The Legend of Little Holbox
In the beginning Isla Holbox was a place just for the birds.
The pink flamingos daintily bathed in the crystalline water.
The pelicans dove in head first
emerging triumphantly with the catch of the day.
The sea eagles called their warning across a spectacularly blue sky.
When the Spaniards came to claim their stake
the ocean washed their ships away.
Then came the pirates
to collect the treasures in the sunken Spanish galleons.
They discovered all of the jewels and the gold
but even these treasures couldn’t quench their primal thirst.
So they looked for the wellspring of the island
and they found it in a freshwater lagoon.
With each sip they felt full of life again
and claimed this lagoon the most sacred of the land.
They plunged their treasures into its watery mouth
as a sacrifice to give thanks for the gift of life.
Some say he who finds that source again
will discover the treasures of this earth.
Centuries later I washed up on Holbox’s white sand shores
just like the pirates and the Spanish explorers.
Blinded by sunshine and white toothy smiles
I knew this was a place I could stay for a while.
I rode through the town in the back of a golf cart
passing barefoot pedestrians and the occasional mini mart.
Saw green juice food trucks and octopus taco carts
first class Italian and French bakery tarts.
Adorable Mayan children playing soccer in the park
beside concrete walls painted with conscious street art.
It didn’t take long for the island vibe to sink in
my bare feet in the sand warm sun on my skin.
Walking for days on the white sand beach
listening to the gulls and the pelicans preach.
Eating ceviche while staring at the sea
chit chatting with fishermen who flirt shamelessly.
Though my heart ached a little in the face of development
I wondered if one day Holbox would be covered in pavement.
Each hotel construction site and golf cart on the shore
left me worried for a day when paradise would be no more.
‘Cause I know tourism always comes at a cost
more often than not it means paradise lost.
And I heard about these birds called fragatas on Holbox
who can’t fish their own food because they forgot.
Instead they steal the fish of the seagulls and the pelicans
like the spirits of the pirates robbing the Mayans.
I thought about the beach resorts and touristic restaurants
and the fishermen on the island who worked hard to feed us.
But even the pirates who came so long ago
learned quickly that water is more valuable than gold.
If I wanted to discover this treasure for myself
I needed to explore deeper to find the true source.
I started on a fishing boat that traversed the reserve
protected jungle wetlands called the Mayan Jaguar Lord.
On the route once taken by pirates
we swam in an emerald lagoon
in the water I swear I saw flecks of gold
was it the pirate booty the water had consumed?
Back in Holbox I took a bike and rode through mud puddles
down to the pristine and virgin side of the island.
Alone without the sounds of anything but the sea
I connected with the nature, the source of divinity.
Sitting with the trees who gave me such sweet shelter
bathing in the ocean, her body my protector.
Away in the distance what did I see
but a flock of flamingos bathing leisurely.
What I saw next truly shocked me
two pirate birds at the ocean not stealing but fishing.
Then this sweet message came right to me
when we return to nature we find all that we need.
I carried that message straight from my heart
and rode back to town before it got dark.
Sitting out on the dock jutting over the sea
I watched the sunset with a rainbow behind me.
The sky lit on fire and drew in the community
sharing such happiness in life’s simplicity.
Vacationers or backpackers or expats or fishermen
It didn’t matter where we came from nor how nor when.
We all came to Holbox with the same intention in mind
to unbecome ourselves and let the island hit rewind.
Whether or not we knew it we all came for the treasure
and we found it the moment we connected with The Mother.
Now we know the legend
so let’s write the prophecy
that Holbox will forever
be a natural sanctuary
that Holbox will forever
live in harmony
that Holbox will forever
be Earth wild and free.
Won’t you let that prophecy
be our reality?
What to Expect in Isla Holbox
I prefer to arrive somewhere with zero expectations and let it surprise me. That said, when planning a trip it can be nice to have some info to help you prepare. Here are my observations, which may help you decide whether you want to go to Holbox and how much time to spend there. Keep in mind, these are my opinions based on my personal experience, and they won’t necessarily be true for you.
