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Our recent trip to Mexico included spending 3 days in Isla Holbox, or just ‘Holbox’, as you’ll commonly hear it referred to. This Mexican island is growing in popularity and is often cited as “the next Tulum”. We much preferred it to Tulum, where we’d spent the 4 days prior. It was quieter, cheaper, and prettier! While Holbox is getting more popular as the years go on, when we visited Holbox in October, it was super quiet. If you’re planning to travel to Isla Holbox, be sure to check out this Holbox travel guide and Holbox blog list of the best things to do in Holbox!
Where is Isla Holbox?
First things first, where is Isla Holbox? The island of Holbox (pronounced like “Holbosh”) is in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. This area is a popular tourist and holiday destination thanks to the warm Caribbean Sea and beautiful beaches (as well as the thriving all-inclusive scene in Cancun and Playa del Carmen). It’s one of the best islands in Mexico and I’m hoping it manages to retain its charm as tourism to the island increases.
Isla Holbox is about 2 hours north of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and it takes about 2.5-3 hours to get to Isla Holbox from Tulum.
Since it’s an island and there are no bridges, you’ll also need to get a short, 20-minute ferry ride from the port town of Chiquila, Mexico.
Best time to visit Isla Holbox
Prices and busy-ness vary a lot throughout the year on Isla Holbox. We visited in October which meant that our hotel was a lot cheaper than it usually is and that the town was quieter but we found some places were still closed for the season. It also meant we got rain on a couple of days.
In general January to March are the best months to visit Holbox as the weather is good and you shouldn’t get much rain. However, prices at hotels in Holbox will be higher.
The summer months are the best months to do the top Holbox activities like swimming with whale sharks and seeing the bioluminescence. However, Holbox weather is also very hot and humid during these months and there are a lot of mosquitoes.
ISLA HOLBOX TIPS: Make sure you take plenty of cash for your trip to Isla Holbox. While there are a growing number of Holbox ATMs (we saw at least 3), they’re not very predictable. A lot of restaurants and hotels won’t accept card so you’ll want to make sure you take plenty of cash for your trip. Also, make sure to pack plenty of mosquito repellent as they’re out in force in the evenings!
How to get to Isla Holbox
There are a few options you can choose from when it comes to travelling to Isla Holbox. If you’re travelling on a budget, the cheapest option for getting to Holbox is going to be to take a public bus from whichever city you’re in to the ferry port of Chiquila. Below I’ve outlined the main ways to get to Isla Holbox, so whether you’re wondering how to get from Cancun to Isla Holbox, or from Tulum, I’ve got you covered!
Flights to Isla Holbox
It is possible to fly to Holbox and there’s a small Isla Holbox airport. You can hire a small plane to fly from Cancun airport to Isla Holbox. Flying to Isla Holbox from Cancun takes only 35 minutes but Cancun to Holbox flights on a 5 person plane cost over $500USD! You can find out more about flights to Isla Holbox here.
Most people will fly to Cancun, the closest airport to Isla Holbox, and then get a bus, transfer, or drive to Chiquila from Cancun. I always use Skyscanner to book my flights as they make it super easy to find the cheapest deals.
Bus to Holbox
Below are some approximate costs of buses to Isla Holbox from cities in the Yucatan. You can see the full schedule, fares and book tickets on ADO’s website.
- Tulum to Isla Holbox: Takes about 3.5 hours, as it picks up more passengers in Playa del Carmen. It cost us $365MXN (roughly $18.60US)
- Cancun to Isla Holbox: The Cancun to Holbox bus takes about 2 hours on the Ado bus from Cancun to Chiquila. You can book to either get the bus from Cancun to Chiquila from the airport or hotel zone. It cost us $365MXN going from Isla Holbox to Cancun Airport.
- Playa del Carmen to Holbox: Takes about 2.5 hours to go from Playa del Carmen to Isla Holbox and costs $292MXN. I’d recommend booking as some of these buses come from Tulum so you don’t want to risk them being full.
