Isla Holbox is still a secret (shhh don't tell a soul).
It's a little island off the Yucatan peninsula (2 hours north of Cancun) that's only 26 miles long and home to only 2,000 lucky residents. Everyone knows everyone here.
This is the place for those of you complaining that Tulum has become too much of a scene. No big resorts, no cars, no shoes required. And the locals don’t want any of this to change. They’re focused on preserving the island’s authenticity and natural wildlife, and they’ve fought hard against the mainland’s requests to pave their roads and bring in items that would foster mainstream tourism.
That's the beauty of Isla Holbox - it's refreshingly untouched by tourism. We just felt lucky to be a resident for a few days.
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The easiest way to get to Isla Holbox is to fly to Cancun (most major US cities have cheap nonstop flights there). Try to catch the earliest flight to get the most out of your day when you arrive on the island.
You can book a transfer service from Cancun to Isla Holbox through your hotel (about $150 per person round trip). Someone from the transfer service will meet you at the airport outside of customs with a sign with your name on it. It’s about a 2 hour drive to the small port town where you will catch the 30-45 min ferry to Isla Holbox. Someone from your hotel will be waiting to pick you up at the dock on Isla Holbox.
Many people say you can drive yourself to the ferry or hire a local taxi, but this is one of those moments where we recommend coughing up the cash to book your hotel’s transfer so you can be stress-free during the journey.
Casa Las Tortugas
Isla Holbox |52.984.87.52129 | Website
Casa Las Tortugas is reason enough to visit Holbox. It’s one of the most charming hotels we’ve ever stayed in and it has all the perks of a boutique hotel without any of the pretentiousness. The hotel’s rooms are meticulously designed with little details that make you wonder why every other beach hotel you’ve ever stayed in hasn’t done the same. To top it off, they’ve got one of the best beachfronts on the island and prices are pretty reasonable (rooms start at $190/night). We personally don’t think their website does the hotel justice, but then again it’s hard to capture the magic of this place without experiencing it in person. (See more photos and read about our stay at Casa Las Tortugas here.)
#WildTerrains tip: Debating upgrading to an ocean view or ocean front room? We think it’s worth every penny.
Mandarina Beach Club
Casa Las Tortugas Hotel | 52.984.87.52129 | Website
Mandarina is the open-air restaurant within Casa Las Tortugas. It has a boho-chic vibe with both indoor and beachfront seating. If you’re staying at the hotel you get free breakfast every morning and it’s really lovely to sit outside with a cup of coffee and watch the ocean wake up. Lunch and dinner have a la carte menus and the food is some of the best on the island, but the real draw is the waterfront vibes.
#WildTerrains tip: Order the guacamole (so fresh, you’ll never order it anywhere else again) and the ceviche (one of the best we’ve ever had).
Playa Norte on Isla Holbox | 52.984.136.0017 | Website
Raices is a little beach restaurant that’s only a few minutes walk from Casa Las Tortugas. It’s what the locals call a “slow food” restaurant (translation: this is one of those places where the service is slow and that’s a good thing because you’re on island time, right? right.) The menu is based on whatever the fishermen catch that day, so you’re getting the freshest seafood on the island. Order a few ice cold beers, the shrimp tacos with pico de gallo and the fresh catch of the day. Then, get ready for a much-needed siesta.
#WildTerrains tip: Holbox is definitely on it’s own schedule so we’re not sure this is always the case, but we visited on a Sunday and there was fantastic live music.
Av. Damero 67 | 52.984.875.2362
A fun, lively restaurant in the center of town. Viva Zapata isn’t that fancy, but it has a great garden space and draws what we would call a crowd in Holbox. Order the fish tacos and the ceviche to share.
Next door to Casa Las Tortugas on the main road
Luuma is a new project created by the owners of Casa Las Tortugas. It’s a bar, restaurant and boutique all-in-one. The decor alone is reason to visit - a stunning garden lounge decorated with locally handcrafted tables & chairs, massive wicker pendants, and ornate umbrellas sourced from Bali. You'll want to spend all evening relaxing under the giant palm trees rustling overhead. To top it off, the bartenders serve up some really innovative cocktails that are by far the best on the island and would actually hold their own even in a place as cocktail-critical as New York City.
#WildTerrains tip: Sip on The Magdalena - a refreshingly light cocktail of cucumber and tequila.
Il Chiringuito (also known as Zomay)
On the beach near Hotel Zomay
There are few travel guides written about Isla Holbox, but out of those that exist, every single one recommends Il Chiringuito. Funny thing - when we arrived on the island and started chatting with the locals, none of them knew Il Chiringuito. After some back and forth and a few google searches, the locals agreed it’s local name was Zomay and declared it the best place on the island to watch the sunset. We couldn’t agree more. The bar is a tiny beach palapa with a set of swings around it instead of barstools. Head there a little before sunset, have them make you a fresh margarita and then hang out with the other travelers and locals until dark. It’s as rustic as a beach bar can get, which in our opinion is the best kind.
#WildTerrains tip: The mango margarita is where it’s at…the freshest mango you will ever have in your life blended with tequila and sugarcane. They’ll have to cut you off.
Av. Damero 310
An adorable micro coffee shop on the main road in the center of town. They serve fresh coffee and espresso from Chiapas and a selection of juices and smoothies made with incredibly fresh fruit. They seem to open and close whenever they want so you may have to walk by a few times during the day to catch them at an open hour.
Le Bazaar is the little boutique within Luuma. They have a curated selection of high-end clothing, jewelry and leather goods, many of which are locally made. Prices are a bit high, but so is quality.
La Palapa de Yepez
Located on Av Damero | Website
There aren’t many shops on Holbox, but La Palapa de Yepez is something to check out while you’re there. The owners - Yepez and Gabi - are a husband and wife team who are focused on creating items out of recycled and reclaimed items on the island. We stumbled upon this shop one afternoon and had the pleasure of chatting with Gabi. She showed us all the work they do with shells, fish bones, and seeds found on the island and even gave us a tour of their workshop where they create their artwork. Many of their lamps made from shells are used in the hotels on the island as lighting for footpaths and rooms. If you visit, be sure to ask one of them for an explanation of their work, much of the intricacies can be missed with an untrained eye.
Golf Cart Rental
You can rent golf carts all over the island for a few hours or an entire day. We rented ours from a little bodega on the corner of the main square in town. Orient yourself with a map, but don’t stress too much about it since the island is small and it’s really hard to get lost. We suggest heading to the end of the island to a secluded beach called Punta Coco - it’s stunningly beautiful. Pack a picnic and a few towels. A 4 hour rental costs 500 pesos, which is around $26 USD.
#WildTerrains tip: Ask for a cooler when you’re renting your golf cart (they’ll give it to you for free!). Buy some ice, water, and beer at the corner bodega to put in the cooler and you’ll be a happy camper once you get to Playa de Cocos.
Swim with Whale Sharks
What’s a whale shark you ask? Learn more about them here. This planet earth-like experience is only possible a few months out of the year off the Mexican coast (June, July, and August). We attempted in May and the whale sharks were nowhere to be found. If you’re visiting during those months and want to swim with these sea creatures, we recommend booking with Holbox Whale Shark Tours.
SUP Paddle Boarding
Across the street from Casa Las Tortugas | 52.1.984.179.5021 | Website
The water is so warm, calm and shallow here that it’s perfect for stand up paddle boarding. There’s a little place called Holbox Kiteboarding School across the street from Casa Las Tortugas where you can rent SUP boards for $20 USD an hour. They also offer kiteboarding lessons if you’re interested in trying something a bit more active.