If you’re looking for a paradise of soft pastels, white beaches and the possibility of swimming with whale sharks (june-september) then Holbox (hōl-bōsh) could just be the place for you. Not only is it still manageable to explore being in the proximity of Cancun and mass tourism but Holbox was actually quite calm while visiting. Another perk to the island was the non-existence of cars with the exception of taxi-golfcarts and rentals as well as scooters.
Located six miles north of the most northern point of the Mexican state of Quintana-Roo and somewhat remote from just about everything for a couple hours, this sleepy island really was the tropical retreat we’d looked forward to visiting after exploring the interior for some time.
Reaching the Island
You can get here easiest from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or if traveling as we did, Valladolid. Best bet from our point of view would be to just catch an Ado bus, better yet pre-ordered through busbud for about $10 and sit back for about two and a half hours until reaching the port village of Chiquila.
The bus station and drop off point is basically at the ferry dock. From here you’ll buy tickets right at the booth for either Holbox Express or 9 Hermanos for 200 pesos or about $10 and does leave every 30 minutes daily from 6am-9:30pm. It takes 25-30 minutes but is a beautiful ride out over shallow light blue water.
Of course there is another way to reach the island (not including by small private plane) which would be to hire one of the many locals running a skiff to the island too. We took this route of course just to try something different while paying the same price. A little more adventurous jumping the waves and having the boat to just us.
You’ll notice on your trip to the east side of the island somewhat untouched as it is a national area of protection and from what I can remember doesn’t have many or any roads to it.
Once on the island you’ll be greeted by a line of organized taxi-carts waiting yet un-pushy if you’d like a ride to your stay. The island itself is about twenty-six miles long but the actual touristic area is just a fraction of that and is for the most part is flat and easy walkable.
Where you could stay
As per usual as of late, we came without any solid plan but had located a couple places that claimed to have camping areas. Our first place to check was on the opposite side of our landing port which was really only ten to fifteen minutes of walking so hiked through the shade given from the colonial housing center of town.
Ok. To begin with, our memory of this place was great. I don’t recall the glamping part of the name as it isn’t quite glamping from what I’d seen some other places do. It does provide a fan, extension cord and mosquito net along with a small mattress which is an upgrade from the normal tent life. Even though, the tents are nearly stacked on top of each other. This place does have shared dorms if you’d like a little personal space.
That being said, there were a few areas open for a small tent and we had spoken with the owner/manager who was kind enough to rent us a spot for 100 pesos a day for the both of us. If trying to camp, I can’t confirm this would always be an option.
The place does have a shared kitchen and hot water as well as a large sink if looking to wash some clothes (don’t judge us). Even as tight as we were amongst the other tents the location was possibly one of the best we saw on the island besides some of the resorts along the beach. For the price, most of the other hostels we had seen for a single bed in a shared room ran about $15 a person while we were paying $5 for the both of us.
Final bit on this hostal which I’ll touch later is it is connected to a bar and restaurant, Salma that really picks up every night of the week. If looking for a bit of peace and budget isn’t an issue than this may not be the place as they just about always have a DJ. They do really pick good DJ’s though as every night we stayed they really played a good variety of fun electronic music (not the clubby top-40 edm tunes)
This was our fallback if we hadn’t had found a camping spot (we like to tent it up for the experience and the price). Not totally certain if it was connected with the well known Che Lagarto hostel brand found in other places throughout latin-america but was one of the highest rated hostels we’d seen around. For about $15 a night you could get a mixed dorm.
We did actually have a friend staying here whom we had met back in Holbox who just happened to be crossing paths with us again. He said the place was great for social gatherings as they had happy hours for the guests as well as bbqs (I believe Argentinean BBQ) and other mixers.
Located a little more central of the island, once again it’s not a large island so maybe a five minute walk would bring you back to the beach.
Stuff to do
Visit the beaches
Of course this is the most obvious but in my opinion some of the most beautiful beach views I may have ever seen were here. The color schemes were incredible. The soft white sand and the clear as could be water that stayed knee deep for the longest walks from shore. The sun is intense so if planning a long walk of course don’t forget the sunscreen and water. No, serious! It’s really quite intense heat.
