If you follow along on Instagram, then you will know that I was in Holbox last week for Becca’s birthday. We had come in 2019 as well (and stayed at the same place). Rather than doing a separate blog post about this trip, I thought it would make more sense to update this blog post vs. create a new one. I got a lot of questions around COVID measures, etc and there were some things I wish I knew – that’s all at the bottom of the post. Holbox (pronounced “Ole-bosh”) is a tiny island about 40 miles northwest of Cancun. It’s absolutely beautiful and totally off the grid. The beaches reminded me of Tulum (before it got ruined) and the town reminded me of Sayulita (but cleaner). It made for the perfect remote getaway.
Isla Holbox Photo Diary
Where we stayed:
We stayed at Punta Caliza. I really love this hotel, it’s so special and just beautiful. The hotel was actually the reason we booked the trip the first time around; we had been stalking it on Instagram for ages. It’s a tiny, family-owned boutique hotel (with just twelve rooms) and it’s beautifully designed. A reader messaged to tell me that she is in architecture school and studying the space. The pool is amazing (as is the bar + restaurant… they had the best ceviche + mezcal margaritas and a really yummy (free!) breakfast in the morning). It blew up for a little while… after being featured in Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot Issue as one of the best new hotels in the world, room prices tripled (it’s back to being more affordable now!). The first time we stayed there, rooms were about $150 a night; this time they were $200/night.
Every room has its own entrance to the pool and access to the beach which is wonderful. The beach is about a 5-10 minute walk and Punta Caliza has its own little area with chairs/umbrellas, etc. The water is beautiful and crystal blue and reminds me of how Tulum used to be before it got ruined.
I will note that they do have a no children under 12 policy (sorry). This was a draw for us as we wanted a quiet girls weekend where we could drink margs and read in the sunshine without any little ones running around. I have heard great things about Casa Los Tortugas which sounds more family friendly.
Okay, it’s a hike! I would recommend booking your transportation (Cancun to Holbox) through your hotel, which is what we did. There are a kind of a lot of steps.
You fly to Cancun (very easy from New York, less easy from Charleston as you connect through… I flew through Atlanta*) and then drive (we had a driver, arranged by our hotel) two hours. The last step is a 30 minute ferry and then a 10 minute golf cart ride. Everything was pretty seamless. Our driver bought our ferry tickets for us, and then our hotel picked us up in a golf cart. On the way home, the hotel gave us our ferry tickets + cash for the golf cart taxi.
*Just a reminder, if you have a connecting flight make sure you book a longer layover so that you can get through customs and immigration!
What to Do:
Honestly, we didn’t do a lot! The town is cute (it reminded me a lot of Sayulita). Every day we wandered around the town, got juice or and coffee, and then went to the pool/beach. Becca and Rachael went for a long walk one morning to see flamingos (I passed on this as it involved walking for an hour each way in hip length water!) but otherwise our days were spent reading by the pool or on the beach.
We heard good things about the bioluminescence tours but didn’t do that. You should also rent bikes and explore the island.
I will be honest (and someone is going to rip me apart for saying this but I would want to know this) the food in Holbox is pretty underwhelming. It’s just not very good. We kept thinking we were missing something but talked to a few other groups of tourists we met and they felt the same way so we felt a little better. Basico was the exception. Best meal we had. The ceviche at Punta Caliza (our hotel) was amazing – we had it every day as lunch or at least a snack. I also really liked their quesadillas as a snack. But what we really wanted was authentic Mexican and had a hard time finding that.
Mandarina at Casa Tortuga
On our first time in Holbox we went here twice for dinner! The first night we ate at their main restaurant (a mix of seafood and Italian) and on our last night ate on the roof and had sushi.
Really good fish tacos.
Luuma is decently good.
We went both last time and this time. The first time we came, we got the veggie board and a ton of tapas. The second time, we got the Earth board (a million little meats and sausages) and a bunch of tapas.
Casa Sandra was probably my second favorite meal.
We ate on the beach. I thought the Caesar salad was really unique and different – it had this black dressing which was delicious.
Basico was my favorite meal we had.
Everything was delicious. We had shrimp pasta and steak and then a ton of tapas. Each bite was more delightful than the next. I especially loved the shrimp. We almost ordered a second order but were too full. Skip the desserts though, we tried both and neither were very good.
