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Living La Vida Playa on Isla Holbox

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.

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Isla Mujeres is just off Cancun and Holbox is up and around to the west. The map shows the extent of the Yum Balam wildlife protection area.

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.”

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Holbox is awash in color
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A derelict bathroom. Wonder what happened to the rest of the building?
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So much colorful street art
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. . . and more
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. . . and more
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The band shell in the main parque
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Still life with shrine and cement bags
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Yet another colorful building

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.

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Hope these regulations have some teeth behind them.

Getting there

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).

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The ferry landing on the south shore of Holbox

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!). 

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The view from our hotel’s private beach
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The beach at sunrise, just in front of our hotel

Things to do

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An amazing whale shark, (literally) the biggest fish in the sea. Photo courtesy Sharks World.

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.  

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The scene near the main town pier
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The beach shrine is loaded with symbolism.
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Just another inviting beach bar. Oh, OK, twist our arms.
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Clowning around. Look, Bogota!
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The gulls were striking a pose just for us.
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The beach at Punta Coco. It’s shallow and clear and feels like bathwater.
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A chill couple is a happy couple!
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Every sunset on Holbox is spectacular.

Other tips

  • Lodging. 
    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
  • Restaurants. 
    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.

8 Comments

  1. Ir looks beautiful and devoid of the awful seaweed that plagues other beaches nearly. We stayed in Playa last year, but I wish we had stayed there. Great post 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      There was a little seaweed on the beach but nothing like what we encountered in Tulum. So far Holbox and Mujeres have been spared. Hope it stays that way. And thanks 🙂

  2. Buen trabajo! Really enjoy your posts. Need a get away and the brain is whirling….ciao

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it! Holbox really is special – a good place to calm a whirling brain 🙂

  3. You had me at “feast on tacos”. Mexico is now joint top (with Japan) on our next go-to destination list. And Holbox during whale shark season looks like it ticks all the boxes. Great post, guys!

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