Hotel Highlights

  • Secluded tropical-island setting
  • Spot flamingos, whale sharks, dolphins and more
  • One of the finest fish restaurants in the Yucatan

Overview

Set on secluded Isla Holbox, a sandy and serene island just off Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Casa Sandra hotel promises a textbook beach vacation of hammock-swinging luxury in a setting so laid-back that sunset cocktails are de rigueur and shoes are practically verboten.

Smith Extra

Here's what you get for booking Casa Sandra with us:

Bottle of sparkling wine and a fruit plate on arrival

Facilities

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Need To Know

Rooms

17, including 10 suites.

Check–out

Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.

Rates

Double rooms from $290.76, excluding tax at 19 per cent.

More details

Rates include daily breakfast, welcome cocktails, an hour of bicycle rentals.

Also

Simubi Spa offers reiki, massages and reflexology just off the beach. Keep an eye out for Bernardo, the friendly local raccoon who wanders the resort every so often to check up on things.

At the hotel

Spa, art gallery, reading room, board games, bicycles to rent, free WiFi in common areas. In rooms: radio, free bottled water, herbal bath products. In room spa treatments can be arranged.

Our favourite rooms

Suite 12 is especially private at the end of the resort, and has its own hammock for afternoon naps. It’s often called the Honeymoon Suite because of its secluded spot overlooking the ocean. Room 1 in the main house was owner Sandra’s bedroom before she converted the property. It has sweeping ocean views and a private twine-woven balcony. Take a look at your showerhead: many are fashioned from conch shells that were collected along the beach.

Poolside

The heated outdoor pool is shaded by palms and surrounded by sunloungers. The sea’s on the doorstep, too, and day-beds, palapas loungers are available on the North Beach.

Packing tips

No need to bring extra shoes here. The locals pad around barefoot, and it usually takes less than an hour before guests opt to do the same. Bring an underwater camera to catch whale sharks and the brightly coloured fish that swim around the mangroves. There are only three ATMs on the island, and they frequently run out of pesos, so bring plenty of cash with you.

Also

Check the tidal forecasts before booking: occasional changes in currents send heaps of seaweed onto Casa Sandra’s adjacent beach, which can make for iffy beach conditions (and fishy fragrances).

Children

The remote location and low-key style make this hotel best-suited for adults.

Weddings

This property is suitable for weddings

More details

Food & Drink

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Hotel Restaurant

The laid-back restaurant, which opens out to the beach, is Holbox’s finest, serving fresh fish with a mix of Cuban and Mexican flavours. Dishes include lobster tamales, mango-spiked ceviche, fresh fillets with coconut curry, and saffron fish with garlic. On Saturdays, the restaurant serves Cuban dishes, including ropa vieja with fried sweet potatoes, and beer-soaked shrimp. For breakfast, sip fresh watermelon juice with spicy cheese-topped eggs. With advance notice, the restaurant can arrange for a romantic, torch-lit dinner on the beach.

Hotel Bar

There is a casual bar by the pool with a few stools, where guests can order light snacks and cocktails with a Cuban angle, including mojitos.

Last orders

The pool bar serves cocktails and a light snack menu from noon until 6pm. The restaurant serves breakfast from 7am until 11am; lunch is offered from 1pm until 3pm, and dinner is available from 7pm until 11pm.

Room service

The full restaurant menu is available in your room from 7am until 11pm.

Smith Insider

Dress code

Island casual: kaftans and Havaianas are perfect, though you’re welcome to dine barefoot.

Top table

Take a table with wicker chairs outside overlooking the ocean for the best mealtime scenery.

Local Guide

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Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…

Local restaurants

Dining on the small island is quite casual, and many restaurants are open throughout the day for late lunches or early dinners. Overlooking Plaza Principal, Los Peleones (+52 984 120 9685) serves ultra-fresh seafood and traditional Mexican dishes, including smoky mole. The daily catch in champagne sauce is a house specialty. The Italian chef at Restaurante La Guaya (+52 984 875 2026) on Plaza El Pueblito creates light carpaccio from each day’s haul of fresh fish. The chef also makes some of the island’s best pasta, including lobster ravioli. Off the square, Pura Vida (+52 331 411 9538) serves sushi with a Caribbean twist, using local fish and lobster in spicy or fruit-paired combinations.