There are tons of spots to grab a drink if you walk along the beach.
We also had really great coffees at Clandestino. (They have Wifi, too.)
What to Know Before You Go:
- There is one ATM on the whole island (or so I’m told, we didn’t see it!) and it doesn’t always work so take out pesos before you go! I took a few hundred dollars in USD for the whole time we were there (three full days/four nights) and it was more than enough although we did eat a lot of ceviche + drink a lot of margs at our hotel. The food is very inexpensive.
- If you love dogs, you are in for a treat. There are SO many cute pups, everywhere! I was dying and wanted to take them all home!
- I got asked if this would be a good place to travel alone, and I think absolutely! Becca and Rachael went for longer so I did all the travel stuff on my own – totally manageable and the hotel property felt super safe. You might just be a little bored… pack lots of books!
- Most restaurants do not take reservations so get there a little early and plan to grab a drink nearby (there are tons of great little bars around every corner.)
- The Wifi and cell service are not great. The hotel lobby/pool area has enough wifi to send and receive texts and emails (but not open attachments or text photos), and post instagram stories (but not grid posts). The rooms have basically no internet or cell reception. I was able to call my boyfriend once from my room, the other nights I had to go sit by the bar to call him.
- There are no cars on the island! Everyone gets around on golf carts which is very charming.
- It’s so casual. Like, you don’t even really need shoes (seriously, all the roads are sand – at dinner a lot of people were shoe-free!)
Would I go back?
If I am being totally honest, it isn’t my favorite. I probably won’t go back (I’m also not a big travel repeater, unless a place holds sentimental value). I feel bad writing this as so many people I know really love it. And I am not here to “yuck” anyone’s “yum” but it’s too remote for me. It’s an incredibly pretty place, I loved spending time with my friends, I loved the hotel, but that’s about it.
I am all for a long, adventurous, far away vacation but I don’t want to spend that long traveling (10 hours to get there and 14 to get home) unless I am going somewhere like Europe or Asia or somewhere exciting that I’ve never been. It took longer / as long as it did to get to Marrakech! In the grand scheme of things, views and beaches don’t matter that much to me. I don’t like doing more than 3 nights of a beach vacation (I start to feel crazy) and I need at least some level of reliable, working Internet/cell phone reception. A lot of people I know find zero wifi and connection to be relaxing, I do not.
I felt really anxious for a lot of the trip, and besides work stuff I like being able to stay in touch with my loved ones. I think I’ve realized this is a hard boundary for me with travel: I am just not going to go somewhere with bad wifi (unless it’s somewhere like Cuba where the food, culture, and things to do made up for the lack of connectivity). The other downside: the food is just not very good. Besides the one meal at Basico.
That being said, IF you are a person who wants to spend a week on the beach and loves feeling totally disconnected, you will absolutely love it.
My friends love it! All of Instagram loves it! Everyone is different. I’m neither right nor wrong, but this is my personal experience and opinion. I didn’t have a bad time but found the trip to be more stressful than relaxing.
Probably the most asked questions I saw coming into my DMs were about COVID + travel restrictions/safety.
Overall safety – we felt fine. The hotel is completely outside (except your individual rooms) and everywhere we went was outside. The only time we were ever inside was to go to a coffee shop and in that case, we all masked up.
Getting there wasn’t bad. There is a pretty standard traveler affidavit form you need to fill out before you board and that is about it – you will show the QR code you receive after completing it. Getting home was a bit more complicated. If I’m being honest, it was a truly terrible travel day – so just prepare yourself for that.
First of all, most people know this but if you didn’t, you must take a COVID test within three days of your return flight.
Our hotel had a doctor who can come and do the test for you in your hotel room for 80 USD. Plan on not getting your test results for a bit… it took me 8 hours to receive my rapid test results (I’m telling you this not to complain but in case you were thinking of getting a rapid test the morning of your flight, which is something I had considered! Rapid is not really rapid here). I would strongly suggest having your hotel (or doctor if you go to a doctor office) print out the test results… once you are at the airport having a piece of paper vs. a screenshot on your phone will save you a lot of time and hassle.
When you arrive at the airport, make sure you fill out both online affidavits (both for the airport/Mexico and then your individual airline). Print your boarding pass downstairs at the kiosk (they don’t take electronic ones) and bring your printed test results. I flew Delta and when I checked in I had to scan a QR code to fill out a traveler affidavit. Then, before security, the airport will have you fill out another affidavit with the same information.
