by , SmarterTravel Staff
Isla Holbox

A refuge from the mega-resorts and the pseudo eco-parks of Mexico's Caribbean coast, Isla Holbox promises travelers a laid-back beach retreat and the chance for authentic encounters with nature. This small sickle-shaped island sits north of Cancun in the placid Gulf of Mexico (rough water is often a problem on the Caribbean coast), making it a great destination for swimmers and wildlife watchers who come to see the birds and marine animals that congregate in waters nearby. 

Relaxing is the main island pastime. There are miles of undeveloped beach on which to stroll and in the town you can sip cerveza and dine on fresh, locally caught seafood at open-air restaurants. You should make the effort to view the island's wildlife if possible. Kayak out to the lagoon on the mainland-facing side of the island and paddle among the mangroves to view birds like pink flamingos, spoonbills, and white ibises. If you're here between May and mid-September, you'll have the rare chance to swim with migrating whale sharks—the largest fish in the world. Whale shark tours depart from the island and cost about $90 per person.

For cozy digs right on the beach, stay at the top-rated (according to sister site TripAdvisor) Posada Mawimbi where nightly double occupancy rates start at $65. There's an on-site bar where breakfast, lunch, and happy hour are served and a tropical garden with palm-thatched palapas and hammocks. The hotel can arrange for whale-shark swimming and other tours.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Alfredo Ragazzoni)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 21, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, all-inclusive resort, beach, Boston, Christine Sarkis, destination, Germany, hotel, island, Mexico, Napa, resort, Turks and Caicos, vacation package, winter.

Though a travel warning remains in effect, tourists are again flocking to Mexico's top vacation destinations, with a nearly 20 percent year-over-year jump in tourist arrivals. New air service plus discounted vacation packages and resort rates around the country make this an affordable time to visit.

Low-cost carriers and legacy lines alike are introducing new service to Mexico. On December 1, Southwest will launch an arrangement with Mexican carrier Volaris that allows passengers to travel to destinations in Mexico on a single itinerary booked on Southwest. Starting December 15, Alaska Airlines will offer new service between San Jose and Guadalajara, and adds service from Sacramento on December 16. On February 10, American Eagle begins daily nonstops from Dallas to Veracruz and Queretaro. And on February 12, American launches new seasonal service between Chicago and Cozumel.

Looking beyond coach class? According to Travel Weekly, Aeromexico has cut prices on its upper-class service by 14 to 53 percent, depending on the route.

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Deals and discounts on air-and-hotel packages and at resorts are the norm this winter. Through November 25, Apple Vacations is running its annual SuperSale, with heavily discounted winter rates on vacation packages to Mexico. Sale offerings include airfare and three nights at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun starting from $500 per person instead of the regular price of $1,100. And, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta has rates from $104 a night through April 30 with promotional code LLF booked by November 30.

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