Last updated: October 2021
Situated unassumingly off the northeast coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies Isla Holbox (Mayan for “black hole” and pronounced “hol-bosh”): a laid back island paradise awaiting in-the-know travelers looking for a truly authentic, barefoot and beautiful beach escape. Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland takes you to the car-free island, part of the region’s sprawling Yum Balam Nature Reserve.
After traveling just about everywhere throughout this region we have to say, Holbox is really special. Endless stretches of white sand surrounded by calm, sparkling ocean, sandy roads accessible on foot, bike or golf cart only, jaw dropping sunsets, limited wifi capabilities (for better or worse) and a seriously chilled out vibe make this place still feel like a secret – even though the secret’s out.
Hailed by some as the “next Tulum,” we prefer to think that Holbox is simply, Holbox. A rising crop of luxury design hotels and boho chic restaurants certainly lend a Tuluminati feel, but the island effortlessly stands out with a distinct character all its own.
Here, we have everything you need to know for your absolute best trip to Holbox. Read on for the best boutique hotels, restaurants, bars and beach clubs on the island, the best boat trips, tours and things to do, plus! A slew of insightful intel including how to get to Holbox in the first place, how to get around once you’re there, are there ATMs on the island and every traveler’s burning question these days – how’s the wifi?
P.S. You can see even more from the island in our archived Holbox IG Highlight, here!
Editor’s Note: Travel is complicated right now. While there are many factors that will result in your decision of whether or not to travel, this decision is ultimately your responsibility. Travel rules, restrictions and entry/exit requirements are subject to change frequently. Please check with both your home country’s official advisories as well as those of your destination country prior to traveling for up-to-date information.
Disclosures: Information, prices and timetables listed below are accurate as of time of writing (September 2021), however are subject to change.
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you follow the link and make a purchase, we may get a little something in return – at no additional cost to you. This helps us keep the keyboard clicking over here so we can continue churning out helpful travel guides, features & tips!
BUT FIRST – LET’S TALK COVID
Within the current climate of the Covid-19 pandemic, Isla Holbox is now open and welcoming visitors. Hotels, restaurants, shops and more businesses are open with Covid safety measures in place. These include but are not limited to: mandatory temperature checks and hand sanitizer (and/or hand washing) upon entry, capacity limitations, required mask wearing and of course, social distancing. Indoor dining is allowed, although most restaurants here are open-air and/or fully outdoor.
If you do choose to visit now, please be considerate of not only your health but the health of those around you. Support small businesses, street stalls and local vendors and tour guides. The pandemic has had a profound impact on the local economy which will greatly appreciate your support. If you choose to visit Holbox now, please visit conscientiously and responsibly.
For up-to-date information on Covid-19 in Holbox, please visit the state government’s official Facebook page here.
AND – TRAVEL INSURANCE
Whenever, and wherever, you might be traveling, travel insurance is always a good idea. We personally love SafetyWing for their transparent, easy to understand and thorough coverage starting at just $40.00 USD/month. Their two-tier coverage offers medical benefits in the event of an accident or illness while abroad, in addition to travel benefits such as compensation for delayed trips and lost luggage. Plus, all new SafetyWing policies automatically include COVID-19 coverage. Please note testing for COVID-19 is not covered unless deemed medically necessary by a physician. This means pre-flight tests do not count, nor do antibody tests. Find out everything you need to know about SafetyWing travel insurance, here!
THE PRACTICAL STUFF: HOW DO I GET TO HOLBOX?
First, you need to get to Chiquilá – the tiny port town from which ferries run to the island. Chiquila is a 2-hour drive from the closest international airport, Cancun. From here, you have a few options:
1) RENT A CAR
Road-tripping is always our favorite option personally, and in Mexico we love City Car Rental for their professional, bilingual service and most importantly – transparency. In Mexico, there is a mandatory 3rd party liability insurance on all car rentals that your credit card (no matter what country it’s from) does not cover. Frustratingly, many car rental companies don’t include this in their pricing when you pre-reserve online. Meaning you’ve got a big surprise in store when your car rental budget skyrockets at time of pickup. City Car Rental however includes this, in addition to ALL other applicable taxes & fees, in their pricing at time of online reservation. No surprises upon arrival! We also appreciate their transparent and reasonable security deposit policies, not to mention included, unlimited mileage on all rentals.
