Visitors Guide to Isla Holbox, Mexico’s Hidden Gem – Find Out What Are The Best Attractions Of This Wonderful Island
Untouched beaches, turquoise sea and a relaxed atmosphere - welcome to Isla Holbox, Mexicos hidden gem. This intimate tropical island is located on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and is one of those places where time slows down. Spend your days sipping coconut water on the beach, snorkeling with whale sharks, admiring the sunsets, or exploring the island by bike. Find out how to get, where to eat and what to do on Isla Holbox with this visitors guide.
About the island
Isla Holbox is a small but extremely charming islet just a few hours north of Cancun. The islet is part of the Yum Bala Biosphere Reserve and is separated from the mainland by a lagoon inhabited by numerous birds, including flamingos and pelicans. The name of the island in the Mayan language means black hole, possibly because of the dark color of the lagoon.
It is said to be a place where time has stood still and I totally agree with that. The island, despite the increasing number of tourists, still retains its authenticity. Visitors are attracted here by shallow, crystalline waters, soft sand underfoot, and in the season also the possibility of diving with sharks.
Interestingly, you wont see cars on Isla Holbox as they are forbidden. However, this is not a problem as the island is small enough to be explored on foot or by bike. The lack of cars gives the island a relaxing character that fits perfectly with the colorful houses and sandy streets.
Best time to visit Isla Holbox
The best time to visit the island is the dry season, which on the Mayan Riviera begins in November and ends in April. Unfortunately, the island then gets crowded and hotel prices go up. The hottest days here are in May and the coldest ones are in December. It is best to avoid September and October because of the hurricanes. Those wishing to see whale sharks should visit the island between mid-May and mid-September. Unfortunately, there is also the rainy season during this time and seaweed can appear on the beaches.
How to get to Isla Holbox?
The quickest way to get to the island is by private plane. Planes on Isla Holbox depart from Cancun airport, among others. Unfortunately, as you might guess, its also the most expensive option, so few go for it. Plane rental prices for several people start from several hundred dollars.
A much more economical option to get to the island is to use the bus, organized transport or a rented car and then cross the ferry. Ferries to the island depart from the port in the small town of Chiquila.
The bus journey from Cancun to Chiquila takes around two and a half hours, and from Tulum a little longer - three and a half hours. The bus company most recommended by tourists in Mexico is ADO. Tickets can be booked online in advance, which is a great convenience. A trip from Cancun to Chiquila costs around 316 Mexican pesos, and from Tulum to Chiquila - 430 Mexican pesos.
If you are traveling in a larger group, you may want to consider renting a car. Its best to book your car in advance through Rentalcars.com. Standard car rental prices start at around 700 Mexican pesos per day. I chose Hertz and I was not disappointed. There are many private parking places near Chiquila Harbor where you can leave your car. The cost of leaving the car for 24 hours is around 100 Mexican pesos.
Ferries from Chiquila to Isla Holbox depart every thirty minutes from 6:00 AM to 9:30 PM. There are two ferry companies to choose from which differ in departure times. The first - 9 Hermanos - always leaves at the hour and the hour, while the second, the Holbox Express, departs at half past hour. It is worth remembering about this when buying tickets. Tickets can be purchased at the port immediately before departure. The ferry crossing takes around 30 minutes and prices range from 180 (children) to 220 Mexican pesos (adults).
There are no standard taxis on the island, just electric cars that line up at the ferry terminal waiting for tourists. The island is divided into zones. How much you pay for a taxi depends on the zone where your hotel is located.
Where to stay on Isla Holbox?
On Isla Holbox you will find many interesting accommodation options, ranging from luxurious to more economical. The island is dominated by small, intimate objects, you will not find any behemoths here. Standard rooms with a sea view as well as atmospheric bungalows await guests. In turn, those eager for adventure and contact with nature can spend the night in a tent. Accommodation prices start at around 500 Mexican pesos, so everyone should find something suitable for themselves. It is worth staying in one of the facilities located directly on the beach. However, no matter what you decide to do, you will surely be satisfied.