Lots of wildlife and virgin beaches
Perhaps the most magical thing about Holbox is that you easily observe wildlife, especially bird life, without needing to go on any tour. Just walking around the island you’ll see tons of pelicans, egrets, and flamingos if you’re lucky. If you’re there at the right time of year, swimming with whale sharks is a popular activity. You can also easily access completely undeveloped virgin beaches by walking the beach or taking a bicycle. Much of the territory is protected as well, keeping the nature intact. For these reasons, Isla Holbox was one of my favorite places I visited in Mexico.
Lots of golf carts and hotels
Compared to the rest of the Yucatan, Isla Holbox is wonderfully undeveloped. That said, the main beach still has plenty of hotels and sunbeds, which for a Costa Rica dweller can feel quite developed. There are no roads nor cars, making it an awesome place to wander around barefoot, but there are often golf carts going up and down the main roads, which for me at times detracted from the slow island vibe. Again, compared to many beach towns in the world, it’s still very peaceful and undeveloped.
Mud puddles and unpaved roads
When you’re walking or biking around the island, it can sometimes be a bit messy, especially if there’s recently been a rain. Big mud puddles, construction mess, and garbage can sometimes be found on the streets. No worries, the beach is clean and very easy to walk down. Just keep in mind, this is more of a no shoes no shirt kind of place than a see and be seen one.
Different water from the Caribbean
After going to Isla Mujeres, I expected Isla Holbox to have that same glowing aqua water. While the water is still pretty and clear when it hasn’t been stormy, it’s more of a blue than a turquoise because the water connects with the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are still nice, but don’t expect the sugar sands of Tulum and the glowing sea of Isla Mujeres. Perhaps this is one reason why Isla Holbox has managed to maintain so much charm instead of suffering the fate of Cancun.
Many businesses only accept cash and there’s just one ATM in town that occasionally runs out of money. Prepare by bringing cash with you, and check ahead to be sure your hotel accepts cards.
Islands tend to be more expensive than the mainland, and Isla Holbox is certainly more expensive than other places I’ve been in Mexico. When eating out in restaurants, expect to pay American prices ($10 for a plate of pasta, $20 for fish). There are some budget options but many hotels cost over $200 per night. That said, I found Isla Holbox much less expensive than Tulum, especially since everything is close to the beach.
How to Get to Isla Holbox
One of the reasons why Isla Holbox has escaped the tourism boom of the Rivieria Maya, is because it’s a bit of an adventure getting there. All boats heading to Isla Holbox depart from a small seaside town called Chiquila. Ferries leave just about every hour, or you can catch a ride with some local fishermen once the boat is full. To get to Chiquila, most travelers catch the bus from Cancun, which takes about 3 hours and costs around $10. Alternatively, you can organize a private shuttle service from various destinations including the Cancun airport. Expect to pay about $150 for an organized shuttle or a private taxi. You can also get to Holbox from Merida, Valladolid, and other cities in the Yucatan though bus times are more limited. Get more info on bus schedules here.
Where to Sleep in Isla Holbox
Most of the lodging in Isla Holbox is set right on the beach or a couple of blocks away. Budget travelers have a few camping and hostel options and those looking for luxury will also find it at a price. Here are my top recommendations for where to stay in Isla Holbox.
$10 for a dorm, $30 for a double with private bathroom
Tribu is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in anywhere. The facilities are very clean, it’s affordable, and the location is awesome, half a block from the beach. There’s a big well-equipped communal kitchen, different activities going on nightly, and yoga on the terrace overlooking the ocean. If you’re traveling on a budget, there’s no better place to stay.
Rent a House
If you’re traveling with a group, I highly recommend checking out Air Bnb and VRBO for vacation rentals. You’ll have more space and spend less than a hotel, and you can prepare your own food. I’ve seen some beautiful beachfront house rentals where you can make your own margaritas and watch the sunset from a hammock.
Hotel el Pueblito
Doubles starting at $70
It’s not directly on the beach, but this hotel is very beautiful and reasonably priced. It’s right in the center of town near some of the best restaurants on the island and a short walk to the ocean.
