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!