In the Riviera Maya, City Car Rental operates out of Cancun (Airport and Downtown), Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
Note that Holbox is a car-free island. This means you’ll need to leave your car in a lot in Chiquila for the duration of your stay in Holbox. As soon as you enter Chiquila you will see a number of parking lots – and just as many attendants trying to wave you down. We recommend ignoring these guys and driving all the way to the palapa at the end. The lots you’ll find here are closest to the ferry. Personally, we parked in (for 6 nights) and recommend Estacionamiento “Los Grillos.” Pricing is fixed throughout all lots here so no need to price shop: currently $100 MXN (approx $5 USD) per day. Cash only.
2) BOOK A PRIVATE TRANSFER
Out of Cancun Airport, we recommend Cancun Airport Transportation for professional, reliable and comfortable rides. Pricing starts at $435.00 USD RT for up to 3 persons. While not the cheapest option, it’s certainly convenient with private, bilingual, door-to-door service from the airport to the ferry. On that note – make sure to input your destination as “Chiquila” when using their online booking system. If you type “Holbox” a few hotels will indeed pop up, but confirming Cancun Airport Transportation will take you to the ferry at Chiquila. From here, you’ll need to purchase a ferry ticket –> more on this below!
3) TAKE THE ADO BUS
The most budget-friendly option, you can take the clean, comfortable and safe ADO bus to Chiquila – A/C, reclining seats, on-board bathroom, luggage storage and sometimes snacks included! A head’s up there are no direct Cancun Airport –> Chiquila buses. You will first need to take an ADO bus from the airport –> downtown Cancun ADO bus station. These depart every 30 mins, run $98 MXN (approx $5 USD) and take about 35 mins to reach downtown Cancun. From here, you can take an ADO bus headed to Chiquila. Four buses run this route daily, the first at 8:30am and the last at 2:30pm. (If you have a late-arriving flight, you will need the spend the night in Cancun and grab an ADO bus the next morning.) Ride time is about 2.5 hours; ticket price $298 MXN (approx $15 USD). There is technically a 5th bus that departs at 9am, although we don’t recommend this one as it’s a 3-hour ride with more stops, no bathrooms on board and no luggage storage.
You can also take an ADO bus to Chiquila from Playa Del Carmen or Tulum.
Please note the ADO website sometimes doesn’t work with foreign credit cards. If you have this issue don’t fret! You can always purchase your ticket for the next available bus upon arrival at the airport (or the downtown Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum bus terminals). Foreign credit cards are accepted at these locations and do indeed work.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to Chiquila. Now what?
A quick, 15-minute ferry ride from Chiquila will take you to Holbox. Ferries run every 30 minutes, operated by two companies. 9 Hermanos runs on the hour every hour from 7am – 8pm. Returns from Holbox –> Chiquilá run on the hour every hour from 6am – 9pm. Holbox Express runs on the half hour, every hour, from 7:30am – 9:30pm. Returns from Holbox –> Chiquilá run on the half hour, every hour, from 6:30am – 8:30pm. Both ferry companies charge the same price: $220 MXN (approx $11 USD) round trip per person. Note it is not necessary to purchase ferry tickets online or through a tour operator ahead of time (nor is there a discount). Upon arrival to the ferry dock you can easily purchase tickets from either the 9 Hermanos or Holbox Express ticket booths – you’ll see both right by the big palapa that you can’t miss. Which ferry to take? Easy. There’s really no difference between the two so you can simply take whichever ferry is scheduled to depart next.
The ferries themselves are modern, clean and comfortable. You can choose to sit indoors with A/C, or soak in the ocean breeze on the open-air top deck. Bathrooms are available on-board and there is plenty of room to safely store luggage.
Once you arrive to Holbox, you’ll see a line of golf cart taxis waiting to take you to your hotel or Airbnb. If you’re staying near the center, this should cost you around $50-$60 MXN (approx $2.50/$3.00 USD). If you’re staying further east or west of the center, expect pricing up to $150 MXN (up to approx $7.00 USD). Note prices increase if it’s raining or has recently rained.
BUT WAIT – CAN I BYPASS THE FERRY AND FLY DIRECTLY TO HOLBOX?
Why yes you can. Flights Holbox offers private charters for 1-13 people out of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and Merida, or you can book a private helicopter from Tulum for 1-4 people. AeroSaab is another option, offering private charters for 1-5 people out of Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel. If going this route, please be sure to read the fine print including weight and luggage limits.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF: HOW DO I GET AROUND HOLBOX?
