Cuban artist Sandra Perez Lozano came to Isla Holbox looking for solitude and inspiration, following a busy career writing music for her ex-husband, Grammy winner Pablo Milanés, one of Cuba’s most influential singer-songwriters. She fell in love with the tiny island north of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico and its single village—founded by four families of fishermen committed to traditional, sustainable fishing practices and maintaining their Mayan traditions. Tin-roofed kite surfing shops, brightly colored restaurants, and palm-shaded bars line the white-sand streets. Fresh ceviche and lobster grace most menus focused on slow food served al fresco.
Bird-watchers flock to Holbox for its exotic avian life including flamingos, pelicans, and herons. The island, just 26 miles long and 1 mile wide, has become a hot spot for whale and shark watchers and kite surfers who love the shallow waters and wide beaches. Since Cancún (over on the Caribbean side) captures the party scene, Holbox can remain a quiet oasis, especially since cars are not permitted; everyone gets around on foot or by bike, scooter, or golf-cart taxi.
In 1999 Lozano bought a stretch of land 45 steps from the ocean and built a retreat set in lush tropical gardens, inviting friends and family to visit. She filled her home with one-of-a-kind regional pieces of art, handwoven linens, rattan furniture, and—by 2003—paying guests.
Today Ser Casasandra (from $540, including breakfast; casasandra.com) hosts a global collection of visitors staying among 17 rooms with gauze-draped four-poster beds and one villa accommodation. Turn-down service includes a romantic Federico García Lorca poem on your pillow and each morning the house smells of freshly brewed coffee and just-out-of-the-oven bread. For lunch and dinner, the kitchen serves Nouveau Yucatecan cuisine featuring fresh seafood accompanied by selections from the wine cellar, which holds only bottles from Mexican wineries.
Well-being is the way of life here, shared as simply as facilitating a digital detox (there are no televisions, telephones, alarm clocks, and only limited Wi-Fi), or during a one-hour session of basic meditation techniques or morning yoga on the beach. The seriously stressed can book a seven-day total immersion AHAL retreat (from $4,800) with certified therapists and teachers Juan Miguel Sánchez and Habiramy. Named for the Mayan word for “awakening,” the AHAL Holistic Center offers three customizable wellness programs: the Mind, Your Medicine; Sky Mind; and The Body Is Mind. The first incorporates synchrodynamics to improve your mental state and the second focuses on developing the ability to feel. The third teaches how to find inner peace and silence. Says Lozano, “The only way to achieve power in a world that is moving too fast is to learn to be calm.”