- Valladolid to Holbox: Roughly 2.5-hour bus ride from Valladolid to Isla Holbox, costs $214MXN.
- Merida to Holbox: Takes about 5.5 hours from Merida to Isla Holbox and costs around $450MXN.
NOTE: Be sure to double-check whether you’re booking tickets to/from the airport or Cancun town when you’re looking at how to get to Holbox from Cancun.
Getting the ferry to Isla Holbox
There are two Isla Holbox ferry companies that run the exact same service for the exact same price. The difference is that one Chiquila to Holbox ferry runs on the hour and the other Holbox Island ferry on the half-hour.
The 9 Hermanos ferry company is the company that runs on the half-hour, and Holbox Express Ferry runs on the hour. It’s useful to know this so that you buy the right ferry ticket when coming off the bus, or from your car.
Either way, you’re not going to have to wait long for a ferry to Holbox at all!
The ferry from Chiquila to Holbox starts at 6 am and finish at 9.30 pm. They cost $200MXN per passenger (as of January 2020), regardless of which company you end up using. You can see the Holbox ferry schedule in both directions here. Remember to check the Holbox ferry times for your return trip, especially if you’ve got a plane to catch!
Oh, and keep your eyes open when getting to Isla Holbox on the ferry, we saw a flamingo!
Where to stay in Isla Holbox
We stayed at Hotel La Palapa which was right on the beach. We could hear the waves from our room and only had to walk a few steps between our room and the beachfront where we spent a lot of our time. I’d highly recommend it if you’re wondering where to stay in Holbox.
When we visited in October, the rooms were only around $100 a night, but we saw that in peak season on Isla Holbox they can be 4 times that amount, therefore it’s not ideal if you’re travelling on a budget.
I’ve listed a few more options for Isla Holbox accommodation, including budget hotels in Holbox, below.
Tierra Mia Boutique Hotel: If you’re looking for a boutique hotel on Holbox, this one is a great option. Breakfast is included and there’s a great pool area making it one of the best hotels in Holbox Island.
Las Nubes Holbox: For those looking for more Holbox luxury hotels, try Las Nubes has bungalows and suites with ocean views and the jungles backs on to it. It’s a bit far out of the town so you’ll rely on taxis to get between the two, but it’s perfect for a relaxing break.
Alcobas La Mar: This budget-friendly hotel in Holbox is very stylish with a beautiful pool.
Frequency: If you’re looking for something different, try Frequency on Holbox. This hotel has rooms that are in big geometric domes so it’s like you’re glamping.
Casa Tortugas Holbox: One of the most popular Isla Holbox resorts, Casa Tortugas is a family-run hotel with an outdoor pool, hot tub, hammam and hut-style rooms. It’s right on the beach and prices included breakfast.
There are also a growing number of Airbnb in Holbox.
Best things to do in Isla Holbox
If you’re wondering what to do in Holbox, wonder no more with this Holbox guide!
Do nothing & relax
The main reason behind our Mexico trip was to have a ‘proper holiday’. One where we didn’t really plan to do much and just relaxed. If you know us, you know this is pretty unlike us but we managed to do a lot of nothing on our week in Mexico. Isla Holbox is the perfect place for doing nothing. It’s not that there aren’t lots of other things to do on Isla Holbox, it’s just that the slow island pace and the beauty of the beach make you want to relax.
If you’re not staying in a beachfront hotel on Holbox, then check out some of the beach clubs. Coquitos Beach Bar is always a good shout as is Raices Holbox Bar which also does some great seafood.
Swim with the whale sharks
Isla Holbox is famous for whale sharks and the best time to see the Whale Sharks on Holbox is from June to September with July and August being the peak months. As this is one of the top attractions in Isla Holbox, these months tend to be the busiest on the island too. You can book a whale shark tour in Holbox in advance to make sure they’re not sold out.
