Holbox Island, Mexico (official name being Isla Holbox) is a small sandy island on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s part of the Yum Balam nature preserve which translates to birdwatching heaven (flamingos hang out here)!
What makes this Mexican island so much fun though, is that there are no cars (save for a few delivery trucks in the morning) – just bicycles, golf carts and a few ATVs!
There are no large resorts or mega hotels, just smaller boutique hotels and bungalow villas.
The internet is spotty and not the most reliable, but you will be happy to be unplugged and carefree for a few days as you embrace island life.
While Isla Mujeres is a popular choice for an island to visit near Cancun, Isla Holbox is considered a little more authentic and laid back.
In this Holbox travel guide, I cover everything you need to know about getting here, what to expect, prices and some travel tips for the best vacation possible.
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Is Holbox Worth Visiting?
What’s not to love about white coral sand (that somehow doesn’t really stick to you) and shallow turquoise water as far as the eye can see?
If you’ve read anything else online about Holbox, you have likely come across mixed reviews that make you start to question whether or not it’s worth it to visit for a few days.
If you have already been to Tulum or are looking for a Tulum alternative, you will enjoy Holbox Island.
It’s touristy enough that there are plenty of trendy restaurants and colors, but prices aren’t quite as inflated (but they are on their way).
The beaches aren’t quite as manicured as places like the hotel zone in Cancún or on Isla Mujeres, but that adds to the carefree appeal and vibe of this rustic paradise.
Holbox Island isn’t very big either. We found ourselves running into several new friends we met at least once or twice a day.
So, if you’re the type of traveler that always needs something to do or discover, a couple of days on the island would be sufficient.
If you’re a fan of slow travel, you will love this island paradise.
When I travel, I love to take the first couple of days in any new destination to wander around with no plan, explore and get a feeling for what there is to do.
If you are this type of traveler, you will love visiting Holbox.
Because the island is so small, you can cover most of it in a day by walking around or ride a bike without worrying about getting lost.
Holbox is only 25 miles long and less than a mile wide, so it’s the perfect size to explore without being overwhelming.
I would describe Holbox as Mexico’s Caribbean version of Sayulita (without the surfing).
If you’re looking to escape the ‘pretend-Mexico’ area of Cancún and the mega-resorts along the Mayan Riviera, Holbox will provide a more authentic rustic experience, while still offering all the amenities tourists are looking for.
If Tulum has turned into too much of a luxury-hipster travel destination for you, visit Holbox before it follows the same fate!
This island is probably the closest option that is similar to Tulum, but is more of a sleepier, little sister.
Or if you’re traveling to the Caribbean side of Mexico and looking for a chill, beach town vibe for the first time, I think you will really enjoy Holbox.
An Isla Holbox day trip from Cancún is worth it if you’re looking to leave your mega-resort for a day and experience a slower (and quieter) pace while enjoying more of an authentic Mexico vibe.
Holbox is a little more off the beaten path, but there are certainly enough things to see and do to fill at least 3 or 4 days.
Best Time to Visit Holbox
The best time to visit Holbox is between January and late-March for perfect weather to hang out on the beach all day.
If you want to swim with the Whale Sharks, visit Holbox between June and August, which is also the best time to experience the bio-luminescent water.
How to Get to Holbox Island
Isla Holbox is located 2 hours northwest of Cancún.
Most of the hotels on the island will offer to help arrange transportation if you need it (at a cost), or you can arrange your own private or shared transportation to pick you up from the Cancún airport.
A private transportation service will run you about $150-200 usd, but this is your fastest option and some include a one way ticket on the ferry (make sure you ask).
Travel Tip: You should be aware about the Cancún airport. Always book your transportation in advance.
If you don’t arrange it ahead of time and have to rely on the airport taxis and shuttle services, the prices will be enormously inflated.
And if you try to book a shared shuttle you will have to wait for it to fill up before it leaves.
Take the ADO Bus
Another option to get to Holbox is to take the ADO bus. These are pretty nice coach buses and are very reasonably priced, reliable and safe.
After you’re clear from customs you can buy a ticket at the red booth inside the airport labeled ADO. This is just after you pass all the car rental booths.
You might have to go to the downtown Cancún bus station and then purchase another ticket and transfer to a new bus that takes you to Chiquila (the town with the ferry port).
A bus ride from Cancún will cost a little less than 300 pesos. You can purchase bus tickets online in advance which is the best way to do it.
