Holbox island, Mexico –
Travel stories from travelling to Mexico:
houses with colourful graffiti, sand streets and incredible Mayan style grilled fish
Our trip to Mexico has just begun but we already decide to go a bit off route and travel north. Our general direction needs to be south, if we want to manage to catch our flight from Colombia in time in three months. But we stumble across a small colourful island, called Holbox. It is one of the few Caribbean islands in Mexico and we couldn’t resist to check it out. It is worth it! So here it is – our series of travel stories from Mexico continues with Holbox island!
How to get from Cancun to Holbox on a budget
Important! If you are travelling around Mexico by busses and you are going to Holbox, you need to take an ADO bus to Chiquila first. How to get from Cancun to Holbox: from Cancun there are 3 different buses going to Chiquila every day, the price is around 200-250 pesos (~9-11€) for approximately 3 hours drive. The bus drops you off at the main ferry pier in Chiquila.
Important! How to get to Holbox from Chiquila: You can buy tickets for the 30 min. ferry ride from Chiquila to Holbox for 140 (~6€) pesos directly at the ferry pier in Chiquila. There are boats every 30 minutes from 5:30am until 8:00pm. The two companies operating are “9 Hermanos” and “Holbox Express”.
Travelling to Holbox island and some weird things about it
In Mayan language Holbox means “black hole”, where “hol” means hole and “box” mens black. Contrary to our expectations and for reasons unknown to me and my poor Spanish the name of the Caribbean island is pronounced Holbosh. The island greets us with sand streets and colourful small houses. There are almost no cars, but just golf carts. Holbox doesn’t have many tourists and the vibe is really chilled. It all feels a bit surreal. But in a good way.
The walk from the ferry port to the main square is not more than 10 min but we opt for a taxi for 30 pesos (~1,30€). The greatest thing for me is that the locals do not harass us with the typical “Taxi, lady. Taxi, lady” and a there are not a bunch of people surrounding you like in Asia. Instead, here if you don’t ask, they won’t bother you at all. Great start, Holbox, great start!
After less than five min drive, smiling like crazy and also quite surprised where we happen to be, we reach out our pre-booked small but fancy apartment – Chakte. It greats us with a great surprise – a view to the Caribbean blue sea.
But first thing first. We put the swimming suites on and off to the beach. The walk takes not more than two minuets! It’s a tiny island, though!
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Where to try some great local food in Holbox: restaurants on the beach
A bit disappointed that the water isn’t as blue as in Cancun and that it’s a bit windy, we decide to go for lunch on the beach instead of sunbathing. There are few places before you reach the “hotel zone” and we choose the most shabby one.
For my surprise they have just sea food and I’m not a huge fan, even though we decide to stay and order a grilled fish and guacamole. At least if I don’t like the fish, I can eat the later one. Denny is really happy, her first fish since we stared travelling in Mexico! I guess it’s quite difficult to travel with me, I just can’t stand all of the sea creatures on my plate.
We are served two ice cold beers and an enormous portion of great guacamole. Good, I won’t starve! The biggest surprise is the fish. I even quite like it, it doesn’t taste like sewer or swamp. If you ask Denny, she would tell you that the fish is one of the best she ever tried!
Important! If you travel to Holbox, don’t miss to go to Raices and try the best Tikin Xic on the island. Tikin Xic is ancient Mayan style fish which is dried, grilled in banana leaf and dipped in achiote sauce. You won’t regret it, I promise!
Holbox island – hammocks, Maya weddings and Latino hits
We spend the rest of the afternoon going up and down the beach in search of the famous hammocks in Holbox hanging in the water. Unfortunately, it is a low tide so they are practically on the beach. Even so, they are all occupied by tourists, so we only take some sunset pictures.
We stumble across a traditional mayan wedding ceremony on the beach. Couple of local ladies dressed in traditional Mexican white clothes decorate with colourful flowers a wooden altar. The hypnotic sound of four seashell horns greets the young couple. What a magical and mystical experience!
After enjoying this secret moment, it’s time to go shopping. There are very few grocery stores on Holbox island and they don’t have much to offer, so we grab some ham, cheese and fresh tropical fruits for breakfast and go back to our cozy apartment for a quiet night.
For our surprise it isn’t quiet at all (not really a surprise though, as the reviews on booking.com clearly warned us)! Across the street is the noisiest bar on the entire island, “Hot corner”. All night we are forced to listen to horrible mainstream Latino hits and this goes on and on. Every! Single! Night! Thank god Denny prepared ear plugs.
Important! When travelling to Mexico, always bring ear plugs, one place or another you’ll need them. Trust me!
Things to do in Holbox when the weather is bad
As it rains the entire night, the weather on the next day is good only for tourists attractions. We opt for a three hour boat trip to the nearby islands. We have couple of hours to kill before the boat ride, so we go to explore the west part of the beach. On the coast there are couple of hotel bars one next to each other. Cocktail time! I keep ordering Mojitos but nothing can beat the Cuban ones, so it is all a tiny disappointment, but it’s still nice.
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Suddenly it is time to go back to the hotel where two golf carts are waiting to pick us up and drive us to the port. The boat is for maximum six people, so we share the experience with a nice American and Canadian couples. We make a short stop to pick up our guide – Jesús. He is not more than 10 years old and his dream is to be a sailor!
