Backpack & Snorkel - Making Memorable Moments
Backpack and Snorkel - Making Memorable Moments

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Holbox - Mexico's under-the-radar Paradise

 

Why you should visit Holbox (map) (Travel Guide)

 

Are you looking to relax on uncrowded white sand beaches with turquoise water and are you looking to get away from it all?  Look no further, Isla Holbox in Mexico may fit your bill. 

Holbox is a small town in the Northern part of the Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.  It is far away off the beaten path that you can relax on its beautiful beaches without being surrounded by tons of other noisy people.  It is close enough to civilization that you can enjoy A/C and electricity 24h a day, but far away enough away that there are only golf carts, bicycles and pedestrians on its compacted dirt roads, and sadly very unreliable and slow internet.

There is no decent snorkeling off any of the beaches, but there are plenty of tours that bring you to do whale watching and discover a multitude of birds and plants on deserted islands.

We have traveled the world and I can honestly say that we have found the most beautiful and diverse sea shells on Holbox's beaches.

For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Isla Mujeres & Holbox Guide.

When to Visit Holbox

 

Holbox is a destination that people visit year round for different reasons.

 

If you are looking for wildlife:

  • Whale shark season is June - September.  During that time you can book tours to see and swim with those gentle giants.
  • Flamingo season is April to October.  You may see a few flamingos at Punta Cocos and Punta Mosquito during other months.
  • Bioluminescence tours to see this phenomenon during summer and fall and new moon as complete darkness is needed; you can go to Punta Cocos to experience it yourself.

If you are looking for quality beach time: The diagrams below show the average temperatures and rainfall during the different months of the year.  February to April are typically the driest months.

 

Things to know before you go to Holbox

 

  • You will need to bring Pesos – cash is king!  Hotels accept credit cards and some grocery stores do too, but that’s about it.  Restaurants and souvenir stores typically only accept cash.  I have seen that one restaurant accepted US dollars, but I do not believe that many do, at least not for a favorable exchange rate.  There are apparently two ATMs in Holbox, but we have not used either and I have read that there is a good chance that they are broken or out of cash.  There is no ATM in Chiquila.  So bring plenty of cash.
  • Bring mosquito repellant.  Holbox has some pesky little insects that look like sand flies and that bite.  So, unless you don’t mind being covered with itching mosquito bites, you want to either bring mosquito repellant or immediately buy it once you get to Holbox.
  • Tap water in Holbox is not safe to drink.
  • Internet is spotty in Holbox and you should not expect your hotel’s wifi to be reliable…or even working.  You may be able to send a few photos per day, but streaming movies is likely painful. 

For Pinterest users, here are pins that you can use:

How to get to Holbox

 

Isla Holbox is a 2:40h drive plus a short ferry ride away from Cancun.  The cheapest way is to take an ADO long distance bus from the main bus terminal in Cancun (map) to Chiquila and to take the ferry to Holbox.  The ADO buses are modern, comfortable air conditioned buses with seats for 44 passengers.  We paid 286 Pesos (US$14) per person cash-only for the 2 1/2 hour ride.

You can buy tickets online or go to the bus terminal and but the tickets there (we waited 30min in a long line).  The website is only in Spanish and ticket agents at the bus terminal spoke English.  Our bus was approx. half full.  The bus is a direct bus with no other stops.

Tip: The bus had a lavatory in the back and the smell in there was disgusting and it stunk up the back of the bus when people opened the door.  Luckily there were seats available in the front of the bus where the air was fine most if the time.

 

ADO also sell ferry ticket vouchers at no upcharge at the ticket counter where you buy your ticket and also in the bus.  This is something you may want to consider doing.

You can either exchange the ticket voucher at the booth at the harbor entrance for the next available ferry or walk up to the next ferry and they will take the voucher and let you on the ferry.

 

Another way is to rent a car, drive to Chiquila and park your car in one of the long term parking lots near the ferry station for 100 Pesos per day in January 2020.

 

Another convenient but more expensive way is to hire a private transfer service.  Expect to pay >US$100 per person with some private transfer companies from the Cancun airport to the Chiquila ferry pier.

 

Due to the odor problem on the ADO bus on the way to Chiquila, we decided to take a different way back to Cancun.  In town and on the beach there were several agents that advertised shared transportation in a mini bus for 350 Pesos per person from the Chiquila ferry dock to the Cancun airport.  This was a good decision.  There are several companies that do that trip several times per day.  They typically use mini buses that hold 6 customers.  Our driver made one restroom stop and the entire transfer to the airport took about 2h 10min.

The shuttles are easy to find: just exit the Chiquila ferry dock and turn right into the parking lot - there will be several mini buses waiting.  Be advised that your bus may not arrive at the pick-up point more than 10 min before the scheduled departure.

 

At the Cancun airport, we asked the driver if he could drop us off at our hotel which was approx. 2 miles away and he said that it would cost us 500 Pesos.  As this is ridiculous, we left and called the hotel for their free shuttle service.