You’ve got a few options:
Walking. Much of Holbox can easily be covered on foot – specifically the center, where you’ll find the biggest concentration of restaurants, cafés, bars and shops. The only time walking isn’t so easy is when it’s raining or has recently rained. Drainage systems really aren’t a thing in Holbox and when it rains, the island’s sand/dirt roads turn into stretches of giant, muddy puddles and sometimes – literal rivers. If you’re planning to visit Holbox during rainy season or when there’s any chance of rain, we highly recommend bringing a pair of rain boots. I brought a pair on our recent trip (when it rained the last 2 of 7 days) and am SO glad I did. Even traversing just 1 or 2 muddy, puddle-filled blocks is nearly impossible with sandals or flip-flops. It’s a huge mess and you’ll risk sliding, falling or even losing said footwear in the depths of a muddy puddle. SAVE yourself the struggle and pack a pair of rain boots!
Bicycle. Bike rentals are aplenty across the island and are certainly more expeditious vs. walking. Bikes Holbox offers rentals at $150 MXN (approx $7 USD) for 7 hours, $200 MXN (approx $10 USD) for 12 hours or $250 MXN (approx $12.50 USD) for 24 hours. All bikes come with baskets and they’ll deliver directly to your hotel/Airbnb. Plus, they accept credit cards.
Golf Cart Taxi. As a car-free island you won’t find regular taxis here (and forget about Uber) but you will find plenty of golf cart taxis. These generally charge around $50-$60 MXN (approx $2.50/$3.00 USD) to get anywhere in the center, or up to $150 MXN (approx $7 USD) to go further east or west. Note that when it rains, prices basically double to account for the increased difficulty in maneuvering through the resulting, lagoon-like streets.
Golf Cart Rental. This is the most expensive option of getting around the island, but arguably the most fun. Punta Caracol offers golf cart rentals from $800 MXN (approx $40 USD) for up to 4 hours to $1700 MXN (approx $85 USD) for 24 hours. Especially if you’re staying east or west of the center, and/or if it’s been raining, having your own golf cart is an excellent option.
MORE PRACTICAL STUFF: HOW’S WIFI & CELL RECEPTION IN HOLBOX?
Sorry, digital nomads. We wish we had better news here but the truth is, wifi and cell reception all throughout Holbox are less than stellar. Even the best wifi on the island will be maxing out at 10 mbps download speeds and consistent only in spottiness. You’ll be able to send and receive basic emails and browse the web, but I wouldn’t count on uploading or streaming (plan to put your current Netflix addiction on pause). We personally didn’t attempt a Zoom call but imagine this to be a risky endeavor as well.
Surprisingly, we did find cell reception throughout the island to be relatively consistent across both our U.S. and Mexico SIM cards. Except for one day when we both lost signal completely. This happened to be a day when it was raining, when we also later lost wifi and power (luckily only for a few hours).
Our advice? Come to Holbox with low expectations as to connectability and you might be pleasantly surprised. Arrive with high expectations and you will be sorely disappointed.
MORE PRACTICAL STUFF: HOW IS THE CASH/CREDIT CARD/ATM SITUATION IN HOLBOX?
While quite a few businesses in Holbox these days do, in fact, accept credit cards, many are still cash only. Of those accepting credit cards, most charge a 3-5% cc fee. Don’t forget that credit cards need power and signal to work, so if these go out at any time you’ll need cash as a backup. Both USD and MXN (Mexican pesos) are accepted throughout the island, although it’s always better to pay in pesos. If you choose to pay with USD you will always end up paying more due to the exchange rates offered by businesses.
There are now a few ATMs in Holbox. You’ll see them dotted around the main plaza, or you can try the one on the 2nd floor of the town hall. However, we don’t recommend using ANY of these. First, we say “try” because all of the ATMs in Holbox regularly run out of cash (sometimes for days at a time). If you absolutely must use one, your best bet is to try in the morning vs. at night. Also, be aware that some of these ATMS only dispense USD. You’ll then have to pay everywhere in USD knowing you’re getting a worse exchange rate at all businesses, OR you can exchange currency here where you will also, inevitably, be subject to an unfavorable rate. On top of this, all of the ATMs charge exorbitant transaction fees. Expect a flat fee per withdrawal (up to $10 USD) and/or a percentage of your overall transaction. This doesn’t include whatever fees your home bank may charge.