Local bars

Several nameless open-air bars line the beach, a short walk from the main square. Most serve frozen cocktails, and all pour crisp Mexican beer. After dinner, many locals gather here to listen to reggae.

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Fantasy island

Casa Sandra

Calle Igualdad, Lazaro Cardenas., Holbox Island, Quintana Roo State, Mexico, 77310

Casa Sandra is on the island of Holbox off the Yucután Peninsula, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Planes

Cancun International Airport is the nearest airport, and is 180 km away. The airport runs several flights from the US through United (www.united.com), Virgin America (www.virginamerica.com) and others. There are also domestic flights with Mexicana (www.mexicana.com) to Mexico City, which serves Europe. You can connect from Cancun on a small plane for a 25-minute flight to the island of Holbox.

Automobiles

If flying into Cancun and not connecting via a smaller plane to the island, you will need to arrange for ground transportation through the hotel for US$80 one-way, or rent a car and drive to the ferry crossing. The drive from the airport to the ferry crossing can take up to three hours. If renting your own car, follow the road from Mérida to New Valladolid, turn right at Kantunilkin and continue on to the small port Chiquilá. You will have to leave your car at the port as Isla Holbox is strictly car-free, but golf carts are available from rental kiosks in town, and can be delivered to the hotel.

Other

Ferreis and small private boats depart from Chiquilá to Isla Hollbox. The last ferry boat leaves at 7pm, but the private boats do not have regular schedules.

Reviews

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Anonymous review

by Jonathan Stern , Shining scriptwriter

Mrs Smith is impressed, I can tell.

I’m chatting away to our Mayan barman in half-remembered GCSE Spanish and I don’t mean to boast, but it’s all going pretty well. I’ve just asked him what went into our deliciously refreshing welcome cocktail. He considers...

‘Menta, limón, pepino, azúcar...y mucho mucho amor.’

I laugh s...

Read more

Casa Sandra

Anonymous review by Jonathan Stern, Shining scriptwriter

Mrs Smith is impressed, I can tell.

I’m chatting away to our Mayan barman in half-remembered GCSE Spanish and I don’t mean to boast, but it’s all going pretty well. I’ve just asked him what went into our deliciously refreshing welcome cocktail. He considers...

‘Menta, limón, pepino, azúcar...y mucho mucho amor.’

I laugh slightly too hard. Not because it’s particularly funny. But because it’s a joke. In Spanish. Which I understand. And I want everyone to know what a cultured, well-seasoned traveller I am. I glance up nervously, half expecting the barman to sneer at my pomposity. Instead he claps me on the back and chuckles along like we’re old pals. Either he’s adept at hiding his contempt for pretentious Englishmen abroad or here at Casa Sandra they’re all distinctly more laid back than I am.

The warm reception is more than appreciated. Isla Holbox is only accessible via an eight-mile boat ride from the remote Yucatan town of Chiquila. We’ve been travelling for the best part of a hot, dusty day and were accompanied on our final leg by a band of Hare Krishnas who spent the journey chanting, banging hand drums and attempting to convert us to an ovo-vegetarian lifestyle. It was actually more enjoyable than it sounds, but that’s not to say we’re not relieved to finally arrive at Casa Sandra’s sleepy beachfront locale.

Built and run by owner and artist Sandra Pérez, the hotel seems designed from the ground up to soothe the weary traveller. Hammocks pepper the shaded balconies of thatched huts. Inside, the rooms are restful havens from the scorch of the sun. White muslin drapes hang down from above while terracotta floor tiles are cooling underfoot. The walls are speckled with original paintings by the eponymous owner and a collection of like-minded local artists. It’s part beachside retreat, part hip East London gallery.

Don’t come expecting high-end luxuries, though. As our welcome letter explains, technology in the rooms has been banished as part of an ongoing effort to ‘eliminate external factors that cause stress,’ which is a nice way of saying there’s no phone, no fridge and a giant conch shell where the power shower should be.

