A few hours away from the bustling tourist hubs of Quintana Roo, you’ll find a secluded paradise island home to stunning beaches, colorful wildlife, and fewer tourists. I first visited Isla Holbox back in 2017, and felt conflicted writing anything about because I wanted it to remain as untouched as it was when I visited. However, it seems like the cat’s out of the bag. Isla Holbox has become a popular alternative to Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.
Mexico has no shortage of incredible beach destinations. With the Caribbean on one side and the Pacific Coast on the other, you have your pick of the litter when it comes to beach getaways in Mexico. Isla Holbox is quickly climbing that ladder of popularity. However, you’ll find that it still has a fraction of the tourists that Cabo or Cancun or Puerto Vallarta will have.
From my friends that have visited in recent months, it’s been refreshing to hear about their experiences on Isla Holbox. Despite being on more travelers’ radars, it hasn’t lost its charm. Bicycles are still the main form of transportation. The Wi-Fi’s still crap. The lone ATM in town is still busted. Music to my ears, honestly. I’ve heard Holbox is what Tulum was like before the massive boom, and I can only hope that it never turns into Tulum. Don’t get me wrong, Tulum is an objectively amazing travel destination, but over-tourism has been its downfall.
You will find resorts and beach bars in Isla Holbox, but it is nothing close to Cancun or Tulum’s Zona Hotelera. If you’re looking for an island getaway to truly get away from it all, then let me tell you about Isla Holbox.
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Where Is Isla Holbox?
Isla Holbox is a small island located in the state of Quintana Roo. It can be found a bit north of the Yucatan Peninsula. The 26-mile-long island is right on the Gulf of Mexico about six or seven miles away from mainland Mexico. It’s a prime location to escape from the crowds of Cancun without having to go too far.
How To Get To Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is a bit harder to get to, but that makes the reward that much sweeter. It’s a big reason why it hasn’t experienced the mass tourism that more convenient Mexican beach destinations have received. The best way to get to Isla Holbox is to fly to Cancun airport.
From there, take a bus to the town called Chiquila. If there aren’t any buses leaving directly from the airport, hop on the ADO bus to get to downtown Cancun. They’ll drop you off at the ADO bus station, where you can catch a bus to Chiquila. If you’re arriving in the evening, I’d recommend spending the night in Cancun. There are a bunch of nice hostels near the bus station.
Chiquila is about three hours away from Cancun by bus and the boats to Isla Holbox don’t run all day. Just let the bus driver know that you plan on going to Holbox, and he’ll drop you off right at the port. After you buy your tickets from the ferry booth, you can hop on a boat to Isla Holbox. The ride only takes about half an hour. Enjoy that Caribbean sun, y’all.
Once you dock at Isla Holbox, there will be golf carts waiting to take you into town or your accommodation. Unless you want to walk, you’ll have to take these golf carts. Isla Holbox has very few cars on the island. It’s a pleasant change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Mexico, and truly adds to the remote island getaway vibe.
If you are coming from elsewhere in Mexico, like Merida or Valladolid, it’s pretty much the same instructions. Just find your way to Chiquila. Buses should be pretty frequent. The ADO buses are top-notch and bus travel in Mexico, especially touristy states, is safe and comfortable.
If you have a bigger group and some money to spend, you can also get a private transfer from Cancun airport all the way to Holbox. It saves you a lot of hassle, and the price that much more expensive if you have a few people to split it with. It’s also possible to just visit Isla Holbox as a day trip from the Riviera Maya, like this option below.
Where To Stay on Isla Holbox
I mentioned earlier that Isla Holbox is about 26 miles long. Well, only about one or two of those miles contains any actual civilization. That’s the great part about Isla Holbox. It’s completely walkable or bike-able. All of Holbox town is right along the beach and extending a few blocks inland in the “downtown” part. The rest of Isla Holbox is mostly nature preserve and completely undeveloped. Like I said, as untouched of a paradise as you’ll find in Quintana Roo.
Most of the accommodation is concentrated around Holbox town. You’ll find boutique hotels, small resorts, and artsy hostels. When I visited, there were no big hotel chains or mega-resorts anywhere in sight. Airbnbs are also an option, although the tourism office discourages using Airbnb. Developers are pricing out residents to build rental units, just like everywhere else in the world. However, many locals of Isla Holbox have lived here their whole lives. You can imagine they wouldn’t stand a chance competing with greedy developers loaded with cash. Because of this, I’d recommend staying at a locally-owned hostel or boutique hotel.
