Isla Holbox is a laid-back island on the north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Holbox is surrounded by clear aquamarine waters and thin sandy beaches. Tourists don’t come here for the beaches though – Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are the top destinations for white sand beaches in Mexico’s Yucatán.
Travellers come to Holbox for two reasons: to take it easy and to swim with whale sharks. Holbox is a popular island escape from Cancun for travellers wanting a slower, quieter place to relax. Holbox is also one of two islands in Mexico where you can swim with whale sharks in the right season.
Isla Holbox is an ideal weekend refuge. After two days on the island, we had got sufficiently into the beachy vibes and forgotten about all our worries. If you’re looking for lots of things to do on Isla Holbox, you won’t find them. It’s not that kind of place. If you’re keen to relax and eat good food, then read our 2-day itinerary for Isla Holbox.
Day 1 in Isla Holbox
6am – Arrive in Isla Holbox in the early morning if you can. We took the overnight bus from Merida and the first boat across at 5am. We arrived on the island at 6am. Just stroll up the dusty path from the docks into the main town. You’ll pass the small market where locals are buying fresh fruits. You might see a few of the island’s golf carts darting around. There are no cars on Isla Holbox, only golf carts. You can see what a sleepy place the island is early in the morning. Most restaurants don’t open until 8am at the earliest. Keep going straight until you hit the beach.
Coffee – At around 8am you’ll be able to find a coffee place open. Our favourite was the coffee bar in front of Buena Vista Grill (where the wooden swings are). It opens earlier than most other places on the island. It’s run by a very friendly and sophisticated local lady and her coffee is strong and freshly brewed.
Breakfast – Roll over to El Cafecito Soul Kitchen, a slow food cafe that prides itself on food that’s good for the soul. It’s an Italian-run place with croissants, pastries, focaccia, fruit smoothies and strong coffee. Try the mozzarella, tomato and oregano focaccia. Don’t let the online profile put you off. The cafe has had a re-brand and change of tact since then.
Check In – By now, hostel receptions have opened up. We checked into Tribu Hostel, a bohemian style place with painted murals and colourful red towers. It’s just two blocks down from where we ate breakfast. We stuffed our bags in the room and threw our weary bodies into the brightly coloured hammocks beneath the wifi router for a little more R&R.
Book Your Whale Shark Tour – If you’re here during the high season from May – September then you can swim with whale sharks from Isla Holbox. You need to book your whale shark tour the day before because tours leave early in the morning. If you’re on visiting Isla Holbox for 2 days then definitely sort this out when you arrive.
Lunch – The best lunch spot in town is La Tortilleria de Holbox. They have a simple menu specialising in Spanish tortillas and it’s one of the cheaper places to eat on Holbox. The vegetarian Spanish tortilla was fresh, fluffy and fat. You can get a large Spanish tortilla to share between two. If you have a sweet tooth, we can recommend the iced coffee too. Vegan Spanish tortillas are also available.
The Beach – Once you’re refuelled, head onto Isla Holbox’s beach. The beaches are only thin but the sand is soft and the waters are the clearest that we saw in the whole of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Take a left on the beach and continue round until you get to the sandy bays where you can quietly bob in the water away from the other beached travellers.
Explore the Streets – The streets of Isla Holbox are full of awesome murals painted on the sides of buildings.The street art all over Isla Holbox is organised as part of the International Public Art Festival (IPAF). The artworks inspired by the dreams of the residents of Holbox Island. Many of them express local feelings about this small fishing community becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and their hopes for the future of the island.
Cook Your Own Food – After skimming through a few restaurant menus that evening, we decided the meals were overpriced (even for an island). We bought some fresh avocados, tomatoes and limes from the fruteria and some freshly made corn tortillas from one of the street vendors. We made a quick guacamole and ate on our hostel balcony.
Check for Bioluminescence – We read that at the right time of year – apparently between July and January – you can see beautiful bioluminescence in Holbox. After dark, go down to the beach with a flashlight and shine it on the water to see if it glows blue. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t find any of the glowing blue plankton during our 2 days on Isla Holbox.
Day 2 in Isla Holbox
Breakfast – You’ll be waking up early to swim with whale sharks which means there won’t be much time to grab breakfast (or anything open this early). If you’re organised enough, you can get pastries from Le Jardin, the most loved bakery on Isla Holbox, ready for the next morning. It’s best to eat only a very light breakfast before swimming with whale sharks.
Whale Shark Tour – Swimming with whale sharks in an incredible experience and the main reason why most travellers flock to Isla Holbox. Boats leave early at around 7am and return after 3pm. After swimming with whale sharks, there’s also a stop at a beautiful sandy spit where you can sometimes see flamingos.
Drink a Juice – After washing off the sand and salty sea air, make your way down to Tierra Mia Juice & Coffee. The espresso is good and there are some exciting smoothie combinations. Admittedly though it is a little pricey. Avenue Damero also has some boutique stores for anyone who likes to browse.
Sunset on the Beach – Isla Holbox has stunning sunsets. The best sunset views are from the beach behind Tribu Hostel. There are beach bars if you want to have a drink while watching the sunset. Live music is sometimes playing too.
Grab a Burrito – When the sun goes down and it’s cool enough to eat, look for one of the cheaper taco and burrito eateries. There are a few places along the road that’s one block in from the beach. Taco Queto is one of the most popular and you’ll see a mix of locals and tourists grabbing a late night taco or burrito there. We ate some pretty good value and filling vegetarian burritos at Taco Queto.
How to Get To and From Isla Holbox
You can get to Isla Holbox from any of the main cities on the Yucatan. This includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Valladolid and Merida. The boat times from the nearest port town of Chiquila coincide with the bus times. That means all you need to worry about is when your bus leaves.
From Cancun or Playa del Carmen, Isla Holbox is a 2.5-hour bus journey away. From Tulum, the journey is slightly longer. If you’re travelling from Merida, then your only option is to take the night bus. The bus departs from Merida at 11pm and arrives in Chiquila at 5am.
How did you like Isla Holbox?