The perfect mix of relaxation, great weather and bohemian beauty, Isla Holbox in Mexico is the paradise island you’ve always dreamed of visiting! Find out how to get to Isla Holbox, top things to do and where to eat, plus a few tips to make the most of your travels.
With Mexico’s Caribbean coast becoming more and more cluttered with vast hotels, all-inclusive resorts and attractions, it’s getting harder and harder to find a place to really get away from it all. All we want is sunshine, beaches, cocktails and tacos, without the crowds… is that too much to ask?
Isla Mujeres, just a short hop from the Cancun coast, used to have that charm, but on my visit this year I discovered the island was busier than ever, with ferry loads of tourists arriving, and chilled spots replaced by hotels and restaurants. While it was still a lovely place to visit, it had lost the ‘untouched’ appeal.
Isla Holbox really is Mexico’s secret… or not so secret paradise!
Holbox had been on my list for years, and finally we had a few days to make the journey there. I’d seen photos of the colourful murals dotted all over the island. Images of the bright turquoise waters. The bohemian carefree vibe was evident. The unpaved sandy streets, with golf buggies instead of cars. It looked like paradise.
I’m happy to say, it was just as dreamy as I’d hoped, 100% living up to the hype, and is somewhere I’d wholeheartedly recommend (even if I do fear it may lose its charm as more people venture there…)
When we were planning our trip, I had a few unanswered questions, so I wanted to pop this blog post together (although Emily Luxton’s Holbox travel guide was a HUGE help!) Hopefully it’ll come in handy if you’re deciding whether to visit or planning a trip to the island.
Is It Worth Visiting Isla Holbox?
Yes, yes and yes! If you’ve already explored places like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, then head to Holbox Island for a sleepier, less developed experience. Colour lovers will feel like they’re dreaming! There are bright murals adorning many of the island’s walls, and even the bright colours of the ocean look like they’ve had the saturation levels cranked up.
It’s touristy, but not in the way that Cancun is. Plus, food, drinks and accommodation are reasonable, so this is somewhere that works for any budget. Anything goes on Holbox. It’s a place where it’s ok to live in flip-flops or to go for days without washing your hair. A place of no judgement, and that, in itself, is hard to find!
How To Get To Isla Holbox
To reach Holbox you need to travel to the ferry port in Chiquila – a small town on the mainland.
Cancun to Holbox: From Cancun, it’s just two hours by car to Chiquila. Once in the town, you’ll need to find somewhere to leave your car. While none of it feels very official, there are lots of small car parks (i.e. enterprising locals letting you park in their yards/garages for a small fee). We picked one and paid 100 MXN per day, paying at the end when we collected our car. Everything was fine, but I’d recommend you take any valuables with you, just incase.
If you’re backpacking or don’t have your own transport, check out the ADO buses (Mexico’s main coach service). From Cancun, the journey to Chiquila by bus takes around three and a half hours, and when I looked, tickets were between $180 and $300 MXN depending on dates/times. The buses from Chiquila also go to Chetumal, Bacalar, Playa Del Carmen, Valladolid and a few other places.
Catching The Isla Holbox Ferry from Chiquila
There are two ferry companies operating between Chiquila and Holbox and funnily enough they offer exactly the same service, and cost the same price. The only difference really is that one runs on the hour, and the other on the half hour, meaning you’ll never wait long for the next boat. The journey time is around 15 minutes. We travelled on the Holbox Express to Holbox, and caught the 9 Hermanos ferry back. When we travelled in January 2018, the ferry cost $140 MXN each way. Check out the times and more info here.
Once you reach Holbox you’ll be greeted by a row of golf buggies, ready to drive you to your accommodation. You’ll pay between 20-30 MXN (around £1) to be driven the few minutes across the island to the centre. If you don’t have much luggage, then the walk to the main square takes less than ten minutes.
Things To Do On Isla Holbox – que hacer en Holbox actividades en Holbox
Do nothing… no seriously! This is a place to seriously chill out. While you could fill your days with boat trips, snorkelling, yoga and more, the best day I had on Holbox was the day I did nothing! I headed to a beach bar, feasted on tacos, drank a few mojitos and lay back and read my book. It was wonderful!
If you’re staying a while though, don’t worry – there are plenty of activities
Take Yourself On a Mural Tour – I’m a massive street art fan, so I fell in love with Holbox’s eclectic mix of murals. There are plenty of huge designs all around the island, from portraits to abstract works. I loved stumbling across beautiful art in the most unexpected locations.
Rent A Bike Or A Golf Buggy – Head off on your own adventure and explore the island on two or four wheels. There are plenty of places to rent from and you don’t need any previous experience. Costs when we visited were around $20 MXN per hour for a bike and $150 MXN per hour (min of two hours) for a golf buggy. You can often haggle if there’s a group of you and you’re looking for a deal.