When choosing a location, I’d recommend just staying close to the town center. You can find lodging on the far ends of Holbox’s strip of beach, but it’ll be a longer walk. Punta Cocos is great for sunset, but staying there means that you’re at least a half-hour’s walk away from the best fish taco spot in Mexico.
I stayed at Hostel Tribu, which was insanely nice for a hostel. The art is dope, the hammocks are cozy, and the common area is way nicer than you’d expect from a hostel. It is right on the beach and about two minutes away from the town center. From sunset yoga to trivia nights, the hostel offers a lot of activities 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.
This post contains affiliate links. That means that I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of these links.
Getting Around Isla Holbox
Walking should do just fine if you plan on chilling along the beach and enjoying the laid-back vibes of Holbox town. However, there is much to explore on this island. Renting a bike is the way to go. It’s a great way to explore the island and see the more untouched parts of Isla Holbox. Walking is fine, but that midday Mexican heat hits different. Rent a bicycle if you plan to explore as much of Isla Holbox as possible.
There are very few cars on Isla Holbox. The taxis on the island are all golf carts. You’ll encounter them as soon as you hop off the ferry, so you’re already familiar with them. If you don’t feel like walking or cycling, the golf cart taxis are your only other option. Being a barefoot beach bum is the way of life on Isla Holbox. Embrace it.
Things To Know Before Going to Isla Holbox
How Much Cash To Bring to Isla Holbox?: Don’t count on being able to take cash out on Holbox. Bring how much you think you’ll need for the entirety of your stay. If you’re a backpacker, $40 a day should be safe. Very few places on Isla Holbox accept credit card. There are ATMs on Isla Holbox, but they are extremely unreliable. They run out of cash very quickly, too. Save yourself an hour waiting in line only to find out the ATM is out of money. Bring enough cash.
Do You Need to Know Spanish?: Isla Holbox hasn’t been completely gringo-fied quite yet. Not everyone will speak English, so it’ll be nice to have a little grasp on the Spanish language handy. However, you’ll be able to get by without it.
What’s the weather like?: Isla Holbox is nice year-round. The weather is almost always a pleasant 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect lots of sunshine and cervezas. It does have a rainy season, though, so avoid visiting during hurricane season.
Also, it never hurts to have good travel insurance handy while you’re out adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month anywhere in the world.
What To Do On Isla Holbox
We were planning on chilling in Holbox after a hectic week in Cuba, so we honestly didn’t do too much. 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 and do on the island, though.
Swim with the Whale Sharks:
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 make sure to plan to visit during that time. I went during the offseason and in terms of tourists, Holbox was almost desolate.
Walk to Punta Mosquito to see the flamingos
Isla Holbox has a lot of beautiful wildlife, and flamingos are among the biggest draw. If you walk up to Punta Mosquito, that’s your best bet at seeing flocks of flamingos. It’s a long walk, but you can cut the time in half by cycling. Your bike can only take you so far, though. You’ll reach a point where you either have to walk on a sandbar in the ocean, or swim across a small creek. Bring a lot of sunscreen. We were walking for what felt like ages in the blistering sun.
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.
Catch the Sunset at Punta Coco
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. Here are those fish tacos because I don’t have a picture of the sunset.
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 are some more ideas. Like I said, most are water-related:
Kayaking on Isla Holbox
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.
Rent a Bicycle and Cruise Around
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. As trivial as this sounds to most of you, the bikes are very cute and vibey. They are usually light pink or blue with a nice big basket. There you go, there’s your Instagram suggestion for the article.
You can also paddleboard or parasail. Basically, if you want to be out on the water, you have a lot of options. Deep sea fishing or renting your own boat to take out is something I’ve heard of people doing.
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 and being a beach bum. Life is simpler in Isla Holbox.
Nightlife on Isla Holbox?
One thing that Isla Holbox lacks is a booming nightlife scene. While you’ll find some beach bars and one or two late night hangs, it’s far from one of Mexico’s premier party destinations. 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. That was called hot Corner, and it’s one of the only late night hangs in Isla Holbox. You can find it right in 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.
Isla Holbox is Mexico’s next “it” destination. This laidback little hippie town in the often chaotic country of Mexico will steal your heart. The vibes are immaculate. Be sure to pay a visit.
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My Complete Mexico Travel Itinerary
Be sure to check out my complete Mexico backpacking itinerary, a jam-packed 77-page guide covering 33 of my favorite destinations in magical Mexico.
My Complete Mexico Backpacking Itinerary
By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 77-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…