Isla Holbox – an under-the-radar destination in Mexico

Mexico has become famous for its high octane holiday resorts but the North American country offers so much more. Explore a little further afield and you’ll unearth some beautifully peaceful pockets of paradise, here’s one of them…

Travellers looking for a holiday on the Yucatan peninsula may only associate this beautiful part of Mexico with the craziness of Cancun and the all-inclusive resorts of Playa Del Carmen but take it from me it’s definitely possible to relax on a peaceful each without losing access to the natural beauty or the unique culture of the Yucatan Peninsula. You’ll have to wander away from the hordes of tourists, corridors of large hotels, and groups of partying college students and visit a Mexican off the beaten track destination – a place called Isla Holbox.

Isla Holbox

The hippy-chic boho paradise of Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-Bosch) is located off the gorgeous Northern tip of the Yucatan. The island is small but perfectly formed and is part of the Yum-Balam Biosphere Reserve with its main industry being fishing. Although it’s still under the radar as a major tourist destination, the island does attract vacationers from other parts of Mexico as well as a handful of in-the-know travelers especially those interested in wildlife viewing and relaxation. One of my favorite places in this corner of the globe, it’s a very beautiful, private and very laid back place, and the island provides a welcome alternative to the crazily busy resorts in Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. The beaches here are simply stunning and if you’re exploring the rest of Mexico here’s a great guide to the Top 10 Mexican Beaches.

How to get to Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox - unspoilt destination in Mexico

It takes over two hours from Cancun to Chiquila (the village where the ferry to Isla Holbox is located). There are MAYAB and NORESTE buses that travel from the Cancun bus station to Chiquila and also numerous car and van services take visitors directly from the airport to the ferry. The hotels on Isla Holbox can arrange airport transfers for guests. Once in Chiquila it is a short, but very scenic and pleasant ferry ride to Holbox.

What to do

Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox is not a place for those seeking spring-break-style liveliness. It is a quiet, almost sleepy place – perfect for an unspoiled destination in Mexico. This is the place to head to if sitting under a palm tree with a good book is your favourite holiday activity. There are, however, plenty of stops in town if you’re looking for cocktails and good food. Casa Las Tortugas is another small hotel (also a popular place to spend the night), and it happens to be home to a great restaurant and bar. Don’t leave without trying the plantain sushi washed down with a great mezcal sour – trust me, it’s seriously delicious!

where to find Pink Flamingos Mexico

There are also outdoor activities on offer when you tire of just hanging around relaxing. The island is just 26 miles long but the shallow lagoon which separates the beautiful island from mainland Mexico is teeming with spectacular wildlife from pink flamingos and pelicans to other exotic birds and creatures. It has a protected natural preserve status which ensures it remains as unspoilt as possible, although a little word of warning – it can get humid on parts of the island, especially on trails adjacent to wildlife habitat which can bring out the pesky mosquitoes – so make sure you pack plenty of insect repellant!

Whale Shark

While most tourists love to see the flamingos filling up their pink bellies in lagoons on the island, diving, snorkelling and whale shark tours are another popular activity on the island. They congregate here during the summer months and the gentle sea creatures are truly a delight to see!

Accommodation

Isla Holbox

White sand bars and turquoise waters welcome visitors to this island. They stretch out for what seems like miles and there are no enormous towering (or five star) hotels obstructing the view. Small villas and inns dominate the accommodation on the island, almost all with a fabulous bohemian character and relaxing vibe appealing to those seeking a bit of refuge.

Villas Flamingos has a private oceanfront location further from the town square, and the hotel offers stunning views from nearly every room. A favourite activity here involves climbing into one of their hammocks, located out on the open water.

Another popular destination is Posada Mawimbi, located closer to the centre of town. The hotel feels less remote, but it has a unique, personal touch and is a popular stop for backpackers and families alike.

Villas Paraiso del Mar’s flower-covered bungalows are home to enormous incense-scented rooms decorated with dark hardwoods.

Where to stay Isla Holbox

The ocean stretches out in front of all of these hotels, and the warm white sand is only a step or two from the front door of any room.

To those planning a trip to the Yucatan, Mexico I would definitely recommend taking the time to consider alternatives to the busy all-inclusive chain hotels. You may find that Isla Holbox offers a different kind of vacation, one that allows for true relaxation with a scenic slice of what makes the Yucatan such a special destination! You may also like other pretty places to visit in Mexico.

Michael Anderson

Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always been a sucker for an adventure. As a kid he was lucky enough to live for many years in some exotic far-flung locations and since then he’s developed a taste for new cultures. So much in fact he now travels the world as a trading digital nomad, exploring the sizzling street markets of Bangkok to yoga retreat dotted Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for exotic cuisine and fine wine and definitely knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Tanzania, Amsterdam, Laos and Cambodia as his favourite destinations.

21 Comments

  • Avatar

    Allison

    4 September, 2019 at 5:10 am

    Thanks for the guide! I live in Playa del Carmen and have been dying to visit Holbox for a relaxing getaway! I’ll definitely have to try some of these recommendations.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      19 February, 2016 at 11:30 am

      Yes, I suspect you would find it much more appealing! Quiet, relaxing, and beautiful. No large corridors of hotels, no towers few cars (just golf carts…). It is a romantic and relaxing spot. But also, minimal luxury – this is a very down-to-earth spot, just my speed!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Suze - Luxury Columnist

    18 February, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I must admit that I hadn’t heard of this island but it looks absolutely stunning. Is it within travelling distance of Tulum?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      19 February, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Isla Holbox is about 1.5-2 hours from Cancun. And from what I remember, Tulum is about 1-2 hours added to the trip. Tulum is incredible as well, I love visiting the area. Thanks so much for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Maddy

    18 February, 2016 at 1:10 am

    I’ve visited Mexico 30+ times in my life, but have never heard of this place! That’s probably because I don’t usually frequent the Yucatan though. It looks absolutely gorgeous! I’m planning a long trip to Mexico in December, so I’m going to check this place out a bit more. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      19 February, 2016 at 11:24 am

      I am so glad you were inspired to visit! The Yucatan is stunning. I know the Yucatan well but I have not visited other areas in Mexico often enough. So it is probably time for me to get another trip booked soon!

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      18 February, 2016 at 1:16 am

      I understand completely what you mean! But it really does attract a very particular kind of traveler – someone who loves nature, wildlife, quiet, and relaxation. I am very hopeful that visitors continue to respect the island’s natural beauty. Thanks so much for reading!

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      17 February, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      There are a few hostels in Holbox, they are inexpensive, and some have campsites, but prices (and quality) do really vary depending on which part of Mexico you might like to visit. Some of the smaller inns are also very reasonable.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Sand In My Suitcase

    16 February, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    We just visited the Riviera Maya recently – and especially loved the Tulum ruins and snorkeling in the cenotes. On our drive back to the airport, our taxi driver said we should visit Isla Holbox when we return. It would be fantastic to snorkel with the whale sharks! (We enjoyed that in La Paz, near Cabo San Lucas – totally awesome experience!). And the Villas Paraiso del Mar you talk is just our style :-). We checked their website, and the little hotel looks delightful. Okay, you and our taxi driver have sold us on an Ilsa Holbox visit!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Iris

      17 February, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I am so glad that you like the hotel recommendations! The island really is a wonderful place. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Hung Thai

    16 February, 2016 at 6:11 am

    Whoa that last picture of the hammock is so relaxing looking. Man this place has that amazing vibe that makes you throw your worries away. I’m actually going to Yucatan this December (wedding) and it’ll be in the super resorts but I’ll have to definitely consider this next time I’m back here. Thanks!

    Reply

Leave a Reply