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What To Expect from Isla Holbox
Prounounced “hole-bosh” this sleepy island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is surrounded by a vast patchwork of inky blues and bright turquoise ocean, peppered with fishing boats and kitesurfers. Every other tree in Holbox is bursting with mangoes or coconuts and buildings are colourfully decorated with murals. Only a fraction of the 36km island is inhabited with the remainder being home to an array of wildlife within an ecological reserve.
Holbox is one of those magical places where tourism hasn’t exploded yet. You won’t find chain stores, cars or even roads here. Instead you’ll walk along sand paths and dine in family run restaurants or shop in cute little boutiques selling dream catchers and shells.
The preferred mode of transport is bicycle although there are taxis on the island in the form of golf buggies. Holbox is the epitimone of chilled out living so we found it enjoyable just lazily strolling along the beach to get to places.
Slow mornings are a way of life where most cafés or shops tend not to open before 8am and many shop owners and restaurants alike open and close as they wish. Don’t be surprised, if you plan to go to a particular restaurant one night and it’s closed!
If you’re looking for white sandy beaches, calm waters, fantastic food and a few cocktails of an evening, head to Isla Holbox. This isn’t a party island though and you won’t find a string of bars open late so come with a good book, sit back and soak in the good vibes.
The Downfalls of Paradise
To give you an honest review, paradise does have some downfalls…
One thing to note is the seaweed problem. When we arrived there was a fair amount of seaweed washed up on the beach but one night there was a storm which made it considerably worse the next day,
Unlike other islands I’ve visited, there doesn’t seem to be a truck that comes along every morning to clear the seaweed away.
I was surprised that hotels who have sunloungers on the beach for guests didn’t clean it up either. They tended to just make a path to the ocean instead which didn’t solve the issue of the bad smell, and mosquitos that swarm to it, not to mention it doesn’t look very nice! It’s a real shame as the white sandy beaches could look so beautiful. Now that tourism is ramping up in Holbox, I hope they begin to realise this as a priority.
Due to most of the island being a nature reserve, mosquitos are rife on the island. This is even more so in the summer months of June – August.
Read here on how to avoid mosquito bites on Holbox.
The Cheapest Way to Get to Holbox from Cancun
ADO bus to Chiquila
Buses from Cancun bus station go to Chiquila which is a small port where you get the ferry across to Isla Holbox.
TIP: If you download the ADO app and have a Paypal account you can book the tickets in advance. Click here for other payment methods.
If you haven’t booked your ticket in advance, it’s no problem purchasing a ticket from the ticket office at the bus station but I’d recommend going in the morning to buy your ticket to get the time you want as the bus does get booked up.
We stayed in a hostel close to the bus station so Adam nipped out before breakfast at 8.30am and booked for the 10.30am bus.
Ferry from Chiquila to Holbox
The ADO bus conveniently drops you right by the port. There’s no need to pre-book the ferry tickets. Simply turn up at the port and either get the Holbox Express or 9 Hermanos ferry service. Both cost $150 pesos one way.
- The Holbox Express is the red boat and leaves on the half hour.
- 9 Hermanos is the blue boat and leaves on the hour.
Here you can find the ferries timetable.
They say it takes 30 mins but it was actually about 20 mins.
TIP: If taking the Holbox Express, you may be tempted to sit at the front to get an uninterrupted view of Isla Holbox as you approach it but opt for the blue fabric seats further back. It’s a much comfier ride than the metal back chairs
Arriving at Holbox
There is a line of “taxis” i.e. golf buggies right by the ferry drop off point but if you’re staying close to the Main Square, it’s literally a 5 min walk away.
Expect to pay about $30 pesos for a taxi to the Main Square.
Where to Stay
CABAÑAS MANATÍ $$
Adam and I booked our little Cabanas through Airbnb.
There are 4 cabanas on the property each with their own outdoor seats and/or hammocks.
The main space in the cabana consists of double bed, dining table and two chairs and wardrobe, plus bathroom and then a small kitchen.
