Latest update: 2 October 2023
Isla Holbox in Mexico: chill, relax, enjoy. Grab a juice here and a cocktail there and live from meal to meal. In between, check out some street art, drive a golf cart around the island, and (if you’re there at the right time) swim with whale sharks. And obviously, Isla Holbox offers beach days too. Get the best tips for Isla Holbox.
What to do on Isla Holbox?
The Mexican island of Isla Holbox welcomes tourists with open arms, which means it loses a bit of its Mexican vibe. But who cares with soft, white sand streets and beaches of even whiter, softer sand? Isla Holbox is invariably described as the paradise of Mexico. I visit the island twice in a year and a half and manage to find rainy days on both visits –lucky me. Your hotel room will be your only refugee in that case. Just go and explore the island in between the rain showers.
Tip! There is an ATM on the island, but it is unreliable. So bring enough cash with you.
Tip 1 – The beaches of Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox has beautiful snow-white beaches: perhaps the most important attraction of the island! Well, if the wind is right. If it’s in the wrong direction, seaweed will wash up everywhere. That creates a nasty smell, and the beautiful beaches lose their charm. The seaweed-covered beaches are a lot less inviting.
Most beaches are freely accessible. Along the coast near the center, you will find a lot of beach bars. Catch beautiful sunsets here in the evening while enjoying your beer or sipping your cocktail. There’s nothing more you need – this is the postcard holiday you imagined.
This sounds pretty amazing too: a horseback ride on the beaches of Holbox!
The center of Isla Holbox
There are no cars or traffic lights on Isla Holbox (you say isla holbosj); everyone moves by bicycle or golf cart. Even taxis are golf carts. After all, the distances here are short: the island is 30 kilometers long and only 500 meters wide at the narrowest point and 2 kilometers at the widest point. Most hotels are actually just within walking distance of the beach and the ‘center’. The center is small and mainly consists of restaurants and souvenir shops. A lot of pizzerias, by the way. No idea how that came about.
Isla Holbox may be touristy, but it is not super developed in terms of facilities. The roads are basically dirt roads full of holes. And for some houses, I doubt whether they are under construction or in disrepair. But, the residents don’t seem to care.
Tip 2 – Swimming with whale sharks
Unfortunately, you can’t swim with whale sharks all year round, so plan your visit well if it’s on your bucket list! It’s an unforgettable experience. You can swim with whale sharks from mid-June to mid-September. The best months are July and August. These animals can grow up to 15 meters! So you do need a bit of gut, but rest assured: they are harmless. Read all about it in my blog about swimming with whale sharks.
Tip 3 – Rent a golf cart for a day (or a half)
There are hardly any cars on Isla Holbox, and the ones that do exist don’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, the island is often promoted as car-free. That is largely true, but then you do have the golf carts fly around you. And those are fun!!! You can rent one for about €70 per 24 hours (about 1200 pesos). I choose to rent a golf cart for four hours (700 pesos). You can see most of the island during half a day, just having a few stops. If you plan to spend some time on the beach and have a long lunch somewhere, renting the golf cart a little longer is better.
Do not forget to bring your driver’s license or passport; otherwise, you will not get the golf cart. A copy of your passport is also okay with some rental companies; for example, the one on the corner of the square accepts it.
The golf carts are easy to drive, and because it is the only motorized transport on the island, the roads aren’t crowded. As soon as you get a little out of the center, you often have the road to yourself. So what can you go see? The local cemetery, lots of nature, street art, beaches, and just turn into different streets to get acquainted with the local life on the island.
Tip 4 – Admire the street art
If any of your Instagram friends have ever been to Isla Holbox, chances are you recognize a lot of street art. The girl with the penetrating eyes and the hat is a favorite piece of many visitors. It’s very cool that the people of Isla Holbox preserve their street art exceptionally well. People really appreciate the works of art, and more and more bare walls are getting a bit of paint.
Tip 5 – Discover Isla Holbox by bike
Not in the mood for a golf cart? Then rent a bike and take it for a ride. I rent my bike diagonally opposite the popular Tribu hostel. You can’t cycle very far because the island is so tiny, but it does give the ultimate freedom vibe. Cycle to Punta Mosquitos, where you see many starfish and also flamingos. You will probably also cycle past the famous Holbox letters and hammocks in the water where everyone wants to take a picture.
