Everything you need to know about Isla Holbox in Mexico

 

Paradise found. That’s what everyone says when they first set foot on the remote island Holbox (pronounce as: ‘Olbosh’). Holbox  is the perfect hide-away with its pristine beaches, unpaved white sandy streets, golf buggies instead of cars and small beachfront boutique hotels. Isla Holbox is the paradise vacation spot you always dreamed of visiting. The unique azure shades of the Caribbean sea will be imprinted in your mind forever and the feeling of being carefree and relaxed will linger on for weeks after leaving.  Find out what to do, where to stay and eat and how to get there!

How to get there

Isla Holbox is a small island of just 40 km long and 1 km wide. Only a small part of the island is accessible for tourists as the larger part is protected nature reserve sheltering flora and fauna like pelicans, flamingos and other protected birds. It’s located a short ferry ride of 30 minutes (10 km) off the shore of Mexico. To get there you first have to go to Chiquila on the northern shore of the Yucatan peninsula. There are daily ADO bus services to and from Chiquila from Cancun and Playa del Carmen or Vallodolid. Fortunately, many tourists aren’t up for the 2,5 hours journey north, limiting a flood of tourists that you do see on islands like Isla Mujeres or Cozumel.  At the ferry port a line of golf cart taxis are awaiting visitors to bring you to your hotel.

Costs to get there:

  • 75 pesos/day (€3,80) to park your car at the ferry port in Chiquila or…
  • 266 pesos (€13) for an one-way ADO bus ticket. The ADO bus is safe, has airco, wifi, a personal USB charger under your seat, onboard toilet and video entertainment and you can select your preferred seat online https://www.ado.com.mx
  • or 1500 pesos for a one-way private shuttle
  • 150 pesos (€7,50) for the ferry (leaves every 30 min)
  • 30 pesos (€1,50) for the golf cart taxi from the ferry port to your hotel.

Getting around

Isla Holbox is best explored on foot or by bike. The unpaved sandy grid of streets all lead to either the beach or the ferry port. With only 4 km of the island being accessible, there is no motorized traffic. If you don’t like walking you can either rent a bike or a golf cart for a day or half a day. There are numerous rental places in town so best thing to do is to stop by two or three shops and haggle for a good price. I personally recommend Bikes Holbox on the corner of Calle Canane and Avenida Pedro Joaquin Coldwell.

Where to stay

Isla Holbox is a resort and high-rise-free island but nonetheless boasting with small boutique hotels, B&Bs and hostels. I stayed at El Pueblito Hotel right in the middle of town with easy access to all the restaurants. Two blocks down (5 min walk) and you are on the beach. The mid-range hotel is built like an old rustic and traditional Mexican village with palapa-clad facades.  There’s a nice, quiet pool and on the ground floor there are a few small boutiques and a very good coffee shop.

Other accommodations I visited

Are you looking for more luxury right on the beach but still in walking distance of all the restaurants, then opt for  Casa Las Tortugas. This hotel is the most luxurious hotel on the island. If you get a chance, go there for an extravagant breakfast. At Hotel Mawimbi you get to enjoy a beach side holiday in a Caribbean style small scale hotel.

Another design conscious, but more budget-friendly option in town is Hotel Siesta Holbox . The hotel has a modern design with neutral colour palette. Their adjacent restaurant & bar Papalotes is a cool place to have breakfast or drinks.

The more remote beach side boutique hotels are wonderful and not that far from town. Villas Palapas del Mar is picture perfect with its white washed buildings and terraces with hammocks overlooking the beach. However do keep in mind that there are no street lights at night so walking or cycling back after dinner can be quite adventurous and golf cart taxis are limited on the island.

For a boho chic beach vibe opt for the luxury airbnb Casa Impala, with a private roof terrace.  It’s a hidden gem and perfect for couples or solo travellers. Another hotel with a fantastic design is Hotel Punta Caliza, an adults only hotel. The meandering pools that reach till your doorstep are an unique experience.

 

5 Fun Things to do on Isla Holbox

Beach Club Hopping

Isla Holbox might be small but I can assure you that you’ll never get bored.  Whether it’s strolls on the pearl white sand beach and plunging in the azure blue sea, or hopping from beach club to beach club, the coast line alone will be enough to enjoy and relax. The sea is full of swings and hammocks where you can chill and snap that instagram to make your friends envious. The beach clubs vary from ultra hip like Beach Club Velero with airy white tents to simple Caribbean style beach clubs like Raices. At Carolinda the service isn’t up to par but the beach definitely makes up for it. You can choose between a lounger or one of the hammocks in the sea to chill. Coquitos beach bar is a small and hip bar in a sheltered cove where you’ll need nothing but a good book.

Velero

Beachclub Velero

Coquitos

Street Art route

Create your own street art route by foot or on a bike. There’s so much street art that you will not be able to see it all even if you tried. The colourful murals are an integral part of the island and the perfect back drop for your holiday pictures. Don’t forget to stop at the Holbox sign for that memorable photo and build in some time for a few beach photos too.

Go to Punta Coco for the best sunset

At Punta Coco you get the best sunset on the island. But also during the day Punta Coco is  a fun place to be as you get to experience the authentic island life. Unlike the east side of the island, which is lined with boutique hotels, this side is more rough and untouched. The beach is tranquil and the water is at it’s bluest on the west side.