To find the ADO bus terminal at the Cancún airport, head outside the arrivals (make sure to not talk to anyone in the terminal trying to sell you shuttle services or timeshares in the airport), walk passed the outdoor welcome bar and keep walking straight and you will see large right and white buses labeled ADO.
Take the Ferry From Chiquila
No matter where in the world you’re arriving from, you will have to take a 25 minute ferry from the town of Chiquila to get to Holbox. Remember, no cars on the island!
If you are driving a rental car, there are plenty of parking lots where you can store your car, and there are attendants everywhere who will flag you in.
It will cost you 100 pesos for 24 hours to leave your car in Chiquila while you stay in Holbox.
Once you arrive in Chiquila, you can purchase a ferry ticket at the booth, which will be 150 pesos per adult.
They leave every 30 minutes. There is a blue ferry and a red ferry called the express.
The express one is faster but not by much. It’s definitely a little nicer, but I wouldn’t plan my schedule around which one to take.
If you sit up top on the blue ferry you will probably get a little wet!
The last ferry to Holbox is at 9:30pm, so if your flight arrives in Cancún in the evening, you might want to stay at an airport hotel overnight and then head to Holbox first thing in the morning.
Once you arrive in Holbox from the ferry, it should cost about 50 pesos in a golf cart taxi to bring you to your hotel in the downtown.
There are also bicycle taxis you can take which are a little more expensive, but really fun!
Mérida to Holbox
Mérida to Holbox is a 4-hour trip and we did this on the ADO bus. Tickets were about 500 pesos per person (about $30).
If you take the bus, make sure you book the 4-hour trip and not the 4 hour and 45 minute route, as that makes a stop halfway in Valladolid and better to avoid if you can.
Overall, getting to Holbox is not that difficult as there are a few ways to do it. Just make sure you account for the drive time, waiting for the ferry and the ferry ride.
Where to Stay in Isla Holbox
There are some cute hotels in the center of the downtown that are only a few minutes from the beach, but I recommend finding a beachfront hotel.
I would suggest staying somewhere close to the downtown.
If you look on Google Maps you will see that the core is about 6 blocks wide, this is where most of the restaurants are.
Beachfront Hotel La Palapa
We stayed at Beachfront Hotel La Palapa and loved it. Our room had an unobstructed view of the sea (from your own hammock) and there’s an awesome rooftop patio for guests.
This was the best for morning coffee and watching the sunset.
Amaite Beach Hotel
The next best location is the Amaite Beach Hotel, which was our next choice. It’s got a much larger beach area (guests have access to private loungers), so this would be a great choice if you just want to exercise your beach bum muscles for a few days!
Casa Cat Ba
If you prefer a smaller hotel with a more personalized experience, try Casa Cat Ba, which only has 5 rooms.
Fresh daily breakfast is included and small amenities like a beach bag to use during your stay make it feel just like home.
The decor is very airy-bohemian and similar to accommodations you would find in Tulum.
If you’re looking for a hotel in Holbox that has the best rooftop bar, you should stay at Villas Tiburon.
The rooftop is host to the Alma Bar, complete with day beds, an infinity pool and the best mojitos.
If you want ocean hammocks all to yourself, stay at Villa Flamingos. This hotel offers individual villas as accommodation instead of one building.
Each room comes with its own balcony with a hammock, and there’s also a pool at this hotel (not many hotels in Holbox have one).
This hotel is a little further from town, but you can use their bikes for free or take a quick golf cart taxi.
But, if you prefer to be away from the town’s energy, this place is perfect.
A Word on Airbnb in Holbox
I recommend avoiding Airbnb on Holbox Island, as the community is starting to feel the effects contributing to overtourism around the world, partly caused by the Airbnb problem.
Businesses are offering to rent out local homes for much higher prices than a month’s rent from a local, and then turning around and selling nights to tourists at even higher rates.
This eventually creates a lack of housing for locals which inflates the cost of living for them.
Is Holbox Expensive?
When compared to similar destinations in the Mayan Riviera like Tulum, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, you will find that Holbox is a little less expensive.
While there are luxury hotels like Casa Las Tortugas that you can spend the money on, it’s slightly cheaper in Holbox for it being a beach island destination.
Isla Holbox not considered a cheap, backpacker destination, but there are some great hostels to save costs.
