This article, Isla Holbox, Mexico, is a part of our personal paradise series, be sure to check out our other off-the-beaten-track finds!
Words: Erin Hardie | Photos: Ryan Platten | Isla Holbox, Mexico is a 40km long by 1.5km wide island off the Quintana Roo northeastern coast of Mexico. If you’ve not heard of Isla Holbox before, you may have heard of it’s home state Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo, aside from having a cool name, is home to other top Mexican destinations including Tulum and Cancun. But today I want to impress upon you that Isla Holbox is the better choice by far! Cancun is a NIGHTMARE of hellish overly-touristy, over-priced proportions, even if it does still have sparkling white sands and blue waters. Tulum is touted as a hippy/backpackers paradise, but personally I found it overrated, the beach is far from the town centre (a 3km walk on non-footpaths or cycle) and frequently covered in seaweed. Although not totally immune to the seaweed problems of this part of Mexico’s coastline, Isla Holbox stands a world apart from these more famous destinations. On Isla Holbox the beach is walking distance in all directions, beach buggy or barefoot strolling the main forms of transport, there are eco-friendly accommodation options, beach bars are right on the sand, there’s incredible wildlife and it has a real chilled out vibe free of poseurs… In fact it’s so good, I nearly didn’t want to share it here! Read on for our guide to Isla Holbox, Mexico, a personal paradise!
Isla Holbox Mexico – A Personal Paradise!
Getting to Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox is a reasonably untapped paradise still because of its relatively remote, hard to reach location. Isla means island in Spanish by the way in case you weren’t sure, so the final leg to Isla Holbox is necessarily by boat or plane. Yes, one article I read before going suggested that one could just casually charter a private plane for £700 between 5 people… Of course, naturally! For merer mortals like myself though the boat option is preferable. You can take one of two local ferry companies (they cost the same approx. 120 MXP per person) for a delightful half hour ride across the water from the Chiquila Ferry Terminal. They depart approximately every half hour until around 9pm daily.
Getting to the Chiquila Ferry Terminal presents a bit more of a challenge though if you are operating on a budget. You can drive there in 2-3 hours from Cancun in a hire car or spend $140 USD on a private door-to-door transfer. Or you can take the bus. Nothing scary about taking the bus in Mexico in my opinion and definitely on budget. And great news; there is now a bus route to and from Chiquila three times a day ex-Cancun, which was not the case during our visit and we had to get off at a non-designated stop along the highway and negotiate the hire of a taxi part way! This website has handy info on all these transport options including links to bus and transfer booking websites.
Accommodation on Isla Holbox, Mexico
Accommodation on Isla Holbox stretches along the northern side of this narrow island’s beach frontage. There are a couple of more budget hostel style spots in the tiny town centre also, still no more than 5 minutes walk from the beach. But certainly a part of Isla Holbox’s charm is feeling like you have your own private piece of paradise, at least on loan for a while. So we think it’s worth splashing a little cash and staying in one of the beach fronted resorts where the sand may run all the way up to your doorstep, depending on which one you choose!
The original resort on Isla Holbox is Casa Sandra, owner operated by a Cuban artist of the same name, and this is representative of the higher end prices on Holbox. Typically the further up the coast you are from the tiny town, the cheaper the prices get. We were very pleased with the eco-friendly resort El Hotel Villas Delfines which was about the quarter of the price of Casa Sandra for much the same experience. Most resorts here at all price points follow the similar setting of housing in little palm-thatched bungalows around a guest-only pool and garden area with a path down to their own piece of the seaside. Staying in these bungalows is part of the luxurious and relaxing charm of Holbox, a real escape from the real world! Most of these hut style accommodations offer no TVs or WiFi to further this idea therefore!
Eating and Drinking in Isla Holbox
I don’t want to give too many suggestions here as by and large finding your favourite bars and restaurants wandering the sandy streets of Isla Holbox is one of the major/only nighttime pastimes you’ll find here. But to get you inspired here’s a couple:
- Los Peleones – we loved this Mexican wrestling themed restaurant for multiple reasons! For their amusing cartoon style menus and decorations, for swing seating at the front of the restaurant, and alfresco at the back and of course the food! Not to mention we got a couple of stubby holders as souvenirs there and it’s well reviewed on google maps – a must check out!
