Ohhhhh Holbox, how I love thee! This magical island located 2 hours north of Cancun stole our hearts and fulfilled EXACTLY what we were looking for in a trip: relaxation, a beautiful beach, epic sunsets, delicious food, and lots of FUN! Here’s all the details you need to know if you’re planning to visit this magical place:
Why Go To Holbox, Mexico?
When I tell people that we went to Holbox (pronounced “Hol-bosch”), I often get the questioned face of “what did you just say?” and “where is that?!” and that is EXACTLY the type of place we were looking to visit. Holbox is often referred to as the “Tulum of 15 years ago.” It’s just now starting to be on the radar of Americans (there were MANY European travelers there-apparently, we didn’t get the memo haha).
Just 26 miles long and 1 mile wide “Isla Holbox is an island north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo State. It’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, which is home to flamingos and pelicans. The car-free island, between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, is rich in marine life such as sea turtles and whale sharks.”
Holbox offers up SO much more than your standard beach vacation and is FAR more affordable than Tulum. There are far fewer restaurants, bars and other amenities compared to other beach vacations in Mexico, which keep the cost low and the experience more authentic. The island reminded me a lot of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines or Nusa Lembongan/Gili Air-located outside of Bali, Indonesia. Holbox is an outdoor lover’s paradise: with beaches, water sports, bioluminescence experiences and even whale watching!
How To Get To Holbox
Getting to Holbox is a little bit of a journey, so, be prepared and pack your anti-nausea medication. You’ll fly into Cancun and then have to take a shuttle or private car for 2 hours and then a ferry for 30 minutes. So, yea…it’s a journey, to say the least.
Holbox Adventure Shuttle
Holbox Adventure company FAR exceeded my expectations. Their communication was fantastic (via WhatsApp) and, when I totally screwed up and booked the shuttle for the wrong day, they accommodated us 100% and made it all work out. The price was incredibly affordable (about $50 per person, round trip).
When you arrive in Cancun, you may need to take a a taxi or free airport shuttle bus that takes you to terminal 2 to the meeting point, which is outdoors in front of the domestic terminal in front of the Welcome Bar. The bar is difficult to get to (we had to show the restricted access security officer the photo of where we were going).
You will be HAGGLED until the end of time by taxi drivers standing outside the terminal. Just ignore them and stand near the shuttle arrival area (just outside the the airport exit doors), which arrives every 20 minutes and is free.
The shuttle takes 2 hours and it’s NONSTOP, so be sure to go to bathroom before and bring snacks and water. If you are sensitive to motion sickness, be sure to bring Dramamine or anti-nausea meds. It’s a VERY bumpy ride the entire time.
NOTE: You can also fly ($800-$1200USD per person), rent a car, take a private car/bus to Chiquila ($500 roundtrip), or take the public bus by ADO ($10 per person) from downtown Cancun.
Ferry at Chiquila
Holbox Shuttle will drop you in front of the ferry port. You can purchase your ticket upon arrival, there is no need to pre-purchase. There are multiple boat companies (9 Hermanos and Holbox Express seem to be the largest ferry boats) which operate on a different time schedule, but, between the two, there is always a boat leaving every 30 minutes fro 6:00am to 9:30pm. Whatever you read about how the ferry, the entire trip takes 30 minutes (I read in multiple blogs that it takes 15 minutes-they lied lol).
The cost for the ferry is $120 pesos (USD $7) per person one way (they do offer discounts on both ways, but we weren’t sure if at the time we would be departing from Holbox if we would need to go with that specific company-so we kept it open ended).
SCAM ALERT: After purchasing your ticket for the ferry, you’ll approach the ferry port/jetty/dock and a large traffic that will be down, blocking your entry. You will be approached by local teenagers who tell you that you need to pay an “environmental tax of $58 pesos ($3USD) person person to pass through.” They will give you a wristband once you pay. After checking into our hotel on Holbox, I was informed that this entire thing is a scam and that, when you approach the traffic gate, you should say you don’t speak English or Spanish and just pass through.
Arrival on Holbox Island
Upon arrival to Holbox Island, you can walk freely to your accommodation or rent a golf cart taxi for less than $10.