The Bird island, Holbox
First stop – the Bird island near Holbox. Tens of different species are flying around or just hanging on the beach. The captain Miguel tells us interesting stories. The most catchy one is about the frigate bird. They have really heavy wings, so if they get wet, they break and the bird dies. Poor thing!
Yalahau – The Fountain of Youth island – the ice-cold cenote, Holbox
Next stop – Yalahau – The Fountain of Youth island. If you like swimming in cenote, Holbox has one to offer too and we have one hour to enjoy it. The only cenote near Holbox used to be popular within the pirates, as used to stop by and get supplies of fresh water. Why is Yalahau called the Fountain of Youth, you might ask? People say that if you swim in it, you have the feeling that you are 10 years younger.
Even if it’s a hot day, the water is ice-cold, and we still feel young. So instead of swimming, we decide to walk around and spend the rest of the time in a small “restaurant” selling fried fish and overpriced ceviche (ceviche is raw fish marinated in lime served with fresh tomatoes, chili peppers and other vegetables).
The food is very tasty but unfortunately, it’s a bit overpriced – for just two beers and a portion of ceviche we pay 300 pesos (~13.50€). But it is worth it, as we have a great entertainment – a couple of raccoons hanging around and stealing fish and tortillas from the makeshift kitchen! They are so cute and at the same time really scary.
Update 2019: To this day I tried ceviche in many different restaurants arounds the world and this one is the best ceviche so far!
Miguel joins us and starts telling us stories about the island. Curious about our roots, he asks us where are we coming from. People normally have no idea where Bulgaria is or what it is famous for. But here we are, in the country of countless football fans, on a tiny little island in the middle of nowhere, we sit with Miguel, who after hearing us saying Bulgaria, instantly shouts “Stoichkov!” (probably the most famous Bulgarian football/soccer player). He remembers with a bit of sadness and anger the game between our countries during the World Cup in 1994. Apparently, we won!
Passion island, Holbox
The last stop is a small island called Passion island. We cross on foot guided by our little friend Jesús. From the bird watch tower we manage to observe some flamingos and a couple of nesting eagles.
All in all a day trip to the nearby islands in Holbox is a nice experience but not really my thing. If the weather is bad, I recommend doing a trip, otherwise just enjoy the beach.
Important! If you are travelling to Holbox, keep in mind that every hotel offers day trips. They range from fishing, swimming with whales to boat trips to different islands. You can also visit the phenomenal bioluminescent effect in Holbox. We couldn’t see it but if you can definitely check it out!
Where to find great sea food restaurant on Holbox island
We are quite tired from the bumpy boat, so all we want is a nice dinner. We opt for one of the most recommended (and expensive) restaurants in Holbox – Zapata. Of course, the menu is 85% sea food, so I order spaghetti Bolognese. Huge mistake! It tastes like stew with peppers and all. At least their cocktails are good and Denny is having a nice shrimp dish. A nice surprise is that you can pay your bill by credit card.
Important! When travelling in Mexico, always eat local food or sea food.
Some other importance’s and curiosities
The last day the weather isn’t on our side again. We pack and leave the bags in the main hotel and go for a walk. We have several hours to kill before getting on the boat to the mainland.
Holbox is full of cool murals and amazing graffiti, that adds a lot of charm to the anyways colourful Caribbean island. Finally, it’s time to take some pictures and walk around.
There is still plenty of time, so we decide to check a small taco restaurant in Holbox next to the main square. Unfortunately, we don’t have much pesos left. The promotion they have is four tacos + beer for 150 pesos (~6.80€). Great! The tacos are not terrible but quite disappointing, especially after the Cancun ones.
After the lunch we do a quick calculation and we have the exact amount for the ferry, plus only 15 pesos (~0.70€) left. A beer costs 20 pesos (~0,90€)! What can you do with time on your hands and desire to have one last beer? Of course you start hunting through all of the small stores and hope. We check every-single-store on the island and realise that the price of the beer is fixed – 20 pesos – not a cent more, not a cent less!
We take the defeat and go to get the backpacks.
Important! If you want to get this last precious beer, get enough money from the mainland. There are three exchange offices in Holbox with really bad rates and two ATMs with even worse fees!
Time to leave. On the ferry this time we have an entertainment. A guy with a speakers sings the same horrible mainstream Latino hits the whole way. Great that the boat ride is just 20-30 min.
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When we reach the port in Chiquila, we have around half an hour to wait for the bus to Playa del Carmen. I’m quite tired so Denny leaves me with the backpacks and goes on a last cheap-beer-hunt. Hope dies last!
After maybe 10-15 minutes the mission is accomplished! She comes back with the biggest smile on her face and a Tecate light! I think this is the best beer I have ever tasted!
How to get from Holbox to Playa del Carmen
Important! There is no bus ticket counter in Chiquila. Buy your return tickets before you go! But there is an ADO agent selling tickets on the parking lot. Also, if you want to use a collectivo there is one waiting to be filled up and goes to Playa del Carmen. You should be fast from the boat, though, it gets full quite fast.
Our stories from travelling to Mexico continue with our next stop on this Lazy Road Trip Central America – Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Travel stories from travelling to Mexico!
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