Lastly, if you are flying Delta, this part is super important.
Before going through security you will need to bring your boarding pass, passport, proof of completion of BOTH affidavits, and the print out of your negative COVID tests. They will review all of these things and then stamp your boarding pass. You cannot get through security without a printed, stamped boarding pass. I didn’t know about this step, waited in line at security, and then had to go through it all over again as I didn’t have the stamp!
If you like this”Isla Holbox Photo Diary”, also, check out, Cuba Travel Guide and Tulum Travel Guide.
Gorgeous shots, the hotel is so beautiful! I’ve added this to my bucket list now… hopefully I get to visit in real one day! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
I hope so too! Thanks Charmaine!
Gorgeous photos! I looked shortly after you originally mentioned it and it was ~$730 USD for October 2019. Maybe that is starting to be high season? I was thinking it was the tail end of hurricane season so maybe I would be good 🙂 Regardless your trip looks amazing!! Back to my search for a 10 year anniversary, adult only, get away destination!
Ooooof that is so crazy to me! I hope it’s just a seasonal thing. We all marveled over how affordable it was!!!
OG what a gorgeous place!
x Lisa | lisaautumn.com
Such a great trip! Thanks Lisa.
Love it. Thinking about going in July. This has been on my bucket list for years. Better go before it becomes too commercialized.
I hope you go!!!
Btw another great spot is is Majahual past Riviera Maya. Amazing quiet and if you drive a bit more you must go visit Bacalar the fresh water lagoon with turquoise waters. Mind blowing.
thanks for the suggestion!
I love your pics of Punta Caliza!!!! I went a couple of years ago and Punta Caliza hand’t opened yet. My boyfriend and I stayed 5 days and it was absolutely fabulous because we needed to rest. We stayed at Hotel Flamingos, which is located on the other side of island where Punta Caliza is. Our hotel was very nice, but they were a lot of kids running around the pool so we moved to the lounge area and we were absolutely fine… and amazing margaritas and ceviche as well! We went at the end of October ’17, about a week before high season. You can also call the hotels directly and see if you can get a better deal. The majority are family owned so they might be flexible as they’re cutting intermediary fees. I would recommend going on a tour with the locals, like snorkeling in Cabo Catoche (where the Mexican Gulf and the Caribbean collide), the tour of the three islands, and check the Flamingos! but be respectful to the flamingos, let them be in their natural habitat! I agree with Grace regarding the food, it was just meh, even La Chaya were many friends recommended the Lobster. I’m from Baja where one of the typical dishes is deep fried lobster, and the lobster at La Chaya felt just meh. However, I had an amazing dining experience at El Chapulin, the chef goes to the market each day to see what is fresh and makes a menu out of that. It was the highlight of our trip! I didn’t go to Luuma or Casa Tortugas because they were closed for renovations and were about to open the day we were leaving, but many friends recommended them as well.
If you have a driver or friend in Cancun area, you can ask for a driver recommendation and probably save money in transportation. However, I would only recommend this if you have a trusted source, since most likely they won’t speak English. My rides were $60 dlls each way, as I used the driver my good friend has been using in the area for over 10 years. But, if you don’t know anyone, you should def use the hotel recommendation just to be very safe. Cheers!
Thank you so much for all of the suggestions and adding your thoughts!
Have you been to Hotel San Cristobal in Todos Santos? It’s west coast so a bit harder to get to from NY but I thought it was totally worth it – great property, amazing vibe, fantastic restaurant (and near to quite a few other cute and delicious places) right on the ocean and on the outskirts of a perfect little Baja town. It does cater a little too obviously to the “influencer” crowd but I highly, HIGHLY recommend it nevertheless.
i haven’t!!! Thanks for the suggestion!
This hotel looks so incredible! Coincidentally my cousin is going there this week (I’m insanely jealous), so I’ve sent her straight to this post. I haven’t been to Mexico since I was a kid, so this has only made me even more desperate to return!
awe amazing!!! you have to go! girls trip? such a hike from london though..
Do you have the name of your driver or transportation company you’d recommend? We are heading there in August and your travel costs look much more affordable than what we’ve been finding!
I’m sorry I don’t! It was all done through our hotel!
