Many Mexico-loving travelers have been to or heard of Tulum, Rivera Nayarit, Cabo, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen, but few have the tiny island of Holbox (at a mere 26 miles long) on their radar.
Totally remote and off-the-grid, this laid-back gem is home to colorful street art murals, exotic birds roaming shallow lagoons, a barefoot acceptance policy, car-free roads and beaches sprinkled with the same soft white sand, and some of the most beautiful water you’ve seen, thanks to its perfect location between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s also where you can take part in the local adventure activity: Swimming with whale sharks. What you can’t expect to find in Holbox however, are big name resorts or even much WiFi or AC for that matter. And that’s exactly how the friendly locals—who make a living off of fishing—like it.
Consider this your official playbook for everything to do and see while visiting this truly enchanting haven.
1. How to Get There
Option #1: Take the Mayab bus from the Cancun Terminal de Autobuses to the town of Chiquila ($7), followed by the ferry from Cancun to Chiquila ($8)
Option #2: Take a private plane from Cancun to Holbox ($700 and up for 1-5 people)
Option #3: Take ground transportation from Cancun to Chiquila ($300), followed by the ferry from Cancun to Chiquila ($8)
2. Where to Stay
SER CasaSandra, a “Hotel Con Arte” really is the most intimate and romantic place to stay while in Holbox. Each of the 18 bungalows and (one luxury villa) has canopy-styled beds, bathroom amenities made from local ingredients, and fresh water and fruit delivered daily, and some even feature hammocks and terraces facing the water. Plus the property’s charming and attentive staff will feel like family by the time you’re ready to depart—not that you ever will be. Aside from the eclectic artwork, handmade Mexican furniture, Cuban antiques, and beach access directly across the path, one of the main reasons to check in is for owner Sandra Pérez’s thoughtful notes you’ll find left in your room every now and then, quoting a famous poet and offering travelers insight into the special world she has created at CasaSandra.
3. Where to Eat and Drink
Esencia. CasaSandra’s signature restaurant is a must while here. Whether you dine by candlelight indoors, or al fresco on the patio, you can’t go wrong with dishes such as cassava and lobster salad, grouper tiraditos, fish filet al secreto or lobster fettuccine.
El Sushi de Holbox. It’s as simple as fresh fish with a latin twist at El Sushi, where chimchurri rolls, freshly-caught snapper sashimi, and lightly-seared tuna coated in sesame seeds are standard fare. Whatever you do though, don’t leave without sampling their ginger marg.
Las Panchas. Go for cheap, but tasty, staples like stingray, shark, and pork empanadas and chaya tamales.
Mandarina Beach Club at Hotel Las Tortugas. The vibes at this beachfront palapa are so good it’s easy to forget you came here for the comida (and their wide selection of mezcals). When you do finally get around to eating, after ‘gramming the scene, order favorites like the guacamole, seafood burgers, gazpacho, and shrimp tacos.
Restaurant Edelyn. Two words: Lobster pizza.
4. What to Do
Most of your time will be spent wandering or biking around, taking in the impressive street art murals or finding a hammock (many are perched directly in the water) to spend the afternoon lounging in, but ask any local about the #1 must-try activity when in Holbox and they’ll tell you to swim with the whale sharks.
This excursion (that takes place during the months of June through September) isn’t a Jaws type of outing where you’ll become their afternoon snack. Whale sharks may be the largest fish in the sea, but they’re also slow-moving filter-feeders, so you’ll return back to your casa with all your limbs intact. Book your tickets with VIP Holbox Experience since they have the best guides in the area and serve fresh ceviche they make right on the boat during the outing. Pro tip: Bring a quality underwater camera like the new GoPro HERO6 model since you’ll want to document your aquatic adventures on social media.
Aside from frolicking with the sharks, you can also venture over to the protected wildlife sanctuary Isla Pajaros to spot exotic birds like flamingos, pelicans, and ducks and take a dip in the fresh water lagoon Cenote Yalahao that legend believes to be a “fountain of youth.”
5. What to Pack
Repeat after us: SPF, SPF, SPF. The sun here is no joke, so be sure to protect your pucker with a lip product with sunscreen like Fresh Sugar Sport Treatment Sunscreen SPF 30 ($25).
Sandals are great and all, but when you want to get out there and explore, you need a sporty slide that won’t get caught up in your bike spokes. Sofft’s Somer Flat ($55)—in textured metallic gold—is perfect for the task.
All those harsh rays and saltwater can take a toll on your locks. Make sure they’re well treated while you’re jet setting with Oribe’s The Beautiful Color Travel Collection ($24).
Wheeled carry-ons are a lifesaver at the airport, but once you get to Holbox’s unpaved roads you’re going to want to nix the wheels and transport your stuff via handles. Luckily this American Tourister 4 Kix Rolling Tote ($40) allows you to do both.
Chic shades are a vacay must and Perverse’s Roman Sunnies ($24) are affordable and handmade. Win-win.
The best attire for Holbox? Breezy rompers like this Roxy Hippy Hour ($45) one that go from beach-to-dinner effortlessly.