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Our Perspective of Holbox
The last stop on our trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico was the lesser known island of Holbox (pronounced hol’bosh), which translates to “Black Hole” in the Yucatec Mayan language. We went during the off season, which was perfect because the island was not overrun with tourists and we were easily able to find quiet spots on the beaches that we could have almost completely to ourselves. Although there are plenty of cool activities to do in Holbox, we took the opportunity to relax for a few days and to alleviate some of the stress of traveling. Overall, we really enjoyed ourselves during our time in Holbox and have left with a nice list of tips and tricks that will help you make the most of your time there once you arrive.
Holbox was a much welcomed reprieve for me. Prior to visiting Holbox, we had spent 8 days touring other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and although we had some great times, we also had some very frustrating times which were stressing me out. Holbox was almost perfect, in my opinion. It was quiet, most of the people were very friendly and honestly, I’ve never felt so relaxed in my life. In my opinion, Holbox is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets and the perfect paradise for budget travelers, as it’s not yet been turned into a playground for snobby rich folks. I really hope it stays that way because places like this are becoming harder and harder to find.
Luckily, I could convince Ryne to spend a few days on this beautiful island. He always says that he can’t stay on the beach longer than a few hours, like in total, like for the entire vacation. What?! Yeah what; it’s sometimes hard to deal with your boyfriend’s or husband’s preferences (:D). BUT, Holbox turned out to be one little paradise with beautiful beaches, very clingy fishes and a totally relaxed vibe. I felt as if I immersed in one long meditation session. So, please, if you go, make sure to keep the island the way it is and don’t support touristy, luxury activities and stays.
Tips and Tricks for Holbox
Our list of tips and tricks for Holbox is extremely long and very detailed. Therefore, we suggest you pick and choose the topics you need more information on and skip ahead to those by clicking on the section titles in our table of contents, above.
Food & Drinks in Holbox
3 Things to Know About Restaurants in Holbox
- Since Holbox is a Mexican island, it should be obvious that you will find delicious authentic Mexican food here. Furthermore, you can also find typical Yucatecan food that you won’t necessarily get outside of the Yucatan Peninsula. We weren’t able to try it, unfortunately, but we were told that the best Yucatecan food can be found at the restaurant El Abuelito Tom.
- Another specialty of Holbox cuisine is seafood; lobster, in particular. You can find fish tacos, lobster pizza and much more. If you’re interested in lobster pizza, our hotel recommended going to El Crustaceo. It wasn’t in our budget (or diet), but it certainly sounds interesting!
- The food in Holbox has also been influenced by various cuisines from around the world, meaning that you are always able to find something unique and delicious. That being said, Holbox is still home to what we consider to be tourist traps—restaurants that advertise what sound like really good deals, which end up coming in very small portions that either leave you hungry or tempt you to order even more and, consequently, spend even more.
Just like with the rest of Mexico, we highly recommend eating from food stands. Here is a list of where to find the best food stands:
- Holbox Municipal Market (open from 7 am-2 pm): You can get breakfast and/or lunch here.
- Town Square: Dinner is best ordered from the various food stands that set up in or near the town square.
- El Choripan: Our favorite food stand that we tried. It’s right across from the church in the town square. They don’t open up until approximately 8:30 pm, though, so be prepared for a late dinner. We found the options, the portions, the flavor and the prices were best here. An “El Choripan” itself is actually a chorizo sandwich that is typical of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. We tried the vegetarian quesadillas and the vegetarian tortas; both were fantastic!
Best Happy Hour Deal in Holbox
Happy hours in Holbox vary depending on where you go, but if it’s heavily advertised, then the deal probably isn’t as good as it might sound. 2 drinks for 150 pesos is about the same as ordering two drinks outside of happy hour from the place we recommend.
Tribu Hostel: This was the best happy hour deal we found on Holbox. The hostel has a bar and restaurant separate from the hotel. We ordered 2 for 1 drinks during happy hour for a total of 80 Pesos (about $3.75 USD). They also have delicious sandwiches that we tried. They aren’t particularly filling, but the flavor is magnificent. We paid 120 Pesos for two sandwiches and a small portion of fried potatoes (regular and sweet).
