(Prices listed are in Mexican pesos as of February 2018)
Holbox is a small, car free, island that I suspect at one point used to be a pretty cool off the grid spot, but now is quite a tourist destination. This is for good reason. The long uncrowded white sand beaches into clear, calm, water are what you dream of when you think of Mexico. The laid back, barefoot, sandy road vibe suits anyone wanting a peaceful getaway. Despite the influx of tourists, Holbox has still maintained its small island charm, and you won’t find a McDonalds or Starbucks, Coco Bongos, or Senor Frogs on this island. There are also no all inclusive resorts and any nicer hotels with pools and oceanfront are still rather small and quaint.
Bus and ferry to Holbox:
Holbox is a little island just off the coast of Chiquila.
You do not need to book a private transfer service unless you want to spend the extra money. You will see signs everywhere promising direct shuttle services for $350/person. They might be a bit faster, but the long distances buses from the ADO stations in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen bring you directly to the ferry in Chiquila without transfers. It couldn’t be easier. Bus prices do vary depending on the time you catch your bus so have a look online for the most recent schedule and prices. We paid $270 on the 9:25 am, 2 hour & 15 minute bus from Playa Del Carmen ADO station to Chiquila (ouch! This was expensive!) and $130 from Chiquila to Cancun on the 7:45 am, 3 hour Oriente bus.
A couple tips: when catching the bus to Chiquila from the Playa Del Carmen station, we sat in the waiting area in front of a bus with a sign labelled “Chiquila” and about 4 minutes before departure we inquired why it wasn’t boarding and found out another bus (unlabelled) further down the terminal had already boarded for Chiquila.
On our way back from Holbox, our bus left about 7 or 8 minutes ahead of its scheduled 7:45 am departure so make sure you board early if possible.
The ferries leave every half hour alternating from two different companies – make sure you buy your ticket from the right company or you may end up waiting an extra half hour!
If there are 2 or more people in your group you can catch a private boat across instead of the ferry for the same price or less. I’m not sure how safe it is but people offered when we bought our ferry tickets and this might be a money saver for a group.
Budget accommodation in Holbox:
Accommodations are significantly more expensive than the mainland, especially when looking to book online in advance. There are some accommodations with minimal online presence or who show up as fully booked. We had booked our first night before we arrived but had no problem booking our second night somewhere else upon arrival for cheaper and nicer (hot showers!) than what was showing online as available. A few things considered extras you may want to inquire about when booking accommodation are: hot showers, air conditioning or fans, drinking water and wifi. Not all places offer these extras.
Transportation around Holbox:
There are no cars on the island. Most people get around by bicycle, obnoxiously loud scooter, or golf cart. There are golf cart taxis willing to take you anywhere but we opted to get around on foot.
Food and drinking in Holbox:
Eating is expensive in the main tourist area of town (relative to other parts of Mexico) but if you want local, cheap food ($15/taco) there is a row of food stands near the baseball diamond at Av Damero & Calle Tintorera. Before we discovered this, for our first meal on the island we went to the number one rated cheap eats place on Tripadvisor which was neither cheap, nor anywhere close to the best place we ate. We paid $150 for 3 mediocre tacos.
After dinner all the churro ($35) and crepe ($35-$50) carts come out. Holbox has a type of crepe that is hardened, rolled up, and filled with Nutella, cheese or jam. Definitely worth a try but I preferred the churros.
Grocery store selections are sparse, especially if you want fresh food. There are no major grocery stores on the island but quite a few smaller ones resembling a little more than a convenience store. We went to about 4 little grocery stores hunting for fruit before we found one selling two lonely bananas. Your best bet is the fruit stand near the baseball diamond. The fruit stand and most of the food stands near the baseball diamond are only open during the day so you’ll want to get there early and not count on them for dinner. One stand remained open for dinner and we found out why all the others were closed as we were eaten alive by sand flies while trying to enjoy our tacos and sopes.
Drinks at island bars are a bit pricey ($60-100/drink) but there are some happy hour spots. We went for a drink on the rooftop of Alma and although our $100 mojitos were pricey, the use of the rooftop pool with hammocks, and views of the beach made it worthwhile. We went on a Saturday afternoon when they had a party with a DJ. We didn’t stay until sunset but I imagine the views would have been on point from this spot!
Island Life in Holbox:
– The main attraction of Holbox is the beautiful beaches. There’s no shortage of hammocks or swings to relax on both on the beach and throughout town/in different accommodations. If you’ve come here to relax and do nothing, you’ve come to the right place. There are many other things to do if you’re looking for something more than working on your tan.
– Catch the sunrise on the south side of the island near the ferry terminal (easy to do if you’re catching an early ferry)
– The sunsets from the north side of the island are incredible. There are several beach or rooftop options to enjoy them from.
– For those perfect Instagram photos you can head east on the beach for the two sets of hammocks spelling Holbox (one is in front of the Alma rooftop bar) or for the swings and hammocks spelling Paradise, you can head west from town on the beach in front of Ensueno Holbox.
– The main square always has nightly entertainment showing. While we were there we saw movies playing, children dancing, and a puppet show.
– Live music. There are so many choices of small bars offering live music. You’ll hear it as you walk through the streets or you can stop and enjoy a local band over a drink.
– Although we didn’t participate in the tours, the main tour to do is the 3 islands tour ($350-$400) or kayaking tour ($650-700) which can be done at night to see the bioluminescence. Apparently these tours offer a chance to see flamingos, crocodiles and dolphins. For more adventurous people, kite surfing is also an option.
– Swimming with whale sharks is seasonal (May to September) so although you’ll see many signs for this, don’t get your hopes up if you go in the winter.
– You can volunteer to walk dogs with the Refugio Holbox every day from 9-11 am or 5-7 pm next to the softball stadium. We stopped by to do this but seemed to have missed them when we arrived at 10:30.
– This island has SO much yoga! There are multiple classes a day and you can find the up to date schedules for most of them at the.holboxeno.com. We did the rooftop sunset yoga at Tribu hostel which was fantastic as the sun was setting, but also because it was free with our accommodation. If you’re looking to do yoga, consider staying somewhere that offers free classes to guests rather than paying the $100-200/class.
– Tribu hostel also offered a free salsa class which we took part in. This is something that was open to the public in their bar. Keep an eye on the billboard out front to see options of other fun activities they host.
– To our disappointment, beach massages were quite a bit more expensive than in Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Morelos ($500+/hour) but you may enjoy the lack of beach vendors offering their goods or services in Holbox making it a lot more peaceful.
– Bring bug spray!
– Don’t litter. This beautiful island is covered with plastic and garbage which no doubt has an impact on the beautiful surrounding ocean. Bring a reusable water bottle, cut up the plastic rings if you do buy a 6 pack, and avoid straws and bags whenever possible.
– Don’t rely on wifi. Although most hotels and some restaurants offer wifi, it is slow and unreliable.
– Keep an eye on your stuff! The long distance buses are known to be targets for thieves. Keep your valuables on your lap, not in the overhead compartments or under your seat.