TIP: When withdrawing pesos from any ATM, a screen will pop up towards the end asking if you want to “accept the conversion rate.” Always hit DECLINE. ATMs exist to make money, and without fail will always give you a WORSE exchange rate than your bank will. Depending on how much you’re taking out, you could be losing anywhere from $10 – $100+ USD by accepting the ATM’s exchange rate. If you’re at an ATM that doesn’t give you the option to “decline” the conversion rate, we highly recommend canceling the transaction and trying another!
The verdict? While it’s possible to pay with a credit card at some businesses, and while ATMs do technically exist in Holbox, we strongly encourage you to come prepared with plenty of cash to last you throughout the duration of your trip. Even better if you can arrive with Mexican pesos in-hand that you’ve already exchanged elsewhere.
MORE PRACTICAL STUFF: CAN I FLY MY DRONE IN HOLBOX?
You cannot. We only discovered this ourselves after sending our drone up one morning, and shortly after being told to take it back down. Flying drones in Holbox – anywhere throughout the island – is strictly prohibited. We learned that this is due to not only the shuttle flights entering and exiting Holbox, but mostly out of protection to the wealth of birds inhabiting the island and its encompassing Yum Balam Nature Reserve. Take a lesson from us and leave your drone at home.
MORE PRACTICAL STUFF: BE A CONSCIOUS TRAVELER
Holbox is part of the surrounding Yum Balam Nature Preserve, and as such operates off a delicate ecosystem. Remember to be a conscious traveler during your trip to the island. Don’t touch, pick up or take any wildlife you may spot, whether birds, turtles, fish, starfish or even the tiniest seashell. Take nothing, and leave nothing – except footprints in the sand.
MORE PRACTICAL STUFF: WHAT TIME OF YEAR SHOULD I VISIT HOLBOX?
We’re glad you asked, because the weather will greatly affect your experience in Holbox. No one likes a rainy vacation at the beach. But in Holbox, rain affects your experience even more due to the aforementioned mess of muddy, puddly streets (see above in “How do I get around Holbox?”), some of which turn into literal rivers. Not to mention the potential for power, wifi and cell reception outages that even non-severe rain can cause.
If you want to visit Holbox with the lowest chance of encountering rain, you should go during the dry season: December – March. As this is the time of year boasting the best weather, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is also when prices will be at their highest.
April/May is shoulder season which is also a good time to go. Prices are lower and rain is typically spotty at most. June – August ushers in rainy season, and is also the hottest and most humid time of year to visit. Even so, prices tend to creep back up as summer is a popular vacation time. September – November is low season and along with it, the lowest prices. Why is this? Because it’s also hurricane season when you’ll have the greatest risk of bad weather.
Can you still have fun in Holbox when it rains? Yes you can! You just need to come prepared and the below checklist will help you with just that.
FINAL PRACTICAL STUFF: WHAT MUST I ABSOLUTELY BRING TO HOLBOX?
To maximize your trip no matter what time of year you’re visiting, we highly recommend bringing along the following. Think of this as your Holbox Survival Kit of which we’re certain you will thank us later. (You’re welcome.)
Flashlight: Remember how in Tulum 10 years ago you had to use a flashlight to navigate your way down the beach road? This is what it’s still like in most of Holbox. A small flashlight will save you from stumbling around in the dark (not to mention your phone battery). Especially if it’s rained, you do NOT want to be walking even 1 or 2 muddy, puddly blocks without light. These travel-friendly flashlights pack a punch and are exactly what you need.
Bug Spray: Mosquitos are alive, well and rampant across Holbox. Unless you want to be eaten alive, we HIGHLY recommend bringing along repellent. (Don’t wait and purchase on the island – you can find it but will be paying premium prices.) I personally am a mosquito magnet and swear by OFF Deep Woods with 25% DEET. Bring along a can or these travel-friendly wipes.
Biodegradable Sunscreen: Especially when swimming, only wear biodegradable sunscreen to help keep the delicate ecosystem of the island – and its surrounding nature reserve – in tact. We personally love Sun Bum’s Original Reef-Friendly, Water Resistant Sunscreen Lotion to consciously battle the elements, and are literally OBSESSED with SuperGoop’s matte, Reef-Safe Unseen Sunscreen for the face.