I recommend staying at Casa Las Tortugas. It is located right on the main beach and offers you nicely furnished rooms and apartments with sea views. There is an outdoor swimming pool, Turkish bath and hot tub on site. Yoga classes are held every morning, and breakfast is served in the atmospheric beach restaurant, which turns into an elegant restaurant in the evening.
Best things to do on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is famous for many interesting attractions that will surely keep you from getting bored. Below you will find a list of the must-do during your stay on the island.
Chill out on the beach
One of the best things to do on the island is undoubtedly relaxing on the beach. The beaches here are white and sandy, and the waters are shallow and crystalline, which is perfect for bathing. Snorkel enthusiasts will not be disappointed either. Spend the day sipping fresh coconut water and lounging on the islands most popular beach, Playa Holbox. In turn, in the evening, be sure to go to the sunset to the beach of Punta Cocos.
Ride a bicycle
The next thing you absolutely must do on the island is to take a bike ride. There is probably no better way to explore this beautiful island than by bike. Moving around the island due to its small size is very easy and it is impossible to get lost. Bicycles can be rented at many points in the center of the island. You will pay 20-30 Mexican pesos per hour for renting a bike, and 150-200 Mexican pesos for the whole day.
Swim with the whale sharks
The biggest attraction of the island is undoubtedly diving with the largest fish in the world, i.e. the whale shark. Isla Holbox is one of the few places in the world where it can be seen in its natural habitat. The whale shark season begins in mid-May and lasts until mid-September. An organized guided tour is required to go swimming with the whale shark. For a full-day trip with other tourists you will pay 3,300 Mexican pesos, while for a private trip - 19,800 Mexican pesos.
Watch the sunsets
Another thing you have to do on the island is enjoy the picturesque sunsets. Due to the location of the island, the sun sets directly over the sea, making the whole spectacle even more spectacular. In my opinion, the best places to admire the magical sunsets are the pier, the Mandarina restaurant and the beach of Punta Cocos located in the west of the island.
Visit three islands
If youre bored of sunbathing, be sure to take a boat trip to the three islands. It is a great way to spend time actively and communing with wildlife. During the trip you will visit the island of birds - Isla Pájaros, where you will be able to see flamingos and pelicans, and the uninhabited island of Isla Pasión. Finish the day with a swim at the refreshing Yalahau Cenote. The tour can be purchased anywhere in the center or directly on the beach and costs around 450 Mexican pesos.
One of the most interesting experiences on the island is the bioluminescence observation at night. This phenomenon is caused by microscopic phytoplankton and manifests as glowing blue water. You can admire the bioluminescence on your own or during an organized trip. The best time to admire this phenomenon is from April to November.
Admire the street art
Another thing that is worth doing on the island is a walk along the trail of local murals, which are not missing here. The brilliantly colorful murals are the work of famous artists from around the world. They give local buildings a unique atmosphere and at the same time tell interesting stories. One of the prettiest murals on the island is a childs face painted by Mexican artist Jace Jano.
Take a kitesurfing lesson
Isla Holbox is a great place to start your kitesurfing adventure. The island is famous for its ideal conditions for learning this sport due to its shallow waters, wide coastline and mild wind conditions. Kitesurfing classes are held here all year round. The most popular kitesurfing school on the island is KukulKite. Course prices range from 130 dollars (three-hour group course) to 600 dollars (nine-hour private course).
Best places to eat on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is not only about sandy beaches and nice hotels, but also (or above all) delicious local food. Below you will find a list of places I recommend to eat well on the island.
ROOTS Pizza a Leña
As you can guess, the island is famous primarily for its great seafood, the undisputed winner of which is the lobster. The most recognizable dish on the island is the lobster pizza.
The best lobster pizza, according to the locals, is at ROOTS Pizza a Leña. The place prides itself on over a dozen types of artisanal wood-fired pizza. In addition to pizza, you will eat other Italian dishes here, and also drink a good mezcal.
