After our expensive stay in Tulum we were ready to explore a place with a bit more of a laid back, bohemian feeling. And boy did we find everything we hoped for in Isla Holbox!! (pronounced Holbosch) We absolutely loved this relaxed island and it is now our favorite escape for when San Miguel de Allende goes through its cold winter. The hype is well worth it. We were very happy exploring and hanging out and the vibe was right up our alley!! I could easily spend a month here. But 5 days in December were all we got this time.
The island is long with a good portion of it restricted reserve. To get your bearings, the town crosses the island on the western end and most of the happening spots are on the northern side away from the ferry terminal.
We took an ADO bus from Tulum to Chiquila (where you catch the ferry). It took a bit over 3 and a half hours. You can also get to Chiquila/Holbox from Cancun town, Playa del Carmen and Merida. A private shuttle from Cancun’s airport is also a possibility, a bit expensive and book in advance. And if you have masses of money, private planes start at close to $500 dollars, and depart from Tulum, Playa, Cancun, Merida and Cozumel.
There are two ferry companies (red and blue) which charge the same amount for the crossing. Supposedly the red ferry company is a little faster but we honestly didn’t notice a huge difference. The terminal is just down the road from the bus station so it makes it very easy to take a bus here. One ferry leaves on the hour and the other on the half hour. There is a discount for citizens and residents with an INAPAM (over 60) card.
Take note: There are only a few ATM’s on Holbox and from what we heard they are extremely unpredictable so plan in advance. It is possible to pay by credit card in some places, but the wi-fi is not always working so you may find that the peso reigns supreme for most purchases, bring plenty of them.
Not only is this a beautiful island but it is a mass of color hitting your senses with all of the fabulous murals throughout the town, and a little foodie paradise to round it all out.
There are a minimal amount of work trucks, although most people say there are no cars. And you get around easily in golf carts or on bike or foot. Bikes are easily rented throughout town and a nice ride is a thoroughly enjoyable way to cruise around the island. Be careful though since the roads are basically sand or dirt and there are potholes that may get in the way. It gets hot here so bring plenty of water, a sun hat and bio sunscreen with you as you explore.
With a wide range of accommodation including a couple of very cool hostels for those travelers on a budget, some great Airbnb’s and many lovely boutique hotels there is something for everyone. For our stay we chose a relatively small hotel just two blocks off the beach on the northwest side of the island. Please consider using our affiliate link for Hotel Par Ti it has a lovely staff, a great pool area with bar service and charming rooms with balconies and was super quiet at night. They also have coffee in the morning accompanied with muffins to get you started on the day. It was a perfect place for us. Please note that this hotel is adults only. And if you decide to stay at Para Ti or any other hotel on the island please consider using our affiliate link on Booking.com at no extra cost to you, but it helps us keep our blog going.
Right down the road from Para Ti, towards the beach, is a great breakfast spot Le Jardin Panderia/Cafeteria where they make their own bakery goods. Don’t plan on going on a Monday or Tuesday as they are closed. It definitely gets full on the days they are open and the service is slow, but we went several times and enjoyed it. Make sure you put a pin in the world map on the wall to show where you are from.
Other breakfast spots worth trying were El Cafecito, try their Cafe de la Olla!! Papalotes is also very nice with amazing French Toast! Since we were only there 5 nights we didn’t have time to check out all the ones we wanted.
For lunch or dinner Viva Zapata is a great spot, we even got one of their t-shirts. Big Fish is a very small space but has good ceviche if you can get a seat. The Holbox Foodie Market has super spicy chicken wings, and to cool your mouth down El Manglo Blanco has the absolute best gelato at its two locations. Luuma is a beautiful setting with great food although a bit pricey. And their sister restaurant is the Mandarina Seaside Restaurant by Casa Las Tortugas right on the beach where we had a lovely romantic meal on our last night.
There is also a selection of street food of which Marquesitas is one of them. They smell great and are sugary crepes rolled up with fillings of dulce de leche, Nutella and cheese. They are an acquired taste for me as I just can’t get used to the cheese and Nutella combo. But they are available all over the Yucatan and are cheap.
There are so many food choices that you would need a full month to check them all out. Many are not listed on Trip Advisor or Yelp so just go out, look at the menus, see how busy they are and then settle down to enjoy what this beach escape offers up.
When you aren’t eating there are many ways to enjoy the island and its surrounding area. A simple laze on the beach, perhaps on one of the many water hammocks, is always a good way to spend time but don’t miss a relaxing walk along the long white sandbar where there are only a few other people. Just be aware of when high tide comes in as you may get wet. But then, this is an island, with water!! so do you really care?
And, the water!!! It is a gorgeous mixture of the blue spectrum, clear as a bell, warm and shallow for a good ways out making for a marvelous saunter down the beach.
And of course you must take time to witness the beautiful sunsets!!
Feel like a bit of Yoga? There are quite a few spots offering classes in a variety of prices. And of course there are the requisite massage tables on the beach.
We also spent a wonderful three hours on a boat excursion that hit a beautiful jungle cenote and Isla Pajaros (bird island) with a few flamingoes, a lot of pelicans and an assortment of other birds making a cacophony of sounds. Although we spent a fair bit of time there we could have easily stayed longer just watching the display of wildlife, perhaps with a cold beer or two. Our last stop was to see a larger number of flamingoes which we loved as we think they are amazingly graceful birds and we know we are definitely not home when seeing them. We arranged our boat with Hotel Para Ti but it is easy to just wander along the beach and check out the tour operators to find your own and negotiate a price. There are usually tours in the morning and afternoon and we opted for the morning before it got blistering hot and were glad we did.
As for nightlife, we settled down on a stool at The Hot Corner where food and drink are served to the accompaniment of some very fun tunes. We loved it since there are open walls in the front and locals would sit on the curb across the street and have their snacks and drinks. It made for a fantastic night. We also hit the upstairs bar at the Tribu Hostel where there is music in the evening and you can dance away the night. They have a sandwich board out front to tell you who is playing.
On the practical side of things, there is a great little laundry on the street to the left side of the plaza and down a bit as you walk away from the water. And farmacias are literally all over town selling just about any medication you need. We also saw a couple of decent barbers and hairdressers. And of course a few boutique clothing shops to get your boho on!
Isla Holbox is on just about everybody’s radar but we still found it blissfully throwing out that cool backpacker, free spirit vibe that we were longing for. We saw people of every age range here which was a nice change from Tulum. It was to us very low key but also allowing you to chose the budget you were comfortable with. Lovely splurges are possible but not the only thing available.
I even lived in my one pair of shorts and flip flops for most of the time we were here. Casual attire is the norm.
We kind of hate to make such a glowing review and entice more people to come, but we are also not the type of people who feel we must be the only privileged ones allowed. If you go, take good care of the island by being responsible, eco travelers and have a brilliant time!! And then shoot us a comment and let us hear about how you enjoyed this magical island.
Isla Holbox is well known for Whale Shark watching and seeing Turtles and the best time to visit is during the months of June to September for the Whale Sharks and the Turtles in summer months. I guess we will just have to return!!!