Q&A With Jesus Almaguer, CEO of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Isla Holbox (Photo courtesy of Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Isla Holbox (Photo courtesy of Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau)

For our April issue, which focused on island stays around the world, we highlighted Mexico’s offshore islands: Isla Holbox, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. That led us to interview Jesus Almaguer, CEO, Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): Why should travelers headed to Mexico stay on the islands, such as Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres?

Jesus Almaguer (JA): Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox are each filled with natural wonders. They are lands that are barely touched by today’s modernized ways. People come here to totally disconnect from everyday life and enjoy the culture, food, language and people that occupy these places. These pristine islands give visitors up-close and personal encounters with wildlife in the region.

For tourists who want an authentic glimpse into island life, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox are the perfect escapes. Most hotels are small, family-owned and very personalized. Golf carts and walking are the best modes of transportation. Because these islands are largely inhabited by fishermen, fresh seafood is on every menu, and you can walk up to any little restaurant and be surprised by one of the best meals of your life. These are unspoiled beaches, and for those who want to really relax, unwind and have a great time, these islands are the perfect escape.

PVR: Is it better for travelers headed to Mexico for an island stay to have already visited the mainland and stayed at destinations such as Cancun? In other words, who is the target clientele for an island stay in Mexico—couples, families, etc?

JA: Most people visiting Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox fly into Cancun before taking a yacht, sailboat, or other form of transportation to the islands. Even for those who have already been to Cancun, we recommend staying a few nights in Cancun before heading to one of the islands. Cancun is an evolving destination, and every year there are new attractions for visitors to experience. For example, last year Cancun opened the Mayan Museum on the hotel zone. New hotels including Secrets The Vine (with a wine-inspired theme) and Paradisus Cancun, and those amazing properties are reason enough to stay in Cancun a few nights. After a few nights in exciting Cancun, tourists should spend an additional three or four nights on either Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox. These islands are best for couples, whether they are on a honeymoon or just a romantic getaway. While these islands are family-friendly, these are best experienced by adults given the serene ambiance and rustic locations that are more attractive to adults.

PVR: What are the main points of attractions on these islands?

JA: Isla Mujeres is known for the Garrafon Natural Park, an eco-park with breathtaking landscapes, captivating art, island tradition, the tranquil and endless Playa Norte (North Beach) and extraordinary reefs for snorkeling and diving. Enjoy unique eco-tourism opportunities observing sunrises and sunsets in Punta del Sur or visiting Sleeping Sharks Cave, among other options. There is a new waterfront cemetery that is absolutely breathtaking. Although a tiny island, it also has a lot to offer for foodies and wine connoisseurs.

Holbox is one of the few places in the world where one can observe and even swim with the extraordinary whale shark, considered the biggest fish on Earth. They start arriving in May, and an encounter with them is almost guaranteed at Holbox between mid-June till September. They normally stay at surface level and it’s easy to spot them from the boat and snorkel with them. Tours usually start at 6 a.m., and allow visitors to be back at the hotel at noon. The reef that starts next to Cabo Catoche is ideal for scuba diving. The area is protected by international regulations and its topography combines rainforest, virgin beaches, lagoons, cenotes, and rivers.

PVR: Can you offer a couple of top restaurant recommendations on each island?

JA: On Isla Mujeres, Villa Rolandi has incredible food, as does Satay, which serves Asian fusion. On Holbox, you can eat lobster pizza at Pizzeria Carioca. Have snapper shark and stingray empanadas at any of the tiny restaurants and kiosks. People can bring their own catch to most local restaurants, and the chefs will happily prepare it for guests.

PVR: What sorts of activities can a visitor expect?

JA: On Isla Mujeres, there’s diving, fishing, snorkeling, touring the island, Mayan ruins to visit, fire parties and the list goes on. On Holbox, there’s dishing, and touring three amazing islands—Pasion, Pajaros and Yalahou. Enjoy lobster pizza and from June to September, swim with the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark.

PVR: How do visitors get to the islands? 

JA: For Isla Mujeres, there are ferries every 30 minutes that run from 5:30 am to midnight. The trip is a 20-minute boat ride through the unparalleled turquoise waters of the Caribbean. For Holbox, the most common transportation is to drive to Chiquila (an hour and a half from Cancun), and from Chiquila take a ferry to Holbox. The trip is a 30-minute boat ride and they run each hour.

PVR: What’s the best mode of transportation for getting around the island?

JA: Golf carts are the best mode of transportation at Isla Mujeres and on Holbox. Holbox is a small island and many of the main attractions are walking distance from one another.

For more information on Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres, visit the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau website at cancun.travel.

For more on Mexico, see Island Hopping in Mexico from the April 2013 issue.