Cabanas Manati was conveniently located a 5 min walk from the Main Square but far enough only to hear the crickets and birds at night. We absolutely loved our stay here.
You can read my full review here.
TRIBU HOSTEL $
Hip hostel close to the beach, not far from town and has a rooftop bar. There’s daily yoga and meditation if you choose, a kitchen area to cook your own meals and I believe they even do cookery classes and Spanish lessons to if you wish to get involved. Bikes are cheaper here to hire at $150 pesos per day.
There are a lot of hotelitos (little hotels) also such as Hotelito Azul and Hotelito Siesta that are close to town and the beach and reasonably priced.
BEACH FRONT HOTELS $$$
If you’re looking for a beach hotel, I’d recommend those on the Playa Grande which is to the right of the town if you’re facing the ocean. This is where most of the upscale boutique hotels are. The beauty of Holbox is that there aren’t any large chain hotels, I hope it stays this way!
On the left side of the town which is the coastline before you get to Punta Cocos, I found the ocean to be very rough and there isn’t much beach so personally, if I had paid for a beach hotel I’d be disappointed if it was there.
Las Nubes $$$ – Eco hotel and situated furthest along the beach so the quietest. Romantic restaurant and superb food.
Hotel Mawimbi $$$ – Treehouse huts with just 9 rooms and 2 bungalows. Their beach bar and restaurant was my favourite spot for lunch.
Hotel Punta Caliza $$$ – Set just back from the beach, this beautiful uber contemporary boutique hotel is family run and adults only.
Hotel Casa Sandra $$$$ – Chic, modern beautiful hotel with the most luxurious sunloungers on the beach. Perfect for couples looking for something special.
Things To Do on Isla Holbox
LAZE IN THE OCEAN HAMMOCKS AND DO NOTHING!
I know you might think it’s strange that the number one thing to do I’m recommending is nothing, but honestly, there’s no better place to do nothing than Holbox!
I spotted a few of the famous Instagrammable ocean hammocks on Holbox:
- Main beach close to the town
- Punta Cocos
- In front of Carolinda bar / Golden Paradise Beach Hotel
- By Villas Flamingos Beach Front
It would be a crime to visit Holbox and not spend an afternoon relaxing in a hammock!
SEE THE FLAMINGOS
There are 3 places to see the flamingos near Holbox –Isla Pajaros, Isla Pasión and Punta Mosquito.
- Isla Pasión – Rent a kayak from Punta Cocos and enjoy the calm waters paddling across to Isla Passion. Alternatively, you can get there by boat in about 15 mins of you book a tour.
- Isla Pajaros – Otherwise known as Bird Island. When in season, not only will you see flamingos here but it’s home to about 30 different species of birds including pelicans and white ibises. To get here, you’ll need to go on a boat tour which usually offers you the option to tie in with a visit to the Yalahau Cenote (see further below).
- Punta Mosquito – the flamingos along with other birds are heavily protected here so the best way to see them is by boat as you can’t get close on land.
The season for flamingos is May – October so if you go outside this time it’s highly unlikely you’ll spot them.
SEARCH FOR STREET ART
Back in 2014 and 2015, the International Public Art Festival was held in Holbox which saw the creation of street art by both Mexican and international artists throughout the town.
The legacy still lives on and has inspired shop and home owners alike to decorate their own buildings with bright and bold street art; transforming the mundane into public displays of beauty.
The town isn’t very big so one cloudy afternoon, I just wandered around the streets looking for murals.
I watched a man paint this portrait and was shocked that it literally took the guy a couple of hours. It’s humbling to see such talented people taking pride in their property.
RENT A BICYCLE AND EXPLORE PUNTA COCOS
Punta Cocos is such a tranquil and breathtakingly beautiful beach that I almost don’t want to tell you about it so that it’s kept secret!
It forms part of a lagoon and the water is so completely still and shallow that you can walk for ages through it. You might even spot a few pelicans wandering about.
Once you reach the jetty with the ocean hammocks and beach bar, I’d recommend walking further and if you’re feeling adventurous crossing over to the next beach.
