Isla Holbox or Holbox island, located at the top of the Yucatan peninsula and just 2.5 hours from Cancun might just be the dream beach paradise you’ve been waiting for. Leave the uninspiring, overdeveloped Cancun resorts behind and head straight to Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) or Tulum for some rustic charm and boho vibes. Keep reading for the ultimate Isla Holbox travel guide and for all the useful tips for visiting this slice of paradise.
Imagine fine, white sand beaches, clear blue water with few waves, hammocks and swings in the water, healthy meals and cocktails on the beach- that’s just some of the experiences awaiting you on this paradise island. You should consider, however, that there’s nothing authentically Mexican about this island apart from the local people and the few places selling authentic Mexican cuisine. You really could be anywhere in the world, but for those looking for some R&R and a little time out, it’s the perfect stop on your travels.
Even paradise has its downfalls however and Isla Holbox does have a couple you should be aware of.
Firstly mosquitos. Holbox is plagued with them as they are attracted to the shallow waters of the Yum Balam reserve. Bringing repellent is a must as dengue fever is not all that uncommon, and try to stay indoors at dusk and dawn when they are out at their worst.
The second issue is the one with seaweed. Just like Cancun in recent years, Holbox is also suffering for a similar problem with vast amounts of the stuff getting washed up on the beaches every day. Most of the beach clubs and hotels do clear it daily, but there are some beaches where you can see it pile up and the smell is a little offputting. Please do not let any of these factors put you off for visiting this gorgeous island, it really has so much more going for it, just come prepared.
HOW TO GET THERE
From wherever you are on the Yucatán peninsula you’ll have to make your way to the village of Chiquilá. ADO, the Quintana Roo bus company has services arriving from Cancun and Cancun Airport, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Valladolid and Merida among others. There are also other, slightly cheaper buses you can take such as Oriente and Mayab. Buses will drop you off right at the ferry terminal.
If you’ve rented a car for your entire trip, there are many parking spaces in Chiquila which charge 50 pesos per day. This makes it really easy to have somewhere to store your rental car while you head off to Holbox for a few days. Note that you can’t take your car to the island. Officially cars aren’t allowed and transport on the island is by golf buggy.
There are two ferry services to choose from; 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express and which one you choose will probably be based on which one leaves first. 9 Hermanos leaves on the hour while the Holbox Express leaves on the half an hour. Make sure you walk to the ticket booths right at the end of the pier to see which one is departing first. The first service of the day is at 5 am (9 Hermanos) and the last 20.30 pm (Holbox Express) and tickets will set you back 150 pesos ($8) each way.
ISLA HOLBOX TRAVEL GUIDE: WHAT TO DO
RELAX ON THE BEACH
This is probably what this island was made for and there is nothing better than grabbing a hammock or a deck chair, placing yourself on the white sand for a few hours and indulging in a good book while listening to the waves rolling in. Order yourself a refreshing drink and simply relax and spend the day on the beach. Holbox Beach has no shortage of lovely beach clubs to relax, drink and eat at for those looking for more than just to lay their towel on the sand.
EXPLORE TOWN AND IT’S STREET ART
Holbox town is small and compact, with a range of restaurants, cafes and services. Explore and people watch and don’t forget to check out the amazing street art located on every corner. The works are bright, positive and the artists here are extremely talented.
BIRDWATCH AT PUNTO MOSQUITO
Further north along the coast is the idyllic Punta Mosquito, a sandbank where you can relax for a few hours and do some birdwatching. Flamingos, cormorants, pelicans, egrets, ibises and frigatebirds can all be seen from this point and if you venture towards the mainland a little you’ll be able to find even more birds. To get to Punta Mosquito is a little tricky. First, you have to wait for low tide, so check the time of that online. Then walk or cycle to the Hotel las Nubes, the last hotel on the beach strip and leave your bike there. Get into the water and walk to Punta Mosquito along the sandbank running along the coast. The walk takes about one hour and keep an eye out on the rising tide- if you wait too long to come back you’ll risk soaking all your belongings. Alternatively, you can take a boat tour to Punta Mosquito.
TAKE A BOAT TOUR TO ISLA PÁJARO
You’ll see many tour operators all over town offering similar boat tours to Isla Pájaro plus Isla Pasión and Punta Mosquito. These islands can only be accessed by boat and because they are uninhabited, you’ll find the best birdwatching here. Expect to see flamingos (in season), cormorants, herons, pelicans as well as frigatebirds, herons and even storks.
CATCH THE SUNSET AND THE STARS AT PUNTA COCO
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get to Punta Coco due to wet season flooding that completely obstructed all roads to get there. I have heard however that this is the best beach on the island and also the most magical place to watch the sunset after a long day of lounging. Bring a towel, some beers and snacks, a bottle of mosquito repellent and you’re all set for a breathtaking sunset. It’s also a great place to watch the stars, due to lack of light pollution.
VOLUNTEER AT THE ANIMAL SHELTER
The animal shelter here is a blessing for the islands animal population. They take in sick and abandoned animals and nurse them back to health with the idea of releasing them back into the wild. They have many dogs and cats and even racoons. Many of the dogs and cats are also ready for adoption. They are more than welcome for you to visit, play with the animals and help out in any way. Volunteer to feed them, bathe them, cuddle them and even take them out for walks- whatever you’re comfortable with. You can also make a donation, which will help towards buying medicines, food etc for all the animals. If you’re looking for a way to give back and you’re an animal lover- this is an excellent idea.
SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS
In season (June-August), the chance to swim with whale sharks is the biggest draw to the island. I have listed this last however because I’m not too sure how ethical it really is. I was unable to see it in action as when I visited there were no whale sharks. I have heard moreover, that even though only two people per boat are allowed in the water at one time, there are so many boats that this just doesn’t make a difference. Others have informed me that some of the sharks even have scars where boats have steered into them. If you are planning to swim with the whale sharks, please do your research and try to do it as ethically as possible if not at all.
WHERE TO EAT
Painapol – The place to eat on the island for healthy, fresh and satisfying food. It was always packed every time I went and for good reason. They serve acai bowls, green juices and fruit smoothies, sandwiches, salads and coffee. They have many choices to fit every dietary requirement, including plenty of plant-based options.
Roots Pizza – After having heard great things about this place, and to satisfy the ever-growing pizza withdrawal symptoms, I had to try this place out and I recommend you do too. They have quite a few pizzas to choose from including their famous lobster one. I stuck with the veggie pizza and it certainly hit the spot.
The local market – The local market is the best way to sample some of the local food on the island. Open only in the morning, this is a great breakfast-brunch option. I mean who doesn’t like tacos for breakfast!? There are a few eateries serving tacos, tortas, sopas, and fresh fruit juices. Located on the corner of Av Damero with Calle Tintorera.
I have also heard great things about Naay and Arte Sano, both serving healthy plant-based food however, both were closed every time I checked but you may want to seek them out.
WHERE TO STAY
Holbox Island has a variety of accommodation for every budget, from camping grounds to hostels, budget hotels to luxury boutique hotels. All options are small and quaint and you won’t find any huge resorts here.
SPLURGE- Villas Flamingos – Located on the other side of Holbox beach near the Yum Balam reserve this is the hotel to go to if you’re looking for peace, quiet and tranquillity. The beach here is simply stunning and the hotel is gorgeous; white-washed walls, with natural finishings made from local materials and with a minimalist touch.
MID- Hotel Para Ti– this adults-only hotel is perfect for those wanting to relax and unwind. Its beautifully decorated, eco-friendly hotel with a swimming pool, terrace and bar. Rooms are spacious with a luxury island vibe.
BUDGET – Casa Azul – for a decent yet budget option, I’d happily recommend Casa Azul, their rooms are large, clean and spacious and all have en-suite bathrooms and are all fitted with a fan and air conditioning. Some rooms also have kitchens to make your own food. Erika, the owner is so lovely and offers some great tips for seeing the island. Everything you’ll need for a budget stay.
WHERE TO MOVE
Go for a run – Holbox island is one the best places to go for a beach run, this is because the sand is so compact, it feels like no extra effort to run on it. A great route would be to just run down the beach or the road that runs by it, taking you all the way to Las Nubes hotel and the start of Yuk Balam reserve and back again. Just remember to try to get your run in before the weather heats up. I highly recommend a sunrise run.
Yoga – There are quite a few places/hotels in Holbox to do yoga. Ser Casasandra is a beautifully serene space that has yoga classes twice daily as well as retreats, spa treatments meditation, breathwork and coaching. Hotel Casa Las Tortugas offers daily yoga as well as many different spa treatments in their Aqua Spa and Yoga Centre. The best thing to do is to check out the brilliant The Holboxeño guide for daily activities including yoga on the island.
Hotel room workout – Why not workout right in the air-conditioned comfort of your hotel room? With plenty of bodyweight workouts available, simply select one, treat your body to some conditioning and be ready to hit the beach in no time. Click here for my no-equipment bodyweight workouts perfect for hotel rooms or the beach.
I would normally recommend a beach workout too, however on Holbox, I found the number of mosquitoes in the early morning just too much and in the middle of the day, when they’ve gone, it’s just too hot. Stick to workouts in the comfort of your hotel room.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING
↠ Bring cash from the mainland– Holbox has a couple of cash machines but they aren’t always working and they frequently run out of bills. Many businesses also don’t take credit cards or add an extra processing fee. It’s best to bring cash to cover your entire stay.
↠ Don’t leave home without insect repellent – I found that the generic repellent sold in Mexican pharmacies just didn’t cut it. The mosquitoes here are vicious. I’d highly recommend bringing the best quality, eco and most effective repellent you can find from home. And, bring lots, you’ll be re-applying it constantly.
↠ Bring a book- wifi here isn’t the best and its the perfect opportunity to disconnect yourself for a while and drive into that book you’ve been meaning to read for a while.
↠ Visit in the dry season (if possible)– due to the lack of basic infrastructure it gets a little chaotic in the wet season. I arrived to flooded roads and so much mud everywhere. I also couldn’t get to certain points of the island due to roads being blocked by floods. Also, I’m sure there are more mosquitos in the rainy season. The rainy season runs from August- November.
↠ Wifi is unpredictable but 4G works well. If you need to be connected buy a Mexican SIM with lots of data or activate roaming for all the internet you might need. Apps which I used a lot were Happy Cow and TripAdvisor for restaurants, Google Maps, Social Media apps and of course the Roam & Thrive blog.
↠ When arriving in Chiquilá and using public transport buy your bus ticket out as soon as you arrive, especially during high season. Bus services are limited and fill up fast, so chances are tickets will be sold out for the service you want when you arrive back from Holbox. It’s best to already have your bus ticket to avoid expensive colectivos or taxis to get to your next destination.
Planning a visit to Holbox island and have some comments and questions? Leave them below, I’d love to hear from you!
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