Merida or Holbox: Travelling Solo in Mexico with an Infant
Travelling solo in Mexico with a child may feel a bit scary. So to help us sort things out, we’re super excited to host Anna Von Frances of @fullpoweryoga and her daughter Luna. Here she chats what works and what doesn’t when travelling solo to new places with a little one. Many thanks to her for sharing this journey with us!
My daughter, Luna, and I have been traveling solo together since she was two months old. She’s a whopping four months now and we are just wrapping up a 5 week trek through Quintana Roo and the Yucatan in Mexico. The entire experience has been wonderful; we started with friends in Tulum and worked up to Playa Del Carmen and Cancun where I got a chance to get her Canadian passport sorted out ( we live here in Mexico by the way).
We then took a vacation of sorts to the sleepy island of Holbox for a week followed by a week in the capital city of Merida. After years of traveling solo and keeping mostly a low profile, staying off the beaten path, I was surprised to see that almost everything I thought would work, didn’t, and our best times were had in the least likely places.
First, we went to Holbox where I rented an apartmentcito – or tiny one bedroom on a little island in the north. Holbox is booming like all beach towns throughout the Gulf and Caribbean coast, but unlike the extreme bloat of Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, it’s still very sleepy, very laid back and largely untapped. I was looking forward to escaping the big box all inclusive life for a small car-free, walkable island.
The trip from Playa Del Carmen is 2 hours by bus to the boat, then another 25 minutes on the boat and voila! You’re on Holbox. There are golf cart taxis that will pick you up at the dock and take you anywhere on the island, but mostly everything you need in town is a 5-10 minute walk. We arrived at night and the manager at our little apartment hotel met us at the boat and we walked the four blocks to our place.
The beauty of Holbox is it’s tiny size and the beaches. The crystal clear water is endless and the beaches are soft and very chill. If there is a nightlife scene, it must be small, because I barely heard a peep after 9PM each night. There are several tours you can book at any tour stop around the square and there are tons of beautifully painted murals all throughout the town – it’s Instagram heaven.
It turns out Holbox was actually a real challenge for us. Because of it’s teeny tiny size, there is little shade and nothing to do indoors. A four month old baby cannot sit, crawl, walk, or wear sunscreen, so long days at the beach were not on our agenda. Although there is bike rental all over the island, we found it a bit pricey ($20 a day) and all the rentals seemed to be taken each time we tried. Our apartment was nothing to write home about, just a small cheap space with a good bed, air-conditioning and a small kitchen; it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to spend all day. Also, the day trips were mostly snorkeling or swimming driven, we ended up doing the short island hop where we bird watched and mostly just got our feet wet in the shallow waters.
On the plus side, the locals of Holbox are incredibly helpful and friendly, and there is a distinctive feeling of everyone being in it together. We were regularly offered rides, and many a waiter held Luna while I ate and we were met with smiles and casual conversation everywhere we went.
If I had my time back I would love to spend a week with a friend there. It seemed like a destination better suited for couples: lovers, partners, best friends, or family. If Luna was 1 or older, then it would have been a paradise. The food was affordable and the water shallow enough to walk out for close to a mile before worrying about even child level drowning. And if you are traveling with kids, always book a place with a pool!
We left Holbox on the first boat out at 5AM to catch the one and only bus to Merida at 5:30AM daily.
My expectations of Merida were pretty low. Generally speaking, cities in Latin America are pretty dirty and poorly put together in terms of ease, but I was looking forward to some indoor time spent at museums after a full week spent dodging the sun on an island.
After a lot of research I booked a private room in a large hostel with a great location. I was ready to socialize, and Holbox left me feeling a bit isolated and lonely. Hostels are hit or miss in my experience; traveling with a kid means you need to be extra careful not to end up in a party hostel cause that is a guaranteed awful experience for you and your babe. Nomadas turned out to be one of the best hostel stays I have ever had. They had incredible staff who were continuously going the extra mile for us; helpful with great directions and suggestions on everything from where to buy biodegradable diapers to the cheapest and easiest way to get to the Mayan Museum with a child. There was a large pool with plenty of shallow area, free yoga and salsa and cooking classes nightly. The age range was anywhere from teenager to couples in their late sixties.
Merida has a host of short trips that are easy to take with a child. My motto with a baby is, “anything is fun for a couple of hours”. We took a free walking tour through the town square that was under two hours and rich with history, visited the Mundo Maya Museum, went to the beach for lunch, and even hopped on a local bus ($1) for a half hour trip out of town to see a ruin, a museum and a cenote all together near the town of Dzibichaltun (pronounced zee-bee-shal-toon).
Merida is the cultural capital of the Yucatan. There was once a large Mayan village there that the Spaniards dismantled and rebuilt their churches and convents on a few hundred years ago. It became their centre in the Yucatan because the building materials were already there and it is only a half hour from the coast, with easy access to Cuba, their main hub.
Over time, Merida has become the arty younger brother with Mexico City as it’s much larger, more diverse sibling. With just over a million people, it has everything a traveling parent needs: great parks which are well kept, lots of free art galleries to explore when you need break from the heat, great patios and tons of half day and day trips nearby. On Sundays they even close off some of the streets downtown for bikes and pedestrians and the parks fill with vendors and live music. Everyone speaks both English and Spanish, they have free wifi in a lot of parks and they even have Uber for your convenience. It’s a family paradise.
I learned a lot on this trip, but mainly that whatever worked when I was solo is not going to work now. I haven’t taken a city tour in over 15 years, but with a baby it’s just my speed. It turns out the beach is a lot more fun if both parties can actually walk, and no matter where we go, we need a rich day life, since by 8 o’clock we are both completely wiped.
Be sure to follow Anna and Luna on their adventures over at her blog and on social for more insight into solo parent and single mom travelling and of course all things yoga.