READ MORE: 5 Reasons To Visit Playa Del Carmen
Swim With The Whale Sharks – Sadly we didn’t visit during whale shark season, but if you’re on Holbox between mid-May and mid-September, this is one activity you won’t want to miss! It’s one of the best places in the world to swim with the enormous gentle giants. I enjoyed reading this account in the LA Times of the experience. Tours cost around 2300 MXN / £90 per person – check the latest prices and book your tickets here.
Enjoy The Holbox Sunsets – The sunsets on Holbox are absolutely magical! Head to the pier, crack open a beer and relax as the liquid gold of the sun hits the water.
Check Our The Bioluminescent Phytoplankton – We didn’t have a chance to see this, but saw plenty of posters and tours mentioning it. On evenings when the moon isn’t too bright, you can see the plankton glowing – totally magical, and something I’d love to see one day!
Laze At One Of Holbox’s Beach Bars – There are some super cute spots along the seafront with hammocks, sun loungers, beds and chairs, all serving food and drinks. Coquitos was our favourite – food was excellent and the mojitos and micheladas were refreshing and tasty.
Go Wildlife Spotting – There are lagoons, mangroves and small islands close to Holbox. Head off on a tour in search of crocodiles, see the flamingos in their natural habitat, pelicans swooping for fish by the main beach, or just dip your head underwater and see what fishes you can spot! There’s even Isla Pájaros (aka Bird Island) which is home to over 30 different species of bird. It really is a wildlife-lover’s paradise. I’d recommend this boat tour which will take you to all the key spots.
Visit Yalahau Cenote – You can reach this cenote (sinkhole) in around 30 minutes by boat. If you’ve never been to a cenote, then go! They’re unique to this part of the world and diving into the crisp blue water is an other-worldly experience! This boat tour will take you to the cenote along with some other beautiful spots.
Where To Eat And How Much Food Costs On Isla Holbox
One of the most refreshing things about visiting Holbox is there are absolutely no chain restaurants or cafes. That means no Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds or Burger King. I fear it might not be long before one of them manages to get onto the island, but for now there’s a plethora of lovely local, independent options, from cafes and brunch spots to gelato shops, taco shacks, pizza places and fine-dining restaurants.
How Much Is Food And Drink On Isla Holbox?
(Approx prices Jan 2018)
Breakfast: 75 MXN
Cocktails: 90 MXN
Tacos: 70 – 100 MXN
Main Course Meal In A Restaurant: 100 – 300 MXN
Where To Eat On Isla Holbox – restaurantes en Holbox
Coquitos Beach Bar – As mentioned above, we enjoyed a great afternoon at this beach bar, located just in front of Holbox Dream Hotel. The décor was cool and they had a big menu of delicious Mexican food. The tacos and tostadas were excellent, topped with super fresh fish. There were comfy beds to relax on and the atmosphere and music was just right too.
El Chapulim – This fine-dining spot doesn’t have a menu. That’s how fresh the food is! Chef Erik Winckelmann cooks four main dishes each night, visits your table to describe each one in detail and then takes your order. We enjoyed excellent (and huge!) steaks, but the seafood and lobster options sounded appetising too. When we visited mains were 350 MXN (£14 approx.) so if you’re on a budget, ask for the prices before ordering.
Marquesitas – Head to Holbox’s main square in the evening and you’ll see several street vendors luring in customers with sugary scents. They’re making marquesitas, which are a kind of crepe that’s filled with ingredients including dulce de leche, nutella and cheese, then rolled up. They go crispy and chewy, and are to die for!
Useful Info For Visiting Isla Holbox, Mexico
WARNING: Money and ATMS – There are only a few ATMS on Holbox, and they’re unpredictable! Prepare for them all being out of service whether that’s for technical reasons, or that they’ve literally run out of cash. For this reason it’s important to stock up on money (ideally Mexican Pesos) before arriving on Isla Holbox. We also discovered that Chiquila didn’t have a working ATM, so it was a long drive to get any money.
You can pay on credit and debit cards at plenty of places on Holbox, but there’s no guarantee that will work either. We learned the hard way! Yes, the main ATM in the square broke while my card was in it, and I’ve since had to file a claim to get the cash back as the ATM never dispensed it.
There are also currency exchanges around the town, but the exchange rates were dreadful, so I wouldn’t recommend that if you can avoid it.
Get lots of cash out before visiting. T.H.E. E.N.D!
WiFi – There was WiFi at a lot of bars and restaurants. None of it was super quick, but it was enough to upload photos, send a few emails and keep in touch with people back home.
Packing Tips – Definitely pack mosquito repellent and lots of suncream.
Isla Holbox is genuinely one of my favourite places I’ve visited in the last few years. It’s colourful, cheerful and has a laid back charm that is hard to find!
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them!
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