Isla Holbox Travel Guide
Isla Holbox (pronounced I-la Holbosh) is a forgotten little island off the Yacutan Peninsula – the verifiable tourism mecca on the east-coast of Mexico. The island’s car-less, quaint and carefree philosophy, combined with its boat-only locale, make it the perfect place away from the snap-happy tourists of the Mayan ruins, the spiritual-seekers of Tulum and the spewing spring-breakers of Cancun.
But there’s also something else pretty damn cool about Isla Holbox…
Whale Sharks. Swimming with them to be exact. During the summer months, and if the conditions are right, these massive 14-metre long, polka-dot-grey fishes can come so close you can almost touch them.
Apart from an awe-inspiring whale-shark experience, there isn’t much else to do on this sleepy little isle, apart from activities strictly adhering to its barefoot charm. With a backdrop of majestic pink flamingos, slow-service food shacks and beach-bures or ‘palapas’, this northernmost island is as close to a Robinson Crusoe type escape as you’re going to get in the Yacutan.
Isla Holbox Travel Guide – Getting There
Mayan buses run twice daily from the main bus station in Cancun to the small port town of Chiquilá. From there, catch one of the ferries that run twice daily to Holbox (around $10AUD). Once on the island, porters in bicycle carts – who wait portside to meet the ferry – can be hired for a handful of pesos to take you to your hotel.
Isla Holbox Travel Guide – See/Do
Grab some binoculars and go Bird Watching…Isla Pajaros a.k.a. Bird Island, is an island located in the Lagoon Yalahau, about 30 minutes by boat from Isla Holbox, and is renowned for you guessed it – the birdlife. Many birders from all over the globe make pilgrimages to this little island to snap pictures for their collections. You can find, depending on the time of the year, Flamingos, White Ibises, Spoon Bills, Cranes and a host of multi-coloured species. If, like me, you know absolutely nothing about birds, a guide can be arranged in one of the small tour shacks in the village. A day tour will set you back approximately $20 AUD.
Get up close and personal with Whale Sharks…Even though these majestic creatures are gentle giants, ultimately sh*t gets real snorkelling next to something larger than a bus! This once in a lifetime experience is scarcely offered in other places around the world so be sure to go in season (usually May through October). Tours are run daily during peak season. Holbox Whale Shark Tours are the most popular and although, not the cheapest (it will set you back approx. $120USD), they adopt very ethical practices toward the animals. Be sure to book ahead!
Relax at a Beach Palapa…Isla Holbox is professional relaxation 2.0. After a couple of hours of lazing by the amazingly calm and shallow waters stretching endlessly into the horizon, you’ll understand what The Beatles meant they sang ‘all your worries seem so far away’. Near the not-so-aptly-christened, ‘Mosquito Beach’, stretches of sandbar are visible at low tide, and most people can simply start meandering outward from the beach to the sandbar with the water coming no higher than their waists.
Hire a golf-buggy… The roads in Holbox are narrow and most aren’t paved, which means the primary way to get around is by golf cart (in fact, cars are not allowed on the island at all). If you see a yellow buggy, that’s a cab and you can hail it just like you would anywhere else in the world, which is pretty neat if you’ve had one too many margaritas at the local. Alternatively, you can hire a buggy and explore the islands fauna, secret beaches and street art. Grab a picnic of fresh Tacos and make a day of it.
Play spot the Street Art… Speaking of street-art, many homes are painted in bright colours, and it’s not unusual for local businesses to hand-paint signs or decor for their restaurants and shops. On top of that, artist visitors often leave their own work behind alleyways. To see great street art simply begin walking — you never know what you’re going to find.
Isla Holbox Travel Guide – Stay
La Palapa…Situated right on the beachfront at the northern tip of the island, this 16-room hotel offers lodging ranging from simple bungalows to second-floor suites. A shabby-chic Bungalow (which is literally a hop, skip and a jump from the water and comes with air-conditioning) is decked out with quintessential Mayan interiors and will cost you around $70 AUD/night.
Casa Sandra Boutique Hotel…This beachfront boutique hotel is one of Holbox’s most elegant, with just 12 European-style rooms, each whitewashed and replete with luxurious details like deep bathtubs, original art and high thread-count linens. The suites feature great views of the ocean. A typical suite will set you back around $305 AUD/night.
Isla Holbox Travel Guide – Eat/Drink
Casa Lupita…Casual beachfront joint dishing out Tex-Mex grub like fajitas – chicken, beef, fish or shrimp – burritos and quesadillas, along with tourist staples like hamburgers. They also do a really fresh ceviche.
Zaraband…This thatched-roof shack serves grilled whole fish, lobster with garlic sauce and Yucatan specialties like Sopa de Lima.
Viva Zapata…is half a block west of the main square. It is a fun spot that gets very popular with both locals and tourists who come for the seafood dishes cooked over a charcoal grill and the cheap cocktails. Head to the second floor terrace for balmy breezes and views.
Los Peleones… is an upscale (although still inexpensive by our standards) off the main square serving fresh seafood and pasta dinner dishes amidst a cutesy Lucha Libre theme.
Luuma Cocktail Bar… Situated only a block from the beach and set within its own natural walled garden, this modern boho-chic bar and restaurant captures the laid-back spirit of the island.
So there you have it, my little Isla Holbox travel guide. Try to visit soon before it becomes the next Tulum!
*Map of Isla Holbox, sketch my Mariko Jesse.