Rain boots: A local gave us this trip prior to our visit and I am forever grateful to her for it. That said – we get it. Who wants to take up precious packing space in your suitcase with clunky rain boots? Trust that when and if it rains during your visit, you will be SO happy that you’re not one of the struggling, flip-flop wearing tourists trudging, sliding and/or getting stuck in the muddy sludge that will become of every street on the island.
Rain Poncho: Trust us, you won’t be on the only one wearing one if it rains. Ponchos take up minimal packing space and are arguably more effective and less cumbersome vs. umbrellas. These hooded options have got you covered.
Beach Towel: Chances are your hotel or Airbnb will provide beach towels, but if you’re like us and always like to bring one “just in case,” minimize your packing space with a Turkish Towel like these. They’re stylish, lightweight, quick-drying and can even double as a sarong. You’ll never go back to packing a regular beach towel again.
THE LAMA LIST: HOLBOX
Now that the practicalities are covered, we give you the best of the best of Isla Holbox, Mexico!
WHERE TO STAY: BEST BOUTIQUE HOTELS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Casa Las Tortugas: Boho chic at its finest. This luxury boutique hotel is an easy choice for its central, beachfront location, airy, neutral-hued rooms, sprawling swimming pool and array of exceptional on-site dining options. Plus, a comprehensive wellness program including spa treatments, energy healing and yoga & meditation classes. Price point: luxury
Villas Caracol: Head east of the center and you’ll find a stunning stretch of sand dotted by beach clubs, boutique hotels and lush, island vibes only. Here you’ll find Villas Caracol: a true tropical escape boasting stylish, contemporary rooms, idyllic pool complete with swim-up bar, hammock-lined beachfront and excellent on-site restaurant. Price point: luxury
Beachfront Hotel La Palapa: We personally stayed here 3 years ago during our first visit to Holbox and loved it. This adults-only boutique hotel is not only beachfront, but literally right in the center of the island just steps to everything in town. Expect tropical-chic rooms (some boasting oceanfront balconies), an on-site spa with heated jacuzzi, rooftop solarium for sunbathing (and stargazing), plus an on-site beach bar churning out island-inspired cocktails & bites. Price point: mid-range
Hotel Para Ti: On a quiet street in town just 2 blocks from the beach lies this laid back, tropical oasis. An adults-only boutique hotel, all 11 rooms at Hotel Para Ti offer a king bed, in-room hammock and balcony – some overlooking the central pool and palm garden. Price point: mid-range
Casa Mar: Zen vibes only at this Airbnb-meets-boutique hotel. Tucked into an oasis of wind-rustled palms and swaying hammocks, the property is located just 2 blocks from the beach and steps from town. A set of 8 spacious, 1-bedroom suites all feature calming hues and boho chic touches, plus balconies and the strongest, hottest, water pressure we think possible on an island (personally tested!). Each suite comes equipped with a kitchenette as well, perfect for extended stays. Price point: ballin’ on a budget
Casa Peregrino: There are a lot of things to love about this new boutique hotel in Holbox, namely it’s ideal location: right in the center of town, just 1 block from the beach, and perched atop our favorite coffee shop on the island (more on this below!). Only a handful of rooms are offered here, all equipped with plenty of thoughtful touches and some with a balcony and/or kitchenette. Plus, a shared rooftop complete with dipping pool, sundeck and sunset views. Price point: ballin’ on a budget
WHERE TO EAT: BEST BREAKFAST RESTAURANTS & COFFEE SHOPS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Naranjas: Our pick for the best Mexican breakfast in town. Head to this popular open-air eatery for heaping portions of traditional faves like Huevos Rancheros, Molletes and (the BEST) Chilaquiles. Plus, a range of pick-me-up beverages from coffee to fresh-pressed juice to signature smoothies.
Painapol: Another popular breakfast spot in town, expect masterfully presented smoothie bowls, sandwiches and sweets in a rustic-chic setting. If you’re looking to ‘gram your breakfast in Holbox, this is where to do it.
Another Clandestino: The best coffee shop on the island where you can expect excellent brew in addition to a nice selection of light bites ranging from bagels to smoothie bowls. There are two locations: Clandestino and the aptly named Another Clandestino. We prefer the latter. Choose to sit in the spacious indoor café with A/C or outdoors in the back garden. For those looking to plug-in, this is also your best work-from bet with plenty of tables, outlets and wifi (free for the first 30 minutes, then a fee applies). A head’s up that you’re still on island wifi so do not expect rapid speeds.