I packed a picnic as there aren’t any shops nearby but there is a guy with a cart selling coconuts, ice cream sorbets and drinks that comes up and down a few times a day.
Getting to Punta Cocas
If there’s two of you and you’re not using a bike everyday or your hotel/hostel doesn’t offer you a good deal, it actually works out cheaper to get a golf buggy taxi there and back. I was charged $150 pesos one way, which in hindsight, I should have asked for the price before setting off as I think I could have bartered for less.
A bike is obviously the environmentally friendly option but if you’re a couple on a tight budget to hire 2 bikes for 8 hours costs $400 pesos or $300 pesos for a taxi there and back. You decide!
I did actually walk there twice which is totally doable taking about half an hour but there isn’t any shade for rest bite so be careful doing this in the heat of the day.
TIP: If it has stormed or rained the day before, I’d advise saving Punta Cocos for another day. The storm makes the water very murky and brings lots of seaweed up onto the beach. There’s also double the amount of mosquitos about.
VISIT YUM BALAM
Situated on the south side of the island, this ecological reserve is where you can explore the flora and fauna. It’s home to a variety of bird species including pelicans.
To get to Yum Balam, it’s possible to rent a kayak, or you can cycle up to the Villas Flamingos Beach Front Hotel and then walk through the sea’s sandbars. I made it to the tip of the island which is a 6 mile round trip so be prepared! It’s a fair bit further if you chose to explore Punta Mosquito.
TIP: The sea in places comes up to waist height so wear bikinis/swimsuit/swim shorts.
Personally, a visit to Yum Balam was a nice thing to do and enjoyable to wade through the ocean to its sandbars picking up shells and spotting the birds along the way, but if you’re short on time on the island, I think there’s other activities that are much better. The novelty of wading through the water by the end of the 6 mile round trip did wear off and we were absolutely exhausted! If you’re looking for a remote beach, I’d recommend Punta Coco instead.
TIP: Be mindful of the changing tides. We set back to the island at about 3pm which was fine but I’d recommend checking with the locals.
VOLUNTEER AT THE ANIMAL RESCUE SHELTER
Most of the dogs on the island (and there’s a lot!) are pets that are allowed to wander the streets. However the Animal Rescue Shelter looks after not only stray dogs but wild animals too. The aim of the refuge is to bring in, rehabilitate and then release wildlife back into the environment. It also serves as an important education function for children.
There are around 35 dogs at the centre and you can swing by any day and volunteer to walk the dogs, wash them or feed them.
The team at the Centre are so friendly and speak English and they welcome you to stop by even to have a look and give the dogs a cuddle.
SEE THE BIOLUMINESCENT PHYTOPLANKTON
Try to avoid going on a full moon…I don’t mean that in a spooky way, but if the moon is too bright it’s hard to see the plankton glowing.
TIP: There’s no need to pay to do this as part of a tour group. Just get a taxi to Punta Cocos and search for them. If you’re lucky, your taxi driver may even help you find the plankton.
TIP: Take mosquito spray, they’re a force to be reckoned with in this area after dark!
SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
The season for this is mid-May to mid-September so if you visit the island during this period, it’s a fantastic experience.
Although my visit was out of season, I saw whale sharks in Antigua last year and they really are a beautiful species. Despite the name, whale sharks are placid around humans so no need to feel scared!
ENJOY THE GOLDEN HOUR & WATCH THE SUNSET
Just past El Chiringuito beach bar is a nice sunset spot or my personal favourite place for golden hour was at Punta Cocos.
TIP: Weirdly the one and only bar at Punta Cocos closes just before sunset so if you want a cocktail or beer to enjoy the view make sure you order a couple before they shut!
The bar has beds you can hire for the day also. They charge for the double hammock beds but if you lay on a single bed they cost $100 pesos or they’re free if you buy cocktails which also cost $100 pesos. Just drink them slowly so you’re not spending a fortune on cocktails! Alternatively, there are plastic chairs that you can sit on or the sand!
