Located on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Holbox is a stunning tropical island and one of Mexico’s most underrated beach destinations. Isla Holbox delivers unbelievable beaches and tranquil turquoise waters for a completely carefree Caribbean escape. Visiting Holbox had been at the top of my Mexico bucket list and I finally made it there for a relaxing weekend getaway. Read on for my ultimate Playa del Carmen to Holbox travel guide.
Where is Holbox Mexico?
Holbox is a tiny island located on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. To get to Holbox, you must take a ferry or water taxi from the town of Chiquila. Chiquila is located about 2 hours away from both Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
FAQs about Isla Holbox
Tourism in Holbox is growing but it is definitely still a less well-known destination in Mexico. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Holbox to know before you go:
How do you pronounce Holbox?
The correct pronunciation is “Hole-Bosh”, which means “black hole” in the Mayan language. You’ll want to get the pronunciation right because it can be a little embarrassing if you go around saying “HOLE-BOX”.
What is Holbox like?
Holbox is pretty much an unspoiled tropical island paradise. While tourism has definitely grown in recent years, the island is still relatively underdeveloped with no cars and only dirt roads.
This makes it a beautiful place to vacation, but also means there is less infrastructure and more limited access to resources like healthcare, reliable internet, and cell service.
How big is Holbox?
Holbox is approximately 1 mile wide and 26 miles long but only the west side of the island is developed. There are a few main streets that center around the town square, where you’ll find the majority of restaurants and shops, while the hotels are located on or near the beaches. The downtown area is completely walkable but you will want to take a golf cart taxi if you are staying further away.
How long should you stay in Holbox?
Holbox is a pretty popular destination for a side trip from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, or Tulum. I would recommend staying for at least 2 nights. It takes a good half day to get there so you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to experience the island.
If you really want a relaxing getaway, you can definitely stay longer. It’s a pretty small island though so you might get a little bored if you stay longer than a week.
How to get to Holbox from Playa del Carmen
Getting from Playa del Carmen to Isla Holbox can seem like a daunting task but trust me it’s not as hard as it looks. There are a just few different ways to get there depending on your budget, car situation, and the size of your group.
Step 1: Drive from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila
When traveling to Holbox, you will first need to drive to Chiquila, which is a small town on the northern coast of the peninsula. Once you arrive to Chiquila Mexico, you will then take a quick 25 minute ferry over to Holbox. To get to Chiquila from Playa del Carmen, you have the following options:
Take a colectivo
If you don’t have a car, the cheapest way to get to Chiquila is to take a colectivo, which is a shared van service that is very common in this part of Mexico. This is personally what I used to get to Holbox and it was very easy. The cost for the Holbox colectivo is $250 pesos each way (~$12 USD) and the trip takes about 2 hours.
The Holbox colectivo picks up under the highway overpass just outside of Office Depot in downtown Playa del Carmen. It’s best to reserve in advance as the shuttle can fill up quickly. You can reserve via Whataspp by sending a message to +52 984-241-8151. Below are the daily the pickup times:
Playa del Carmen to Chiquila:
- 8:30 AM
- 10:30 AM
- 3:30 PM
- 6:30 PM
Chiquila to Playa del Carmen:
- 7:30 AM
- 8:30 AM
- 11:30 AM
- 2:30 PM
- 3:30 PM
- 6:30 PM
I would recommend getting there 15-20 minutes early so you can ensure you get a good seat on the shuttle. It is first come, first serve if you do not reserve in advance.
Take the ADO bus
Another option is to take the ADO from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila. When I visited Holbox in February 2021, the ADO bus was unfortunately not running from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila. However, it looks like it has since resumed service. Be sure to check the ADO website to make sure it’s still running for your travel dates.
The ADO would probably be my preferred method of transportation as it is much larger and more comfortable than a colectivo. There are daily departures leaving from the Playa del Carmen Turistica ADO station on 5th Avenue at 9:20 AM. The price is $304 pesos each way (~$15 USD) and the trip takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Travelista Tip: Book your ADO Playa del Carmen Chiquila tickets online ahead of time to ensure you get a seat and avoid the long ticket lines at the ADO station.
Hire a private shuttle
If you have a larger group or prefer more social distancing, another option is to hire a private shuttle to get to Holbox from Playa del Carmen.
Pricing starts around $150 USD each way depending on the size of your group. You can find more information and book online here.
Rent a car
Another option is to rent a car and drive from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila. The trip takes about 2 hours and is a fairly easy drive. Once you arrive to Chiquila, there are paid parking lots right outside the ferry where you can leave your car.
Step 2: Travel from Chiquila to Holbox Island
Once you arrive to Chiquila, you will then need to travel across the water to Holbox, which is just less than 30 minutes travel time. You can do this by taking the ferry or hiring a water taxi.
Take the Isla Holbox ferry
Taking the ferry is by far the most common way to get over to Holbox Island Mexico. There are two ferry companies (Holbox Express and 9 Hermanos) with alternating schedules so one leaves every half hour. The cost is $220 pesos ($~11 USD) each way.
If you take the colectivo from Playa del Carmen, the time you arrive will align with the next departing ferry to Holbox so you shouldn’t have to wait long. There are kiosks just outside the ferry where you can purchase your tickets.
The Holbox ferries are large and comfortable with an air-conditioned downstairs seating area, and an open-air upper deck. If you decide to sit upstairs, you’ll want to have sunscreen handy as there is no shade! There are also restrooms and luggage storage facilities on board if needed.
Hire a water taxi
Another option for getting over to Holbox is to hire a water taxi. Once you arrive to Chiquila you will see rows of small fishing boats lined up just next to the ferry that you can hire.