That being said, most dinner entrees cost us about 100-140 pesos each and the most expensive restaurant we ate at served an incredible octopus dish for 350 pesos ($18.50 usd).
Beers (cervezas) will range from 35-55 pesos and specialty cocktails tend to run about 100-150 pesos.
While it’s not the cheapest place I have traveled in Mexico, all things considered, Holbox was reasonably priced.
Travel Tips for Visiting Holbox Island
Bring all the Cash You Will Need With You
There are literally only 2 ATMs on Holbox Island, so you should plan to bring as much cash as you will need with you.
While there are hotels and restaurants that take credit cards, cash is king in Mexico.
If you end up booking your hotel online in advance, I recommend paying the full amount online ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry about paying with pesos or relying on the spotty internet connection for the credit card machines.
With only 2 ATMs on Isla Holbox, there is no guarantee that it will be stocked with cash when you need it, so it’s better to plan ahead.
There is Seaweed, But You Can Avoid it
As of January 2019 when we visited, Holbox does have seaweed, but it’s mostly contained to only one half of the island.
The water along the beach closest to town will have some stray bits floating in the water, but it’s not a big deal.
As you walk further down the beach toward Punta Mosquitos, you can see it’s much worse. But if you stay mostly on the west side of the island, it’s really not bad.
And since Holbox is on the northern part of the Peninsula, the seaweed (called Sargassum) typically doesn’t reach all the way over.
My number one Holbox travel tip is to only worry about bringing flip flops for footwear.
Since the roads are made of fine sand, when it rains, it turns into clay-like mud and large puddles can take days to try up.
Flip flops will be the only shoes you need here, and I would recommend bringing an extra pair that you don’t mind getting dirty just in case.
There are sidewalks, but they aren’t consistent, so high heels or wedges would be a nightmare to navigate the streets here.
And honestly, we saw a lot of people just walking barefoot around town since it was a little mucky.
I don’t really recommend that to any of my readers, but if you want to unleash your inner-hippie, you won’t be the only one!
Mosquitoes and Bugs
Mosquitos can be known to get bad here (because of the standing water when it rains), so it’s best to bring insect repellent.
We didn’t really notice them in December/January, so it’s not always bad.
Shopping and Souvenirs
I enjoyed shopping for souvenirs and small gifts in Holbox because I found that there was a unique mix of items that I haven’t seen in other parts of Mexico.
If you love art, there are incredible paintings on traditional locally-made Mayan paper called Amate.
This paper is made from a special type of bark, and has been used for thousands of years, and is still used today.
There’s also a shop that sells artwork painted on feathers.
For trendy decor, there are tons of beautiful dream-catchers and all kinds of handmade macrame products.
And if you love flamingos, Holbox is souvenir heaven.
And another reason why visiting Holbox is pleasant is that there are few beach vendors.
The shopkeepers and market vendors aren’t pushy, either.
It’s nowhere near as bad as Playa del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta.
Bring Your Dog!
Holbox Island is very pet friendly.
Many of the locals have dogs that they bring about town with them everywhere they go, and there were tons of tourists who brought their dogs with them.
You can bring your dog on the ferry but it will have to be in its crate where the luggage goes.
So if you’re looking for pet friendly places in Mexico, Holbox is a great option.
The Best Beach on Holbox Island
The best beach on Isla Holbox is definitely Playa Punta Cocos.
This is because the soft white sand stretches far, the water is very shallow and the sunsets are breathtaking from this most western point on the island.
Plus, it’s the farthest point away from the sargassum (seaweed) that is encroaching on eastern parts of the island.
But in all honesty, every beach in Holbox is nice.
The water is a great mix of deep blue, turquoise and emerald green because of where the Caribbean sea meets the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
You Might Also Like: Travel Planning Guide to the Best Beaches in Puerto Vallarta
How to Pronounce Isla Holbox
The correct way to pronounce Holbox is to say “hole-bosh” or “hull-bosh” but with little emphasis on the ‘h’.
The ‘x’ sound is pronounced as an ‘sh’ sound in Spanish, Isla is pronounced “eye-la” and means ‘island.’
Most people on the island just refer to it as simply ‘Holbox’ without the prefix.
If you’re planning a trip to Holbox, make sure you visit soon! This little island is starting to get noticed as one of Mexico’s next up and coming destinations.
Want to discover more of the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico? Check out these posts:
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