Cost of Beer on Holbox
This is important for beer lovers. Obviously, it’s always cheaper to buy your beer from a super market (mini marts, actually). The problem in Holbox, however, is that there are usually no prices on any of the items in a mini mart, meaning that you always have to ask or just pay whatever they charge. It seems Holbox is becoming more touristic, which means prices are also going up. The cheapest beer we found was a 6-pack of Tecate for 110 Pesos, which is about $5.50 or you could buy these individually for 20 Pesos each ($1). These are 12 oz (330 ml) cans. The individual beers from all other brands tend to cost 25 Pesos ($1.25) or more each. Personally, we find these prices to be pretty outrageous, considering we’re used to buying beer in Germany for $0.15 to $0.80 each.
Buying Groceries on Holbox
Just as mentioned in the section above, grocery prices are almost non-existent, so the owner can pretty much charge whatever they want. That being said, everywhere we went did indeed use price scanners at the checkout, meaning that they weren’t actually making up the prices on the spot. It’s just frustrating because you can’t calculate the cost until you actually get to the register. If something is too expensive for you, don’t be afraid to put it back. You’re not obligated to pay more than you want to. The biggest grocery store we found is right on the main road from the ferry to the beach and it did have prices on almost everything, so we did most of our shopping there. Like we’ve mentioned before, the island is small, so you can easily just walk from mini mart to mini mart and find the one that works best for you.
(Personal experience: we did NOT like Monkey’s, as the cashier was rude to us twice. One time, she was mad that we didn’t have exact change. We even paid with a small bill, so it’s not like she was forced to clear out her register for us. Maybe she was just having a bad week.)
Accommodation in Holbox
Holbox is full of hotels, hostels and AirBnBs (which are usually also hotels or hostels), so you won’t be short on accommodation options. Everything from humble tents to luxury resort-like hotels are available to you, depending on your budget and the type of vacation you want to take. When we went to Holbox, we chose to stay at the hotel La Diosa Kali, which is right on the beach at the main pier (where the big Holbox sign is. Hello photo ops!). If you’re looking for easy beach access, a delicious breakfast at the adjoining bar LIMULUS, super friendly and helpful staff and if you’re not too picky about the “luxuriousness” of the room, then we can definitely recommend staying here.
Right next to the hotel was a camping style location that provides tents with mattresses and common restrooms/showers. We only mention this to give you an idea of the varieties of options you have. Of course, there are also plenty of luxury options all over the island; many of which offer private beach access. That being said, Holbox isn’t the type of island where the rich go to play. So if you are very particular about 5 star accommodations where you are being waited on hand and foot, then this might not be the island for you. There are luxury accommodations here, but they won’t give you the real Holbox experience. In other words, Holbox is still a perfect little paradise for “normal” people like us, who are trying to have a nice vacation without breaking the bank.
Transportation To and Around Holbox
There are two ways you can get to Holbox: ferry or small plane. Taking a plane is very expensive, so we highly recommend just taking the ferry.
If you have a rental car, keep in mind that you will not be able to take it with you to the island, meaning that you will have to pay for parking and leave it in the port village of Chiquilá. Therefore, we recommend turning in your rental car before going to Holbox or making Holbox your first destination and then renting your car later once you return from the island.
Getting to Chiquilá so you can take the ferry to Holbox: If you look at a map, you will see that Chiquilá is very remote and if anything happens to your car on the road, then it could be difficult to get help. That’s why we recommend taking a bus to Chiquilá.
The ADO bus company (“Autobuses de Olympia, ADO!” (You’ll understand when you go)) will pretty much take you all over Mexico. Once you’re in Mexico, you will be able to download the ADO app and book all of your tickets through the app. A ticket from Cancun to Chiquilá costs $270 MXN per person (about $13-14 USD). Naturally, you can also buy your tickets from a counter at the major bus stations or airports.
Buying Ferry Tickets:
- A one-way trip with the 9 Hermanos ferry between Chiquilá and Holbox costs $150 MXN per person. The round trip ticket is $300 MXN per person.
