Everything You Need to Know to Visit Holbox, Mexico
Every now and again, you fall madly love with a place. You can't explain why or how and you certainly can't put your feelings into words, but you just know it's meant to be. This is exactly what happened in Holbox, Mexico. This magical (dare I say it - hippie) island just off the Northern coast of the Yucatan (and a mere two hours from Cancun) took my breathe away. It has even officially earned the title as the #1 destination across all my travel adventures thus far. Holbox is beautiful, backpacker budget-friendly and gives every type of traveller the opportunity to slow everything down. I mean literally every. single. thing.
Unsurprisingly, because Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) is so fabulous it's also been touted as the "next Tulum" but given how haphazardly Tulum exploded, this is not a good thing. So go to Holbox now, whilst it's hot but not so hot that the magic starts to fade amongst new condos and growing crowds.
Here's my comprehensive travel guide to Holbox, Mexico, with everything from which ferry to take to get there to which hotel to book to where to relax, so you can make the most of every minute on this magical Mexican isle.
Holbox: How to Get There
I must say, I'm shocked Holbox wasn't discovered by the masses years ago given its close proximity to Cancun. The best (and easiest) way to get there is to book a flight into Cancun airport (ideally arriving early in the day) and then immediately catch the first public bus (I like ADO) to Chiquila. You can book the bus on arrival and it'll cost you approximately 140 pesos (£7) for a two hour drive. In Chiquila, it's a quick walk to the port where you catch a Holbox Express ferry (around 160 pesos, £6, each way) that gets you to Holbox in 20 minutes. There's also the option to hire a car if you're road-tripping through the Yucatan but you'll have to park it in Chiquila, which will cost you a minimum of 100 pesos (£4) per day . Instead, I'd advise starting or ending your trip in Holbox so you can ditch the car and save yourself the extra cash.
Holbox: Where to Sleep
I originally planned to stay in Holbox for just three nights but once it cast me under its spell, that quickly evolved into two weeks. During which I can assure you I had my fair share of "interesting" sleeping arrangements. However, generally speaking Holbox has options for anyone from the budget backpacker to the high-roller looking for a hotel with a bit of island luxury. For the budget conscious, consider Tribu (the most famous and social hostel on the island) or Pousada Ingrid, a basic but cozy hostel where I spent the majority of my stay.
The cute bungalows along the water are an excellent "middle of the road" option for those who are less restricted by a budget. I spent one night at Casa Blatha, an adorable and artsy bungalow located on what I think is actually the loveliest part of Holbox. If you want to treat yourself a little, somewhere like Holbox Dream (of the water swings fame) is a great alternative. I don't recommend booking an AirBnb, as I think the market in Holbox is really nascent and it's slim pickings. I overpaid my first three nights for what was a dump of a place run by two potheads trying to pitch their house as an uber-cool artist residence.
It's also worth nothing that Holbox's peak season is March / April due to the North American Spring Breakers, the Spring Equinox (a pivotal date in the Mayan calendar) and Easter. So if you're looking to save some cash, book your travels during the quieter shoulder seasons.
Holbox: How to Get Around
Holbox is relatively small, so it's easy to get around by foot, my preferred mode of transport. There are no cars on the island but you can also get around by golf cart or bike. You can pay for golf cart taxis as and when you need them or you can hire your own cart by the day or for your entire stay. Cycling is also popular on Holbox. There are countless places to hire a bike in town, either by the hour (30 pesos, £1, per hour), by the day (150 pesos, £6) or for even longer. And it's so much fun to explore the island on a bike. I highly recommend you try it - even if for just one afternoon. Just be careful with that Holbox sun. It can be brutal so consider going cycling in the early morning or early evening or just drown yourself in SPF like me if you're willing to brave a midday ride.
Holbox: What to Do
1) Relax: Holbox is truly a destination for slowing down. Your body, your mind and (if you're into that sort of thing) your spirit. Everything about the island encourages you to hit that "off" button: the deliciously salty water, the silky soft sand, the sometimes debilitating heat and those glorious skies. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Holbox's wifi is pretty weak. I arrived with full intentions of blogging on the daily, and instead I locked the laptop away and spent the majority of my time mediating on the beach instead. You basically have every single excuse to spend long, lazy days swimming in the sea, taking intermittent hammock naps and reading to your heart's content. With a strong margarita by your side if you so desire.
Of course there are other activities to entertain you on Holbox, but if the above feels like enough, just enjoy. But if you do decide to pull yourself off of that lounger, consider some of these too:
2) Biking around the island and taking a break at Punta Cocos: If you're ever so inclined to engage in some physical activity, hire a bike and circle around the island. Though Holbox is small, you'd be surprised at how many cute little pockets you can uncover. Plus, there is just something so freeing about jumping on a bike on your own in a remote part of the world and getting lost. This was one of my absolute highlights in Holbox.
3) Getting up early and going on a long walk to Punta Mosquitos: Interestingly, Holbox sits on what's known as the Yum Balam Reserve. And there's a beautiful corner of the island (Punta Mosquitos) where the waters of the reserve meet the sea. The only way to get there is via a long sandbar that crosses through the ocean. And depending on the season, you might even get lucky enough to spot some flamingos along the way. We weren't quite that fortunate but we did bump into some rather cool jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, fish skeletons and noisy pelicans. Just plan for an early start because the tide rises so quickly you can be forced to swim back to shore in the late afternoon. We had an early start and the tide was particularly low because of full moon, but this is worth keeping in mind if you decide to bring your camera and / or phone along.
4) Taking a yoga class or joining a meditation session: Holbox is great for anyone who loves a little wellbeing travel. Tribu Hostel offers an affordable sunset yoga class on the hostel's rooftop for about 80 pesos (£3). There are also a few wellness locations about town that offer everything from a good massage to a group meditation session. For those looking for something more luxurious, the resorts nearer to Punta Mosquitos offer plenty of full-on spa sessions.
5) Exploring the town centre: Holbox is rather small but it's just so much fun to explore. There are tonnes of cute cafes, killer restaurants (a post on Holbox's best food spots is up next) and little boutiques worth wandering into. The island also has some brilliant street art. Back in 2014, Mexico held its first-ever International Public Art Festival which brought many local and international street artists to the island to show off their talents. As a result, there are beautiful pieces scattered all about town, many of which share interesting Mexican legends. Spend an afternoon seeing how many you can spot and picking your favourite.
6) Go swimming with whalesharks: I wasn't around at the right season (from May to September), but Holbox is renowned for the whale sharks that congregate around the island to feed on plankton every summer. In fact, its said that it draws their largest concentration on the planet. A number of tour agencies can take you out to sea to swim side by side with these fascinating, gentle creatures. However, there is some controversy around the potential impact that this level of interaction has on their environment. If you choose to go, do your research first and book with a reputable agency that takes all the precautions to protect the whale sharks and the local ecosystem.
Of course, these are just a few suggestions if you get itchy feet. But if you only have a few days on the island, I'd recommend just having a good old lounge about. Because is there really anything better for the soul? About a week into my time on Holbox, once I'd finally eased into the quietude, I went on a long evening swim. One long enough to first watch the sun go down and then watch each star come alive. And this moment - of doing nothing at all - is probably the most treasured of my entire trip. It was then that I knew I was madly in love.
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