- Beach Bar Cariocas – we loved this bar for multiple reasons too! It was a great late night option, and a few locals would come down after their shifts had finished in nearby restaurants in town. The bar has swing seating too, from which your toes dip into the sand, it’s a real on the beach bar! Music is Spanish in flavour and loud! Its also dog friendly 🙂 oh, and the drinks were good too!
When to go to Isla Holbox, Mexico
When to go to Isla Holbox depends on what you wish to do whilst there. Climate-wise there’s no real “off season” to worry about: the average daily maximum temperature is 25C! And the island gets at least 300 sunny days a year. So no worries then about enjoying the beach and alfresco beach bars. However, if it’s wildlife you wish to see, and specific wildlife at that, you may wish to book around their seasons. On Isla Holbox you can take part in whale shark sightseeing/swimming tours, but these are seasonal running between May and September annually. During this time you may also spot dolphins and turtles on these tours also! Flamingo season is thankfully very similarly to the whale shark season running from April to October annually. As discussed later though, there is wildlife to see on Isla Holbox, year round.
Bioluminescence on Isla Holbox, Mexico
This was an awesome surprise for us that we discovered quite by accident! But of course it makes total logical sense when you think about the wildlife to be found near this island’s warm waters. Bioluminescence, to clarify, is the neon glowing light effect caused by naturally bioluminescent organisms such as algae or plankton in waters at night time. Whilst this phenomena is not always the same night by night, ie it can vary seasonably/based on the organisms mating patterns etc, we were shocked at just how well lit up the ocean was on one of our nights on Isla Holbox. The pier pictured above is of course very worth a visit by day being so incredibly picturesque, but it was when we walked down it by night and dangled our feet into the ocean below that we discovered the ocean to be lit up iridescent green with our every splash!
What to do on Isla Holbox, Mexico
Actually we’ve mentioned a number of attractions already, but wait, there’s more! Even if you visit out of season for the big wildlife draw cards (the whale sharks and flamingos) it is still worth doing some wildlife tours whilst staying on Isla Holbox. Isla Holbox is in fact a part of the 380,000 hectares Yum Balam nature reserve, an area with nutrient rich seas and multiple ecosystems. To explore some of this natural diversity is easy enough, stroll down to the main street and book a boat tour with one of the many helpful small owner-operated companies you will find there. You can choose from standard “off-the-menu” day trip plans to designing your own.
- Mangroves – you can tour these by boat, and discover a natural pool there known to the tour operators, or by kayak tour also.
- Fishing – fly-fishing especially is a big drawcard on Isla Holbox.
- Bird watching (including/other than flamingoes) you will also find colonies of pelicans, egrets, cormorants and over 500 other species of birds! Plus lizards! So many lizards! Get to Isla Pajaros (by boat tour) for some out of this world photos of the little viewing terraces and of course the birds themselves 😉
- Snorkeling! Of course! Or just lay back and relax on the very uncrowded, serene beaches 🙂
Know Before You Go to Isla Holbox, Mexico
A couple more things to know before you go to Isla Holbox, Mexico:
- Holbox is still pretty cash-orientated, a few places take credit card, but not many! Also there is only one ATM on the island, which frequently runs out of money for a couple of days at a time! To be fair the island did not even get electricity until 1987!
- Getting around Isla Holbox is also one of the main attractions! That is its a walking or golf cart only sand-streets island! Hiring a golf cart is good fun and not too pricey 🙂
- Probably should have told you this very first of all: if you’re Spanish is not up to scratch (don’t worry, plenty of people in service based jobs on the island speak English) but also take note of the pronunciation of Isla Holbox, Mexico: it sounds like (to an Australian ear) ee-la ol’bosh, Meh-hicko!
- If you’re looking to party serious Isla Holbox is probably not for you, most bars shut around midnight and the island is rarely crowded. The party scene you might be looking for is on the nearby Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
We hope you enjoyed our personal paradise: Isla Holbox, Mexico. If you’ve been there, are planning to go, or have used our guide and gone, we;d love to hear from you in the comments section below! Until next time, ¡Salud! (Cheers!) Erin & Ryan.