Isla Holbox is an island that I thought I would fall head over heels in love with (here’s why I didn’t). After coming home and looking back through my photos though, I realized I was being a little bit harsh on this little sandy paradise.
It’s absurdly beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. This guide to Isla Holbox will help you plan your trip and ensure that you have the absolute best possible time (and not spend an absolute fortune in the process).
A Guide to Isla Holbox, Mexico
What You Need to Know About Isla Holbox, Mexico
- Nearest Airport: Cancun, however, there is an airstrip on Holbox if you can stump up the fee for a private flight.
- Currency: Mexican Pesos – be aware that Mexicans use the dollar sign ($) to denote pesos.
- ATM: Most restaurants and hotels accept card, but everywhere else will want cash. Bring plenty with you because there are only two ATMs on the island and during peak season they’re infamous for running out of cash.
- Wifi: The wifi on the island is aweful. If you’re coming here thinking you’re going to be able to do some remote work, think again. This is a perfect place to shut off and disconnect, not to set up a digital nomad enclave.
- Mosquitos: There are TONS of mosquitos on Holbox Island. You definitely don’t want to forget to pack your insect repellant. You’ll pay triple the price for it on the island.
- Sunscreen: Most tour companies are very serious about making sure that people are wearing natural/biodegradeable sunscreen. Be sure to stock up on some (this is my favorite eco-friendly brand) before arriving.
- Whale Sharks: The whale sharks are only around Holbox for a few months. The tour season starts on June 1st and goes to September 15th. July and August are your best chances of seeing them. Be sure to book your tours WAY in advance because they sell out quickly.
How to Get to Isla Holbox
There are a few ways to get to Isla Holbox. Most of them require you to get yourself to Chiquila.
Bus: There are buses between Cancun and Chiquila, Playa del Carmen and Chiquila, and Merida and Chiquila. They don’t run very frequently, but you can check their most up-to-date times on the ADO website. If there are only a few of your traveling, this is probably the cheapest option.
Car: When I went, we rented a car in Cancun and drove. It was the quickest and because there were four of us, it was also the cheapest option. You can park your car in one of the many private parking lots. We paid 100 pesos per 24 hours that the car was parked there which was the exact same price no matter where you looked. It was perfectly safe when we returned (look for Don Patricio’s place if you want a recommendation). Also, consider that there are tolls along the road between Cancun and Chiquila that you’ll have to pay.
Private Taxi: If you’re feeling particularly spendy, you can simply hire a taxi to take you from the Cancun Airport to the ferry terminal in Chiquila. Most quotes I saw were about $50 USD each way.
Hotel Transfer: Depending on which hotel you book with on Isla Holbox, they may organize a car or van to pick you up from Cancun. These are usually an additional fee and hover around the same price as a private taxi.
Ferry: Whether you come by bus, car, or private taxi, you’ll have to get yourself a ferry ticket and hop a ferry to the island. There are two ticket windows for two different ferry companies: 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express. Both companies charge exactly the same – 120 pesos per person. Simply pick which ever one is leaving next. The journey takes about 30 minutes.
Air Taxi: If you want to go directly from Cancun airport to Holbox and you are traveling with four or five people, hiring an air taxi actually isn’t that expensive. The air taxi company, Aerosaab, offer direct flights from Cancun to Holbox for up to five people for only $700.
Where to Stay on Isla Holbox
I highly recommend booking your hotel well in advance, especially if you are coming during peak season. I went in April over the Easter holiday and I booked our hotel back in February. Already, most of the most recommended places were sold out for the dates I wanted.
DO NOT show up to Holbox without booking a place to stay beforehand. This is not the sort of place where you can find a last minute bargain, you will either end up paying an eye-watering amount or you’ll be back on the next ferry to Chiquila.
Budget Hotel Options on Isla Holbox
- La Catrina: This is the hotel that I stayed at and I absolutely loved it. They have regular hotel rooms and small apartments that have a full kitchen so you can self-cater if you want. It’s really reasonable – most rooms are under $100. It’s also really well located close to the shops and restaurants and only a few blocks from the beach, but far enough away from both that it’s lovely and quiet. Book La Catrina Here.
- Tribu Hostel: There aren’t many hostel options on the island and this one is really only a hostel by name, but it’s still a great budget option and has a great atmosphere. If you’re looking for a place to get social while you’re on Holbox, definitely check out Tribu Hostel. Book Tribu Hostel Here.
- Hotel Los Arcos: I almost booked this place as it’s one of the cheapest places on the island. You certainly get what you pay for. It’s cheap and cheerful, but right on the main road. If you want to be in the thick of it and save all your money for beachside ceviche, this is the perfect option. Book Hotel Los Arcos Here.
Mid Range Hotel Options on Isla Holbox
- La Chaya Holbox: This is a really chic hotel and is great value for money. The rooftop is worth the extra bit of money you’ll spend, especially for the sunset. They also offer yoga classes on the rooftop so even if you don’t stay here, you can come and join in on some fun activities which an insane view over the ocean. Book La Chaya Holbox Here.
- Eco Hostel Del Agua: If you want to stay somewhere that is truly green and doing all that they can to preserve the beauty of Holbox, then I highly recommend supporting Eco Hostel Del Agua. It’s all bamboo huts and hammock lounging. The perfect getaway for those that want to feel really connected to the island life. Book Eco Hostel del Agua Here.