I love yoga and there’s a few of places on the island I found you could join a class to stretch out:
- Tribu Hostel – Monday to Friday @ 5pm, 1 hour, $100 pesos on its rooftop terrace
- Hotel Amaité – Monday to Saturday @ 9am and 5pm, 1 hour, $200 pesos.
- Casa Las Tortugas – Monday to Friday @ 8am and 7pm. Saturdays 8am only in their Agua Spa.
- Hotel Mawimbi – taught by Lucia Amador Monday to Saturday @ 5pm
- Hotel Casa Sandra – taught by Lucia Amador Monday to Saturday @ 10.30am
Holbox is considered to be one of the best places to kite surf because of its calm, shallow sea and winds. We didn’t try this but heard it takes about 3 days of lessons to learn how to get on a board before they take you out in the ocean. So if you fancy turning your hand to a new hobby, don’t leave it til the end of your holiday.
The kite surfing area is past the main strip of hotels towards Yum Balam.
We chatted to the guy that’s in the kiosk opposite Tribu Hostel and he was offering:
Discovery class = 1 day lesson for 3 hours $220 USD
3 Day Course = 3 hours per day $600 USD
TAKE A BOAT TOUR TO EXPLORE THE OTHER ISLANDS AND CENOTES
I didn’t do a boat tour because I had already kayaked around the island and the closest cenote called Yalahau Cenote is approx. 30 min by boat so weighing up the cost of this, there are plenty of other easier accessible ones if you’re travelling through Mexico.
However, if you’re not, I’d highly recommend experiencing one. A cenote is a sinkhole that is unique to this part of the world. They’re usually a fresh water spring or sometimes hot spring.
WATCH A LOCAL BASEBALL GAME
The baseball field is situated next to the plane strip. I’m not entirely sure how regular the matches are but I caught games on Monday evenings and Saturday morning.
The Pulpitos team is sponsored by San Francisco, CA Baseball without Borders.
GO HORSEBACK RIDING
Paseos a Caballo is located close to the airport as if you’re heading to Punta Cocos. They offer sunset rides and beach rides. You can book a hack from the tour vendors on the Main Square or from VIP Holbox which has a shop close to the Main Square.
Where to Eat & Drink
Big Fish $$
A couple of streets away from the Main Square, their signature dish is Aguachiles which is lemon cooked shrimp which you can order in a variety of sauces ($200 pesos).
Closed on Tuesdays.
Further info here.
Viva Zapata $$
This was my favourite bar/restaurant I’d come to most evenings as it had good wifi. There are some comfy sofas at the front and swing chairs at the bar.
Behind this is the restaurant known for it’s grilled seafood and meats. We had the mixed seafood ceviche to start and they also brought out complimentary nachos and vegetables. For main, the arachera steak skewers and shrimp skewers were both mouth-wateringly good! They came with rice and salad for $200 pesos each (£8.30 approx).
We had a fantastic guitarist playing whilst we ate which set a beautiful ambience. The restaurant also takes credit cards.
Further info here.
This pizzeria was recommended to me by the owner of our Air BnB as serving the best pizzas on the island, and it didn’t disappoint! Although it’s known for its lobster pizza, priced at $600 pesos we gave it a miss. Instead, we chose the mole and chicken pizza (divine! I’d describe it as tasting like duck) and the Mexicana pizza which was a Mexican bean base, avocado, garlic, chilli, jalapeños and onion. Pizzas were about $180 pesos each.
The atmosphere is truly laid back chill-out vibe with reggae music gently playing. There are about 5 or 6 big sharing tables so it’s very sociable and fun.
TIP: If, like me, mosquitos love to eat you alive, I would personally recommend only eating here for lunch or early evening. It’s set amongst trees which gives a lovely forest feel to it but the amount of mosquitos it attracts as a result is ridiculous. To be fair to them, they do provide mosquito repellent spray on each table but to save your skin I’d go earlier in the day!
Restaurante Villa Mar $
No frills restaurant on the beach. It’s plastic tables and chairs but you get to dine with your toes in the sand J Go here for the ceviche, it’s incredible. A large ceviche is literally a full main plate size so can be shared for 2.
