Destination Holbox – a Riviera Maya island in the Gulf of Mexico

Visiting the Island of Holbox was like stepping back in time to a simpler way of life that was once enjoyed here on the mainland, when Playa del Carmen had no traffic lights and the streets were made of sand instead of concrete. This is the place to truly get away from it all. Holbox has a lot of features to be drawn to and some drawbacks as well. Here’s our take.

What’s Hot:
Holbox beaches are the cleanest I have ever seen. Even in the undeveloped areas where the beaches are natural there was no trash (washed up from other shores, cruiseships or otherwise).

The 3 Island Boat Tour for $35 is well worth the pesos. The boat takes you to 3 very special places near Holbox and on the way you will see see flamingos, wild dolphins and crocodiles. We booked this tour from our hotel, but it looked as if all the tour companies offer it too. Take your binoculars, you will need it to enjoy the fabulous birding opportunities.

flamingos in Yucatan, Mexico

flamingos near Isla Holbox

If you find yourself in Holbox during whale shark season (June thru September), the “Swim with Whale Sharks” tour is a must. This is hands-down one of the most rewarding vacation experiences you will ever have, but let me be honest here, and I know I am going to get a lot of flack for this one. We did the whale shark tour from Isla Mujeres and are darn glad we did. The boat trip out to the where the whale sharks are from Isla Mujeres was only about 45 minutes while the trip from Holbox is about 2 hours. If you just love being on a boat all day, do the trip from Holbox and get extra boating time, which can lead to extra opportunities to see dolphins, turtles and rays, for about the same price, but if you want to cut the tour time in half…

Hanging out at Raices. This old-school palapa bar was right on time. We watched two amazing sunsets from here while putting away I don’t even want to remember how many cold cervezas. This place has location, location…well, you get the idea.

Pristine Isla Holbox beach

Beach in front of Raices

Now some may consider Holbox’s nonexistent night life a negative…we feel differently. Our last afternoon, as the sun set and we sipped on cold beers, we watched a group of kids play ball on the beach. The ballgame soon turned into a game of chase when a yellow lab decided to join in the fun by hijacking the ball. He skillfully dodged each member of the laughing little mob while holding on to his prize. This and the solo musician missing a string on his guitar was the evening’s big entertainment…and that was fine by us.

We hung our sombreros at Villas HM Paraiso del Marand would do so again. We loved this hotel. A sparkling, oasis-like pool, a friendly, accommodating staff, full breakfast included in the rate and well appointed rooms with a/c made our stay pleasant. On the minus side, beds were a bit hard and the food was so so. Fine for a breakfast buffet (good omelets and hotcakes from the fresh griddle), but skip the hotel’s full meal plan option unless you like mediocre resort fare.

Los Peleones Restaurant in Holbox

Holbox at night

Los Peleones on the main square serves a delectable seafood pasta and many other creative dishes. Unfortunately, they did not have their signature lobster sopes available the night we were there, but the ravioli stuffed with portobello and gorgonzola made up for it. This place is not cheap, but such a fantastic meal makes you feel okay about shelling out the ducats.

I have said it a hundred times about a hundred places in Mexico and I will say it about Holbox. Street food is what Mexico does best. We stuffed ourselves taco cart hopping, with our little cooler of of beer in tow.

What’s Not:

While Holbox’s setting is reminiscent of days gone by, the restaurant prices are not. We found the restaurants to be rather expensive and the seafood not as good as we were anticipating. We were under the impression seafood would be cheaper on an island – it wasn’t. We thought it would all be fresh – it wasn’t. The ceviche in all the restaurants we visited was pre-boiled, making it NOT ceviche. We ordered fish tacos at a little ecocina on the square. Before confirming our order, the waiter told us he had to check with chef to make sure the fish was thawed. Lobster pizza seems to be an island specialty served in most of the restaurants. We had it at the “number one place in Holbox to go for lobster pizza” and it was just okay. The lobster was very dry and the crust was doughy.

Holbox Tips:
There is only one ATM on the island and it ran out of cash while we were there. BRING CASH WITH YOU.

The Mayab is the only public ride going to Chiquila where the Holbox ferry is located. For a cheap way to get there it is fine, but ready yourself for numerous, uninteresting stops and no bathroom on the bus. I think next time we will bite the bullet and pay for a private transfer from Cancun Valet.

Kids playing on Holbox Beach

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