Or cycle towards Punta Cocos to enjoy endless blue water, tranquility, and the sunset. Oh, and fresh coconuts, yes! You see me with the coconut and my mother’s finger in the photo, haha.
Tip 6 – Tours from Isla Holbox
It is an island, so how could it be otherwise: a snorkeling tour is highly recommended. Weather permitting! Rainy days aren’t the best days for visibility in the water. Fortunately, I’ve already done quite a bit of snorkeling during my trip, so I can survive without a snorkeling tour. But, unfortunately, I also have to pass up the three islands tour. That is a boat trip of about three hours where you visit a cenote, Isla Pájeros for many colorful birds and Isla de la Pasión for flamingos.
Check your tour options at Viator or GetYourGuide:
Tip! Looking for fast internet? Try it at Le Jardin: fast wi-fi and tasty sandwiches. They just don’t like it when you sit with your laptop all day, so keep it to just checking something quickly.
Tip 7 – Good food and drinks on the island
What restaurants to visit on Isla Holbox?
Luuma (Google Maps location) is high on the list of many people, and in my experience, it is best to go there with someone. I come in for a bite to eat on my own in the evening and am kind of tucked away in a corner and ignored. I like it better at Básico (Google Maps location): the service is attentive, and they serve a fantastic breakfast. The evening meal is also really delicious. It’s just a bit more expensive than most restaurants, but sometimes you have to spoil yourself, don’t you?
Other tips for breakfast and coffee on Isla Holbox are A Mar Café, Tierra Mia, Clandestino (where they take your coffee forever and barely look at you, but the coffee is delicious), and Painapol. The latter is my favorite because of the beachy decor and the huge, healthy portions.
Viva Zapata is nice for simple Mexican food for a hearty lunch or dinner (Google Maps location). Rosa Mexicana’s (Google Maps location) menu is also good, and they put a lot of effort into the presentation.
ROOTS (Google Maps location) is the best pizza joint, in my opinion. You sit at wooden tables in a large garden at this spacious outdoor restaurant. There is live music almost every night, and the pizzas are big enough for two.
Accommodation on Isla Holbox: the best hotels and hostels
I am visiting Isla Holbox for the first time as a solo traveler and would like to stay in a fairly social hostel. Unfortunately, Tribu Hostel is fully booked months in advance, so I choose Che Hostel. A spotless hostel with plenty of activities. During my stay, however, the audience is just a bit too young, and there are a lot of Argentinians who keep a closed group. And the internet doesn’t work, which is a bit of a shame.
The second time I am on Isla Holbox with my mother, we would like a good hotel room. So we choose a middle-class hotel: Hotel Margaritas. Just a simple hotel room with a simple breakfast and a small pool. I think it’s a bit expensive for what you get, but all accommodation on Isla Holbox is pricey.
I also hear good stories about the vibe of the Mapache hostel, and Casa Blatha seems to be good too. This environmentally friendly hotel has beautiful bright rooms and colorful spaces with stunning views.
How do you get to Isla Holbox?
From the larger cities such as Mérida and Cancún, you take the bus to Chiquila. Book your bus in advance via Busbud, because it is a popular route. So make sure you have a spot. Boats to the island leave from Chiquila. From the bus station, it is a short walk to the harbor. There will most likely be a couple of guys on hand to carry your luggage for a small fee.
In principle, you do not need to book a boat in advance. There are two companies that both charge 140 pesos for a one-way ticket. Just check when you arrive which one will leave first.
Before your return trip, you can check with your hotel or hostel what time the buses to Tulum, Cancún et cetera leave to time it well with your boat. You can book ADO buses in advance (via Busbud, for example). There are also some buses to Mérida, mainly local buses. The earliest bus leaves at 5:30 am. If you take the boat at 5 am, you’ll be on time. The buses are waiting for the first passengers in Chiquila.
By the way, make sure you have a good spot on the boat and look out over the water: there is a good chance that you will spot dolphins!
More Mexico inspiration?
Helpful links for your Mexico trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com or Amazon.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Travel documentation. Make sure you have the right documentation to travel to Mexico. iVisa can help you out.
- Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
- Accommodation. All-time favorite: Booking.com. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at GuruWalk. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions at Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have many options! For the Dutch, try ANWB vakanties, Tui or Sawadee, or maybe you can find a sweet deal at Vakantie Discounter or D-reizen?
Or: try a yoga retreat in Mexico!
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First published: February 2019. The article has been updated since.