This week, panic broke out during an evacuation of tourists and hospitality workers at the Amaite Hotel and Spa on Holbox Island, after a fire spread throughout the property. The incident occurred early in the morning, allegedly caused by an electrical issue in the hotel’s restaurant. Workers and guests alike attempted to put out the fire, but it spread rapidly across a total of 8 rooms in a matter of minutes.
The fire was able to spread quickly due to the palapa rooftop of the hotel: palapa is made from dried palm leaves, which catch fire rapidly. As the entire roof was made from these leaves, the fire spread to other sections of the hotel before it could be successfully put out. Whilst a thatched palapa roof is a quintessential part of Caribbean culture, many have suggested it would be safer to replace the roof with a different material, to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
As Holbox Island is not that large, a local church was able to ring its bell to alert passers-by of the situation and request help. This prompted nearby residents to find the hotel and help with both the evacuation process and putting out the fire.
Footage of the unfortunate incident quickly circulated on social media, alerting those on the mainland of the danger that tourists were in. At this notice, the coordinator of Civil Protection for Holbox Island, Alfredo Suarez, reported that at least 85 guests and staff were evacuated from the property after fears that the blaze would continue to spread.
The flames were finally contained when the commander of Holbox Island’s Fire Department, Alejandro Erosa, arrived on the scene with motor pumps and water lines. Fortunately, no injuries or deaths were reported as a result of the fire, but many guests were left anxious and shaken in the aftermath of the blaze. Authorities are now investigating the site of the hotel to confirm the cause of the fire, and put measures in place to ensure the future safety of the hotel.
This is not the first time that palapa fires have affected tourist hotspots in the Mexican-Caribbean. In March 2021, the palapa in Playa Del Carmen’s Hotel Xcaret was struck by lightning, causing a fire that consumed the surrounding foliage. Whilst no guests were harmed in this incident, the dry palapa could have easily spread fire to other regions of the park if firemen were not there to stop it.
Holbox Island has become a much-loved tourist destination in recent years, as many visitors now choose the island over Cancun and Playa Del Carmen for sargassum-free beaches and the abundant marine life in the local area. It’s known as one of the best places in the Caribbean to view the whale shark – the largest fish in the world.
The various attractions and stunning beaches have prompted tourists to visit in droves over the past few years. It currently has 2500 hotel rooms open to tourists, with a near 100% occupancy rate for this summer season. The island is only a 2-hour drive and short ferry ride away from Cancun, prompting many visitors to stay on Holbox for a few extra days of rest and relaxation along the Caribbean sea.
However, tourists have also expressed their disappointment with the overall state of the island. On Trip Advisor, many first-time visitors have published complaints surrounding the lack of investment into necessary infrastructure that supports tourists, including road and bridge maintenance. This fire is just another example of how investments must be made into hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions to promote safeguarding.
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