Sample prices: lobster pizza 600 pesos, lasagne bolognese 219 pesos, craft beer 85 pesos. Open daily from 12.00 PM to 11.30 PM.
Holbox Foodie Market
Another place where you can eat well on the island is the Holbox Foodie Market. You will find as many as five different restaurants, each specializing in something different. You can choose from Japanese cuisine with delicious sushi, Mexican with delicious seafood tacos, and Italian with panini and homemade noodles. In addition, you will eat here the best burgers on the island and crispy chicken wings.
Sample prices: fish taco 40 pesos, shrimp taco 50 pesos. Open daily from 1.00 PM to 10.30 AM.
Lovers of delicious tacos should also head to Taco Queto, a place popular with both locals and tourists. The place offers authentic Mexican food at a reasonable price. Be sure to try the local taco al pastor with marinated grilled pork and the chorizo taco. Additionally, it is also worth trying the classic burrito.
Sample prices: taco al pastor 19 pesos, steak taco 24 pesos, burrito el pastor 124 pesos. Open daily from 6.00 PM to 12.00 AM.
In my opinion, the best seafood on the island is served by Mahi Holbox restaurant. This place stands out from the rest with its extraordinary appearance and unique food. The menu here is a combination of Mexican Pacific cuisine with traditional Caribbean flavors. Be sure to order the specialty in the form of a dish called Agasajo, as well as a toast with smoked marlin. Also worth trying one of the refreshing ceviches.
Sample prices: seafood taco 60 pesos, fish tostada 110 pesos, shrimp ceviche 260 pesos. Open daily from 09.00 AM to 12.00 AM.
Restaurante & Beach Club Mandarina
If you are looking for an atmospheric place on the beach, go to the Mandarina restaurant. In the morning you will have breakfast here with a view of the sea, during the day a quick lunch, and in the evening an exquisite candlelight dinner with sand under your feet. The local chef combines the flavors of Mediterranean, South American and Caribbean cuisines. In addition to good food, this place also offers a wide selection of wines.
Sample prices: eggs and bacon 180 pesos, chilaquiles 190 pesos, pasta with prawns 450 pesos, steak 480 pesos, grilled fish 1.20 pesos / gram. Open daily from 07.00 AM to 11.00 AM, from 12.00 PM to 5.00 PM and from 6.00 PM to 10.00 PM.
In the evening, be sure to go for dinner under the stars at the atmospheric Luuma. Luuma is the perfect place to spend time with friends listening to chillout music. The restaurant is located in front of the Casa las Tortugas hotel and offers some of the best cocktails and snacks I have had the opportunity to try in the Yucatan Peninsula. All dishes are prepared with local ingredients and taste amazing.
Sample prices: empanada 80 pesos, Luuma Colada 180 pesos. Open daily from 5.00 PM to 11.00 PM.
Other travel tips
Most of the hotels and restaurants on the island have internet access, but internet is slow and unreliable. Its best to get a local prepaid Telcel SIM card. This card can be purchased at many points, usually marked with the Telcel logo in front of the entrance.
Nowadays, you will find more ATMs on the island than you used to, but its still worth taking cash with you as not all places accept card payments. In addition, ATMs often run out of money and transaction fees are charged for withdrawals. Both dollars and pesos are accepted on the island, but its more profitable to use the local currency.
There is no crime on the island which makes it ideal for solo travelers. Nevertheless, basic precautions should be taken, i.e. do not walk alone after dark, do not carry valuables with you and do not take drugs. Additionally, be careful while riding a bike, as the roads here are bumpy and remember to stay well hydrated.
All in all, Isla Holbox is the perfect place to get away from everyday life and spend a relaxing holiday. Nice beaches, unspoiled nature, delicious food and interesting attractions are some of the reasons why you should visit this Mexican island. I hope my guide will be useful to anyone who decides to spend their vacation on this lovely island.