Luxury Hotel Options on Isla Holbox
- Casa Takywara: If I had a spare few hundred dollars I would have stayed at this hotel. It is so freaking beautiful and every room faces the beach so there are no bad views happening here. They have a little private space on the beach where you can lounge, enjoy cocktails and beers, and look out over the absurdly beautiful horizon. It is so chic, you’ll never want to leave. Book Casa Takywara Here.
- La Palapa: I ended up at La Palapa a few times while I was staying on Isla Holbox. They have a great beachside bar and restaurant in a nice private area of the beach. The hotel is gorgeous and the service is impeccable. It’s an adult-only hotel so perfect for a romantic getaway. There’s also a really lovely pool open only to guests. Book La Palapa Here.
Where to Eat and Drink on Isla Holbox
There is so much amazing seafood to be had on Isla Holbox. Some of the best places I ate were just little pop-up restaurants along the beach with plastic chairs and a red tarp over the top to protect you from the searing midday heat.
I literally had the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten while I was on Isla Holbox. Head to the HOLBOX sign along the beach. Right in front of it is a bunch of red tarps and tables. Order the mixed ceviche. You’re welcome.
I also loved all of the street vendors that set up at night around the main square. There are some awesome tacos, greasy burgers, and a few delicious fried seafood options, too. It’s by far the cheapest option when it came to eating after dark.
If you want a budget option where you can still sit down and enjoy a few beers, I recommend Taco Queto. Their tacos were really tasty, especially the local specialty, chuleta (pork chop). It’s slightly more expensive than the tacos on the street, but the quality is a lot better and they have a ton of options.
El Encuentro was one of my favorite bars that we went to. Look for the little chalkboard sign on the main street and head up the stairs to this funky rooftop bar. They always have live music on once the sun sets, the beers are ice cold, and the bar snacks are salty and delicious.
The Hot Corner
I went here on my first night and I absolutely loved it. They make a mean michelada (beer with salt and lime) and the service was great. They had a live band on and everyone was up and dancing in the street. It was such a perfect welcome to the island and I would definitely recommend checking it out in the evening when they have a band playing.
This is another great taco option. They do some seriously good fried fish tacos and both locals and tourists wait for a table at this popular budget option.
Looking for a good beachside restaurant? Villa Mar is a great place to have a late lunch or to sit and watch the sunset with a cocktail. They do a whole grilled fish which makes your mouth water when it arrives. They also have tasty calamari, fish tacos, and a few octopus dishes, too!
What to Do on Isla Holbox
For the most part, Isla Holbox is about the opposite of doing something. It’s such a laid-back place you’ll love simply laying on the beach and getting your fill of endless seafood dishes (just me?).
Rent a Bike: This was my absolute favorite day that I spent on Isla Holbox. I rented a bike for $10 and road around the whole island. I stopped when I was hungry or thirsty or needed to cool down in the ocean. I parked it up and walked to the very tip of the island where I spotted pink flamingos and walked out to an enormous sandbar. I highly recommend spending a day riding bicycles around the island.
Learn to Windsurf: The island is the perfect place to learn to windsurf or to practice your trade. The water is really shallow in parts and the wind isn’t too crazy, just crazy enough. I saw tons of people out there having a blast (and also falling over a lot).
Hang with Whale Sharks: I put this here because I know it is one of the most popular activities to do in Isla Holbox, but I highly recommend doing your research on how this activity affects the whale sharks before you sign up to take part. The tours are roughly $100 per person and they should be booked at least 6 months in advance because they book out very quickly.
Rent a Kayak: This is a really great way to see more of the island. You can hire a kayak from a few different places around the island and take it through the mangroves and have a peek at the islands resident flamingos. Most places that rent out kayaks also rent paddle boards.
Go Snorkeling: The water is so amazingly clear, it’s such a great place to go snorkeling. Most hotels and tour companies will rent you a snorkel and goggles for the day. You’ll also find that most shops sell snorkels for an inflated price. You can go right off of the shore or book on with a snorkeling tour.
How to Get Around Isla Holbox
There are a few ways to get around this small island if you want to travel further afield than the small town.
- Rent a Bike – This costs about $10 USD (200 pesos) per day or you can rent it by the hour. Some hotels have bicycles that they offer for free to their guests.
- Rent a Golf Cart – Everywhere seems to rent out golf carts to tourists. The rate I saw everywhere (in April 2017) was $50 USD per day. I assume you also have to pay for whatever fuel you use.
- Golf Cart Taxis – The taxis are all these insanely loud, off-road looking golf carts that you’ll see and hear everywhere you go. They are bright yellow so you can’t miss them. If you have a lot of luggage or it’s too heavy to carry, they’ll take you to and from the ferry to your hotel.
- Your Feet – Duh, you can pretty much walk everywhere on the island. It’s so small you could easily and quite safely get around everywhere on foot if you’re feeling energetic.
Is It Worth It?
Isla Holbox is a special place, there’s no doubt about it. But, it’s also expensive. It’s the most expensive place I’ve been to in Mexico (and that’s coming from someone who’s been traveling around the country for over a year!). Getting there isn’t cheap, the accommodation isn’t cheap, the food and drink aren’t cheap, and during the summer it is wildly overcrowded.
That being said, I’m really glad that I went. I’m really glad that I got to see that turquoise water myself. I’m REALLY glad that I ate all of the ceviche that I possibly could, and I’m glad to have experienced a bit of Mexican island life.
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