Isla Holbox (pronounced hol-bahsh) is a tiny island northwest of Cancun, Mexico and sits at the northernmost tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s considered one of the few untouched and authentic Mexican paradises that are left after much of the country has been overly commercialized. Come here to relax, unwind, and enjoy this gorgeous tropical paradise!
How to Get To Isla Holbox
In order to get to the island, you will need to drive to the small town of Chiquila, which is about 2.5 hours from Cancun. You can rent a car, take a bus, or a private shuttle. If you’re renting a car, there are many parking lots near the ferry terminal that cost only 100 MXN pesos per day ($5 USD). Choose one that is closest to the terminal, so you don’t need to drag your luggage through the dirt further than you need to. Some of them will also offer a baggage taxi for free, just make sure you tip! Make sure to fill up on gas before you start the trip, as services are few and far between between Cancun and Chiquila.
The ferry ride only takes about 20- 30 minutes to reach the island and costs 200 MXN pesos one way ($10 USD). They depart in either direction every hour all day.
There are no paved roads on the entire island- welcome to the super rustic side of Mexico! Also, there are no cars on the island, so you’ll hail yourself a golf cart taxi at the ferry terminal and be on your way to your hotel. It should cost about 50 MXN pesos to get anywhere on the island.
Let’s Talk Money
There is no or very little cell signal on the island, which means things generally run on “island time.” Because you are so remote, make sure to bring cash with you before you get onto the island. Often times there are power outages, which disables the few ATMs available, leaving you without a way to get cash. Similarly, this means that most places do not take credit cards, as the terminals to run credit cards don’t work without service. If you do find somewhere that does take a credit card, just know that you will be charged an additional 5% fee in order to run the card.
Always pay in pesos and not in USD, which will save you a ton of money. When you do pull money out of the ATM, make sure it isn’t one that only distributes money in USD, it should say pesos on the side of the machine. If it says USD, dollars or “dolores” on the machine, find a different one. Your wallet will thank you!
A good rule of thumb when traveling anywhere in the world is to make sure you have a credit card or bank card that refunds all of your ATM fees. That way, you won’t be racking up fees every time you take money out of the bank. Also watch for up-charges from ATMs. ATMs for banks such as HSBC can charge up to a 5% surcharge on top of the ATM and exchange fees. These will add up quick!
Things to do in Holbox
Because there are often power outages and the cell signal is often times non-existent, do not come here thinking that you can work. As digital nomads, we can pretty much work anywhere in the world as long as there is a Wifi connection- which is rare to find on Isla Holbox. Take a couple of days off of work to relax and take a proper vacation. Sit in a hammock with a cocktail and enjoy the gorgeous beach views.
If you are looking for activities to do while visiting the island, there are lots to choose from. Many people come to Isla Holbox to swim with the whale sharks, so make sure to come during their “season” between July and mid- September in order to swim with the largest fish in the sea. There are lots of tour operators on the island and you can book the day before you want to go. Check with your hotel to see if they have a preferred tour operator that they often work with and make sure they are an ethical tour operator. You might get lucky and also get to swim with giant manta rays! In the same season, you can also see the bio luminescence that is unique to the island. Make sure to bring reef safe sunscreen and apply it a few hours before getting into the ocean, as the chemicals disturb the plankton that the whale sharks and manta rays rely on to eat.
If you’re looking for an additional unique wildlife sighting, you can find flamingos in the shallow waters of the lagoons! If you take a snorkeling excursion, the tour will also try to stop to see the flamingos that call the island home. They should be most prevalent between April and October.
Don’t miss out on some serious relaxation while visiting Holbox. You can find cheap massages right on the beach. There’s nothing more relaxing than listening to the sounds of the waves gently crashing on the shore, while you get rubbed down. They should cost about 500 MXN pesos for an hour ($25 USD) and are well worth the money.
Don’t miss an afternoon spent out on the sand bar! If you stay in a hotel on the far northern side of the island, like Hotel Las Nubes, you can simply walk right out from your hotel room. If you’re staying in town, you can buy a day club beach pass at the hotel to use the facilities and get access to the sand bar. It’s a great way to waste an afternoon, having a few beers while hanging out in the super shallow, crystal clear water.
This might be the most important tip of them all– don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent! During the evening hours when the temperatures cool off, the mosquitos come out in force. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than constantly having to itch hundreds of bug bites.
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for super authentic Mexican cuisine, don’t miss the vegetarian restaurant, Arte Sano! They have delicious vegan versions of your favorite Mexican dishes like flautas, tacos, and Chile Relleño. If you’ve never tried grilled hibiscus, or jamaica, then you must order the jamaica flautas. If you’re looking for something that smacks you with flavor, the chickpea chorizo tacos are mouth watering. If you can handle a little more heat, the Chile Relleño is stuffed with the chickpea chorizo and has a perfect combination of flavor profiles. Plus, they have delicious juices and smoothies if you’re looking for something a little lighter. Everything is delicious, you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose to order!
The entire point of visiting Isla Holbox is to disconnect! Slow down and relax. Spend a day (or two or three) doing nothing, laying in a hammock, sitting on the beach, and just enjoy this true paradise.