Surrounded by shallow waters where the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico meet is where you’ll find Isla Holbox, a still somewhat undiscovered car-free island that sits on a nature reserve teeming with marine life and rugged beauty.
While officially part of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Isla Holbox seems a world away. Accessible only by ferry or small chartered airplanes, the island is north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, away from the increasing tourism of Tulum and ceaseless parties of Cancún.
So why would someone visit this sandbar of a destination that’s only 26 miles long and just about a mile wide?
Swimming with whale sharks is a big draw. Kiteboarding is another. And now, there’s another reason to journey to this little island paradise: a 12-room boutique hotel that opened in early 2018 called Punta Caliza.
While we have not visited this property (hopefully one day!), we were intrigued because it’s run by owner Claudia Munoz and her family. It’s not common for a woman to be in charge of a hotel in Mexico, so naturally Homegirl Talk wanted to know more.
Punta Caliza — literally translated as Limestone Point — is an eye-catching edifice that pays homage to the island’s Mayan heritage and natural surroundings.
Guadalajara-based architecture firm Estudio Macías Peredo designed the hotel that features palm roofs, red cedar grown by Claudia’s parents and other natural elements including the namesake limestone.
Each of the twelve rooms features a private plunge pool that connects to the main body of water at the hotel’s center while the triangular tower at the entrance is a bold architectural statement that greets every guest.
So just how much money will a stay cost you? Not nearly as much as you might think. Rooms are around $190 US (including weekends), which is a steal considering you can barely get that rate for a two-star hotel these days.
Homegirl Talk chatted with Claudia to find out what it’s like to be one of the few female leaders in Mexico’s hospitality industry, how she handled the move from a major city to a remote island, and how we can all benefit from enjoying enjoying — and conserving — the natural beauty of this island getaway.
Where did you live before moving to Isla Holbox?
I grew up in Villahermosa, a small town in the south of Mexico and moved to Guadalajara to study architecture eight years ago.
Everybody knows Cancun and Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, but not many people know about Isla Holbox. When and why did you decide to open a hotel on this tiny island?
My family and I have always been travelers. I was born while my parents were traveling and have always been moving from one place to another. The one thing we love more than traveling is meeting people and showing them the places that we love.
We came to Holbox for the first time in 2008, and we fell in love with this place instantly. We had been searching for a place to plant our roots and Holbox just seemed like the place to do it, so we started looking for opportunities and nine years later we opened Punta Caliza.
What’s it like to run a hotel as a woman? Is this common in Mexico?
It’s not common at all. I’d say on the island it’s less than 15% of the hotels. Feminism in Mexico still has a long way to go. Being so young and a woman has made it difficult for people to take me seriously or even acknowledge my position.
I still get a few people that only want to talk to the men in my family, but luckily my parents raised me to believe that there’s nothing I can’t do without hard work and kindness.
It can be upsetting at times, but I see a lot of women on the island managing their own businesses and teaming up with each other, so one day, hopefully, we won’t have to be talking about how weird it is for a woman to be in charge.
While an architecture student, you introduced your parents to your instructors who eventually formed a partnership with your family to build Punta Caliza. Are you able to continue your pursuits as an architect while managing the hotel?
I think when you really want to do something you’ll find a way. It took some time, but I’m finally managing both things in a not-so stressful manner. I still want to be an architect when I grow up, and I love that I can still do it while living in this paradise.
How challenging has it been to go from living in the city to being on this remote island that doesn’t even have cars on it?
It was though at first. Guadalajara was the first place that really felt like home to me. I moved there on my own when I was 17 and left with a group of friends that eventually became my family. It was loud and fast and there was always something new and exciting do to or someone to hang out with.
Being back with all my family is something I’m still adjusting to. But once I learned to slow down from time to time, I realized how good life is while being here. And I don’t miss cars at all. I’d say that’s one of the best things about here.
How often do you leave the island?
At least every 3 weeks. Either to run some errands or just to go to the movies. It’s needed.
Your hotel Punta Caliza only has 12 rooms. Were you forced to keep it small because the hotel is located on a nature reserve or did you purposely want it that way?
A bit of both. We like the feeling of a small hotel, somewhere that feels more like a house.
The hotel is a striking vision with its vertical triangular shapes, thatched roofs and saltwater swimming pool that connects all the guest rooms much like a canal. Talk about the inspiration for the hotel’s architecture and what it offers visitors.
The land where we designed the hotel was difficult. Some distance away from the beach and surrounded by constructions and mangrove, where construction is prohibited, we decided to create an aquatic landscape on its own for the hotel.
The only condition we had in mind was that we used a lot of wood, for the architecture to be a tribute of Mayan culture, and for the hotel to be a platform of Mexican design.
I worked with artisans from the region to create unique objects to be displayed at the hotel. From tables, bed linen, plates, hammocks, chairs … everything in the hotel is handmade and respectful of traditions.
What we want more than anything is for people to feel at home and to fall in love with the island. We do our best to treat everyone as if they were coming into their own house and the best reward is when they leave as friends.
I read that one of the main materials used to build Punta Caliza was red cedar that your family grew over several decades. Tell us about the importance of using the red cedar, limestone and other natural elements in the design of the hotel.
I like to think we started building Punta Caliza when my parents planted the first red cedar 27 years ago as a way to provide for their family. My dad grew up watching my grandfather work with wood and he has always been fascinated by it, so planting trees to secure our future just came naturally for him.
All of the wood you see at the hotel was harvested by my parents, and my brother and I used to play in that land when we were kids. We also used chukum, a traditional Mayan paste made with the bark of the chukum tree and limestone, which gives Punta Caliza that sandy color.
People often don’t take vacation because they don’t have enough time or money. Is staying at Punta Caliza a very expensive getaway?
Not at all, coming down to Holbox is a long journey and we do our best to help our guests enjoy Holbox in the best possible way.
As more people learn about Isla Holbox and Punta Caliza, are you afraid that it will become too popular and ruin its pristine environment?
Holbox has a strong sense of community and very proud locals. There are a lot of things threatening the nature of the island, but with organization and work we can fight back and make this place better than it is.
There are ways to keep growing and improving that can be beneficial to the island. And there are many, many things we need to change in order to provide the best service to travelers.
What do you want travelers from around the world to know about Punta Caliza and Isla Holbox?
Isla Holbox is a very fragile environment with great things to offer. People need to remember this is an underdeveloped island, without all the luxuries you have inland.
It’s a place that needs taking care and respect, and once you understand that and see all the magical things that happen here – like eagle nests on electric poles, tens of seagulls flying over your head, starry night skies, curious whale sharks and raccoons, friendly people and infinite blue water, you can’t help but fall in love with this place.
It’s time to get away! Book your room at Punta Caliza on Isla Holbox… and take us with you!
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