 

Holbox has a small airport and the airline that serves it is called Aero Saab (http://aerosaab.com/).  A flight from Cancun to Holbox will set you back a little over US$700 per person.  But I am sure you will have great views.  Here are some views of Holbox from the airplane that flew us from the US to Cancun:

 There are two ferry companies (9 Hermanos and Holbox Express).  The only difference between them is that:

  • 9 Hermanos has blue ferries and Holbox Express has red ferries
  • 9 Hermanos leaves either port on the hour and Holbox Express on the half hour

Everything else is the same.  Here are the time tables: Holbox Express      9 Hermanos

 

 

You arrived in Holbox - what now?

 

The ferry arrives south of town.  The very first thing that I advise you to do is to apply the mosquito repellent spray or lotion.  We did not do it and got multiple bites from sandflies or whatever those pesky small mosquitos were.

Now, you can either take a taxi - there were tons of taxis (yellow golf carts) waiting near the dock when we got there or walk to your hotel.  As Holbox is small, you should be able to walk to any hotel in town (or slightly outside town as our hotel was) in less than 10-15min.  Should you walk, keep in mind that there are no asphalt roads on Holbox, but only compacted sand roads.  My suitcase with rollers was fine on the dirt roads.  If there was any recent rain, then you may see that lower lying areas on some side streets may be filled with water which could make it difficult to walk through.  There are plenty of streets and you can always avoid flooded roads.

When you walk through town, you will immediately realize that Holbox is not the secret off-the-beaten-path location that only few people know about anymore.  Holbox is not as busy as Cancun, Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, but it is has evolved into a popular tourist destination.  Besides the ever present restaurants and souvenir stores, you will see quite a few small grocery stores and drug stores.  There is no supermarket on Holbox, only the many small grocery stores.

Our hotel in Holbox - Hotel Puerto Holbox 

 

We booked Hotel Puerto Holbox for four nights because it is located on the beach, has a good nightly rate and is located a few blocks out of town, meaning it is quiet and in easy reach of all the restaurants and stores.

The hotel is located directly on the beach and palapas and loungers were provided free of charge.

 

We had room 3 which is an end unit suite on the ground floor right next to the street and across the street from the Holbox airport.  The airport is not busy at all and can only accommodate small planes.  So, there was really no noise from the airport.  Due to the proximity of the road, you can hear the occasional golf cart.  From the room you can see the beautifully maintained garden and, once you get out, you can see the palapas, the beach and the ocean.  Outside the room are two wooden chairs and a small table. 

 

On the inside,  of the suite, there two beds, a night stand, a small bench, two suitcase holders, a shelf with 4 hangers, a clothes hanger in the shape of a tree, a safe, a ceiling fan, a fridge and a quiet and efficient A/C.  There is no TV, no phone, no microwave, no water heater and very slow and sometimes no wifi.  We were unable to connect to the guest wifi at first, Freddy, the receptionist, went through great lengths resetting the router and giving us access to their 2 private wifi networks, we were finally able to connect.

Adjacent to the bedroom is a bathroom with a shower.  Soap and shampoo were available in multi-use dispensers.

 

A surprisingly big breakfast was included in our room rate; it is served at the bar near the pool on the beach.  It includes: unlimited drinks: coffee, tea (they have different kinds of tea), orange juice, water.  The food is a fruit bowl, 2 thick slices of toast (French toast or toast with butter and homemade jam), and a warm dish that you can choose from: eggs your way and several delicious Mexican dishes that I cannot even begin to describe.

 

The hotel provides beach towels free of charge.

 

Long story short: This hotel is in a good location and provides good value.  We would definitely stay here again.

 

What to do in Holbox

 

  • Visitors come to Holbox from June to September to watch and swim or dive with whale sharks.  There are tour operators all over town that you can book with. 
  • Masses of flamingos are there from April to October and you can watch them at Punta Cocos or take guided tours that you can book all over town.
  • Another attraction is the bioluminescent water that you can see at night in complete darkness when there is new moon.  You can walk to Pubnta Cocos or join a tour for other places.
  • There are plenty of other tours that you can take, e.g. to Isla Contoy, Isla de la Pasion, Yum Balam, etc..  You will find tour companies all over town that offer a wide variety of tours.
  • Especially during the dry season, the beaches are the biggest draw.  Even though Holbox has a lot of visitors these days, most of the Northern side of Holbox is a white sand beach, so it will never feel too crowded.

Holbox Beaches

 

Playa Tortuga 

 

We walked from out hotel along the beach to the Western edge of Holbox.  Playa Tortuga begins shortly after the beach turns left (South).  The beach got its name because every year turtles bury their eggs here.  When the turtles hatch and race towards the ocean, it is strictly forbidden to touch them.

Punta Cocos 

 

Directly South of Playa Tortuga is Punta Cocos.  Yes, you can still see some pink flamingoes in the lagoon (we saw 4 in early January – flamingo season is April to October), but the solitude of the past is gone.  Punta Cocos can now be reached directly on a road that leads all the way to it and hotels have been built in this area, ensuring a permanent presence of vacationers.

