If you're looking for a laid-back and relaxing vacation destination, look no further than Holbox (pronounced "hol-BOSH"). The vibe is friendly and low-key, the roads are sandy, and the hotels and restaurants simple but fun. One of the island’s biggest draws is swimming with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, who visit the waters around Holbox from May to October.
Although it takes a bit of an effort to get there, once on Isla Holbox, you'll find it was well worth it. This 26 miles-long island is situated to the northwest of Cancun, where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet. The island is separated from the Mexican mainland by a shallow lagoon that lies within the Yum Balam nature reserve and is home to a vast array of bird species.
Where to Stay in Holbox
Holbox is lacking in big-name luxury hotels, but although you won’t find a Park Hyatt, you will find friendly, clean establishments full of castaway-in-paradise ambiance. Seek out a room with a view of the ocean and get ready to put in some hammock time.
La Palapa: Situated right on the beachfront at the northern tip of the island, this 16-room hotel offers lodging ranging from simple bungalows to second-floor suites.
Casa Sandra: This beachfront boutique hotel is one of Holbox’s most elegant, with just 12 European-style rooms, each whitewashed and replete with luxurious details like deep bathtubs, original art, and high thread-count linens. The suites feature great views of the ocean.
Casa Las Tortugas: This Italian-run hotel offers twelve charming thatched bungalows right on the beach, each decorated with eclectic artifacts gleaned from the mother-daughter owners’ world travels. There’s also a lovely pool, a beach bar, and poolside yoga lessons.
Where to Eat in Holbox
While you can find everything from pizza to sushi on Holbox, the most popular fare is fresh-caught seafood and fish, which every restaurant offers in various guises. Most restaurants and bars are simple, thatched-roof affairs, with wallet-friendly prices to match.
Viva Zapata, half a block west of the main square, is a fun spot that gets thronged with both locals and tourists, who come for seafood dishes cooked over a charcoal grill and cheap cocktails. Head to the second-floor terrace for balmy breezes and views.
Casa Lupita: Casual beachfront joint dishing out Tex-Mex grub like fajitas – chicken, beef, fish or shrimp – burritos and quesadillas, along with tourist staples like hamburgers. They also do make a great ceviche.
Zarabanda: This thatched-roof shack serves grilled whole fish, lobster with garlic sauce and Yucatecan specialties like sopa de lima.
Los Pelicanos: If you’re ready for a break from Mexican fare, try this friendly Italian restaurant on the main square, known for dishes like its frito misto – flash-fried fish and seafood – risottos and homemade pasta.
What to Do in Holbox
Although the most popular pastime on Holbox is enjoying the sun, sand and ocean breezes, those who are looking for more active diversions will also find things to do.
- Take a bird watching tour of the reserve by boat and look out for flamingos, pelicans and spoonbills, all of which make their home in these shallow warm waters and mangrove forests
- Go swimming with whale sharks, the gentle giants that feed in the deep waters close to Holbox (May through October)
- Rent a golf cart and explore the island’s beaches, bars, and laid-back street life
- Go snorkeling or kayaking in the calm waters off the island
- Kick back in a hammock at one of the island's many beach bars
- Learn how to stand up paddle board
- Take a yoga class looking over the beach
Getting to Holbox
Part of the island's appeal is its remote feel. Although it's only about 40 miles from Cancun, it is a bit complicated to get there. Mayab buses run twice daily from the main bus station in Cancun to the small port town of Chiquilá, or you can take a taxi for the bumpy two-hour ride. From there, catch one of the ferries that run nine times daily to Holbox. Once on the island, hire a porter with a bicycle cart to take you to your hotel.