If you feel like you’ve gorged on too many tacos and marquesitas (see below), this place is your perfect lunchtime spot for healthy food. I had one of the best salad bowls ever here! Try the Specialty Mexican bowl.
Here you can build your own Buddha bowls for $135 pesos – choose 3 veggies e.g. beet, broccoli, spinach, boiled egg etc, choose your base, your protein, your topping and then your dressing. Check out their instagram for major food porn.
Alternatively, order a Specialty Bowl which I thought was more value for money, or a pita bread sandwich with home potato wedges look awesome too.
Further info here.
TIP: It’s closed on Sundays.
Go here for the breakfast smoothie bowls ($100 pesos), or for avocado on toast ($45 pesos) addicts, this is your place.
However, I came back here at lunch and ordered a beetroot & melon salad with shrimp and to be honest I was really disappointed. The salad was missing a lot of what was described in the menu e.g. chia seeds, spinach, kale, puffed quinoa and for an additional 55 pesos I only got 3 shrimps. Paying $135 pesos (approx. £5.60) in total, I thought this was quite poor.
The setting is very pretty though – white wooden tables, dream catchers and shells everywhere, white crotchet swing chairs all set against a magnificent mural of a woman.
This cute café had only been open 5 days when we got to Holbox. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and specialises in vegan food. I didn’t eat here but the food did look delicious, served up on wooden boards.
WIFI? √ but slow.
Las Empa $
Little kiosk to pick up some delicious empanada, such as broccoli, chorizo sausage, bacon or beef for $30 pesos.
Located on the Main Square and open for breakfast and lunch only. Closes at 4pm. As the name suggests, it does beautiful egg tortillas. I had an iced latte which was great too.
Miriam Restaurant $
For the best value tacos – 3 tacos for $100 – $120 and each taco is full of fish/meat, a dollop of guacamole and comes with 2 tortillas per taco.
The restaurant is very small with just 3 tables inside and 2 outdoor plastic tables and chairs. No wifi. We would often come here on our way home to get the tacos to takeaway and then stir-fry some veggies for a fuller dinner.
Marquesitas stalls $
The street vendors around the Center mainly sell Marquesitas. These are are crispy crepes (like a wafer) filled with cheese and nutella then rolled ready to eat. Yes, it sounds like a very odd combination but the sweet and gooey texture works!
Antojitos chicken stands $
Beautiful barbecued chicken with rice and salad for $150 pesos. Located in the market. This is where the locals eat.
El Sushi Box $$
I didn’t try the sushi but heard it’s very good. Instead, I came for the 2 for 1 cocktails between 5-7pm daily J I’d recommend the frozen Margaritas and Pina Coladas!
Hot Corner $
Nice cocktail bar to come to of an evening where you can sit looking out into the street. They sometimes have live music as well. Cocktails in general on the island are all about the same price at $100 pesos.
WIFI? √ but they put the code in for you.
Las Hamacas $$
Part of a hotel, the beach bar on south side of the island does a mean mojito with a view of the ocean.
El Chiringuito $
Tiny beach bar with swing seats, part of Hotel Zomay.
Mawimbi Beach Bar & Restaurant $$
This was my favourite beach bar and perfect lunchtime spot. There’s a small sandy restaurant area partly enclosed which gives some respite from the winds. Surrounding this are hammocks, sofas and wooden chairs to chill out at. I ordered the Greek salad which was delicious.
Holbox’s Most Romantic Restaurants
Luuma $$$– serving tapas and set within an enclosed courtyard. Not hugely expensive but pricey by Holbox standards.
We didn’t try the tapas but instead indulged in red wine and the meat platter.
The setting is exquisite and it has a boho chic vibe to it. Plus you can tell your partner you’re going to the bathroom and have a sneaky browse at the trendy boutiques set next to the restaurant on your way.
Las Nubes $$$$ – Situated about 10 mins from the Main Square by taxi with amazing views over the ocean. Go here for a gourmet dinner.
