Pronounced “hol-bosh", Isla Holbox is one of those best-kept secrets that you too can experience with just a two-hour drive north of Cancun and an additional thirty-minute ferry ride. As I write this article, I am hesitant to share with you that this magical island even exists in fear that too many of you will read about it, visit it, and fall madly in love with it, as I did. Yet, I will dutifully share everything I can about this stunning spot, because it would truly be a sin to keep it from you!
Holbox is reminiscent of Tulum with the main difference being that it's a remote island that is not as easy to get to and that it hasn't been discovered by droves of tourists, yet. The restaurants, bars, and shops exude a bohemian vibe yet in an upscale sort of way. Let's call it boho-chic. This is a car-free, open-aired island where roads do not exist. The streets are made of sand and flip-flops are the only necessity. Many Mexicans, Brits, Aussies, French, and Germans gravitate to this island but you will certainly bump into some Americans as well. The food is fantastic. Like, I mean, this is truly a haven for all you foodies. There is tons to explore on the island, including nature reserves. Holbox will leave you wanting more of it and I will confidently make the assumption that most visitors make return visits.
Take the Holbox Express
You'll drive two hours to Chiquila from Cancun for a 30-minute ferry to Holbox. You can buy tickets at the ferry terminal stand. Be prepared, they do not accept any credit cards or one hundred dollar bills. A roundtrip ticket costs $24 per person. The fleet has both upper deck and indoor seating and leaves Chiquila every hour on the half hour.
Get on the Taxi Line
Once your ferry docks on the island, you will be greeted by taxis waiting to take you to your destination. The taxis on the island are golf carts and they only drive three passengers per cart. While the locals in Holbox are extremely friendly, we found the taxi drivers to be less warm and they will often try to charge you more than they should. Always ask your hotel how much a specific ride should cost so that you know how much you should actually pay versus how much they will try to charge you. Getting around the island on a golf cart is so much fun!
Stay at Casa Astral
You'll love your stay at Casa Astral. The hotel is not located in the center of town. Rather, it is a ten-minute walk from the bustling center which ensures that you will get great sleep. The service of the staff is wonderful. You can text the staff directly through WhatsApp with any request that you have. They will help with ordering taxis, renting golf carts, making restaurant reservations, or stocking your room with whatever you need. The rooms are clean and spacious. They have large two-bedroom units with three king-sized beds, two full bathrooms, and one-half bathroom which is perfect for a family or group. The rooftop has stunning views of the sea with an infinity pool, bar, and hammocks. If you want to be in the heart of the main square, this may not be the right choice for you. However, if you like to retreat to a quiet space at the end of the day with the beach just steps away, Casa Astral is a great choice.
Where to Eat
You will be amazed by the plethora of restaurants and bars that dot the sand and spill onto the town center of this tiny island. Each of the eateries below has great decor, a vibrant ambiance, stellar service, and terrific food. Make sure to couple your meal with a mezcalito, a favorite cocktail on the island.
Mr. Happy (breakfast)
No one can possibly leave Mr. Happy unhappy. The menu offers an extensive juice and smoothie list along with fresh and healthy dishes to be enjoyed in the retro-designed space under a beautiful palapa.
Clandestino Cafe (breakfast)
Their freshly baked pastries and espresso bar that whips up a mean cappuccino will win you over instantly. You'll have a hard time deciding what to order so I suggest that you order a bunch of dishes to share otherwise you may find yourself leaving with serious FOMO.
Painapol uses the freshest fruit to masterfully create artistic bites. Every dish is served with an abundance of fruits or veggies so you can leave resting assured you hit your quota for the day. There's even a wishing well in the dining room where you'll likely catch yourself wishing you could possibly consume more of their delicious dishes.
El Velero (lunch)
The highlight on their menu is the Baja fish tacos that are served with a potato wedge inside the taco. This simple touch adds so much flavor you may order a second round and even make a second visit for lunch as we did. This is a perfect destination to eat with your toes in the sand, staring at the sea, while you keep repeating "this is soooo good" after each bite.
