When I first heard about Isla Holbox, I knew I wanted to go. I outlined a travel route with Isla Holbox (pronounced Holbosh) for the end of our trip. For the last month of our travels, I was frequently looking at #IslaHolbox on Instagram. It looked stunning.
Our last week in Mexico was spent in Merida. We were busy seeing local sites and striving to get all our work done before Friday. After a few long days of working and busy days visiting some of the top sites nearby, we finished our work Thursday night and had a celebratory beer before catching our night bus.
Getting to Isla Holbox
The island is in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. To get to the island, you have to take a ferry from the small port town of Chiquila. The only way to get there from Merida is the night bus. Departing at 11.30pm, it stopped in Valladolid on the way and rocked up in Chiquila at 5.15am. The ferry to the island runs every hour and perhaps every half an hour later in the afternoon. We took the ferry across at 6 am and watched the sunrise. We arrived at 6.30am.
Arriving in Isla Holbox
When we arrived, the tiny island was still sleeping. The small local fruit & veg market was open. We bought some bananas and headed for the beach. It was beautiful. The sun was up now and the beach was quiet. The sea was so turquoise and the sand delightfully white. We were very tired but happy to be there. Not long after 7.30am, the breakfast spots were opening up. We headed to the trendy and busy Basico restaurant. A little more expensive than where we might usually eat in Mexico but it was the end of our trip and we had pesos left to spend!
After breakfast, we checked into our hostel. Tribu Hostel is known for being the place to be for backpackers. It’s a little pricier than other places in Mexico but that’s true of the whole island. It’s an excellent hostel and well worth the money (be sure to book in advance). It has a chilled out vibe with really friendly staff but also great nightlife and evening atmosphere.
We dropped our bags off, checked our final work emails and the holiday officially began! We booked the first week of July off work so for us, this is was an actual holiday. We’ve been working while travelling around Mexico, so taking time off at the end of our trip was important to us. We disconnected and I didn’t get my laptop out until our first day back in the UK.
Note: The wifi on the island is awful (I mean, it is an island). I would not recommend it for working or being a digital nomad. Besides, once you see the beach, the last thing you want to be doing is looking at a laptop for hours every day.
What to do in Isla Holbox?
We had one main plan for Isla Holbox: Relax. I took my watch off (rare for me) and wore pretty much the same two outfits for the whole time we were there. The island so chilled out. You don’t need to worry about time or how you look. The hostel is about three minutes from the beach. We got our swimwear on and headed for the sand and sea.
My word. We saw the beach early in the morning but when we returned, the sky was a cloudless blue and the sea was bright turquoise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a combination like it. I’ve been to amazing beaches before but this was something else. The mixture of blue and turquoise, to me, was paradise – cue Coldplay singing in my head.
We swam in the sea, drank beer for 25 pesos (£1) at Cariocas beach bar and walked along for a while. There are, of course, lots of hotels and cabanas along the beach. However, it’s not a big built up resort like Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. It was super relaxed. Unlike many beach resorts, only two people tried to sell us things and it was with a very laid back approach.
In the late afternoon, we took naps in the hammocks at the hostel. While there are plenty of restaurants to eat at along the beach or in the town, we opted for the ‘all you can eat’ pizza at the hostel. It was an opportune time to meet people. Brits, Australians, Germans, New Zealanders, a Chinese and a Korean all joined us and we swapped travel stories and got to know one another.
Aside from relaxing and eating, there are a few activities such as kayaking and seeing local wildlife. But, as it was the end of our trip, our plan was to simply relax.
Whale Sharks in Isla Holbox
Aside from the relaxation, one of the main draws to Isla Holbox between June and September is the Whale Sharks. The largest animals in the world can be seen a few hours from the island, meaning day tours are popular. There are a plethora of companies who offer tours and I can’t offer advice as we didn’t do a tour but I know some travel bloggers who can.
We swung back and forth about taking a tour but in the end, we opted not to see the whale sharks. The first day we were so tired from the night bus and wanted the next day to lie in and go at our own pace (most of the tours leave at 7am or earlier). I like animals but am not passionate about seeing them. I’ve heard many good things but I didn’t feel too heartbroken that we didn’t go. My head was still singing ‘Paradise’ and I was happy just to enjoy the beach.
Two Three Days in Isla Holbox
We had a blissful lie in on Saturday morning. We went for a late breakfast and spent some time with an Australian guy we met the night previously. Our afternoon plan was simple: go to the beach. We invited some people from the hostel and all headed to the beach. After a swim, we grabbed some beers and sat in the sea and drank. We definitely spent too long in the sun as I felt dehydrated in the evening. I had an early night but it had been an awesome day.
I woke up on Sunday sad to be leaving. Mitch had a tequila-filled night previously so I let him sleep while I took a morning stroll along the beach before check-out. I brought my iPhone and walked down the beach playing the Coldplay song that has been in my head for the past 2 days. After looking at the #IslaHolbox on Instagram for the past month, I was determined to find the famous hammocks in the sea with ‘Holbox’ written at the top. I found them. They looked awesome.
I arrived back at the hostel and nudged Mitch awake so we had time to pack and make sure we had plenty of time to get the ferry in time for the bus to Cancun. The first thing he said when I woke him was “I don’t want to leave.” We went to the beach for one last photo and we pondered if we could actually stay an extra day in paradise.
Our flight was due to leave Monday afternoon from Cancun. We knew there was an early ferry and bus to Cancun so it could be possible to leave super early the next day. “Let’s just see if they have any rooms for tonight,” I suggested, thinking this will quickly resolve the dilemma.
They had one double room left. We discussed it and decided that having one double room left was a sign! If you’re in a similar situation, you should know that the general consensus is that as long as your flight is after 1pm, taking the 5am ferry and 5.45am bus to Cancun, you will be able to get to your flight on time.
On our third and final day, we spent more time on the beautiful beach and watched the gorgeous sunset.
Should You Visit Isla Holbox?
My answer is of course, yes. If you’re looking for lots of adventure then no – the main thing to do is chill and really enjoy the slow pace of the island. There is a party and nightlife scene but nothing compared to Cancun. It’s much more chilled than that. There are no big hotel complexes and 50% of the tourists also seemed to be Mexican. I sincerely hope it stays this way. There are whispers of Holbox being of a keen interest to hotel developers which I think would be a real shame.
I also worry that the increase in tourism would affect the whale sharks. Many of the tour operators are regulated but some are better than others. The whale sharks are in their natural habitat which is great but I would hate the influx of tourism to disturb them.
I spoke to an Australian guy on the first night who had not long been in Mexico and he said it didn’t feel like the ‘real Mexico.’ I understand why he said this. When I think of Mexico, I think of anicent ruins, gorgeous churches and colourful towns. Isla Holbox has lots of tourists and the beach is set up for holiday-makers.
However, if I’ve learnt anything from nearly five months in Mexico, it’s that diversity is the key to its beauty. Isla Holbox is Mexico. It’s the part of Mexico with a slow pace and place to relax. Yes, there is tourism but it’s as much ‘real Mexico’ as Mexico City, Guanajuato or Oaxaca.
I loved it. To me, it was paradise.