You’ll see many places advertising tours to swim with the whale sharks and the average cost lies between $2000-3000MXN.
Walk to Punta Mosquito on Isla Holbox and find the flamingos
We began our walk to Punta Mosquito, Holbox towards the north of the town only to be caught out by a torrential downpour with no end in sight. While we called an end to our walk, I’d still recommend you walk down to Punta Mosquito during your stay on Isla Holbox.
At certain times of the year (April & October), the flamingos often frequent this part of the island. We saw one during our ferry ride from Chiquila and this is probably your best chance of seeing flamingos on Holbox.
You’ll need to walk along a sandbank to get there and you’ll usually be walking through water (ankle/knee-deep). It’s a good workout for sure!
If you do decide to walk to Punta Mosquitos then be sure to take water, plenty of marine-safe sun cream, and a hat. It’d be best done in the morning before it’s too hot but there’s always the ocean to cool off in too.
Go kayaking in the mangroves
Another of the more popular things to do on Isla Holbox is to go kayaking! We love kayaking around various places near Vancouver but sadly ran out of time to get round to kayaking on Holbox.
One of the best places to kayak is in the mangrove forest on Holbox. You can do a tour where you’re sure to see some wildlife including birds and sometimes crocodiles. It’s great scenery and a fun thing to do on Holbox.
Tours usually cost around $400-800MXN and you can book one here.
Wander around the town and enjoy the street art
I left Thom in bed one morning and took myself on a little tour of the town on the island. It’s very small with just a few main streets but there’s a lot of street art to find.
The majority of the art is super colourful, and really quite impressive. I loved taking my time to walk around and seeing the locals stock up on tortillas. I stopped by a lady with a cart full of pastries to get us some breakfast along the way and it was a great way to pass an hour or 2.
Snorkeling in Holbox at cenote Yalahau
Out in the ocean, there’s another of the best cenotes in Mexico: Cenote Yalahau. Having got our fill of cenotes in Tulum, we didn’t take a tour out and the weather actually got too stormy one day to have been able to, but it looks beautiful!
Yalahau Cenote is a fresh-water cenote surrounded by a lagoon with the same name. It’s only accessible by a 3o minute boat ride which means it’s expensive to get to. A lot of the Isla Holbox tours that go to Isla Pasion and Cabo Catoche also go to Yalahau Cenote which makes for a great day trip. There’s a whole street of tour operators running essentially the same tours, so you should be able to haggle on the price.
A lot of the three island tours (below) include this iconic Holbox snorkeling spot. You can see different tour options here.
Take the 3 island tour of Holbox
One of the most popular Holbox Island tours is the 3 island tour in Holbox. It’s the best way to explore more of the island away from the town and plenty of companies offer a very similar tour. You get to see bird island (Isla Pajaros, Holbox), swim in cenote Yalahau, see the Holbox flamingos and discover Isla de la Pasion, Holbox.
The tour takes half a day, usually leaving in the morning and you can book in advance here.
See the bioluminescence in Holbox
Bioluminescence is a magical thing! On clear nights when the moon isn’t too bright, you can see the blue bioluminescence plankton light up the ocean. The best time to see the bioluminescence in Holbox is from June – September.
While you can travel to the darkest beaches yourself, it’s recommended to go with a tour as, quite simply, they’ll know where to go! They’ll usually pick you up and drive you out, by golf cart, to the best spot that night.
Tours cost around $300MXN per person and last about 3 hours. You can book in advance here.
Watch one of the famous Holbox sunsets
Holbox is renowned for having some beautiful sunsets and, unlike in Tulum, the beach faces the right direction for watching the sun disappear into the sea. One of the best places to watch the sunset in Holbox is by the pier on main Holbox beach closest to the town.
In the low season, this pier is full of locals jumping into the water, listening to music and enjoying a few beers. In busier seasons you’re more likely to see more tourists here (some of the photos I’ve seen are of a PACKED pier!). Either way, the sunset on a sunny day is sure to be a good one.
