Isla Holbox: the perfect place to disconnect
With perfect beaches, pristine, unspoiled water and remote enough to keep most everyone away
We discovered this little island by speaking with the staff at the Villa Del Palmar, many who have proved to be well traveled and in possession of great locations for the adventurous visitor. Isla Holbox is not generally known to the American tourists, for in the three years we’ve been visiting the Yucatan, it’s not been brought up once, either at poolside discussions, or travel agencies. It’s always Isla Mujeres, and this is probably because it’s across the bay, large and offers all the standard recreational activities, from rentals to nightlife. Always up for exploring new territory, we piled in the car and got going.
The small marina where you board the ferry to Isla Holbox
It’s about three hours by drive, a straight shot in the direction of Chitzen Itza. Nary a police officer in site outside the Cancun city limits, so we followed the locals who booked along at 80 mph. The road is flat, mostly straight with a few turns here and there, but eventually dead-ends at a pier. You will pay about $5 US to park your car, and another $2.50 per adult for the forty-minute ferry ride over. We saw loads of people crammed into mini-taxi buses, mostly young, honeymooners wanting to escape to the romantic, micro island for a few days. I write this with a caveat: those poor passengers were squished in like sardines, and we learned it cost them about $100 US of the three-hour journey. If you’re staying a week and not renting a car, then I suppose it’s reasonable. Just recognize you may want to splurge the extra $20 for a nicer minivan service. If you want to charter a plane, the small airstrip can handle a six-seater Cessna, and that’s about it.
Micro it is
This is perhaps the smallest island I’d ever been on. It reminded me a lot of Rarotonga in terms of vibe, and size. Both are roughly 26 miles long, but the difference ends there. Holbox is only 1.5 km wide, the island has virtually no cars and people walk, or rent mopeds or golf carts. The walk from the ferry the short distance of about 500 yards into central downtown. Most people are in flip flops, because anything more than that is overkill. The beaches are unspoiled and white, and most of all, because it’s facing west, wind doesn’t exist as it does on the eastern-facing Cancun side. Between the soft, white sand and lack of wind, it is simply heaven. It’s also hot.
Tragic tails of boats of the past dot the entry bay to Isla Holbox- enough to make it interesting but not so many that it scares the tourists
The food, hotels and tourist-y things
Unlike Isla Mujeres, which is diverse enough offer every type of water sports, hotel accommodations, eaters and lots of private homes and yachts, Isla Holbox pretty much has a couple of each, if that. The hotels are more like bungalows, but sit beachside. The nicest restaurants are those attached (or within) the boutique hotels. Quite a few outdoor, casual/beach dining eaters exist, but one shows up in the bikini, not the cocktail dress. Because cars and even private golf carts aren’t allowed, and walking is the norm, prepare to wake up and take a stroll from one side of the island to the other.
That said, locals couldn’t stop telling us about “swimming with the whale sharks” that take place between June and September. As we always go to Mexico around the spring break timeframe, we’ve not experienced that, but certainly have to mention it.
This is it: “Main Street” which you will walk from the ferry to downtown, which is about 200 metres in front of this shot. If you are with a boutique, a golf cart will be waiting. If not, you can hitch a ride (pay, actually) at the marina. Otherwise you are walking.
Smooth sand, quaint eateries and boutique hotels….so perfect for a couple
Family friendly but…
My girls loved the beach, for about three hours. At 9 and 13, they were looking for something…anything to do. If you consider Cancun, where one can rent a jetski, go parasailing, kayaking or anything other pleasure activity one can imagine, it’s not a reality in Isla Holbox. This place is quietly free from loud machines or rentals of any sort. Parked off the beach aren’t party boats, but multi-million-dollar yachts, and once or twice we saw the occupants step in to small watercraft to come ashore.
This was a Saturday. See how empty it is? Aww…the reason you go is because no one else is and it feels like you are all alone…mostly.
What I like best about Isla Holbox
The amazing street art, easy, low-key, local feeling of the area. It’s overwhelmingly populated with native people, leaving folks like us in a small minority. It’s definitely more Sausalito in terms of casual attitude than La Jolla, and we got a lot of practice with our Spanish. The amazingly soft, white sand and crystal clear waters is honestly the best we’ve experienced in the Yucatan thus far.
Those lucky enough to have an off-shore ride to and from the beach.
What I like least
How long it takes to get there. Since we drove, it was 3 hours, as I mentioned, but by boat, going from the tip of the Isla Blanca, where the Villa Del Palmar is located, would have only taken about 30 minutes, because it’s going tip to tip. By driving, we had to go all the way down, then back up the other peninsula. Of course, flying is another level, and we ain’t there yet.
Mainly a fishing community, tourism is increasing, but slowly–for which I’m very grateful
After you walk the beach, return to the casual stops twenty feet away
Take away recommendation
For honeymooners or a couple/individual looking to completely and utterly disconnected, Isla Holbox is your destination. Between the pace of the island, the clarity and beauty of the water and beach, Isla Holbox can’t be beat, at least not in the Yucatan Peninsula. For a family, well, I’d say it’s a nice, one-time experience, but we may wait a few years until they are older—or we return by ourselves. The girls recounted the four hours it took to get on the island, then the three hours spent on the beach, and the four to return. We had to agree with them—not the best place for active, mid-range kids, perfect for everyone else!
Perhaps this poor sea creature had suicidal tendencies, but he got there and stayed.
Tip: Be sure to check the ferry schedule, as it stops running to the Mainland early on weekdays