A couple points of interest beach-wise would be first, Punta Cocos beach on the SW side of the island that has it’s own little lagoon and the occasional crocodile (which we never did see). You could get a taxi ride but we were able to walk in about 45 minutes and hitchhiked back. Second, Punta Mosquito which is on the opposite NE side and a bit further from the town center. I believe you can rent a bike to get there more timely.
The beaches on the north side which is the most active side in my opinion were the most beautiful with calmer water. The sunsets were beautiful from here with the beaches filled each evening for the event.
Of course there was the ever so popular HO_BOX sign where you could fill in with a body shape of an L for that cool photo op along with numerous swings and hammocks far out over open water.
We didn’t visit during the right time. They were still selling the tours of course but we’d found out we were just a couple months early as June would be the beginning of the season in where the Whale Sharks made their way around. None the less, if you’re around, this is supposed to be one of the better places to have a chance of seeing this magnificent carpet shark.
From the time we first settled in, other travelers we’d met all said the same thing. The party is at The Hot Corner. This smallish bar/restaurant is north-center of town and was pretty close to us. After sunset this day restaurant would slowly pull in everyone from the street which would in time turn into a street party once full. Across the street was a liquor store which seemed to be what half of the party which was everyone dancing outside would buy their drinks. Happy hours, especially free shots for women seemed to be a theme here. Live music every night too. We swung in for a salsa night and had a blast.
As I touched base earlier saying this was attached to the front of our hostel, if you’re looking to extend your night, usually only picking up around 11pm this place just about always has a DJ. It’s a hip little restaurant that is among the pricier on the island and in regards to Mexico prices too. That being said, we didn’t try the food, but…the music was exceptional. Each night they’d fill up the narrow walkway cutting through the bar with a small crowd outside the door dancing to some of the newest electronica, some underground as well as classics, dished up to keep the dance going long into the night.
Wander around the town
Whether day or night, preferably closer to the evening when the temperature drops a bit and the body is sun spent, a stroll through the town square could be just the answer. Just around the town square Zumba classes usually takes place, pop up food carts encompass the interior and golf carts seem to take a break for the time as the majority of travelers explore the night by foot.
What to eat
We did have shared kitchen in our hostel allowing us to cook and make drinks with some wonderful new friends we’d made but that didn’t stop us from occasionally swinging out for a bite.
We found this place thanks to a local while touring the island our first night. Awesome pizza! Some of the best we’d had in some time. Fast service, friendly staff and I imagine by the restaurant name, you’ve guessed it’s reggae themed. Not certain of their weekly entertainment schedule but while we ate an eclectic two-piece indie-electronica group added synth and soul to top the flavor.
Catchphrase, salad bowls and good vibes. The lighter option if you’re passing Roots pizza and looking for a crisp, fresh salad bowl, hummus or roasted veggies. We had passed by this place a couple times and finally stopped in. So glad we did. A treat and refresher from eatimng a little more hearty as of recent.
Our overall take
Really, really loved Holbox. Well, had lots to take from everywhere we’ve been but this sticks fresh in my mind and whenever scrolling through past photos, I always slow down around here. One memory that holds on was a night beach escape after dinner with a pastry and candle for mini b-day celebration attempt for Bia.
There were definitely tourists all over the island but it wasn’t a cramped feeling with lines of people trying to get in a restaurant or spaced out selfie stick people walking into each other. Also with the tourism presence, there was a balance of respect and waste management keeping the island spot-clean.
The nightlife was fun but not overwhelming. Lots of live music of all types of genre.
Overall this was a laid back, island vibe sort of, well island. The beaches are still unforgettable and next time we’re in or around the Yucatán or Quintana-Roo we’re definitely making a stop into Holbox. You should too.
(In our next adventure we’ll be heading from Holbox to Cancun for a few days. As chaotic as we knew it’d be, the plan was to totally break away from the travel life and kickback in a resort we’d booked back in Mérida for a few days.)