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. If I was to compare Isla Mujeres to Isla Holbox, Holbox wins 100%!
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 Holbox blog post together. Everything from how long to stay in Isla Holbox and is Isla Holbox expensive… to the best time to visit Mexico and the best attractions on the island. Hopefully it’ll come in handy if you’re deciding whether to visit or you’re actually ready to plan a trip to the island.
Oh and if you want to see a heap of beautiful pics that will probably make you want to visit Holbox, check out my post: 18 Isla Holbox Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Mexico’s Paradise.
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 many beach towns in Mexico are. 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!
Where Is Isla Holbox, Mexico?
As you can see from this map, Isla Holbox is located north west of Cancun, just across the water from the port of Chiquila, on the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
It’s a long, thin island. In fact, if you’re wondering how big Holbox Island is, it’s a whopping 26 miles long, but only one mile wide!
Many place names in the region have their origins in the Mayan language. So, what does Holbox mean? The meaning of the Black hole – which doesn’t seem remotely fitting, as this is one of the most colourful places I’ve visited!
***2023 UPDATE – I’ve written a really informative post on how to get to Holbox. Click here to find out all the latest info including travelling by bus, ferry, plane PLUS costs. ***
Getting to Isla Holbox is easy once you know how! There are small flights to Isla Holbox, the best way to get there is to travel to the ferry port in Chiquila – a small town on the mainland.
How to get to Holbox from Cancun: 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, the ferry cost $220 MXN each way for adults and $160 MXN for children. It’s free for kids aged 0-2 years. 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 50-100 MXN (around £2-4) 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.
Find out all the latest info in my new post: How to get to Isla Holbox
How Long To Stay In Holbox?
How long is a piece of string? While the island is small, that doesn’t mean you can do it in a day. I’d recommend staying in Holbox for between three and five nights. That will give you a nice amount of time to relax into island life, sample some delicious food, soak up the views and enjoy a few tourist attractions in Isla Holbox.
Best Time To Visit Isla Holbox – Holbox Weather
Similar to the Riviera Maya, the best time to visit Holbox is during the dry season, between late November and February. At this time, you can expect warm, sunny weather, clear blue skies and temperatures hovering around 29 degrees Celsius. I visited Holbox in January and it was PERFECT! Beautiful blue skies, spectacular sunsets – ideal weather for sunbathing and relaxing!
As the season progresses through March, April and May, however, temperatures rise to an average of 34 degrees Celsius, with very high humidity, making this a very sticky and uncomfortable time of year to visit.
The rainy season begins in May and continues until early November, when the Yucatan Peninsula is hit by tropical storms and higher levels of rainfall.
What To Do In Holbox – Holbox Activities and Tourist Attractions
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!
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 and one of the best things to do in Holbox. I’m dreaming about returning during the season one year so I can try it out!
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!
If you’re lucky, you might spot one of the local Holbox crocodiles during your trip (sadly we didn’t, although I might have been a little scared if I had!)
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 In Isla Holbox… And How Much Food Costs
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?
This is just a rough guide, as places vary a lot! It might help you budget for your stay on Isla Holbox. (Approx prices 2023)
Breakfast: 85 MXN
Coffee: 50 MXN
Cocktails: 100 MXN
Plate of tacos: 70 – 110 MXN
Main Course Meal In A Restaurant: 100 – 350 MXN… although the sky’s the limit!
Where To Eat On Isla Holbox
I’ve written a guide to the best restaurants in Holbox, so I’d recommend reading that post before your trip. Here are a few favourites!
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.
Get ready to feast on traditional Mexican dishes including tacos and quesadillas, as well as surf and turf style platters. Prices are mid-range and the ambience is lively. The grilled fish and shrimp here is especially good. You can check out the menu online, as well as book a table in advance.
This upmarket restaurant is located a little walk from the main central area of Holbox, but it’s worth the extra effort! It mixes jungle vibes with top gastronomy. Wait until you see the photogenic dishes, which include the most beautiful plate of grilled octopus I’ve ever laid eyes on!
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.
This restaurant brings a unique style of cooking to the island with its Italian, Uruguayan and Argentinian fusion menu. It’s a little pricier than some places, but the quality is great. Expect hearty steaks, homemade pasta and pizza, empanadas and more. I recommend checking our the restaurant’s Instagram for a flavour of what to expect.
This vibrant bar and restaurant is ideal for meals with friends. Located in a stunning walled garden, with lots of cute decor touches, this restaurant focuses on tapas style sharing plates.
The menu features falafel, tacos, empanadas, kebabs and more, all made from high quality ingredients and presented in a photogenic way. Some of the most popular options here are the sharing boards. Pick from a cheese board, sea platter, meat board or a vegetarian platter. They all sound delicious!
If you’re looking for the best brunch in Holbox, you can’t go wrong with Painapol. The smoothie bowls are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, adorned with flowers and fruit cut into shapes. You’ll also find all the usual brunch items including avocado toast, pancakes, eggs and more.
Don’t Miss The 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! It’s one of my favourite activities to do on Isla Holbox at night!