WHERE TO EAT: BEST LUNCH RESTAURANTS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Ceviches La Chingada: Your go-to for the best, fresh ceviche on the island, not to mention battered fish tacos, shrimp nachos and fire-grilled whole fish. Located in town just a few blocks from the beach, this unassuming spot is an excellent option at any time of day.
Barba Negra: One word: tacos. Located inside the Holbox Foodie Market you’ll find this laid-back spot churning out an impressive selection of mouthwatering tacos. Options range from sea to land to plant-based, including our faves: the Taco de Camarón a la Diabla (spicy shrimp taco), Taco de Chicharrón de Pulpo (octopus and fried pork skin) and Taco de Champiñones al Ajilllo (mushrooms with garlic).
Las Panchas: Just steps from the beach you’ll find this Holbox staple serving everything seafood in a casual, open-air setting. Known for its authentic vibe and heaping portions, this place is fittingly popular with both locals and tourists alike – don’t be surprised if there’s a wait.
*For more lunch spots, see Best Beach Clubs below!*
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK: BEST DINNER RESTAURANTS & COCKTAIL BARS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Luuma: One of the island’s most hyped-up restaurants, we’re happy to report that Luuma at Casa Las Tortugas (mentioned above in Best Hotels) is absolutely worth it! Expect hip, boho-chic vibes with creative plates and craft cocktails to match – not to mention welcoming and efficient service. It’s hard to pinpoint the cuisine exactly, but think elevated island fare with international influences seen in shareable, tapas-style dishes. The Kebab de Camarón (shrimp kebab sandwich), Croquetas de Chaya (chaya croquettes), Panceta de Cerdo (pork belly) and Boulevardier cocktail are all standouts.
ROOTS Pizza: Two words: pizza + mezcal. This place does both in spades with perfectly wood-fired, thin crust pies washed down with the most extensive selection of mezcal we’ve seen on the island. TIP: Holbox is known for it’s signature lobster pizza, and this spot is an excellent place to get it.
Hinata: Japanese comfort food served with love in a casual, beachfront setting. This place wins as most unexpected find on the island and easily a top-favorite meal! Expect friendly service and authentic, flavorful dishes such as the smoky Chashu Don (braised pork belly) and our favorite – the savory Sukiyaki (rib-eye hot pot). Don’t forget to wash everything down with a carafe of sake or soju.
Las Hamacas: Vacay vibes only at this charming beachfront restaurant serving up elevated international cuisine. Part of Villas Caracol (mentioned above in Best Hotels) you’ll find this unassuming spot located along the beach east of town. Open from breakfast to dinner it’s a great choice at any time of day, although we loved Las Hamacas most for sunset drinks & bites. The atmosphere is magical, views beautiful and dishes just as inventive as the cocktails – including our fave, the “Just Beet” mezcal concoction.
Casa Nostra Rooftop: Could this be the island’s best-kept secret? Possibly. We loved this intimate Italian restaurant for its cozy, palapa-covered rooftop setting, friendly service and most importantly – perfectly prepared pasta that we’re still dreaming about (specifically, the Pasta Boscaiola). Plus – excellent cocktails, desserts to tempt and everything at some of the most reasonable prices in Holbox. TIP: There are only a handful of tables here so it’s best to either arrive early (before 8pm) or better yet, make a reservation.
El Chiringuito Bar: This tiny beachfront palapa bar (part of Hotel Zomay) has grown more and more popular over the years – particularly at sunset. Come at this most magical time of day and you’ll find a bustling scene here. Grab a seat in one of the coveted bar swings or at a beachfront table, order your fave libation and enjoy the spectacular show that is a Holbox sunset. A respectable menu of island fare is further offered (think ceviches, tacos and salads) making this a great choice for a beautiful, if not romantic, toes-in-the-sand dinner as well.
Piedra Santa: Hip jungle vibes await in a spacious, beautifully designed space located on an otherwise quiet street a few blocks east of town. A thoughtfully prepared menu of elevated surf & turf fare offers plenty of plant-based options as well, exuding hints of regional Yucatán as well as Italian influences. Can’t make it for dinner? Craft cocktails here are on point, and make the bar at Piedra Santa a destination of its own for a pre or post-dinner drink (or two) as well. Try the Ámbar de Mexico, with mezcal, hibiscus and tepache (a fermented pineapple concoction originating in Jalisco).