PRO TIP: If we had the extra time (our initial flight was cancelled, so we lost a day), I think I would’ve broken up the journey. It was an absolutely exhausting, 12+ hour day of travel to get from Miami to our accommodation in Holbox.
Where To Stay in Holbox
There is a wide range of hotels/hostels on Holbox that fit every single budget. You can stay in a hostel for $30 a night, an Airbnb for $60 a night or a 4 star (all inclusive optional) hotel for $200+ per night.
Normally, we stay in Airbnb’s when we travel to gain a more local perspective, but this trip we wanted full service. There are an abundance of affordable Airbnb’s on Holbox Island, so I highly suggest you have a look before settling on a hotel/hostel. For $55 off your first AIRBNB booking, click HERE!
After a lot of research, we decided to stay at at Villas HM Palapas Del Mar, which did not disappoint and, to be honest, far exceeded my expectations. This hotel was ABSOLUTELY beautiful and reminded me a lot of a few hotels we stayed at in Bali. It was VERY CLEAN, uniquely decorated and was in a great location. It had two beautiful pools and was located just steps from the beach. We opted for the breakfast only included (SO GOOD), although there is an entire “all-inclusive” option (we just preferred to explore the town and eat there for lunch and dinner).
The hotel staff went above and beyond to accommodate us for whatever we needed (especially Oscar and Mauricio-he even helped arrange a taxi for us from Cancun airport to the resort we were staying in on the Cancun strip). When we return to Holbox, we will alway stay at Villas HM Palmas Del Mar!
Things To Do In Holbox
Whatever you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it on this small island! We took a more relaxation, eat-your-heart-out approach, but there is SO much more to do than just eat and bask in the sun! Here are the top 5 things that you MUST do while visiting Holbox:
1. Rent a Bicycle
Renting a bicycle and riding around the island to to Punta Cocos + Punta Mosquito was the number one thing recommended by everyone when I inquired about things to do in Holbox. Unfortunately, heavy rains flooded many of the bike paths when we were there and made it impossible for us to ride around, so we sadly couldn’t partake in this fun activity.
You can rent a bicycle from anyone on the beach at a rate of 50 pesos ($3USD) per hour or 200 pesos ($11USD) for the entire day. There are also official bicycle shops in town like Bikes Holbox. Be sure to pack water, sunscreen, snacks and wear a hat!
2. Have a Beach Day
This is a no brainer. If you came to Holbox and don’t spend time at the beach, why did you even come? The beach is absolutely beautiful and the water is SO crystal clear and clean. Villas HM Palapas Del Mar had private beach chairs with umbrellas for us, which is where we posted up for the an day.
You’ll splash, swim, stroll on the beach and sit in the shallow low tide, while sipping a Pina colada…what more could you ask for? To make the day even more enjoyable, you’ll have locals strolling by with food carts offering up fresh cold brew coffee, fresh coconut and mango (they literally carve it in front of you), ice cream and much more.
Even if you’re not a “chill at the beach all day” type of person, you won’t want to miss sunset on the beach, it’s absolutely beautiful!
3. Get Massages on the Beach
What if I told you that you could have an incredible massage on the beach while listening to the ocean waves, for only $30? Would you ever leave? I almost didn’t! If you take a stroll on the beach, you’ll see massage huts every quarter mile or so.
We went to the massage hut right in front of our hotel, called Mayan Massage By Selene, which was absolutely magical. You can pay with cash or card. No need to worry, you can roll up in your bathing suit and beach attire-the tables are equipped with side pockets so you can put your valuable items inside just beside you and remove any clothing discretely. My only regret is not having more massages while we were there.
4. Take a Boat Tour
If we didn’t lose a day on the front end of our trip (our flight was cancelled, so we had to rebook for the next day), then we absolutely would’ve taken The Classic 3 Tour (private cost is about $250USD) = an island boat tour that visits Passion Island, Isla Pajaros, and Yalahau Spring. You’ll see dolphins, flamingos, other a lot of other wildlife.