I’m glad you had such a good time in Chicago, Grace! Nice photos, I see many bloggers in them who I also follow too! ❤️✨
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
What a darling hotel! Def bookmarking for later. Did you see any scuba outfitters or is it not that kind of place?
Which did you prefer between Tolum and Holbox? For hanging out with a romantic partner, drinks, beaches and food? Not partying.
Can you do both in a 6 night trip without too much travel time or is it better to stay put and do the other on a different trip?
It was supposed to say “Great blogs!” Not sure how I got the “?” there instead!
Yet another excellent and honest review.
What do you mean when you say Tulum got ruined?
IT’s too much to type but….
Also, when my favorite boutique hotel (The Coqui Coqui) was seized by the government. https://www.travelandleisure.com/hotels-resorts/tulum-hotel-evictions-land-seizures
Regardless, just my opinion! Plenty of people still go but I won’t be going back.
Im Mexican and riviera Maya is such a gift – I hope people are more appreciative of the world class service you get while visiting our beautiful beaches and amazing cuisine. Tulum got ruined by rude travelers
Mexico is amongst the best Earth has to offer. From the beaches the culture the food and it’s great people. I’ve been blessed to have visited all over your beautiful country and admire the love and rich history. Right now when most of the world has shut down I know that my Mexico is open and ready to welcome me as I will always treat it with the respect it deserves. I’ll be there in two weeks.
Thanks for the insight!
I love your honesty! Looks pretty but I like good food and having not great food or just like tolerable is a no go (cough Jekyll island GA looking at you).
Going on a 4 night beach vacay in Dec after fall semester ends and can’t wait. My husband was not thrilled to have it be that long- he, like you, just prefers museums, activities, lots of internet. I like to bum around lol.
You might like This place: hotel Escondido (blog post here- https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/life/our-honeymoon-in-mexico-hotel-escondido/).
haha i love it. i like to bum around for a few days but then i’m ready for some action!
Hi Grace! Is there a beach location (or anywhere really) that you’ve found has amazing food? My boyfriend and I went to Turks & Caicos in 2019 and while we loved the resort and beach, the food was just average. We both love to indulge in amazing food on our vacations and find this to be one of the most challenging parts of choosing a travel destination!
Oh man, that is a great question. Back in Tulum’s heyday I loved the food!!!!! It’s not the same place now though. Harbor Island’s food was just OK too.. probably my most favorite beach vacation I’ve taken in recent years but I the food was pricy and just medium there as well. Kauai was great (but so far) – amazing fish and sushi! And the food on the islands of Thailand was incredible of course but also SO FAR!!!
I think I’m finding that I’d rather be somewhere like Malibu or Charleston and go to the beach there vs. go to a remote island for a beach vacation. And then go on vacation somewhere that there’s good food and more things to do. I like beaches but not enough to spend a week on one and have mediocre food!
Thanks so much for your reply!! Your posts from Malibu have me itching to go there for the food!!
PS – felt the same about Turks!!!!
Thanks for the thorough review, I’ve been curious about this area. Doesn’t sound like it’s for me, but I know a lot of people who would probably love it.
I traveled to Playa Mujeres the last week of August on Delta and didn’t need a printed boarding pass to get through security in Cancun. But, an agent did put a stamp on the back cover of my passport that says “Delta Security” with a handwritten code on it- I wonder if it’s the same thing? Also totally possible things change regularly, so who knows?!
I have been to Holbox twice, including earlier this year. While I generally agree the food isn’t mind-blowing (lots of tacos and ceviche), there are genuinely good restaurants that you missed. I recommend Parador 33 and Luuma (at Tortugas), plus Another Clandestino for coffee and cafe food. I also very much enjoyed Cronicas for Mexican craft beer.
While there aren’t endless options for food in Isla Holbox, we’re on our third trip here and there are excellent options if you know where to go! Agreed the Caesar salad (and fish sashimi) at Casa Sandra is great (it’s also the best place to stay on the island). Milpa is honestly New York quality high end Mexican food (for a fraction of the price), Piedra Santa is a wonderful setting and delicious (most expensive spot – Conchinita, shrimp aguachile and grilled octopus are all great), and Mahi has great raw fish dishes (ceviches, aguachiles, etc.) For tacos Barbra Negra and Temoc are good. The food at Luuma is good not great, but the setting is lovely too. The mix of dirt roads and hip restaurants is truly unique!