Isla Holbox (pronounced hol-BOSH) is an island situated to the northwest of Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo. The island, whose inhabitants make their living from fishing and tourism, is 26 miles long and separated from the Mexican mainland by a shallow lagoon that lies within the Yum Balam nature reserve and is home to an array of bird species.
The vibe is friendly and low-key: the roads are sandy, the people laid-back 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.
What to Do in Isla Holbox:
- 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.
- Between May to October, go swimming with whale sharks, the gentle giants that feed in the deeper waters close to Holbox
- 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 string of beach bars
Where to eat and drink:
While you can find everything from pizza to sushi on Holbox, the most popular fare – not surprisingly – 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.
- 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 a really fresh 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 pastas.
- 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 the seafood dishes cooked over a charcoal grill and the cheap cocktails. Head to the second floor terrace for balmy breezes and views.
Where to Stay on Isla Holbox:
High-end travelers might be disappointed when they land in Holbox, which 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 ambience. 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. Av. Morelos 231, Holbox; Phone +52 984-875-2121. Check rates
Read a review of La Palapa
- 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.
Calle de la Equality s/n, Holbox; Phone +52 984-875-2171. Check rates
- 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.
Calle de la Igualdad s/n, Holbox; Phone +52 984-875-2129 Check rates
Getting There and Away:
Mayab buses run twice daily from the main bus station in Cancun to the small port town of Chiquilá. From there, catch one of the ferries that run nine times daily to Holbox (around $45 pesos). Once on the island, porters in bicycle carts – who wait portside to meet the ferry -- can be hired for a handful of pesos to take you to your hotel.