Holbox, Mexico

graffiti, sand streets and incredible Mayan style grilled fish

For the next destination we decide to go a bit off route and visit north. Our general direction needs to be south, if we want to manage to catch our flight from Colombia in time but we stumble across a small colorful island called Holbox and couldn’t resist to check it out. It is worth it!

Important! If you are going to Holbox from Cancun, you need to take a bus from the ADO station to Chiquila first. There are 3 different buses going there every day, the price is around 200-250 pesos (~9-11€) for approximately 3 hours. The bus drops you off at the main ferry pier.

Important! Tickets for the 30 min. ferry ride to Holbox you can buy for 140 (~6€) pesos directly in the ferry pier in Chiquila. There are boats every 30 minutes from 5:30am till 8:00pm. The two companies operating are “9 Hermanos” and “Holbox Express”.

Isla Holbox and some weird things about it

Holbox means “black head” and for reasons unknown to me and my poor Spanish is pronounced “Holbosh”. The island greets us with sand streets and colorful small houses. There are almost no cars, just golf carts. Holbox has not many tourists and the vibe is really chilled. It all feels a bit surreal.

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 there is no “Taxi, lady. Taxi, lady” and a bunch of people surrounding you like in Asia. If you don’t ask they won’t bother you at all. Great start!

After less than 5 min drive, smiling like crazy and also quite surprised where we happen to be, we reach out our prebooked small but fancy apartment – Chakte. It even has a view to the Caribbean blue sea. What a nice surprise! First thing first. We put the swimming suites on and off to the beach. The walk takes not more than 2 minuets! It’s a tiny island, though!

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Where to try some great local food

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 4-5 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 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! 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!

Interesting on the 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 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 wedding ceremony on the beach. Couple of local ladies dressed in traditional white clothes decorate with colorful flowers a wooden altar. The young couple is greeted by the hypnotic sound of 4 seashell horns. The whole experience is somehow mystical.

Traditional wedding, Mayan style, Holbox Mexico
Traditional wedding, Mayan style, Holbox Mexico

There are very few grocery stores on the 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, the reviews on booking.com clearly warned us). The noisiest bar on the entire island – “Hot corner” – is across the street, so we are listening to horrible mainstream Latino hits all night and this goes for all of the nights we are here. Thank god Denny prepared ear plugs.

Important! Always bring ear plugs, one place or another you’ll need them.

How to enjoy isla Holbox even if 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 3 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. There are couple of hotels next to each other with bars on the coast. Cocktail time! I keep ordering Mojitos but nothing can beat the Cuban ones, so it is all a tiny disappointment, but still nice.

Suddenly it is time to go back to the hotel where 2 golf carts are waiting to pick us up and drive us to the port. The boat is for maximum 6 people, so we share the experience with a nice American and Canadian couples. We made a short stop to pick up our guide – Jesús, he is not older then 10 and his dream is to be a sailor!

First stop – the Bird island. 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!

The access for tourists in the Bird island is restricted, Holbox Mexico
The access for tourists in the Bird island is restricted, Holbox Mexico

Next stop – Yalahau – The Fountain of Youth island. We have one hour to enjoy the natural spring, where pirates used to stop by and get supplies of fresh water.

Even if it’s a hot day, the water is iced cold, so we decide to walk around and spend the rest of the time in a small “restaurant” selling fried fish and overpriced celvice (celvice is raw fish marinated in lime served with fresh tomatoes, chili peppers and other vegetables). Unfortunately, it’s a bit overpriced – for 2 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.

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, the country of countless soccer fans, on a tiny little island in the middle of nowhere, we sit with Miguel, who after hearing Bulgaria almost shouts “Stoichkov!”. He remembers with a bit of sadness and anger the game between our countries during the World Cup in 1994. Apparently, we won!

The last stop is a small island called Passion island, that 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 it is nice but not really my thing. If the weather is bad, I recommend doing a trip, otherwise just enjoy the beach.

Important! Every hotel offers day trips. They range from fishing, swimming with whales to normal boat trips to different islands. Also the phenomenal bioluminescent effect, we couldn’t see it but definitely check it out!

Where to have some tasty fish in isla Holbox, Mexico

We are quite tired from the bumpy boat, so all we want is a nice dinner. We find a restaurant called Zapata, one of the fancy ones. Of course the menu is 85% sea food, so I order spaghetti Bolognese. Big mistake! It tastes like stew with peppers and all. At least their cocktails are good and Denny is having a nice shrimp dish.

Important! If you enjoy it, eat local 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. The island is full of cool murals and amazing graffiti, that adds a lot of charm to the anyways colorful island. Finally, it’s time to take some pictures and walk around.

Graffiti Street art, Holbox Mexico
Graffiti Street art, Holbox Mexico

There is still plenty of time, so we decide to check a small taco restaurant next to the main square. Unfortunately, we don’t have much pesos left. The promotion they have is 4 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. 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 on the island and hope. No luck! We take the defeat and go to get the backpacks.

Important! If you want to get this last beer, get enough money from the mainland. There are 3 exchange offices on the island with really bad rates and 2 ATMs with even worse fees!

Time to leave. The ferry this time has an entertainment, a guy with a speaker sings the same mainstream Latino hits the whole way. Great that the boat ride is just 20-30 min.

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 bags and goes on a last cheap-beer-hunt. Hope dies last! After maybe 10-15 min 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!

Tecate light, Holbox Mexico
Tecate light, Holbox Mexico

How to get to Playa del Carmen from Isla Holbox

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 go to Playa del Carmen. You should be fast from the boat, though, it gets full quite fast.

The next stop on our Lazy Road Trip Central America – Playa del Carmen, Mexico!