Mexico

On Isla Holbox, Luxury at the Last Place on Beach

The vast majority of Isla Holbox—an island north of Cancun off of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula—is an untouched nature preserve. Only the eastern most tip of the island is permanently inhabited. That’s where you’ll find the few square blocks of sandy streets that make up Holbox town. Most residents get around by walking barefoot. (The island has no rocks). Those few who drive pilot golf carts, not cars.

Leaving Holbox town you can walk along the beach, past a few tiny shops, fishing boats and a ramshackle beach hut that doubles as a “slow food” restaurant. Eventually you’ll reach the last place on the beach, a cluster of buildings with white stucco walls and thatched roofs. This is where you’ll find the best accommodations on the island: Las Nubes de Holbox Hotel

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Isla Holbox: The Un-Cancun

Most vacationers flying into Cancun International Airport head directly to the glamorous shopping, high-rise beach resorts, bustling nightlife and trafficked-filled streets found in Cancun’s Zona Hotelera. But there’s a nearby destination that include none of that—but so much more.

On Isla Holbox, an island north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the shopping consists of a few shacks peddling jewelry, sandals, beer and the like. The island’s handful of hotels are small and don’t rise much higher than palm trees. The nightlife revolves around quiet beach bars where barefoot patrons are as likely to sit on swings or hammocks as they are on seats. As for the traffic, the island has no cars. However, we’ve been told that on occasion two of the island’s golf cart taxis meet up at an intersection.

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Swimming With Whale Sharks

Now, now, NOW!

Our captain is yelling while gesturing to us to hurry overboard. Overcome by his sense of urgency, we jump flippers first off our boat into warm Caribbean waters. There’s a second of disorientation. Then the water bubbles created by our fall dissipate and the view out of our snorkel mask clears. And what a view it is: the wide open mouth of the world’s largest fish heading directly towards us.

We are swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Holbox, Mexico. Our trip was all arranged using Pay With Points, available through American Express Travel. Our challenge from American Express: to turn 150,000 Membership Rewards Points into a trip for two with WOW factor.

Being underwater, staring directly into the enormous mouth of a whale shark an arm’s length away—that’s a memory-making travel experience with no shortage of WOW.

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WOW on 150,000 American Express Reward Points

What kind of cool travel getaway can you go on with 150,000 Membership Reward points? How about a romantic trip for you and yours truly to a tropical car-free island in Mexico where you go swimming with the world’s largest fish and bring back video of your underwater adventures and top it off with a Mexican feast and tequila distillery tour.

That’s the trip Spot Cool Stuff chose when American Express challenged us to create a WOW factor getaway with 150,000 Membership Rewards points.

With Pay With Points, available through American Express Travel, you aren’t limited to exchanging points for airplane tickets. You can also book hotels, resorts, rental cars, cruises and vacation packages. And you aren’t even limited to those. Link your Membership Rewards account to Amazon.com and you can use your points to buy anything that the internet retail metasite sells. Or you can select deals on the shopAmex website. And even those aren’t your only options. How about meals at any restaurant bookable through Open Table? Or dining, music, and theater rewards available specifically for American Express charge cardmembers? Or movie tickets? Or mystery trips?

So many choices. So little time. In the end, our travel editors decided to use Pay With Points available through American Express Travel to journey to Mexico’s Isla Holbox. Over the next week, we’ll publish reviews of our experience. Click below to check those out . . .

space WOW on 150,000 American Express Reward PointsPOST TITLE PUBLICATION DATE
Swimming With Whale Sharks published!
Exploring Isla Holbox: The Other Side of Cancun published!
Stay at La Nubes de Holbox Hotel published!

space WOW on 150,000 American Express Reward Points

. . . or sign up for an American Express charge card (if you don’t already have one) and use Membership Rewards to create your own cool experience. Here’s the inside scoop on how we pulled off ours:

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Mexico’s Unusual Pipe Resort

”Luxurious” and “drainage pipe” are words rarely used in the same sentence

At the Dasparkhotel in Austria you can spend the night in a drainage pipe. But why settle for a drainage pipe hotel when you can stay in an entire drainage pipe resort? That’s what you’ll find at the Tubohotel in Tepoztlan, Mexico.

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The Caribbean’s Cavern Restaurants

Quiz question: What’s the difference between a cave and a cavern?

In common usage the two terms are mostly interchangeable. But, technically, there’s a difference. Pretty much any underground chamber qualifies as a cave. To be a cavern a cave must 1) have formed naturally out of rock; and 2) be able to produce speleothems, which are those icicle-shaped mineral deposits created by dripping water.

There are several bars and restaurants around the world that are in caves. There are only two on the planet that are in caverns. Both of them are in the Caribbean:

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The World’s Best Hostels 2011
(Part I)

Hostelbookers is one of Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite websites for booking cheap hostels, inexpensive inns and budget hotels. In addition to offering a wide selection of accommodations (most of which aren’t available on sites like Travelocity or Hotels.com), what’s cool about Hostelbookers is their extensive database of customers reviews—they’re a huge help in separating out those hostels that are high value from those that are cheap for a reason.

Hostelbookers reviewers grade properties on eight criteria: atmosphere, location, facilities, fun, staff, cleanliness, safety and value.

Below is the first of our two part review of the budget lodgings that Hostelbookers users rated the best over the last year. Scroll down to read through them all. Or click on the region you are most interested in:

Part I Part II
Africa Europe
Asia Oceania
Canada South America
Caribbean/Mexico United States

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Where to Find Duff Beer in Real Life

Spot Cool Stuff recently wrote about a real life Simpson’s house. For those craving more come-to-life items from America’s longest running TV animation series we suggest real life Duff Beer. And 4 out of every 5 barflies agree.

In turns out, not only is there Duff Beer in real life but there are Duff Beers! Our rundown of where to find them:

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