I'm an editor-at-large for Field & Stream and have had the good fortune to fish from Mongolia to Alaska, the Bahamas to the Mississippi Delta. I had the single best day of saltwater fishing in my life at Boca Paila Lodge: 10 bonefish, snook of 16 and 12 pounds, a jack that must have gone 10 pounds. And a mystery fish that decided it wasn't in the mood to be caught, set its shoulders and slowly tore line off the reel until it had nearly spooled me. It would have, too, except that it bit through the line first. I was still shaking as I reeled in my bare line. "El grande," Eddie said.
The biggest bone was probably 2 kilos, not trophy size by some standards. But my arm was practically worn out by then. I had brought my 9-weight but mistakenly brought a reel spooled with 5-weight fly line. In the 15-mph wind, I opted to switch to spinning gear. Our guide, Eddie, knew the lagoon and which fish would be where. We poled the flats for tailing bones, where we picked up a few. (I even managed to catch one on my mismatched fly gear, more a testament to Eddie's skill at positioning us - enabling me to use the wind to my advantage while not scaring the fish - than my fishing acumen.) Most of the fish were in the "milk," the water they had disturbed into clouds with their feeding. We blind cast into these areas and almost always found willing fish.
We had only booked Eddie for a half-day. My girlfriend, Michelle, is new to fishing and I didn't want her to burn out. But Eddie, like me, didn't seem to want to give up. He kept suggesting we try another place and Michelle kept saying - much to my delight - "Sure!" So we kept moving and catching fish. By the time we came in, I could honestly say for one of the few times in my life, that I'd had enough fishing.
I had come to the Yucatan with my girlfriend on a last-minute vacation, rented a jeep in Cancun and headed south. The message boards and forums at locogringo.com, a comprehensive source for information on the Riviera Maya, kept mentioning Boca Paila Lodge. It's the oldest fishing lodge in the area. Its guides, I was told, had an average of 18 years' experience in the waters around the lodge, especially the huge lagoon behind the hotel, to which access is limited, ensuring large and stable populations of game fish.
We stopped in almost unannounced. The place was almost completely booked by a party of Danes who have been coming to fish annually for the past six years. Fortunately, they had one room left. It was large, clean, tastefully bare and simple, yet supremely comfortable. I have reviewed hotels professionally in my writing career, and the room itself spoke volumes. No knickknacks, everything you needed and nothing you didn't, the self-assurance of an establishment that knows how to take care of its guests. There was an enclosed porch just inside the door, chairs facing the beach 20 feet away, palm trees for shade. You could leave your wet fishing gear in here to dry or outside. The room had air conditioning, but we found that with the fan and the louvered shutters open we were perfectly comfortable.
I talked with Anthony Gonzalez, the son and namesake of the founder of the lodge. His father was a fisherman and started the lodge because he liked the area. "What was here in those days?" I asked him.
"Nothing," he said. "Just the lodge and the sea."
"But didn't people think he was, you know, sort of crazy to do that? Start a lodge halfway down an isolated peninsula in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, with Tulum the nearest town?"
Anthony hesitated for a moment. "Mr. Heavey, there were people in my own family who thought he was crazy."
Sometimes crazy pays off. In a time when corporations are increasingly taking over and sterilizing hotels, Boca Paila Lodge is a wonderful exception. I saw Anthony sitting in the kitchen with the help, the sign of a hands-on manager. Over dinner of fresh fish with vegetables, a good green salad, and chilled white wine, I saw through the kitchen door a small woman bustling around. It was, I realized, his mother, still overseeing that things were done correctly after nearly 30 years.
After dinner, I went up to her and introduced myself. She had met her late husband on a flight from Mexico City to Cozumel and had thought how handsome he looked. She had stayed with him and opened the lodge, worked at it, made it a success. And at an age in life when most people would have retired and let someone look after her, she was still in the kitchen making sure everything went the way it should. I asked why she stayed, why she kept working. She shrugged. "This is where I belong," she said.
Folks, they're not making places like Boca Paila Lodge anymore, family-owned, family-operated, where making people feel comfortable and cared for is more a matter of pride than of profit.
Go while you can.
I don't think you can get a bad room. They all face the beach, a literal cocoanut's throw aw...
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.