The way Mexico weaves artistry into the everyday is celebrated wholeheartedly at eco-friendly, bohemian beachfront stay Aldea Kuká. The owners’ passion for and support of local makers is evident in the smallest details: say, the staff’s Kahlo-esque embroidered uniforms, the earthenware vases and hessian lampshades that make the wood-and-bamboo-built suites so characterful, and the eye-catching art provided by a native maker-in-residence each month. This, combined with Isla Holbox’s intoxicating beauty and laidback, take-it-easy nature makes for a fun and authentic stay. Honoured is the country’s love of a mezcal-sloshed knees-up, too: the owner throws a killer Day of the Dead bash.
Get this when you book through us:
Welcome drinks for two, an artisanal gift and US$50 towards food and drink
Double rooms from £279.45 ($337), including tax at 19 per cent.
Breakfasts of fresh fruit, oatmeal, eggs any-way, chilaquiles, French toast and pancakes are usually included in the room rate (for a little extra you can get smoothies and milkshakes too).
Staff uniforms are made by craftspeople in Oaxaca, if you’re taken with them, the same craftspeople make the sarong in your room, and you can buy it for a little extra. WiFi is patchy on the island, but the higher up you are in your suite the better it appears to work.
At the hotel
Beach, spa, gym, bikes to borrow, free WiFi. In rooms: Nespresso machine, minibar, beach bag and sunhat, air-conditioning. Guests staying in the Honeymoon Suite and above will get a free yoga class and some suites come with free gym entry too.
Our favourite rooms
Being ethical has never looked so romantic as it does in these palapa-thatched villas. Choose a suite or loft room for a heady combination of view, terrace and a beach-in-reach setting. Local artisans are responsible for the interiors’ uniquely Mayan take on rustic chic: woven hangings, earthenware vases, hollowed-out gourds and raffia baskets shout out to native talents.
The hotel’s outdoor pool is lined with twinkling black tiles and glitters like a disco ball. An effect enhanced by the water cascading over its infinity edge and – after dark – the ceiling of stars up above. Loungers are laid out around the sides, kept shady by shaggy parasols, and ice-cool drinks can be brought over.
Holbox has an undeniable neo-hippie feel, and the hotel’s spa follows suit; its two treatment rooms are all set for holistic treatments with all-natural products. They’re carried out from 6am to 10pm and must be booked in advance – and if dreamy design hits your sweet spot, you’ll love the touches here (a knotted-rope feature wall, honeycomb tiling…). The gym follows the hotel’s all-natural look, but with added treadmills, fixed bikes, weights and more state-of-the-art equipment. Personal trainers and pilates practitioners can put you through your paces, and yoga classes are held at sunset.
Not all the nature here is majestic – bring mozzie repellent to keep sundowners itch-free. If you’ll be staying over Carnival or Day of the Dead (or another excellent reason to party), pack face paint, glitter, masks, sequined bikinis, ostrich-feather hats and the like – as sartorial a spectacle as you dare.
The public areas are mostly made of sand, but ground floor rooms have plenty of floorspace.
Leave little Smiths at home, Aldea Kuká is strictly over-18.
This is a hotel that clearly ‘hearts’ the Earth. Its planet-loving ways include a solar farm for a self-sufficient kitchen, ditched plastics, a water-treatment plant and carbon-offsetting tree-growing schemes. Plus, the owner’s dedicated to showcasing handicrafts from across the Yucatán and supporting local makers.
Drinks are best enjoyed on the beach. Otherwise, sit anywhere you can admire the sea from.
There are two restaurants at the hotel. Kukatch feels like a chiringuito, yet again making stylish use of wood and bamboo, with some endearing stylistic touches: the jazzy pattern on the bar and light fixtures made to resemble little fish caught in netting, which gives you some clue as to the food here. Fresh catches are grilled up throughout the day, alongside generously heaped nachos and other light bites, and here’s where you’ll take breakfast too. More polished dining spot La Malix is actually named after the owners’ dog – a lovable and very spoiled Peruvian Inca Orchid – whose visage appears in the logo and the mosaic on the terrace. It’s no dog’s dinner though: black-wicker chairs, a wall of vases and eye-catching lampshades tempt ‘grammers and the seafood is so fresh (and the beach so near) it could’ve just hopped onto your plate. Depending on how open-minded you are about your protein sources (and Mexicans have been so for a while now), guests will thrill or balk at dishes of guacamole with deep-fried crickets and tortilla-wrapped escamoles (ant larvae – or Mexican caviar as it’s otherwise known).
Follow the Broadway-style name in lights to Kuká Bar, where tenders like to shake things up a bit – say by swapping rum for mezcal in a mojito. There are excellent gins here too and sparkling sea views.
Late-risers will be thrilled to hear that breakfast at Kukatch runs from 8am till a lie-in-enabling 12 noon; then a lunch and dinner menu runs from 1pm to 10pm at both Kukatch and La Malix. Drinks flow at the bar until 11pm.
Aldea Kuká sits on the sandy northwestern shore of the slender and beautifully biodiverse Holbox island, due north of party hotspot Cancún.