Tacos Árabes: Who needs a seated dinner when you can go on a taco crawl? We did just this one night, hitting the number of taco carts that pop up around the main plaza after dark. The hands down fave of them all? Tacos Árabes, serving up deliciously marinated meat on freshly grilled pita. It doesn’t come up on Google Maps but you’ll find the cart next to Lecmu Barbacoa Tacos – also notable and our 2nd favorite of the options in the plaza.
The Hot Corner: No Holbox guide could possibly be complete without including The Hot Corner. An island original, head to this popular late-night spot for drinks, bites and live music in a casual yet hip setting. As the name suggests, it’s located on arguably the hottest corner in town – that becomes a scene of its own as the night progresses.
Salma: The newest late-night haunt on the scene, you won’t want to miss Salma for post-dinner revelry or dinner itself. A menu of grilled land and sea fare is just as excellent as the craft cocktails, all served in a moody, dimly-lit space lined with flickering candles, sugar skulls, and more enigmatic influences. As the night progresses both the mezcal pours and tribal beats increase, spun by live DJs in a space where you’ll want to see and be seen.
SIP LOCAL: SOLFERINO GIN & LA HOLBOXEÑA CRAFT BEER
One of our fave finds on Holbox? The local-distilled, small batch Solferino Dry Gin, made with love by master distiller Christian Javier Taraborrelli in namesake Solferino – a tiny Maya village located in the jungle just 15 mins from Chiquila. It’s part of the small yet growing made-in-Mexico gin scene, and the only gin producer in the state of Quintana Roo (where Holbox, as well as the neighboring Riviera Maya coastline, are located).
A number of restaurants, bars & beach clubs in Holbox now carry the jungle-born gin, including ALMA Pool Bar, Barba Negra, Capitán Capitán, Ceviches La Chingada and ROOTS Pizza (all mentioned throughout this guide). Whether at any of these locales or elsewhere, be sure to sip local and request Solferino for your gin-based cocktails – or just to try! If your bar doesn’t currently carry it, hopefully the next time they will.
Not stopping at small-batch spirits, Taraborrelli also brews La Holboxeña: an outstanding Coconut Porter that may as well be the artisanal cerveza of our dreams. You can only find it in Holbox, so keep your eyes peeled for the island vibe bottle and enjoy while you can. Cheers!
WHERE TO CHILL: BEST BEACH CLUBS & ROOFTOP POOLS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
La Playa de Naña: The perfect blend of hip yet laid back, head here for a relaxing day of beachfront bliss on the island’s main (and arguably most beautiful) stretch of sand – just east of town.
Punta Caliza Beach Club: There are many reasons to love this unassuming, palapa covered haven, but for us it was the BEST shrimp tacos we had on the island, perfectly shaken carajillos (espresso cocktail) and a commitment to zen vibes only.
Mandarina Restaurant & Beach Club: In our mind Casa Las Tortugas (mentioned above in Best Hotels) can do no wrong, and neither can their seriously chic beach club – complete with refreshing craft cocktails and creative, island-inspired bites.
Capitán Capitán: No frills, just fun. Head to this lively spot for excellent seafood, tropical cocktails and plenty of sunshine in a good vibes only setting.
Café Del Mar: In search of paradise? You’ll find it at Café Del Mar, a hidden gem located just west of town. Head here for a truly tranquil beach day complete with the sound of gently lapping waves, endless stretches of white sand, friendly service and a made-with-love menu of island inspired café fare – including fresh ceviches and the best, homemade focaccia sandwiches.
ALMA Pool Bar: Located east of town (almost to the end of the hotel zone) is another of the island’s best-kept secrets. Climb the wooden staircase of Villas Tiburon to reach ALMA, where a shimmering rooftop pool, stunning sea views, daybeds and hip vibes await. Plus: Live DJ sunset sessions on the weekends.
Soulbox Rooftop: This chilled out rooftop located right in town offers 360 degree island views, a pool, creative tropical fare (still dreaming about the garlic shrimp!), 2×1 happy hour and epic sunsets. Need we say more?
WHAT TO SEE & DO: BEST ACTIVITIES, EXPERIENCES & EXCURSIONS IN ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Explore: One of the best things to do in Holbox is simply exploring the island! You can easily cover the center on foot, where you’ll be privy to a colorful street art scene, tempting souvenir shops and plenty of places to stop for a drink or bite.