Illuminated blue plankton

If you don’t mind getting up at 3 am at night this excursion is for you.  At night the calm waters come alive with thousands of blue glowing algae, called bio-luminescence.  This is however only visible when it’s completely dark. The excursion is thus only possible when there’s little lunar light and in remote places on the island where there’s no reflection of street lights.

Wildlife spotting and sand bank at Punta Mosquito

On the eastern part of the beach, Punta Mosquito, there’s a nature reserve where you can enjoy the wild life. You get to see beautiful rare birds, pelicans, crane birds and maybe even a flamingo if you’re lucky. When the tide is low, a huge sand bank appears in the sea that enables you to stroll all the way to the most eastern point of the island. This is also the part of the island where you can take kite surfing lessons.

 

Where to eat, drink and party

Holbox is packed with restaurants, beach bars and small cafes. On top of that there’s a daily evening food market on the main square where locals sell home made snacks, desserts and fast food. Here are some of the best places to go…

5 Best Breakfast places

For breakfast there are so many excellent choices that you can try something different every day. At French owned Le Jardin it feels like being in a French provincial garden. People literally line up outside to have breakfast at this adorable French restaurant. Go here for fresh out of the oven croissants, cinnamon rolls, baguette and tasty omelettes.

El Cafecito is another favourite with its outside terrace and extensive breakfast menu. The menu ranges from acai bowls and yoghurt with granola to a stack of pancakes, fruit bowls, Turkish breakfast or eggs and avocado on toast.

At Basico they serve eggs any style, pancakes, fruit and delicious smoothies. Basico is in my opinion overpriced for breakfast compared to other places and a better option for dinner. The decor and service are on the other hand impeccable.

Painapol is probably one of the most instagrammable places on Isla Holbox with bright murals, swings and cozy corners. Just like El Cafecito they have a wide range of breakfast options and their coffee is top notch.

A Mar Cafe is a great place for people watching while having your morning coffee accompanied by a Mexican style breakfast. Try to score a seat at the open window bar table to get the best view on passing by folks.

 

Basico

 

Painapol

A Mar Cafe

 

3 x Lunch spots to try

Don’t skimp on lunch as it’s sometimes even better than dinner. The oldest restaurant on the island with authentic  Mexican cantina style food is Las Panchas. The decor is simple as is the presentation of the food. It’s like eating at your mother’s kitchen table. Fresh fish is their specialty served with rice and salad.

Another no fuss or frills but real Mexican seafood joint is Beachclub Raices.  Savour a whole grilled fish with your feet in the sand, Latin music on loud and a view on the sun-kissed water. This is the life.

At über hip Beach Club El Velero the menu is packed with stylish and hip dishes and drinks. Think grilled octopus, ceviches, salads and fresh pressed fruit juice mixes.

5 Favourite Dinner spots

Basico is my favourite island restaurant. With an elegant interior, cheeky cocktails and contemporary cuisine you are guaranteed to have a good night. The food is a fusion of contemporary Mexican food and Oriental cuisine that will delight all your senses.

For the best cocktails and a high end dinner experience Luuma is hands down the best place to go. The decor is chic and the crowd young and stylish. The food is beautifully presented and full of flavour.

For the best tacos I recommend Barba Negra. Fish, chicken or beef tacos in different styles can be mixed and matched to get the full taco experience or order them by 3 if you already have a favourite.

Are you tired of all the Mexican food and craving something else? Head to Roots where they make wood-oven baked pizzas. You may choose your own topping but I would recommend the lobster pizza which is a signature pizza for the island and I understand why. At Divino, right on the central square, the lobster pizza is also fingerlicking good.

luuma

Bar at Basico

Basico inside

After dinner

At Maroc Coffee & Bakery they have daily fresh out of the oven cakes. From carrot cake, to cheese cake or a double chocolate cake, they are all so good and the pieces you get are huge! With a cup of coffee or tea it is the ultimate dessert to a perfect day.

A few steps from Maroc you’ll find ice cream parlour El Mangle, a popular spot in the evening and not just for the ice cream. The swing seats with view on the bustling street make a nice spot for people watching.

To party you go to Hot Corner. Each night from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. you can dance the night away on live tropical sounds. The live band sweeps up the crowd with salsa, mariachis and bachatas. If you’re not a dancer, no problem because there are enough seats for people watching with a cocktail in hand.

Off the Grid: Slow Pace, Dress code, Money and Wifi

When going to Holbox prepare to go off the grid. Isla Holbox is all about stripping down to the basics. The wifi and connectivity (3G/4G) are almost non-existent. Take enough cash with you as there’s only one reliable ATM; above the police station, where there’s always a queue. Sometimes the ATM stops functioning and you need to return the next day to queue again. On the main square there’s also a small money exchange office with good rates. On Isla Holbox one embraces the Latin way of life “poco poco” so be prepared to slow down and expect slow service at restaurants especially at breakfast time. On Isla Holbox beach wear, summer dress and flip flops will suffice. There’s a laid back, no nonsense atmosphere even in the most luxurious restaurants.  Be warned that the unpaved sandy streets get flooded and muddy after rain due to a lack of decent drainage so you might want to leave your good leather shoes at home.

 

 

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