Eat delicious food on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox has a lot of great places to eat. There are plenty of taco places, some fancier looking cafes and Italian and steak places too if you’ve somehow how your fill of Mexican food.
One of the food items that Holbox has become famous for (but that we didn’t get around to trying) is lobster pizza. Yes, that’s right. There are lots of places on the island that sell lobster pizza nowadays. However, if you’re looking for where to get lobster pizza in Holbox, the place that’s recommended most often is Roots. If you’ve tried it let me know what you thought!
A few of the best places to eat in Holbox that we tried are listed below.
Where to eat in Holbox – best Isla Holbox restaurants
Here are some of the best places to eat in Holbox. We tried all the Holbox restaurants listed below and the ones we didn’t rate (give Casa Nostra Roof Restaurant a miss), aren’t included.
We went to this place for dinner on our first nice on Holbox and LOVED IT. These were without a doubt the best tacos we had during our week in Mexico.
Barba Negra is in an area that has several stalls selling different types of food. When we visited only the cocktail place and Barba Negra were open but that suited us fine!
There was a variety of meat, veggie and even vegan options in this Holbox restaurant and the atmosphere was super cool too. A couple of guys came in and played some live music, there was a bar serving cocktails that were delicious and we just loved it.
One morning we wanted a lighter breakfast and headed to Tierra Mia as I’d heard about their coffee. Not only was their coffee delicious, but their bagels were too. That actually reminds me I need to recreate the combination I had of cream cheese and sundried tomatoes this weekend!
It’s a pretty space inside and you can tell it’s one of the newer places catering to tourists. If you really like their coffee you can buy packs to take home too.
Another great place for breakfast in Holbox is El Cafecito. This was just around the corner from our hotel and their menu offers some Mexican classics, as well as lighter options of fruit and yoghurt. The prices were reasonable too.
Antojitos Abuelo Tom
We came here in search of lunchtime tacos but found a more complete meal of rice, meats and salad. Turns out tacos were a morning thing here. Either way, we got a massive plate of food for not a lot of money and it was super tasty too. It’s a bit off the main drag but worth going to, especially if you’re travelling on a budget.
Place opposite Tierra Mia
I can’t remember the name of this place and it had just opened the day we went but we had a great brunch here! For around $100MXN we got coffee, fresh fruit and a choice of a main meal including sandwiches or chilaquiles. The manager was super friendly and the food delicious.
We’d walked past this place a few times during our stay on Holbox and I’d assumed it would be super expensive. On the last day, we decided to give it a try and were pleasantly surprised to find the prices extremely reasonable.
This restaurant is like what you’d expect to find in Tulum with swinging chairs and full of tourists. It’s always busy so go early if you don’t want to wait.
They have juices, smoothie bowls, vegan options, fruit platters, and more. Our breakfast here was delicious and we were stuffed by the end!
Hot Box is something of an Isla Holbox institution and everyone says it’s the place to party. We went here for lunch so didn’t experience the partying side of this bar but would recommend it for a light lunch or dinner before some partying. It’s a bit more expensive than other places for what you get, but if you’re a solo traveller in Mexico it’s a great place to meet people and experience Holbox nightlife.
Los Peleones Holbox
One of my favourite restaurants in Holbox, Los Peleones Holbox was Thom’s pick so he could try their make of beer. Their coconut stout sounds strange, but goes down easily and it really does taste like coconut!
The menu is full of Mexican classics and there’s a fun theme to it too.
Relax in the water hammocks
If you’ve seen pictures of Isla Holbox, the chances are you’d seem the photos of people on ocean hammocks. These hammocks are all over Holbox. You can find some in front of Villas Flamingos Hotel and Villas Tiburon. There are also some sea swings in front of Ensueño Holbox. The hammock I played on was near Villas El Encanto, just a few minutes walk from Hotel La Palapa.