Mind you, there’s also a huge claw-foot bathtub for those who fancy an indulgent soak and handmade Yucatan toiletries to help wash away the stresses of your pre-island life. Still, Mrs Smith and I opt for a quick, cooling shell shower (she’s not saying it but I can tell she got a little caliente under the collar witnessing my smooth Spanish repartee) and head off in search of sustenance.

We find it in the form of ice-cold beers and a light lunch by the shaded teardrop pool. Mrs Smith orders a zesty ceviche that can’t have been more than an hour out of the sea. I plump for the lobster tacos, drawn by the chilli smack of this Mexican staple paired with the opulence of that meaty shellfish. Little do I realise at the time that if there’s one thing that isn’t in short supply on Holbox, it’s lobster. They add it here like a seasoning. You can have lobster tamales, lobster enchiladas - and for the willfully sacrilegious, why not try the island speciality – lobster pizza. The sunburnt crustacean is so ubiquitous you feel you should add a disclaimer to everything you order: ‘Mineral water please. Ice, no lemon. No lobster’.

Lunch done, we head for the beach. One of the big draws of the island is the opportunity to swim with the magnificent whale sharks who make this place their home each year. But ever the poor planners we’ve arrived in January and missed the season by a good four months either side so we’re forced instead to just unwind on the shore. Mrs Smith does an admirable job of feigning disappointment.

Running only one-and-a-half kilometres across, Holbox is of course all about the coastline, and Casa Sandra sits on its own pristine stretch, looking out onto the clear turquoise Caribbean waters. Even the beach seems designed to eliminate any unnecessary stress. There are no rocks, no jellyfish, no surprisingly powerful undercurrents – just long stretches of fine white sand and gentle lapping waters. The hotel provides full-on king-size beach beds for those who simply can’t squeeze enough relaxation from an ordinary sun lounger and regular visits from our beaming Mayan barman who plies us with freshly made ¬ – smoothies made from mango, pineapple and chaya, a green leaf that locals will tell you treats anything from poor circulation to heart disease.

Not that I can imagine there’s too much of that on Holbox anyway. I’ve never been anywhere so calm and serene. On our way from the port we witness a man smash his golf cart (there are no cars on the island) into the back of another one delivering ice-cubes. I brace myself for an explosion of road rage but instead everyone gets out of their vehicles and just starts laughing.

Meanwhile on the beaches I notice that they don’t build sandcastles here. Instead they construct intricate scale models of the ancient Mayan site of Chichen Itza. And watching these blissed-out locals serenely composing the famous pyramidal shape, there’s something distinctly Close Encounters about the whole affair. The sand here is so fine and white that when it gets wet it even has the consistency of a good buttery mash so it’s all terrifically Richard Dreyfuss.

As the sun comes down we take a stroll into town to work up an appetite for dinner. I say town, though it’s really just a handful of streets surrounding a charming pastel shaded square. Rustic wooden shacks house a series of appealing little restaurants and boutiques selling local crafts. The place still retains a knockabout charm that you imagine the Thai islands used to have when smug friends would boast about travelling there in the late eighties.

Back in our room I’m starting to suspect that Holbox is working its magic on me. I’m even toying with wearing flip-flops down to dinner! So I’m somewhat perplexed to hear what sounds like workmen climbing onto the roof of our hut. And when one starts tapping on our window I get up to investigate fully ready to lose my rag... only to discover that it’s a gigantic iguana just popped by to say hello.

Mrs Smith and I take advantage of the photo opp before gliding down to dinner. We’re eating al fresco on the beach lit only by flaming torches and a galaxy of stars. I kick off my flip-flops and sink my feet into the sand. As the waiter comes by I decide to make everyone’s life easier and just order in English. ‘I’ll have the risotto.’

With lobster, of course.

The Guestbook

Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel with us, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Casa Sandra's Guestbook below.

 

BlackSmith

Stayed on 22 Nov 2013

We loved

The hotel was perfect, in an ideal location on the island with a beautiful beach out the front and a lovely pool with bar/restaurant behind. The room was incredible and had wonderful views of the sea, as well as a private balcony with a hammock to relax on.

Rating: 8/10 stars