©istock.com/Gabriel Ortiz
©istock.com/Gabriel Ortiz

Holbox: the best kept secret in the Riviera

4 minutes to read

If ever there were an island where I had to be stranded, Holbox would be my first choice. This island epitomizes relaxation and untouched beauty. It is perhaps the newest and best-kept secret in the Riviera Maya. Holbox is located around three hours away from Playa del Carmen via highway and then motorboat ferry from the small town of Chiquila. There are no cars in Holbox but there are golf carts and mopeds available to rent. The center of town consists of only two or three unpaved sandy blocks worth of restaurants and bars. There are a good number of small hotels and hostels, and at one end of the island, there are private homes that may be available to rent on Airbnb. This is the ultimate place to relax over the weekend. The swimming spots are unreal; the clearest most turquoise water you will see in the Caribbean with sand bars in the middle of the water for sunbathing as well as wooden and bamboo swing sets and hammock stands erected a few meters into the water for picture taking. There are a number of beaches, cenotes and small protected islets that are worth exploring as well as a few music venues and bars to check out at night.  

Holbox, Quintana Roo
Holbox, Quintana Roo
Holbox, Quintana Roo, México
Chiquilá
Chiquilá
Chiquilá, Q.R., México
©istock.com/Denise108
©istock.com/Denise108

Nature tours and favorite spots

While many tourists are content to rent a hotel for a few nights and layout at the beach all day, there are also different tours available for those wanting to explore the natural bounty of the island and its surrounding waters. There is an option to purchase a boat tour which is well worth the money and negotiable. The boat tours will take all day, returning to the Holbox center at night. The boats will take you to visit islets surrounding Holbox; there is an island called Yalahau with a lagoon-like cenote for swimming,  another island Isla Pajaros where you will see a lot of aviary wildlife including herons, ospreys, and flamingos, and Isla Pasion which is a beautiful place to swim and sunbathe on exposed sandbars. The tours generally end with an incredible sunset viewing off the beaches of Holbox proper with swing sets and hammocks for relaxing and enjoying the view. There are also kayak tours of Isla Pasion and Holbox for those who enjoy paddling.

Yalahau
Yalahau
Isla de los Pajaros
Isla de los Pajaros
Holbox, Quintana Roo, México
©istock.com/zstockphotos
©istock.com/zstockphotos

Another popular tour is the whale shark tour which has made Holbox popular; leaving early in the morning, 12- seater motorboats will take snorkeling or scuba tours out to the open sea to view and swim with whale sharks. While they are beautiful and majestic mammals, whale shark viewing has become controversial as many believe that these animals are being bombarded and displaced by roves of tourists.

©istock.com/Hoatzinexp
©istock.com/Hoatzinexp

A must-see phenomenon in Holbox is the bioluminescence. There are both boat and bike tours out to the beaches with the best sightings of these glowing, light-emitting sea flora. A friend described it as a veritable aurora borealis under the sea that you can see when you caress the shallow waters with your bare feet and hands. This is truly the most romantic and magical experience on earth. Don´t miss out and make sure you plan on seeing the bioluminescence during the new moon when the skies are the darkest.  

Hostels and hotels

©istock.com/LUNAMARINA
©istock.com/LUNAMARINA

There are plenty of beautiful boutique hotels which are very expensive and very luxurious, offering air conditioning, private pools, and beachfront lounges. For travelers on a budget, two hostels I recommend are Hostel Tribu and BeHolbox Hostel. Hostel Tribu offers live music every day of the weekend and often provides free lodging and food for the musicians that play there. Food and drink are expensive on Holbox as most everything is imported. I highly recommend trying fish, shellfish, and ceviche at the many small restaurants surrounding the town center as it is some of the freshest the Riviera has to offer.

Be Holbox Hostel
Be Holbox Hostel
Calle Carito, 77310 Holbox, Q.R., México
Hostel Tribu
Hostel Tribu
Av Pedro Joaquín Coldwell Mz.19 Lt 6, 77310 Isla Holbox, Q.R., México

Bars and venues

©istock.com/Mathilde Audibert
©istock.com/Mathilde Audibert

Again, Holbox is quite small so there are not very many party or dance spots, but a few live music and dancing venues to check out at night are Roots restaurant and the Hot Corner. Roots has delicious wood oven pizza and live music on the weekends, and Hot Corner is the after-hours spot for dancing salsa and reggaeton.

Tour the surrounding islets in search of wildlife on a boat or kayak, marvel at the incredible island sunsets on a swing in the middle of the water, take a night-time bike ride to witness the majestic bioluminescence with your significant other, or just post up on the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean for a full day of total uninhibited relaxation. Take advantage of this perfect secret island as it will not be a secret for much longer!

The Hot Corner Bar
The Hot Corner Bar
Roots Pizzas a la leña y mezcaleria
Roots Pizzas a la leña y mezcaleria
Holbox, Quintana Roo, México

The author

Julia Holland

Julia Holland

Hello, I am Julia and I live in Mexico. I came to Mexico as an anthropologist working in Chiapas and I fell in love with this country: the pure and savage beauty of nature, the humility and warmth of the local people, the rich and varied culture. I decided to stay and Mexico is what I call home.

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