Why I Didn’t Totally Love Isla Holbox

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t completely fall head over heels in love with Isla Holbox.

I was kind of nervous about telling you guys this. Holbox is one of those places that people totally RAVE about. It would be like if someone told me they didn’t like Bali. I’d be all, “say what now?”

But we each have our own experiences, different weather, we meet totally different people, we find ourselves in different moods. There are so many factors that come into play when you visit somewhere new, especially somewhere that is as beloved as Isla Holbox.

The trouble was, I thought I would seriously love it. I really did. I thought it was going to be somewhere that was right up my alley.

I thought the lack of cars, the unpaved roads made of sand, and the hammocks in the sea would be everything I’d ever dreamed of.

All that stuff was there. It was beautiful. The waters were crystal clear and so shallow you could walk out over 100 meters and still only be about ankle deep.

There really were hammocks in the ocean. The roads weren’t paved and they were covered in sand, just like I’d read.

But something wasn’t quite right.

holbox
See! Hammocks in the sand! (only, they were owned by a bar and you could only sit in them if you bought a drink)

It’s Not All That “Eco”

I think one of the biggest let downs was that it was nowhere near as eco-friendly as I thought it was going to be. I’ve stayed in hotels in Mexico City that are more eco-friendly than anything I saw on Holbox.

All that I’d read about getting around by bicycle and the island being well looked after were, well, kind of a lie.

Most places where we got street food or drinks gave us plastic utensils, styrofoam cups (I literally cry every time I’m given styrofoam), and plastic straws. And guess where most of that ends up?

There’s a Lot of Garbage Around

Not quite as much as Isla Mujeres, but that’s for another post. There’s garbage on the beach, garbage on the streets, and sadly, garbage in the water.

Isla Holbox is a tiny island and all this waste has to end up somewhere. I was really, really disappointed to see the way some tourists and locals simply walked past a plastic bag blowing in the wind or styrofoam cups floating in the water.

I hope more is done to help prevent this getting worse as more tourists flock to “paradise.”

visiting isla holbox

The Golf Carts are Kind of a Hindrance

Forget bicycles, golf carts rule this island. You can rent them for about $50 a day and they are a much quicker way to get around the island. Even the taxis are golf carts.

Drunk tourists head from the bars back to their hotels in them every night. Since there aren’t really roads, there obviously aren’t any road rules. I lost count of how many times I literally had to jump out of the road so I didn’t get knocked down, both during the day and at night.

When you lay on the beach, you might expect to hear music, a bit of wind through the trees, perhaps the sound of the sea lapping against the sand. Nope. The only thing you can hear is the roar of the golf carts as they zip past the beach front.

Not exactly the sounds of paradise that I’d imagined.

It’s Not All Bad

I don’t want to sound like prima-donna or lead to you think that this place is just one big landfill full of gas-guzzling golf carts.

I had a great time on Isla Holbox. We stayed at a nice hotel, we ate amazing seafood, and the water really is insanely beautiful.

It’s not some terrible place that should be avoided.

I think I was just so disappointed that it was so vastly different to what I had imagined. It’s partly my fault for not doing more research, for perhaps being so naive about “paradise”. But I also think it’s important to highlight what it’s really like so that YOU don’t feel the same disappointment.

I also think it’s important to shed some light on the problems that I saw so that if you DO decide to go to Holbox, you can do your part to leave a smaller footprint.

color of the water in isla holbox
It really is THIS blue. It’s stunning.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever been to Isla Holbox? What was your experience there? Do you think I’m just being overdramatic or kind of naive for thinking it would be so perfect? I’d love to hear how you handle these sort of let-downs!

11 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Totally Love Isla Holbox”

  1. Do you go Carnival or Santana Santa? 2 different events. Crazy busy and loud during Carnival. Don’t plan to sleep. Trash and infrastructure is a problem everywhere in Mexico. Watch the YouTubes on Tulum. You’ll cry. The death of mangroves etc. there’s no place for human waste to go. It’s all limestone. So where do you think it goes? They have grown too fast for what they can handle and I’m happy to have visited these places long before they introduced tourism. Holbox is quaint, great food and beatiful water. But they don’t do the beat job keeping Sargaso off the beaches. Maybe this year it is better. Read about the theory of Sargaso as well when you have time. Human waste and sewage and warming waters. Not a good combination. We can only do our part and pick up trash and respect where we go. Enjoy. It’s beautiful and we love it.

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  2. Holbox is an amazing place to stay and went twice already. The only reason I need a break from that place are the bugs!! I agree with the excessive use of plastic. They are making efforts with no straws but everyone stills asks for them! Bring your own reusable straw and utensils at a minimum.
    Your hotel was probably very close to the golf course path. We stayed at a beautiful place and no golf carts could pass in the section of the beach we stayed on. Simply paradise!! Go before it gets too busy.

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  3. Interesting point of view. But I think your main problem with Holbox is not the place itself, but human behavior… Like the trash on the street, or drinking in the sea and leaving trash behind, and the drunk tourist driving around golf cars. Semana Santa is known in almost every Mexican beach for attracting drunk tourists, and in Mexico nobody likes them either because they are rude… Sorry.. It is about respect. So instead of Just critizing a place, lets reflect on our actions and spread respect.

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  4. Interesting take on Holbox. It’s how I felt about Costa Rica. Then we went to Isla Holbox. And I fell in love. We were there during Carnivale. I met a Parisian man at our hotel who had been bringing his family to Holbox for 20 yrs. He told me that it started when he had been sent for work to Cancun in the late 90’s. He had explored one weekend with his family and arrived in Holbox via boat. A fisherman put them all up in a lean-to on the beach and the fisherman’s wife cooked for them all weekend. For two weeks a year after that, every year, a friendship was formed and he brought his family back to the same lean-to for vacation. There were no restaurants, no hotels, no nothing of consequence. . .just paradise. I imagine this is what you might have glimpsed in people’s retelling of Holbox. However, it’s spirit is still there. It is quirky and unique. I love that there are no bars on the windows. No one really worries about locking their door. At least where we were that was true.

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  5. Thanks for this article. Holbox is a destination I dream of, and I suspect I have the same expectations of it that you had. A laid back unspoiled paradise. Sadly those places are getting harder and harder to find.

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  6. I feel the same about styrofoam! Is there anywhere in central america that you’d recommend that has the activities or the beaches of isla holbox, but without the trash? Been to central america a few times, and the trash kills me.

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  7. I love Holbox. I live about 2 hours from there, I am not sure what time of year that you went.? I have been there twice and plan to go again in February. I don’t recall trash everywhere. I’m sure it has its days? It was beautiful and I did see the Hammocks. I really wanted to sit in the shade and as you said, I was not allowed to sit because the seats were for hotel guests. I still had a great time! Sitting in the sun and I don’t need a tan.

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  8. Great post reflecting the reality. These are todays problems in every single mass tourist place. People rave about Bali and Gilis where there is even worse situation. And Phi Phi is now closed. If you want to have a real paradise head to Pacific islands. It´s expensive and hard to get. But they do have working systems for garbage in the middle of Pacific ocean and it´s 10 times cleaner than anywhere in Asia or Central/South America.

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