- When you take the ADO direct trip to Chiquilá, an ADO employee will also offer you the option to buy your ferry tickets in the bus for the same price that you would pay on the dock. Go ahead and do this, as it saves you time and stress once you reach Chiquilá. You can go directly to the ferry without worrying about missing it while buying tickets.
- Of course, you can also wait and then buy your tickets on the dock once you arrive. The ferry will not wait for you, however, so if you’re stuck in a line, then you’ll either have to wait an hour for the next ferry, pay a bit more to take the Holbox Express ferry that leaves every 30 minutes or pay someone with a small speed boat to take you across, which is also most likely to cost you more, unless you’re able to negotiate a better price with them.
4 Ways to Get Around Holbox
Holbox is almost a completely vehicle-free island, which leaves you four transportation options once you’re there. You can walk, rent a bike, take a taxi or rent a golf cart.
- Walking around Holbox is the mode of “transportation” that we chose. The island is very small, so we were perfectly content with walking everywhere we wanted to go. When doing this, please do not underestimate the midday sun and heat. We were stuck walking for a total of an hour and a half in blistering heat one day, so plan your walking trips wisely!
- Renting a bike while in Holbox is a fun and stress-free way to explore the island. Almost every hotel or hostel will offer you the option to rent some bikes from them, so you won’t have any trouble acquiring one.
- Taking a taxi on the island of Holbox is a unique experience because all of the taxis are either golf carts, bicycle taxis or more robust UTVs. The prices vary based on which taxi you are taking and, of course, where you are going. This might be worthwhile if you need to go a few kilometers and it’s too hot to walk or take a bike.
- If you’re not keen on taking a taxi, walking or riding a bike, then there are plenty of small companies on the island from whom you can rent your own golf cart. Personally, we find this to be a bit over the top since the island is so small, but it’s still a convenient option for you.
Things To Do in Holbox
There are a number of unique things to do while on the island of Holbox. We were on a pretty tight budget, so we didn’t take any of the tours, but we’ve heard the experiences you have are well worth the money. We will likely do some of these if we ever go back.
Tours & Paid Activities
One thing to understand about any of the tours you take in Mexico is that prices can vary based on season and current demand; therefore, it never hurts to try to negotiate prices. The worst that can happen is they tell you no and demand the full asking price. Also, just like in the rest of the Riviera, you will never have trouble finding someone who’s willing to sell you a tour. The best thing to do is to ask your hotel or hostel about the best deals. Here is a list of some awesome things to do in Holbox:
- Swimming with Whale Sharks: There are numerous stands and salesmen on the Island of Holbox from whom you can book a whale shark tour. They will take you out to a remote point of the island (only reachable by boat) where the whale sharks hang out, where you can get in the water and snorkel with them. This is something we really would have liked to do if we had a bit more money to spend, as we’ve been told the experience is phenomenal.
- Cost: Prices tend to be well over $100 per person, but you may be able to negotiate or get a better rate if going as a large group.
- Bioluminescence Tours: Holbox is famous for the bioluminescent plankton that glow in the water at night. You can’t really see this from the easily accessible beaches so you would need to book a night tour on the water or book a tour with someone who takes you via land to the best location to see them from the beach.
- Cost: The land tour only costs you around $20. We can’t currently find listed prices for boat tours, but you can easily ask around (it’s likely to be much more expensive than a land tour).
- Important! You won’t see anything if the moon is out, so it’s tricky to find the ideal conditions. If you go during the off season (when it rains more), you might have a better chance to see the plankton due to cloud cover.
- Other Tours: There are a number of other paid tours you can take that will take you around the various points or islands surrounding the island, but most of what they’re offering can be experienced for free. For example, we saw flamingos twice, just by walking around and exploring. Flamingos are one of the big ticket items offered by most of the tours that aren’t designed for whale sharks or bioluminescence.
- Wind Surfing: If you go northeast along the gulf side of the island (where all the beaches are anyway), you will also find people offering wind surfing and lessons. When we were there, the wind wasn’t particularly strong, so it wouldn’t have been the best time for us to do it, but wind surfing is a fun activity to do in the right conditions.