Isla Holbox loves its mezcalitos but the island really takes pride in its lobster pizzas. You'll have to try this local's favorite recipe at least once during your visit and Roots is the best place to pop your cherry. The pizzas are outstanding, especially with the three homemade sauces that are served along with them to drizzle on for an extra touch of flavor. Great music lingers in the air while you dine under the lit trees and pinch yourself for finding the best lobster pizza on the island.
Laid back eatery with reggae music and a unique menu bring together locals and tourists alike. Birria, a traditional Mexican dish of goat or beef stew, is the star of the show here and is offered in many unique ways but there are plenty of yummy vegetarian dishes to choose from too.
Salma's sultry vibe makes it a perfect dinner destination. The main space of the restaurant has up close views of the masterful chefs in action in the central wood fire kitchen which pumps out insanely delicious grilled dishes. Highlights are the roasted beet salad, grilled artichoke, and squash in roasted tomato sauce. Skulls, swings, and candles lit over layers of dripped wax work well together to create a seductive scene with sensational cuisine.
Luuma offers a clubby atmosphere in its dimly lit, open-aired courtyard complete with a sandy floor and jungle music vibes all tucked in what can be mistaken for a secret garden. This tapas eatery artistically presents its internationally influenced bite-sized foods. The onion croquettes are a must!
K'U' is the epitome of boho-chic and tends to draw a beautiful crowd of well-dressed patrons. This beachfront bar and restaurant is uber-alluring and cannot be missed during your visit.
Viva Zapata (drinks)
Viva Zapata has a long, lively bar lined with swings and tall stools. The bartenders are chatty and take pride in serving craft cocktails. You'll find it on the more casual side as the owners don't seem to be aiming for chic. This is simply put a fun and vivacious bar for afternoon drinks.
Fun Things to Do:
Obviously, if you're in Holbox you'll want to swim in the pristine waters as much as possible. Let's say you hit some rainy days, like we did, during December's dry season, or should you find yourself needing an escape from the sun, here are fun some ideas to give you the full island experience.
Volunteer at Refugio Animal Hospital
Ever dream of having an adorable pooch for the day while you are on vacation? At Refugio you can fulfill this dream while actually helping out this animal rescue shelter. You can take one, or more, of their dogs for as long as you'd like to give them some love and long walks by the beach and through town. Volunteering will never feel so good!
Rent a UTV or Golf Cart for the Day (Especially a Rainy Day)
While December is known as the dry season in Holbox, we still got stuck with two pretty wet days on the island. It is important to know that the island does not have any drainage systems so when it rains, large lake-sized puddles are formed making it practically impossible to walk anywhere unless you want to trek through almost knee-level mud. Golf-cart rentals, which offer the most popular form of transportation, shut down on rainy days in fear of renters getting stuck in the muddy waters. In the rain, your only alternatives will be to hire a taxi, walk through the muck, or rent a UTV. With a UTV you can explore the entire island, with the added thrill of driving through deep water. It's quite an adventurous way to roll through Holbox.
Walk along Yum Balam Coast to Punta Cocos
Look up the tide schedule, ditch your flip-flops, and walk along the Yum Balam coast towards Punta Cocos for a piece of Paradise. You'll barely see humans in sight but you will instead come across an abundance of wildlife.
Explore Punta Cocos at Low Tide
Exploring Punta Cocos may possibly be the highlight of your visit to Holbox. This part of the island is pristine, untouched, and really breathtaking. During low tide, you can wade through the aqua waters towards a sand bar and fully experience what it's like to have no care in the world.
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour to Search for Murals
Isla Holbox has more than ninety vibrant murals scattered throughout the island. Embark on an artistic journey and see how many you can find. HERE is a self-guided tour we used.
You'll want to plan for at least three nights in Holbox, ideally five. The laid-back island vibe is contagious and will overtake you instantly. This is a magical island that you will dream about visiting again and again. It forces you to conform to its rules: be happy, eat well, reenergize, repeat. Holbox is simplicity at its finest. Just make sure to pack your rain boots because those muddy lakes post-rain may set you back from enjoying everything the island offers. Yet even in the rain, it's perfection. As I write this last sentence, I am already planning our next visit.