Where To Stay On Isla Holbox, Mexico
There’s a great mix of accommodation on Isla Holbox, suitable for every budget… from luxury eco-lodges and beachfront villas to funky hostels and hammocks on the sand. I’ve popped together a helpful accommodation guide to help you decide where to stay in Isla Holbox.
Some of my favourite places to stay on the island are beautiful hotels like this one…
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!
A few of you have asked me “is Isla Holbox expensive?” I wouldn’t say it’s pricey, especially compared to Cancun and Isla Mujeres. However, as it’s an island it has that captured market effect, where businesses can set their prices with little competition. When asked if you should visit Holbox or Isla Mujeres, I’d always pick Isla Holbox!
Is Isla Holbox Safe?
I never felt the island to be dangerous. As with any travelling though, there are risks. Keep an eye on your belongings, don’t wander around in the dark on your own and trust your gut!
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.
What to pack for Isla Holbox: Useful Items
If you’re planning a trip to Isla Holbox you should think about more than just clothing when you start packing. Here are a few items I’d recommend adding to your suitcase…
Insect repellent – Don’t leave home without a decent bug spray. I got quite a few mosquito bites on my first trip to Isla Holbox. Some of the hotels and restaurants I visited had spray you could use for free. There are plenty of really good insect repellants like this one. If you’re travelling with kids you might want to buy a specific children’s insect repellent too.
Bite relief – I usually take an after bite / anti-itch cream like this, that helps to soothe any bites. I also swear by this amazing Bite Away Pen, which sends a small electric shock to the itchy part of the bite. It takes a bit of getting used to at first (and sometimes hurts a tiny bit), but it does work. I’ve done a full review of the item (as it goes everywhere with me!!) so feel free to read more here.
Travel towel – A fast-drying microfibre towel like this one will come in handy on the island. These are great not only for when you fancy a swim, but also when you want to sit down on the ground or to wipe your sweaty face on a humid day!
Sun cream – It’s important to apply suncream throughout the day. I’d recommend finding a brand which isn’t too heavy on chemicals, or is almost totally natural, like this one made by Sun Bum.
Sunglasses – It’s important to protect your eyes when you visit a holiday destination like Mexico. I’d recommend investing in some high-quality UV protected sunglasses. I’ve owned a pair of these Ray Bans for a few years now and love them!
Sun hat – You’ll definitely want a sun hat to protect yourself on all of those sunny days in Mexico.
After sun or aloe vera – Don’t forget some soothing cream incase you do burn. I really like this one made by Ultrasun. It’s lightweight and feels lovely on your skin.
Umbrella – I’d also recommend an umbrella for rainy season. I’d been looking for a super compact option for ages, and finally found this one which fits in my smallest handbag and is nice and sturdy.
Daypack backpack – I used a small backpack for day-to-day adventures, which could fit a water bottle, camera, sun cream and bug spray. I also took a small shoulder bag to use for going for dinner in the evenings. If you’re looking for something nice and small, lightweight, water-resistant and that will fit all your essentials, I’d recommend this daypack. It’s got some very handy zip-up pockets too!
Reusable water bottle – I always recommend packing a reusable water bottle for travel. Even if you can’t drink the tap water, it means you can top up from giant bottles or water coolers rather than buying lots of plastic bottles. Personally I’d recommend the Chilly’s water bottles. I’ve got a few in different sizes and they are excellent quality!
GoPro – Mexico is an adventure-filled country. The best way to capture it is on a GoPro. They’re great for photos and videos, hard wearing, shockproof and waterproof. Whether you’re snorkelling, hiking, white water rafting, wildlife-spotting or zip lining, it’s the perfect accessory. Don’t forget to take out travel insurance that covers your gadgets too.
Power bank – It depends how much you use your phone on holiday, but I used mine quite a bit during my time on Isla Holbox, snapping photos and videos along the way. A portable battery pack is a great idea so you don’t have to worry about running out of charge at an important moment.
I have a few made by Anker and they’re great quality and have lasted for a long time. This is the one I’m using at the moment, which is really small (similar size to my phone) but stores lots of charge and has a fast charging capability.
Plug adapter – I pack this universal travel adapter for all of my travels. It charges multiple items at once, using plugs or USB and can be used anywhere in the world. It’s one of my fave travel gadgets!
Dry bag – I’m really happy I invested in a dry bag like this. It’s made from a thick plastic and is totally waterproof. These dry bags are perfect for adventures on the water, visiting waterfalls, or if you think it’s going to rain heavily. I’d recommend a small one for your phone and camera gear, or a larger one if you want to use it as your main bag for an activity.
Waterproof phone case – Similarly, if you want to take your phone out and about in the water, I’d recommend getting a waterproof phone case. There are quite a few to choose from, but I’d recommend reading the reviews! You need this to protect your phone and be 100% watertight after all! I bought these Moko cases myself and my partner and they’ve been great. We’ve used them on several trips snorkelling and to waterfalls now, and no leaks!
If you get the chance to visit Isla Holbox, GO! It’s genuinely one of my favourite places I’ve travelled to in the last few years. It’s colourful, cheerful and has a laid back charm that is unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
Let me know if you have any questions about your Holbox trip or what to do on Isla Holbox and I’ll try my best to answer them!
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