I want to write about a little island in the Riviera Maya before everyone’s heard of it (and play it out on IG 😜). Here’s my ultimate guide to Holbox Island, Mexico! In Holbox, you won’t find bougie restaurants (a couple maybe!), let alone paved streets. There is no cars on this island, except for service delivery trucks. Long time residents of Playa del Carmen tell true tales about the good ol’ days when the beauty of Playa del Carmen was raw just like Holbox still is now. Things sure change quickly so next time you are in the Riviera Maya make sure to save a couple of days (at least) to visit this magical island!
I am sharing my experience on how-to get there, where to stay, what to do and where to eat of course 😉 And a few other tips I wish someone would had told me about before we went. I learned the hard lessons so you don’t have to. Quick friendly note — All my travel stories are for anyone who likes to travel “like a local.” So here’s my best advice to travel well and for a smart price. Getting to know locals is super important to me and get to experience a bit of what it’s like to live in Holbox. I hope my ultimate guide to Holbox Island Mexico will make your next trip easy breezy!
So first things first — Where to eat!? Above is the darling restaurant La Isla de Colibri. I only got to try their juices and coffee but people love it for breakfast. Holbox is mostly “cheap eats” according to Trip Advisor but don’t be fooled this means delicious home-style casual eats like seafood, tacos and traditional no-BS food.
My recommendations are Las Panchas — for great fish tacos, ceviche and anything fish! I recommend this place for lunch, very casual and service is ok but food definitely makes up for it! Restaurant is a half block from the beach and cash only.
You will have the best pizza of your life at ROOTS Pizza a la leña (firewood pizza). Owned by a super cool group of young guys that even built a slack line and hula hoop playground within the restaurant! I can’t forget about their artisanal cocktails! A++ Cash only but sometimes they take cards if wifi is working.
And our go-to for breakfast and late night live music was Et Voilà. A French (with a Mexican flare) lil’ quaint restaurant with amazing lively vibes and the friendliest staff ever! Most nights you will find the French owner dancing and pumping up the atmosphere! Oh! One of the few places that takes credit cards and working wifi! (I will talk more about this later).
If you happen to be here on a weekend, food carts will set up around the main center (where basketball and soccer fields are). I recommend trying a few, this is as authentic and fresh food as you will get!
Next…the cash situation!
Now on to my most important part of the trip — THE CASH. We made the huge mistake on thinking we would be able to pull out cash if we ran out. I made the mistakes so you don’t have to 😉 If you’re going to Holbox Island bring all the money you think you will use. DO NOT rely on credit cards or taking money out of an ATM. Why? Because there was ONLY 1 working atm on the island! The problem is that once money runs out of the ATM no one really knows when they will come to put in more (I heard it’s usually once a week). We ran out of money and let’s just say I was freaking out. Luckily within a day they loaded the ATM. Remember this is a true small island, most places do not take credit cards and you will need the cash for the ferry and your bus ride back to town.
Next…the transportation situation.None of the streets are paved! True island style so don’t bother bringing your fancy shoes or heels!The island’s beaches are split between the Gulf of Mexico (shown here) and caribbean side. We chose to stay on the Gulf side because I was curious about the water and it did not disappoint! The water’s main characteristic is the light green color vs the caribbean’s blue. Water is calm and flawless!
Now on to transportation…How to get there? Not on a scooter hehe!
There’s 2 ways and the wrong way like we did lol! I will start with the easiest, most comfortable and affordable way to get there from Playa del Carmen via ADO bus (air condition, reclining seats, with restroom on bus). The trip is 2.5 hours from Playa to Chiquila [pronounced she-key-lah]. The bus will cost you $250 Pesos. Check at ADO terminal for times but usually they will be early on the day because ferries to the island (in Chiquila) do not cross late. Once you get to Chiquila you will walk over to the pier where you will catch 1 of the 2 ferries to Holbox. They go out about every 30 minutes and will cost you about $150 Pesos.
Now on the another way. Rent a car in Playa del Carmen and drive to Chiquila. I do not prefer this way only because I wouldn’t want to drive in Mexico and specially for over 2 hours! The plus of this is that you do not have to come back to Chiquila as early because of the bus (last bus to return to Playa is at 4pm). I have never rented a car but I hear it’s about $50 bucks a day.
Now the wrong way…We made mistake of not checking buses from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila. For some reason I was under the impression you had to go to Cancun then take the bus from there to Chiquila. Boy I was wrong. We took a small bus (collective) to Cancun bus terminal and took the only bus available to Chiquila called Mayab which is a third class bus. I am not picky or anything, I can definitely rough it, but this bus took so long it felt like forever because it kept stopping to drop off and pick up people off the road. So it felt third class and the uncomfortable seats definitely were noticeable after the 2nd hour. Took 3.5 hours to get to Chiquila phewww!
How to return to Chiquila then to Playa del Carmen:
Basically the same — Take the ferry back to Chiquila BUT the most important thing to remember is that the ONLY ADO bus to Playa del Carmen leaves at 4:15pm. If you miss this bus you can take a cab to Playa which may be costly or take a colectivo (collective small bus) which will cost about the same (as the ADO) 250 pesos but not as comfortable.No fuss no muss…This is how the beach was most days while there. Only a few people on sight. I don’t know about you but a beach to myself is what dreams are made of! There is a few beach bars but we chose to do it differently, with our own drinks and feeling the sand beneath us 🙂 Very important to remember a beach in their natural state has seaweed on the shore and shells. They are not perfectly manicured (by man) white sand beaches, so if that is what you’re looking for then Holbox may not be for you.So much Mexican pride around the island. This is the dome at the town’s center.
So easy to make friends here! Thank you to Vero, Alejandro and friends for making us feel at home ❤️
Last but not least where to stay:
We chose to stay on the beach and I could not believe the price of the hotel! $47 dollars a night for beach front at Hotel La Diosa. A small eco friendly hotel that seems recently remodeled. All sheets and inside of the rooms looked brand new! I highly recommend, very minimal but as long as it’s clean and there is AC we’re good!
Only downside which was very common around the island is the wifi. Rooms did not have wifi only in the common area. This turned out to be a plus because it gave us a chance to disconnect from the digital nomad life and enjoy each other and our new friends 🙂 Note: You will see lack of reviews on Trip Advisor (it recently re-opened apparently) or people complaining about the lack of wifi but this is clearly mentioned when booking. I had a great experience and since we barely spent time in the motel it was just what we needed.
One last note! What to do…
- Wait until night falls, I’m talking like past 10pm and walk along the beach until you reach darkness and enjoy the Bioluminescence in the water. In case you haven’t heard about this world wonder, bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. So when you go in contact with it in the water it activates and you sparkle! The darker the better, in some areas you will see it on the surface of the water activated by the contact with fish and crashing waves. In my experience it wasn’t dark enough, so I was only able to see the glowing water when I splashed around! It is truly magical! You can also choose to take a tour where they will take you to deeper and darker parts of the island by boat so you can fully enjoy the magic! Important tip if you are walking along the shore! Do not bring ANY valuables let alone your cell (you will not be able to photograph it, just doesn’t show). Some locals take advantage of people leaving their items on the shore and steal them while you are in the water. Let’s just say I left my sandals and they were gone later lol
- Take a tour to see flamingo island! YES, there is flamingos on this island
- The island is known for their whale shark population. Do not worry these gently giants stay in deep waters so you need to take a boat tour to see these beauties.
- Go to Punta Mosquito to relax on their water hammocks. I still can’t believe I didn’t go there 😭 This place is IG perfection!
- The sunsets are like cotton candy. Make sure you save an afternoon to do nothing but enjoy this gift from nature.