through September.
Though swimming with the whale sharks is an unbelievable experience, in my case, it’s kind of scary. I was the only one from our group that was OK with just taking one swim with them. The others on the boat took two turns. I safely watched from the boat.
After swimming with the whale sharks, we made our way back to the security of the Gulf of Mexico to fish. We’re handed a spool of line with a hook at the end and a little bait—handline fishing. It was rudimentary, but a surprising hit with the fish. We caught grunts, a grouper and a few other varieties.
After fishing, the captain takes us to a snorkeling spot to get a better view of the sea turtles known to inhabit the area. While we snorkel, the captain and his first mate make ceviche from our catch. It’s raw fish, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, salt and lots of lime juice. We dock the boat on a tiny strip of land and eat our fresh-caught ceviche on the beach with cold beers. It was one of those moments you see on an Anthony Bourdain show, but in real life.
We return to Holbox sticky from our ocean-water adventures, hot, sweaty and tired. But when you only have two days on the island, you push through it.
At 6 p.m., we’re at Raices—my favorite place at my favorite time. It’s a shack of a bar on the beach. They serve an as-expected-tasting rum and coke. They serve average-tasting food. And they serve the most unforgettable sunset.
People flock there around the 6 o’clock hour to watch the sun take its dip of the day. To me, it’s amazing. I see spots for minutes afterwards just because I can’t take my eyes off of the sun setting.
We head off to dinner—gnocci and salmon on a rooftop patio in downtown. Any breeze here is a welcomed relief. The town is gently active below. Kids play soccer on the basketball court, street vendors sell food from their carts, dreadlocked tourists walk barefoot with a beer in hand. And we watch it all from above, hoping that maybe one day this day will be like any other.