Just a few hours away from bustling Cancun is a secluded island paradise with nicer beaches and fewer tourists. I almost feel conflicted writing this because even though I want people to experience Isla Holbox, a part of me wants Isla Holbox to stay as pristine and untouched as it is. As far as Mexican beach destinations go, Isla Holbox comes close to the bottom when it comes to popularity.
When you think of Mexican beaches, you think of Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Bacalar, Puerto Vallarta… the list goes on and on. It’s no secret that Mexico has some of the world’s best beaches. With the Caribbean on one side and the Pacific on the other, there is no shortage of destinations for beach vacationers.
While Isla Holbox does have resorts and beachside restaurants, the level of commercialization is a fraction of what cities like Cancun have experienced. Trying to get beach space in Cancun was annoying. Most resorts have claimed every grain of sand and will try to charge you as soon as you set foot on their property. That kind of negativity is not what you need on your beach vacation.
Let me tell you about Isla Holbox.
Where Is Isla Holbox?
Isla Holbox is a bit north of the Yucatan Peninsula. The 26-mile-long island is right on the Gulf of Mexico just six or seven miles away from the mainland. That makes it prime location to be away from tourists while not having to go too far out of your way.
How To Get To Isla Holbox
Like the name suggests, Holbox is an island. You will have to hop on a boat to get there. The main port where boats leave to Holbox is in a little town called Chiquila.
If you are coming from Cancun, the drive to Chiquila takes about three hours. Buses leave pretty frequently during the day but check at the station to make sure. If you are coming from Merida, the drive takes a little bit longer. It can take up to six hours depending on how many stops the bus makes along the way.
Most bus drivers can tell when there are tourists on the bus, so you will probably be dropped off right at the port. Buy tickets from the booth and head on your merry way. Make sure to stock up on cash beforehand because like I said, Holbox is not nearly as commercialized as most Mexican beach destinations. As of writing this in early 2017, there are maybe 3 ATMs on the island. There’s a 95% chance that none of them will work.
Where To Stay in Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox has its fair share of resorts and nice hotels, but if you’re like me, you’re ballin’ on a budget. The town of Holbox itself is very small and everything is within walking distance. Location won’t be a factor because everything you need is just a few minutes away. If you want a place beachside, there are definitely some good hotels to choose from.
I stayed at Hostel Tribu, which was insanely nice for a hostel. You get some pretty good vibes just from being there. The art is dope, the hammocks are cozy, and the common area is way nicer than you’d expect from a hostel. It is also right on the beach and about two minutes away from the town center. From sunset yoga to trivia nights, the hostel offers a lot if you get bored of being on the beach.
It does get full, though, so make sure you have a backup option if you haven’t booked in advance. They overbooked the night I got there and I almost didn’t get a bed even though I booked a few nights in advance. Here are some other great hostels in Holbox to consider.
What To Do In Isla Holbox
Since it is an island, most of the fun things to do in Holbox are on or around the sea. One of the biggest draws to Holbox is the opportunity to scuba dive and swim with the whale sharks. Whale shark season is only during a certain time of year so if you want to do that, make sure to plan around that time. I went during the offseason and in terms of tourists, Holbox was almost desolate.
We were planning on chilling in Holbox after a hectic week in Cuba, so I honestly didn’t do too much, and that was perfectly okay with me. A lot of walks on the beach, swimming, and drinking at beachside bars made up the brunt of my time in Holbox. There is plenty to see on the island, though. While the town itself is tiny, Isla Holbox is 26 miles long. We walked up to Punta Mosquito and beyond to where all of the flamingos hang out.
That’s definitely worth the walk, although it turned out to be much more of an adventure than anticipated. To access that part of the island, you either have to swim across a river or walk across a sandbar in the sea. It gets hot, so bring a lot of sunscreen but not much else. You don’t want to get your stuff wet.
Also, if you find one half of a dolphin skull on the beach, don’t carry it around the entire way back. It will not be worth as much money as you think it is.
On the other end of the island is Punta Coco. We were told it was a fantastic place to watch the sunset, but after the exhausting adventure to Punta Mosquito, we decided to eat some fire fish tacos instead.
Like I said, we didn’t do much because doing stuff usually costs money and we were tired and poor. For those of you who are into doing stuff, here’s some ideas. Like I said, most are water-related.
Kayaking is a pretty fun excursion and it can take you to some lesser-trafficked parts of the island. You can kayak on the Caribbean or through some cool lagoons more inland. We saw quite a few people parasailing past Punta Mosquito, so you can do that. Biking is a popular way to get around and also a fun way to see more of the island.
You can also rent bikes for pretty cheap, and as trivial as this sounds to most of you, I’m sure a portion of you care a lot. The bikes are very cute and beachy, usually light pink or blue with a nice big basket. There you go, there’s your Instagram suggestion for the article.
Scuba diving is an option, as is snorkeling. You can also paddleboard, but I don’t think surfing is much of a thing in Holbox. Don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t want to, though. Holbox is an insanely relaxing, laid-back town to chill and just take it slow. The beach seems endless and the water is gorgeous.
A few of the resorts have some great places to chill, either poolside or beachside. You can honestly spend your entire time hanging out. Life is simpler in Isla Holbox.
If there’s one thing that Isla Holbox lacks, it is the nightlife of the more popular beach destinations in Mexico. Cancun’s booming megaclubs are nowhere to be found. Instead, you’ll probably end up drinking at one of the small local bars. Some of your hostels and hotels might have more exciting nightlife, if we’re being honest. To be fair, trivia night was pretty poppin’, especially because we won.
The one “club” we went to had a live band for the early portion of the night, but was practically a ghost town. I remember rallying a few people from the hostel and getting them to go out. I felt a little bad once I realized the party scene probably wasn’t what they wanted to sacrifice their sleep for. You don’t really have a choice, so it is what you make of it.
In other words, day drinking is the name of the game in Holbox. You can’t go wrong with drinking on the beach and drinking at poolside bars. Nightlife starts and ends early in Holbox.
Oh, cool story: I met a guy in that tiny club on that tiny island in who-knows-where Mexico who worked at the ski mountain in the tiny town I grew up in in New Hampshire. With a population of 6,000 people, what were the odds of running into a dude from Gilford in Isla Holbox? If you’re out there, hope you’re doing well, homie.
Anyway, let me sum this up before I get even way more off topic.
To Sum It Up…
Isla Holbox is Mexico’s next “it” destination. People are getting tired of Cancun, and the sudden and immediate pop-up-resort style of commercialization of places like Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are not sustainable at all. Holbox is just a few hours from these places, yet is skipped by many travelers.
Isla Holbox is like a laidback little hippie town in the chaos of Mexico. If you are in Yucatan, you cannot miss it. The water is gorgeous, the tacos are delicious, and the vibes are chill. The vibes are very chill.
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My Complete Mexico Itinerary
Be sure to check out my complete Mexico backpacking itinerary, a jam-packed 60-page guide covering 25 of my favorite destinations in magical Mexico.