Another excursion that came highly recommended for us was the Bioluminescence Tour. We already have seen the bioluminescence in Thailand, so this wasn’t a priority for us. If you haven’t seen the bioluminescnce before, then you won’t want to miss this while in Holbox. You can see it via kayak ($55USD), or, if you’re with your family or a group, then you can see on a golf cart ($22USD) as well.
5. Explore the Town
The town of Holbox is absolutely adorable and quaint. It’s massively colorful, with murals all over town.
Ever since an international art festival came to town in 2014, artists have flocked to Holbox to pain fresh murals all over the town.
Because the town is still in development, you fortunately won’t see any franchise restaurants/stores or even any paved roads/ cars! Just local shops and restaurants, all with their own uniqueness.
Be sure to find the Holbox letters and take a pic in front of them!
6. BONUS: Take a Dog for a Walk from the Local Animal Rescue Sanctuary
If you’re dog lovers like we are, then you’ll absolutely want to check out Refugio Animal Holbox, a local charity that cares for and re-homes animals from Holbox Island (and it’s surrounding areas). They’re always looking for people to help walk and bathe the dogs, as well as help clean their kennels, courtyard and bowls. You can also just drop by and play/love on them!
Sadly, there are stray dogs all over the island, which reminded me a lot of our time in Bali. I wanted to take them all home with me! Thankfully, there are organizations like Refugio Animal Holbox, who help them out.
Don’t have time to make it to see the animals? You can always donate and help support their shelter. You can contact them via Whastapp or through their website for more infmraiton.
Where To Eat in Holbox
For a small island, there is no shortage of excellent food in Holbox! I will advise you to be careful, though, and try to go to places that have been recommended by others. We randomly tried a restaurant on our last night and ended up with food poisoning (most likely from the water used to cook the food or the ice in our drinks-riding a ferry and then a bus back to Cancun the day after having food poisioning is absolutely awful, in case you didn’t know).
1. Ceviches a la Chingada
Ceviches a la Chingada was our FAVORITE restaurant we ate at the entire time we were in Holbox. My only regret is discovering this restaurant so late in the trip, otherwise I would’ve gone daily for lunch. It’s a VERY casual restaurant (it literally has a dirt floor), but the food is OUT OF THIS WORLD good. The shrimp tacos were some of the best I’ve ever had in my life! I also recommend trying the guacamole and fish ceviche.
The other thing to love about this restaurant is that it’s family run and it’s very chill. Be mindful that things run on “island time” in Holbox, so it will take a while for them to make your food. Also, note that restaurant does not serve alcohol and that some items on the menu are VERY SPICY!
2. Roots Pizza
Who goes to Mexico and eats pizza? Trust me, you’re not going to want to miss out on eating at Roots Pizza. Being that I married a man from the Northeastern USA, please note that this pizza is delicious, but it is, in no way like NYC pizza, but it was still delicious!
The atmosphere is really unique (seats are wood stumps) and all pizzas are cooked in a wood fire oven. The service is kind as well! The pizzas are super large and can be shared amongst 2-3 people. We ordered the Hawaiian (yes, we like pineapple on pizza, don’t judge LOL). They’re famous for their lobster pizza (pricey), although we didn’t order it (lobster isn’t my thing). I heard the prosciutto and goat cheese pizza is delicious as well!
3. Taco Queto
Taco Queto came HIGHLY recommended on every blog I read and, although we enjoyed the affordability, we thought it was pretty mediocre. Our experience was really just unremarkable. I still have this restaurant on the list, though, because I think you should go and make your own judgement! I’m not a taco connoisseur, so maybe I don’t know what to expect when it comes to traditional Mexican tacos/burritos, etc.
The restaurant is basically a food truck under an awning (which is really cool), but it was SO hot that I barely could eat my food. They don’t serve alcohol at the restaurant, but you can grab a beer from the convenience store next door and they don’t mind if you bring it in.
We ordered the guacamole, burrito pastor, and al pastor tacos, which totaled out to just $22USD. Be sure to GO EARLY to this restaurant, as there is a large queue that forms around dinnertime.
Luuma was high on my list to check out but, because we lost a day due to the flight cancellation, we never made it there. This restaurant is more on the expensive side for Holbox, but it came highly recommended.