Punta Mosquito 

 

There are tours that bring you to Punta Mosquito.  If you want to go there by yourself then you can do it, but if you follow the instructions on other websites than this will involve trespassing on protected sandbanks for nesting birds of the Yum Balam Park and I do not endorse this. 

So, if you follow the sandbars North East, then at some point you will come to a sign and a marking on the sandbank that says that the entire sandbank behind this line is off-limits to people as it is protected for nesting birds.  The walk to this point is absolutely gorgeous and I can only recommend to do that.  You will see quite a few people sunbathing on the snadbank before the line.

Also, you will need to time your trip to Punta Mosquito and back with the low tide in order to cross a river that is said to harbor crocodiles.  You can check the tide here.

Holbox out of an airplane
Making Memorable Moments at Hotel Puerto Holbox
Making Memorable Moments at Hotel Puerto Holbox
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Holbox Beach
Making Memorable Moments on Playa Tortuga
Making Memorable Moments on Playa Tortuga
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Engagement rings and fine jewelry.
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico

Where to eat in Holbox

 

There are probably more than 100 restaurants in town where you can eat everything from Mexican cuisine to hamburgers and Italian food, from vegetarian to seafood.  We asked the receptionist which his favorite Mexican restaurant was and he told us about Taco Queto.  See my review below.

 

We did not try it, but we heard that apparently Roots serve the best lobster pizza in Holbox.

If you try it, please let me know what you think.

 

Review of Taco Queto 

Taco Queto is a busy place and my guess is that more than half of the guests were to be Mexican.  The restaurant is a no frills BYOB (bring your own booze) fairly inexpensive taco and quesadilla place.  We paid 248 Pesos (US$12.50) on our first visit for a Nacho de Pastor appetizer that was to die for, 4 different tacos, 1 sausage quesadilla, 1 bottle of water and a bottle of horchata and one of Jamaica.

We liked this restaurant so much that we visited it twice on different days and can recommend it.

 

Eating wonderful food at Taco Queto in Holbox
Eating wonderful food at Taco Queto in Holbox

Holbox Beach 

 

Our hotel was directly on the Western part of Holbox beach.  Holbox beach is a long stretch of sand that covers much of the Northern part of Holbox.  The Eastern and Western part of this beach are notably different.  The Western part stretches from the Holbox sign in downtown all the way the Playa Tortuga at the Western edge while the Eastern edge stretches all the way from the Holbox sign to the Yum Balam Park.

 

The beach of Holbox Beach slopes slowly into the water and there is no sharp edge where the water suddenly gets deep.  On the Western edge, there are quite a few wave breakers which make it perfectly suitable for children.  Also, the water edge does not change a whole lot between high and low tide. 

On the Eastern edge, there are no wave breakers and the slope is even less which leads to about 100ft of sea floor being uncovered during low tide. 

The beach is made from is compacted powdered sea shells with a thin  layer of powdered sea shells on to which makes it softer to walk on or sea shells. 

At the Eastern edge of town, there are sand banks that appear during low tide.  These sand banks go all the way to the Yum Balam Park and then continue on to Punta Mosquito, but this part is off-limits as this is a protected sea bird nesting sanctuary. 

 

In my opinion, the sand banks are the best place to be.  You will be surrounded by beautiful turquoise water, and share the white sand banks only with a few other people that relax there and with people that walk all the way to the border with the Yum Balam Park. 

There is also very little to no sea grass.  The rest of Holbox beach has sea grass on the beach.  The Western part has comparably little and the hotel where we stayed even cleaned it up, so there was almost none. 

In the Eastern part the beach is typically wider and there is also more sea grass.  Especially in the area up to about 150-300ft East and West of the Holbox sign, there can be quite a bit of seagrass which you may not want to walk through.

 

One of the things that I like very much is that you don’t see any high rise hotels on the beach.  You only see one or two story huts with thatched roofs that blend in with the palm tree lined beaches and give Holbox a paradise-like charm.  Unlike other Mexican islands, there is no loud music all over the beach and you don’t see yachts and tour boats covering the horizon.  And, as there is plenty of space, people do not crowd the beaches like in a sardine can.

Making Memorable Moments at Punta Cocos
Flamingos at Punta Cocos

Street Art

 

Holbox is a Street Art Mecca.  Many buildings are painted in bright colors and a large amount of buildings have real beautiful murals.  Just wander through the streets and you will find many.

Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments with Street Art in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico
Making Memorable Moments on the beautiful beaches of Isla Holbox
Making Memorable Moments on the beautiful beaches of Isla Holbox
Temperature in Holbox
Rain in Holbox
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico
Making Memorable Moments at Holbox, Mexico
No Trespassing on your way to Punta Mosquito

Sea Shells

 

From street are to the artwork that mother nature produces: Holbox is a paradise for sea shell lovers.  Firstly, there are large sea shell areas and secondly, we have found some of the most interesting sea shells in Holbox.  Here is a photo:

Holbox Sea Shells
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