Casa las Tortugas
Rooms starting at $275
Casa las Tortugas is the most wellness oriented lodging on Holbox with yoga, healthy dining options, a swimming pool, spa, and even retreat programs. It’s on the quieter side of the beach, but still within walking distance to the main street with all of the restaurants. I recommend staying in one of the beach cabanas. If you can’t swing the cost, pop in to the upstairs restaurant at happy hour for discounted mojitos and sushi with a sunset view. The lower restaurant, La Mandarina, has gourmet cuisine sourced from local organic suppliers.
Doubles staring at $90 in low season
This intimate little beachfront hotel is the highest rated in Holbox, and it’s easy to see why. The nine rooms and two bungalows are artfully decorated with love and it has a cozy homey vibe. Also check out the beachfront restaurant with a constantly changing international menu.
Where to Eat in Isla Holbox
For a small island with no cars, Isla Holbox has an excellent selection of restaurants and a pretty decent market. If you’re looking to nibble, head to the fruit market on the main drag in the morning for fresh tortillas, fruit and veg, homemade cornbread, and some food stalls with ceviche and other local goodies. There are also a few small gourmet grocery stores also on the main street selling gourmet cheese, salad greens, quinoa, almonds, and lots of other healthy delights. Every morning I got a huge green juice from a juice and baguette truck on the main street, but I forget the name. Anyway, you can’t miss it and go there! Restaurants typically serve fresh seafood with their own flair, and if you get the chance try to famous lobster pizza.
Breakfast and lunch starting at 30 pesos
I love this sweet little cafe overlooking the main street in Isla Holbox. It’s the only fully vegetarian restaurant on the island and it has lots of healthy options. I hear the breakfast and sandwiches are top notch, but I was a big fan of the salad with falafel. They close around 1pm so make sure to come in early.
Consistently rated the best Mexican food on Holbox, and super economical. Come in for some delicious octopus tacos.
Breakfast starting at 30 pesos
This sweet little garden cafe is the most popular breakfast spot on the island. Come early for an excellent coffee and pastries so good you’d swear you were in France. It’s only open until early afternoon, but it’s my favorite place on the island to get online and do some writing.
Mains starting at $10
Some of the best Italian food you can find outside of Italy, definitely stop in for a dinner to linger. Try the excellent handmade pasta and seafood dishes, especially the grilled tuna, lobster pasta, and the pesto shrimp spaghetti. I love the terrace overlooking the main street and it has a very romantic twinkly vibe.
Starting at $10
For the freshest, local food, head to Chapulim with a tiny menu that changes daily. Expect super fresh seafood with island Latin fusion flavors. Come early for dinner because when they run out, they run out. Grab a table out on the patio to people watch by candlelight.
El Sushi de Holbox
Rolls starting at $5
Consistently rated the best sushi on the island, the rolls are made with fresh fish and local ingredients. Don’t miss it! The location is awesome overlooking the main for fun people watching.
What to Do in Isla Holbox
When it’s the season, the most popular activity in Holbox is swimming with the whale sharks. However most people come to soak in the island vibe and do nothing at all. So grab a hammock, take a beach walk, chat with the locals, make new friends, watch the sunset, and let the island take you. When you get restless, here are some activities to get you moving.
Cycle the Island
Rent a bicycle and the island is yours! Cycle down to Punta Coco for the most beautiful virgin beach where you can swim with white egrets and flamingos if you’re lucky. The island gets very hot in the day and there isn’t much shade, so bring lots of water and a hat.
Three Islands Tour
At all of the tour offices you’ll see the Three Islands Tour advertised. It’s a three tour for around 300 pesos ($20) to parts of the Yum Balam reserve you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. The tour is typically in Spanish, but you do get to see many beautiful birds and swim in an amazing lagoon called known as the fountain of youth.
Swim with Whale Sharks
Easily the main attraction on Isla Holbox is the opportunity to swim with the beautiful whale sharks who come every summer. They typically arrive in May and stay through September. Find out more info on the tours here.
Watch the Sunset
The most beautiful time of day on Holbox is sunset when everyone gathers on the beach to watch the sky light on fire. Head to a beach bar and sit on a swing, do some acro yoga on the beach with new friends, or sit on the dock with the pelicans.