When we walked by, the ambiance looked absolutely lovely. I was told the dishes are small plates that are best for sharing. I was also informed that the coconut cream and passion fruit pie dessert is life changing so please order that and let me know how it is!
Luuma is located inside the popular accommodation Casa las Tortugas which sadly caught on fire the day we left Holbox. They’re currently renovating, so it’s closed as of May, 2023.
5. Rosa Mexicana
I was told the cilantro cucumber mojito at Rosa Mexicano was a MUST drink while visiting, so we dropped by one afternoon after having lunch. Sadly, it was off the menu and they were out of cilantro, so we improvised and went with the waiters recommendation (a frozen margarita that was entirely too sweet, but they kindly swapped out).
Needless to say, I’d still recommend dropping by Rosa Mexicana for a drink and to hang in the atmosphere, as it’s super cute and on a fun street for people watching! The manager and our server were also incredibly kind and accommodating! Highly recommend!
Other Notable Places:
Alma Bar Rooftop – Because we’re from Miami where all things are rooftop and shiny, we opted not to go to Alama Bar, but I still have it on my list for you to check out! Their pool bar is supposed to be EPIC, especially at sunset!
Los Peleones- The pasta and atmosphere here (rooftop) came recommend. I wish we would’ve had the time to swing by and check it out!
Hot Corner Bar- I was told to go here for drinks late night, as they have live music and a DJ-and to skip the food!
Tips To Know Before You Go To Holbox
There are a few things that are important to note before heading to Holbox:
- Pack your activated charcoal-it’s Mexico, which means that you may by chance ingest some ice or food that was cleaned with contained water = stomach upset. The magical pill that saves us every time we’ve experienced this (many many times in Bali) = activated charcoal. Pack it in your suitcase, you won’t regret it.
- Brush your teeth with bottled water- as referenced above-it can be easy to fall ill from bacteria poisoning in Mexico, and we made the mistake the first time we came to Mexico (not this trip) by brushing our teeth with the tap water = belly upset all day. Save yourself by brushing your teeth with bottled water…you’ll thank me later 🙂
- Wear strappy, waterproof sandals- Holbox tourism is exploding, which means that there is a LOT of construction going on on the island. Many of the paths and walkways/streets we strolled upon (even the beach pathway to town) had this runoff cement mixed in the sand = my black flip flops were literally ruined. When it rained, they would stick to the sand and I’d pull so hard, pulling out the portion of the sandal located between the big and second toe. Even after thorough cleaning, my black sandals had a white, cement like tint all over them due to all the cement in the sand/streets, so I ended up just throwing them out at the end of the trip. So, if I were you, I’d leave your expensive, nice sandals at home. Bring an old pair of flip flops or your Crocs that can be easily disposed of our washed.
- Cash/credit card- We exchanged some USD to Pesos upon arrival in the Cancun airport. Fortunately, many places accept credit cards, but it’s wise to have cash on hand, as some places still only accept cash (especially souvenir shops, beach vendors, etc).
- Taxi scams- In Holbox, we never had an issue with taxi scams, but I’ve been told that it’s a common thing at Cancun airport. Upon exiting, you’ll be haggled MASSIVELY by taxi drivers (and I’d never advise that you hire them). It’s best to plan your transportation ahead of time or go with a reputable source or recommendation.
- Spanish language- Spanish is the native language of Mexico, but, fortunately many people in Hoblox and Cancun speak English. I’m lucky enough to be fluent, but, if you’re not, it’s wise to have the Google Translate App on hand just in case you need something.
- Waterproof bag- if you’re planning on participating in water sports, then a waterproof bag is always a must. Get one that collapses to virtually nothing and is easily transportable.
- Beach bag- Holbox is a beach town, so a beach bag is a must (or at least a drawstring bag to carry things around in). We forgot ours and I’m still kicking myself.
- Mosquito Spray- Holbox is an island = mosquito city. Bring some repellent or be prepared to be eaten alive
- Hat, sunscreen, water-Don’t forget to put on your hat and sunscreen every day while exploring and ALWYS have a water bottle on hand!
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