You’ll need to fly into Cancún; then to reach the island take the two-hour drive north to the port of Chiquila and catch the ferry to Holbox. The hotel’s around a 10-minute drive from the ferry port. Or, the faster and more luxurious way to reach the island (with a hefty price tag, mind), is to hire a private plane for the 30-minute journey from Cancún airport. The hotel can arrange this for you for MXN40,000 one-way.
The island is car-free and residents zip around in golf buggies, so leave your wheels behind.
The ferry service zips back and forth from Chiquila to Holbox very frequently from 5am to 9.30pm – the journey takes around 25 minutes.
Worth getting out of bed for
Isla Holbox was allegedly founded by pirates, and much like them you’ve come across some rare bounty in Aldea Kuká, so you may wish to kick back and just take it all in. The natural beach is down a small path and has fine crushed-coral sand lapped by waters with this region’s luminous emerald tinge (thanks to a colourful clash between the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea). Waters are calm and there’s an array of perches to choose from – we rather like the nest-shaped ones you can curl up in. After a day spent not doing very much, the spa will help you to find reserves of relaxation you didn’t know you had and sunset yoga will gently limber you up. Upping the adrenaline ante – a bit – are bikes to borrow and stand-up paddleboards.
Isla Holbox’s name translates to ‘black-hole island’, but this description was largely used to turn away nosy tourists, we’re sure. And we can’t say we blame the residents for wanting to keep it to themselves. The island’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, an Attenborough-doc-worthy patchwork of mangrove-laced wetlands, clear-enough-to-see-your-own-flippers sea and run-free green spaces which house jaguars, crocodiles, tapirs, manatees, pelicans and flamingos and – its headline act – whale sharks. These polka-dotted gentle giants can be spotted happily munching on plankton offshore from June to September; the hotel can arrange a boat out so you can swim alongside them. Otherwise, you can conduct your own safari by golf cart, the speediest mode of transportation on this car-free isle.
Another watery wonder is bioluminescence, whose eerie glow can be seen brightest from Playa Punta Cocos, just along the shore, around the same time the whale sharks arrive. Or keep it classic with a sunset boat ride. The hotel can also cast you adrift at Cabo Catoche island, but they won’t leave you to your own devices – lobster ceviche and freshly cracked coconuts will be available and the water’s rich with sea turtles – for snorkelling and admiring purposes, just to be clear. And, if all that natural wonder and utter indulgence has you feeling overwhelmed, Yalahau lagoon has hot springs with rumoured healing properties.
Smith stablemate Casa las Tortugas lies at the western end of Playa Holbox, a short walk from the hotel, and one that’s worth making for a punch-packing mix of Argentine, Caribbean and Mediterranean flavours at its Mandarina Restaurant. Try octopus tacos with pineapple chutney, hibiscus-laced lobster ceviche and freshly caught fish with pepperleaf pesto. Their Ama sushi bar is also a fan of fusion – its best experienced in omakase style, giving the chef free reign to delight you. For dining under the stars, head to Piedra Santa a couple blocks back from the beach. You enter through a dramatic woven-wood structure, and within, fairy-lights wind around trees, love is in the sun-warmed air and menus of cheese with ash, peach and chilli; blue crab with green-mojo sauce; and a sweet and earthy cochinita pibil.
A round of tamarind margaritas followed by sake shots will give you a nice sunset buzz at Tamashi Sky Bar (don’t worry, the hotel’s within stumbling distance). Load up on nigiri platters with your apéritifs, then see where the night takes you.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this tropical-village hotel on Isla Holbox and unpacked their indigenous art pieces and bottle of mezcal, a full account of their super-chill break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Aldea Kuká in the Yucatán…
Owner of Aldea Kuká, Marco García Márquez, loves nothing more than a full-throttle fiesta – his annual mezcal-washed Day of the Dead bash brings Oaxacan celebrations to the east coast and plenty of life to his other great love: Isla Holbox, a strip of wildly biodiverse land in a beach-blessed part of the Yucatán. He fell for its charms on a family road trip, and decades later came back to build his own slice-of-paradise stay. Aldea Kuká was born with the lightest of touches to ensure the delicate life cycles of the glorious Yum Balam Nature Reserve weren’t disturbed, and the García Márquez family are still working to keep the hotel as eco-forward as possible: a solar-run organic farm contributes ingredients for fresh sopes, ceviches and tropical-fruit platters; water is recycled and made safe for drinking onsite; and they’re working to up their leafy quotient to offset carbon. Impressive, but that’s something that’s par for the course here, when you consider its romantic wood-and-bamboo-built villas, darkly decadent disco ball of a pool, treehouse-like walkways and – of course – the beach, which comes with plenty of Caribbean cachet. Be sure to check out works by the hotel’s monthly-changing indigenous artist-in-residence; roll up for sushi nights, carnival celebrations and more; sway to the gentle beat in one of the many hammocks lying around as you watch a flamboyance of flamingos go about their business; and feel the whole lotta love the García Márquez’s have brought to this blissful retreat.