Punta Coco: Here you’ll find a virgin beach boasting nothing but endless white sand, calm turquoise water, one lone beach bar (which isn’t always open) and possibly the most stunning sunsets on the island. If you’re looking for an off-the-grid beach day you’ll find it here, although given the lack of amenities it’s best to BYO and come prepared.
Punta Mosquito: This is a beautiful nature reserve where you can see pink flamingos, rare bird species and more tropical wildlife. Reaching Punta Mosquito is a bit of a journey, but it’s worth it. Here’s your step-by-step guide:
1) Take your bike or golf cart as far as Hotel Las Nubes. Park at the very end of the hotel, look for the Nature Reserve sign, and continue on foot.
2) After a brief walk you’ll emerge onto the beach. Look out into the ocean and you’ll see a sign sticking out of the water. This is situated on a sandbar which is the route you’ll take to reach Punta Mosquito.
3) Walk out through the (shallow) water until you reach this sign and hence, the sandbar. From here, you’ve got about a 1 hour – 90 minute walk ahead of you until you reach Punta Mosquito. (Yes, this does mean it’s an equally long walk back to Hotel Las Nubes.) You’ll know you’ve reached Punta Mosquito when you see the white buoys. These indicate the furthest point you’re allowed to go within the nature reserve, so do not continue past them.
4) It’s important to note that tides vary and you really only want to attempt this at LOW tide. At best you can expect a long, meditative walk along an ankle or shin-deep sandbar. At worst, a grueling trek through knee or even waist-deep water. Either way, reaching Punta Mosquito is certainly an effort and not for the faint of heart.
5) Plan ahead! Check the tides and be sure to come prepared as you won’t find any services, amenities or shade in/around Punta Mosquito.
6) Alternatively, you can reach Punta Mosquito on a guided kayak tour.
Whale Sharks: During the season from May – September you can embark on the incredible adventure of swimming with these majestic giants. (Note it’s snorkel only; scuba diving is not permitted.) This is easily the island’s most popular activity and also the most expensive – but worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. VIP Holbox offers the full day tour via shared or private boat, which also includes a stop at Cabo Catoche (more on this below).
3 Islands Boat Tour: This boat tour takes you to 3 locations just off the coast of Holbox: Isla de los Pájaros (Island of the Birds), Isla de la Pasión (Island of Passion) and Yalahau Lagoon. Located on the mainland close to Chiquilá, Yalahau is not in fact located on an island, but hey, semantics. The tour typically takes around 3 hours. VIP Holbox offers it via shared or private boat and TIP: If you can splurge for the private boat, we highly recommend it. You’ll have a flexible departure time which means you can leave earlier or later than most of the other boats, giving you a chance to avoid the crowds (especially at Yalahau which can get packed middday).
Cabo Catoche Boat Tour: Stretch your sea legs further with an approx 6-hour boat excursion to nearby Cabo Catoche. This stunning virgin beach happens to be the point where the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea meet. During the tour you’ll have a chance to fish, snorkel and relax on the beach, where you’ll enjoy freshly prepared ceviche from the day’s catch. Keep your eyes peeled – you may even be lucky enough to spot a few bottle-nosed dolphins throughout the day. VIP Holbox also offers this tour with the option of shared or private boat.
Bioluminescence: There are a few locations throughout Holbox where you can view the magical, glittering phenomenon of bioluminescence: water that appears to be “glowing” due to the phytoplankton that live there (a type of floating, microalgea). When agitated due to water movement created by waves, swimming fish or in this case – swimming humans – the tiny microbes emit a soft light giving the appearance of glowing water. To best experience bioluminescence you want to go on a very dark (if not pitch black) night. Timing your visit just after, and not during, a full moon is a wise move.
How to find these magical locations? Well, you can attempt to DIY it by asking around, but we feel it’s much easier to hire a guide. You’ll be picked up from your hotel/Airbnb at night (typically around 9pm) then taken to your guide’s preferred spot. Once here you’ll simply wade into and swim around in the water, stirring it up to see the resulting, glowing phenomenon.
Or, you can embark on a more immersive experience via a guided, nighttime kayak tour.
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All original photos in this post courtesy of your favorite pair of @travelinglamas.
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