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It’s impossible not to kick off your shoes the second you arrive on Isla Holbox – and you won’t need to put them back on again.
While most other travellers are living it up in Cancun, Cozumel or Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, this offshore treasure is still considered a bit of a secret, though it won’t stay that way for long.
That’s not to say you won’t find plenty of people to share beachfront tequila shots with when you travel to Isla Holbox.
The main town is a colourful jumble of Caribbean-flavoured shops, restaurants, cafes and street art-coated walls. Bars line the sand, and reggae tunes are never far in front or behind you as you cycle over dusty tracks around the island.
Best things to do on Isla Holbox.
If you want to do nothing at all but laze on blinding-white sand and only lift your head to take a sip from your cocktail, this is the place to do it. However, for a Mexican island that’s only about 26 miles long and one wide, there’s certainly plenty to do.
Exploring Isla Holbox is all about beach-hopping. If you’ve ever seen it on Instagram, no doubt it was an image of the famous hammocks swinging colourfully over the transparent water.
Though it’s touristy and you may have to hang back and wait for a free spot, wading out into the warm shallows with your drink and sinking into one is worth the effort.
However, when you branch off the main beaches stretching across the town, you’ll find perfect pockets of peace all to yourself. Stroll out on the dock at Punta Coco before splashing in the emerald water.
Don’t let Punta Mosquito’s name scare you off and head off towards the horizon along sparkling sandbars at low tide. Swim, paddleboard and snorkel to your heart’s content. Then, go back for the fiery sunsets and try to stop yourself from taking a hundred photos.
Take a boat tour
You’ll find an array of companies offering ‘three island boat tours’, and they’re well worth the extra spend. Yalahau is a natural cenote in the middle of an ecological reserve that’s perfect for a refreshing dip and surrounded by the folklore of Mayan kings.
If you love birdwatching, tiny Isla Pajaros is a paradise of flamingos, ducks, pelicans and rare species. With its protected status as a wildlife reserve, you can only view them by boat. The third island is Pasion, a tropical haven of sugar-soft sand, birds and palm trees, far, far away from civilisation.
Explore the mangroves
Sunbathing crocodiles lurk on the shores, and elegant flamingos hang out in the uninhabited mangrove forest on Isla Holbox.
Take a kayak tour to paddle your way around the most remote areas and learn about the island’s ecosystem. Largely thanks to the possibility of crocodiles for company, and for the fact that mangroves always seem to hold secrets, the experience is beautifully eerie and a great way to work off the sunset margaritas.
The full moon is a wonderful sight over the beaches, but if you visit Isla Holbox from July to January, you’ll wish for moonless nights. Then, you can enter the hypnotic world of otherworldly, blue-glowing plankton that illuminates the shore with incredible light.
The phenomenon of bioluminescence – miniature organisms that light up like fireflies – covers the southern beaches. It’s possible to take tours with locals to all the best spots or trek out on your own for a nighttime adventure.
Swim with whale sharks
If swimming with whale sharks is on your bucket list, travel to Isla Holbox from June to September. These great giants of the sea swim through the Gulf of Mexico to feed on phytoplankton and can grow up to 45 feet long. To get up-close and personal, take a boat tour, pop on a snorkel and mask and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime.
While I didn’t see any whale sharks during my visit to Isla Holbox, so have I swam with Whale Sharks in both The Maldives and Indonesia.
If you want to do some Scuba diving while exploring the Rivera Maya, check out this guide for the best dive spots.
Learn To KiteSurf.
Isla Holbox is fast becoming an ideal place to learn Kitesurfing. Conditions are suitable for beginners, as the beach has shallow waters, no big obstacles on the wide and long beach, many days of wind during the winter months, and a nearby school with professional instructors. Advanced riders can also find very good conditions when the north or south winds reach 25 knots or more.
Eat, eat and eat some more.
No matter when hunger strikes, you’ll find mouthwatering tacos, fresh seafood and multicultural dishes centred around the sandy streets of the town.
Everyone makes a beeline to Roots Pizzas to bite into their lobster speciality in a fairy-lit outdoor garden. Park yourself on a wooden stump and enjoy the busy atmosphere, or else you’ll find lobster pizzas in numerous, less busy, restaurants.
For a taste bud surprise, head to the menu-less El Chapulim for contemporary Mexican cuisine that often features the catch of the day. For a pirate vibe by the sea, follow the electronic music to Salma and sip on mezcal.
Half the fun of Holbox is choosing a new place every night, so simply let your nose lead you to whatever you feel like and however far you want to stretch your budget on food.
Best time to visit Isla Holbox
There’s not really a bad time to travel to Isla Holbox. On average, the hottest month is August, and the coolest is January, but it never really gets cold. Like most spots on the planet, high season coincides with Christmas and Easter. For the cheapest prices, check out deals from September to November.
How to get to Isla Holbox
Ferries to Isla Holbox leave from the town of Chiquila and usually depart every 30 minutes, and take about 30 minutes to get there. It’s an easy process to simply show up, buy a ticket and go.
The best place to fly into from most major cities in the world is Cancun. From here, it’s a two to three-hour drive with the GPS or a bus ride from the ADO station.
There’re a few buses a day from Cancun to Chiquila; the ride takes about 2 hours.
If you are heading to Cozumel next, be sure to check out this guide so you get the best time at Cozumel.
From Chiquila, take a short ferry ride to Isla Holbox. The ferry ride takes no more than 25 min and costs 100pesos. The ferry leaves Chiquila every hour during the day.
Buses, private transfers and taxi rides to Chiquila are also available from Playa del Carmen and Tulum. If you hire a car, Chiquila has a range of car parks within easy walking distance of the ferries. Though you may find people flagging you towards their car park, check out a few of them to get the best price before you drive in.
Getting around Isla Holbox
One of the best things about Isla Holbox is that it’s car-free. Get set to stroll, cycle or hire a golf cart to take you from one end to the other across unpaved paths blanketed with sand. If you do decide on the golf cart way, just remember that pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way.
Isla Holbox accommodation
There are no massive hotel developments on the island – yet. For now, choose from great-value hostels, charming boutique hotels, romantic villas and beachy cabins.
Check out the relatively new Che Holbox hostel for a party atmosphere, Casa De Daniela to chill out in hammocks and the vibrantly coloured Hostel Tribu.
Money and costs
The biggest expense you’ll probably come across is getting to Chiquila from where you fly into. Once there, spend as many Mexican pesos, or as little as you like. If you choose to spend all of your time on the beach, it’ll only be your room, bike rental (about 30 pesos) and food that you need to budget for.
Eating at the trendy restaurants will set you back, but bakeries, grocery stores and smaller eateries will fill you up with tortillas for small change. ATMs are pretty scarce (there´s two on the island, but they are often empty ), so it’s best to take sufficient cash to the island with you.
Isla Holbox travel tips
First up, Holbox is pronounced ‘Holebosh’. You’ll feel like you’re in another world here, and one that’s chilled out and the epitome of ‘no worries’.
The only problems you’re likely to encounter are mosquitoes on dusk, so be prepared, and often find yourself in the burning sun without a shady tree in sight – so be prepared. Other than that, feel free to kick those shoes off and fall into true Mexican island bliss.
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