6 Must-Do Free Activities in Holbox
As previously mentioned, you will have a great time on Holbox, even if you don’t opt for the paid tours. Here is our list of the 6 must-do free activities in Holbox:
- Walk to Punta Coco: One of the most famous areas of the island is Punta Coco. This beach is known for the hammocks hanging in the clear shallow water where you can chill all day while fish swim around you. You won’t find a bathroom here, but there are a few vendors selling food items as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. If you get there early, then you should also be able to find a spot in the shade, so you don’t have to pay to rent a cabana or umbrella.
- Find Flamingos at Punta Coco: We accidentally found flamingos while at Punta Coco. If you want to see flamingos, then your best bet is to walk south along the beach where the bushes get thicker until you see signs telling you not to disturb the natural habitat. Here is where the beach essentially stops (blocked by a tree and bushes hanging out over the water), you will see a path that takes you through the trees and opens up to a small lagoon. This is one of the areas where the flamingos like to hang out.
- Walk to Playa de los Flamingos: The name pretty much says it all. The Flamingo Beach is the place to see flamingos and there are two free ways to get there; each of which is unique.
- By Land: Walk north on the road closest to the beach until the road stops. There, you will see a path leading into the bushes and back toward the beach. Basically, follow this path (even through water) until you get to the beach. The entire path at this point is on the beach, so you can stop where ever you want. We didn’t walk all the way to Flamingo Beach, but we were able to see them on our camera from where we decided to spend the early afternoon. If you take the land route, check the tide times first! If you come back to late in the day, you will get stuck behind the high tide or be forced to swim back. Don’t overestimate your swimming ability and just come back early.
- By Sea: You can walk to Playa de los Flamingos by sea. No, you’re not walking on water, but you are walking through water. There is a sandbar that stretches from the main beach area all the way to the Flamingo Beach. At low tide, the water is only about 6-12 inches deep, which makes for a really cool Pirates of the Caribbean like journey over to see the flamingos.
Both of these walks are VERY long, so bring plenty of water and lots of sunscreen.
- Play with Fish: Pretty much wherever you are, you will have little fish friends following you around in the water. They are looking for organisms and food that are being stirred up from the sand by your feet. We spent lots of time just sitting or standing in the crystal clear shallow water, helping the fish find a snack. One even swam into Ryne’s swim trunks! “That was my own fault, however, because I sort of trapped him with my legs. That was the last time I let that happen.”
- Go for a Swim: The water is relatively calm on the island of Holbox, which makes it great for swimming. It’s still the ocean, so you will encounter very small waves, but these shouldn’t slow you down too much.
- Watch the Sunset: One of the most important things that you MUST do while on Isla Holbox is to sit on the dock and watch the sunset. However, do not make the mistake that most people do and leave as soon as the sun passes below the horizon. Stay for at least another 15-30 minutes and enjoy all of the indescribably beautiful colors that are created afterward. This isn’t just another sunset like we thought it might be. There is truly something magical about the Holbox skies after sunset.
General Tips & Tricks for Holbox
- Always Pay in Pesos: No matter where you are, we always recommend paying in the local currency. Holbox is no different, as this guarantees you get the best prices on everything you buy. Otherwise, you make yourself a victim to whichever exchange rate the vendor sees fit.
- Go during the transition to or during the off season. You will encounter much fewer tourists and much less pressure from vendors trying to sell you things you don’t want.
- Relax! This island really is all about relaxation. The fact that the internet is so spotty doesn’t leave you much choice anyway, so just take everything in stride, kick back and let the ocean breeze blow your negative thoughts away.
- Before spending money on anything, ask your hotel or hostel where the best deals are, e.g., local’s choice in food stands or restaurants, best tours/prices, etc. There is always someone trying to talk you into the “deal of a lifetime” so just kindly refuse unless you know he or she is the one you want to be talking to.
Have you been to Holbox, are you from Holbox or do you have more tips? Comment and let us know! We love hearing from others who know something we don’t!
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