Parador 33 $$$ – Close to the Main Square but set back in a beautiful courtyard with huge white dream catchers swaying in the breeze.
Basico $$$– Crisp, white, trendy and always busy. Standard London prices. Mainly food from the grill e.g. pork rack ($330 pesos), lamb ribs ($480 pesos), steak ($580 pesos), tuna steak ($350 pesos), lobster (Price on weight). They had some vegan options too such as crispy cauliflower tempura. Coffee was a bit watery and alcohol is more expensive here. A glass of wine was about $150 pesos compared to $90 pesos everywhere else.
Where to Buy Groceries
Cooking for yourself? Here’s where to buy food:
One of the reasons Adam and I chose to stay in an Air Bnb Cabanas was because we wanted a kitchen to cook. When I’m travelling, I always seek out an Air bnb, Hotelito or hostel that has a stove and fridge because it really makes the difference to your budget. Three reasons this was helpful:
- It’s so easy to pick up items from the market to make your own veggie omelette, breakfast burrito or fruit, yoghurt and granola for breakfast that it’s a no brainer to save on a few pesos.
- The best beach in Holbox is Punta Cocos which is a remote beach on the west side of the island so you’ll need to make a packed lunch.
- Money I saved from cooking, meant more money for activities (or margaritas).
Places to get your food shop:
Market – situated next to the baseball field, it’s open daily from 8am until the afternoon. Selling fruit, vegetables, eggs, granola, quinoa, fresh herbs etc. There are also breakfast bars there where you can sit and eat for a fraction of the price of restaurants near the Main Square and there’s a juice bar where you can buy made to order fruit salads, juices and smoothies. The market is where the locals eat.
Monkeys – Supermarket situated one road from the Main Square past Restaurant Colibri. It has a cold meats and cheese counter, perfect for putting together a picnic to Punta Cocos. Better selection of fruit and veg than Chakte supermarket.
Besa Mini market – Next to Monkeys this sells a lot of import goods and a larger selection of wines and spirits so if you’re craving Nature Valley bars, Quaker oats, Kellogs cereal and Heinz Ketchup, this is your place.
Chakte Supermarket– Your average supermarket on the corner by Hot Corner bar. All of the “super” markets are not big FYI. They’re the equivalent of a 7Eleven / Tesco Metro.
Big Beef – Place to get frozen meats (all the meat on the island is frozen) e.g. rib eye ($295 p/kg), sirloin ($200 p/kg), t-bone ($250 p/kg) steaks, chorizo sausage ($145 p/kg), hamburgers ($120 p/kg), chicken breasts. You won’t find fish here though. I bought 3 massive chicken breasts for $109 pesos and 1kg of beef mince for $120 pesos.
Open 8am-10am and 5pm – 8pm most days.
El Bufalo –butchers selling chicken and pork. The chicken is slightly more expensive than Big Beef.
Usually open between 12pm – 4pm.
Tortilleria Maria Esther – selling fresh tortillas for about $25 pesos.
|Language:||Spanish. Holbox is still new to tourism so it’s not uncommon that people don’t understand English and most restaurant menus are only in Spanish. Some basic understanding of Spanish would be a major bonus.|
|Credit Cards:||Very few restaurants take credit cards. Make sure you bring enough cash.|
|ATMS:||There are only about 4 ATMs on the island and they are often out of service or simply run out of cash! I’d recommend bringing enough cash with you. For MXN Pesos, the most reliable ATM is on the Main Square where the police station is. It’s upstairs.|
|Toiletries:||Buy your sunscreen & mosquito repellent on the mainland, as prices are almost double on Holbox.|
|Getting Around:||You can walk most places on the island or rent a bicycle either by the hour or by the day. There aren’t any cars on Holbox but you can hire a golf cart or get one of the golf cart taxis.|
|Dress Code:||Laidback, very casual. Literally no one cares what you look like!|
|Driest Months||January – March (High season)|
|Warmest Months||July – September (hot and humid with mosquitos at their peak)|
|Wettest Months||September – November|