Earlier this month, we reported on our recent trip to Tulum, Mexico – a visit that opened our eyes about unbridled growth, the devastating consequences, and our roles and responsibilities as travelers. From Tulum, we traveled to Isla Holbox, a lovely place that (so far) has avoided many of the challenges of other Mexican tourism hotspots.
Off the beaten tourist path
We first heard about Isla Holbox from other travelers on our last visit to Isla Mujeres, one of our favorite places in Mexico. We fell in love with Mexico’s Caribbean coast when we visited Mujeres, just off Cancun, on our sailboat in 2004. Our return visit in 2017 was just as enjoyable.
Pronounced “hole-bosh,” Isla Holbox is a long and skinny island just off the northeastern coast of the Yucutan Peninsula in Quintana Roo state. It’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, home to flamingos and pelicans. The stretch of the Caribbean to the north is known for its rich marine life. In fact, whale shark season (roughly from June through September) draws lots of folks looking for a chance to dive and snorkel with those gentle giants. We just missed it – guess we’ll have to go back!
The Holbox experience
One of the first things you notice about Holbox is that lack of cars and trucks or paved roads. Most folks get around using golf carts on the hard-packed sand streets. With only 2,000 inhabitants, the town has a quaint, laid-back, bohemian vibe with colorful street art, brightly painted houses, and plenty of fun restaurants and bars. And the beaches . . . well, it’s easy to see why CNN called Holbox “Mexico’s best barefoot beach.”
We were happy to see that Holbox residents are doing what they can to keep their little bit of heaven clean and keep the lid on development (there’s not a single high-rise hotel in sight). They’re making an active effort to recycle plastic bottles, and for the most part there’s little trash where it shouldn’t be. That said, Holbox does have some infrastructure issues. We’ve heard that the sanitation and water systems are often overwhelmed during the peak tourist season. As the island continues to be “discovered” and tourism grows, will Holbox succumb to the same types of ecological problems that are plaguing places like Tulum? Time will tell.
We took the ADO bus from Tulum to Chiquila for around $350 pesos per person. The bus was modern and air-conditioned, and the trip took about three hours. At the Cancun airport, the ADO buses leave right outside terminal 3. You can either catch a bus to Playa del Carmen and then transfer to the Tulum bus in Playa, or take a Tulum bus and stay on it all the way to Chiquila. The ADO web site lists current rates and schedule (no need to book your tickets online).
Once you get to Chiquila (see map above), it’s a 15-minute ferry ride across to Holbox. Two different ferry companies provide service, but strangely enough, they cost the same ($150 pesos) and offer the exact same service. The only difference really is that one runs on the hour and the other on the half hour, so you’ll never wait long for the next boat.
Once you reach Holbox you’ll be greeted by a row of golf-cart taxis, ready to drive you to your accommodations. You’ll pay between 20-30 pesos ($3-4 ) for the quick ride across the island to the town center. If you don’t have much luggage, the walk to the main square takes less than ten minutes. Take a taxi if you arrive in the afternoon, or else you’re in for a very hot walk (trust us on this!).
Things to do
Isla Holbox is a perfect place to chill out and be lazy! After an action-packed visit to Tulum, we were happy to just lounge by the pool, read our books, work on the blog, swill margaritas and mojitos, feast on tacos, stroll down the beach, and gawk at the many butt-floss-bikini-clad señoritas (John, put your eyes back in your head!).
One day, we rented a golf cart and rode over to the east end of the island to visit Punta Coco. We also took a nature walk through the preserve area east of town. There’s a three-island tour with bird watching, snorkeling, and a visit to a cenote (fresh water pool) that we’ll check out next time. And we have a serious yen to dive with the whale sharks someday.
We stayed at Villas HM Palapas del Mar. The room was lovely and we enjoyed our private “plunge pool,” but we didn’t feel it was a great value for the price. For our next trip, we have our eye on Casa Los Tortugas.
We ate most of our meals at the hotel (lazy butts that we were!) but we did enjoy Raices (excellent seafood right on the beach), Mandarina in the Casa Los Tortugas resort, and the restaurant in the Posada Mawimbi.
- Here’s a good general information site for Isla Holbox.