These are a good option if you drive yourself or arrive at an off hour and don’t want to wait for the next ferry. The price is pretty reasonable and isn’t much more than taking the ferry.
How to get around Holbox
Holbox is a remote island that is still relatively underdeveloped so none of the roads are paved and the streets simply consist of dirt roads and sidewalks. There are no cars on Holbox, so the only way to get around is by golf carts or bicycles.
Once you arrive to Holbox, you will be greeted by a line of golf carts waiting outside of the ferry that you can rent or hire to get to your hotel. If you don’t have much luggage, it’s also possible to walk from the ferry to the town center, which is less than 10 minutes away.
Travelista Tip: Holbox a beautiful island but be prepared to smell a lot of exhaust from the golf carts and inhale dust from the dirt roads, especially in the town center.
Where to stay in Holbox
Holbox is small but there are still a good amount of hotels to meet every budget. If you can, I would recommend staying on the east side of the beach. This area of the beach was nicer, more widespread, and had less seaweed (at least when I visited). Below are a few hotel recommendations:
- UPSCALE: Casa de las Tortugas is a luxury boutique hotel with beautiful rustic decor and an incredible beach. I first discovered the hotel’s beautiful photos on Instagram and really wanted to stay here but unfortunately they didn’t have availability for my travel dates.
- MID RANGE: Villas HM Paraiso del Mar is a mid range hotel with a great central location and cute Mexican palapas, swimming pool, and on-site restaurant.
- BUDGET: Villa Los Mangles Boutique Hotel is a value hotel located a little further away from the town center but is still beachfront and has some great prices.
- PET FRIENDLY: Hotel Zomay is a pet friendly hotel on the west side of the beach. This is where I stayed as I was traveling with my friend’s dog. Hotel Zomay is an older Mexican style hotel with excellent staff and a nice beach.
Top things to do in Holbox
There are a ton of fun things to do in Holbox whether you want to be adventurous or simply take it easy. Here’s just a few of the top things you can do on the island.
Relax on the beach
Number one thing to do in Holbox? Nothing! This is how I spent most of my time in Holbox – just laying around on the beach and enjoying the beyond gorgeous views. I would recommend staying at a hotel directly on the beach so you can take advantage of their beach loungers and umbrellas. Otherwise you can rent chairs from one of the playa Holbox hotels or beach clubs.
Go swimming with whale sharks
If you want to be more adventurous, you can swim with whale sharks in Holbox, which is one of the most popular tours on the island. Whale shark season in Holbox is between the months of May-September, when you can get up close and personal and snorkel alongside these gentle giants. I swam with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres and it was truly an unforgettable experience! You can find more information and book a Holbox whale sharks tour here.
View the bioluminescence
One of the most totally unique activities in Holbox is going on a tour to see the bioluminescence, which is a phenomenon caused by the phytoplankton lighting up under the water.
These tours are at night time and you can kayak and swim in the glowing water. You can find more information and book online here.
Watch the sunset
Holbox is known for its unbelievable sunsets. With beaches on the west side of the island, it’s one of the best places in the Yucatan peninsula to watch the sunset over the ocean. You simply won’t find that in Playa del Carmen or on the east coast of Mexico!
In Holbox, the sunset is a highly anticipated event that everyone prepares for. In the evenings, you will see crowds of people gathering at beach bars and setting up chairs to get a good view. It really shouldn’t be missed!
Where to eat in Holbox
Even though Holbox is small, it still has a good amount of restaurants, offering a variety of cuisines. Below are my favorite restaurants in Holbox:
Painapol Holbox is a healthy breakfast and lunch restaurant serving acai bowls, smoothies, and healthy meals. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Holbox and I loved it so much I went multiple times during my stay! It’s a must visit for a healthy breakfast, lunch, or a smoothie bowl that is just too pretty to eat.
Luuma Holbox is a trendy restaurant and cocktail bar at Casa de las Tortugas featuring tapas and small plates. The atmosphere is very hip and the menu offers traditional Mexican dishes made with eclectic ingredients like chaya croquettes and black octopus empanadas.
Viva Zapata is a popular dinner restaurant in Holbox with some of the best Mexican food on the island. I ordered the fajitas and they were some of the best fajitas I’ve ever had accompanied by handmade tortillas (the best!).
Holbox Travel Tips
- If you can I would recommend staying on the east side of the beach, which is nicer, more widespread, and has less seaweed. Near Casa de las Tortugas is a prime location with a stunning beach but still close to town.
- Bring as much cash as you think you’ll need for your transportation and daily expenses. Some hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards, but access to ATMs is very limited on the island so it’s best to have enough cash on hand just in case.
- As I mentioned, the basic infrastructure on Holbox is not the best so the cell service and wifi is extremely spotty. Don’t expect to have reliable internet service and wifi at your hotel may only be available in common areas.
- You’ll definitely want to wear biodegradable reef-safe sunscreen anytime you are swimming in the ocean in order to protect the coral reefs.
- Since all of the roads in Holbox are made of dirt, I wouldn’t recommend wearing nice shoes as your shoes will get dirty easily. Also, for women I wouldn’t even bother bringing heels as the roads are uneven and the whole island is pretty casual.
Getting back to Playa del Carmen
For the return trip to Playa del Carmen, you can basically just reverse the transportation process. If you’re taking the colectivo or the ADO, I would definitely recommend booking in advance as the spots fill up quickly. You won’t need to book your ferry tickets in advance as those tickets are usually readily available.
I hope this Holbox Playa del Carmen travel guide was helpful if you’re planning a trip to Holbox from Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya. Even though it takes a while to get there it is so worth it! It’s honestly one of the most stunning beach destinations I’ve ever seen. Go now before it becomes ruined by overtourism!
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