Photographer: Kareem Shirazi | Date: 7/1 - 7/5 | Camera: Sony A7ii; Olympus OM-1
As I begin to write this I wonder if I am, in some small way, contributing to the forces of change that jeopardize these unknown travel destinations. I first read about this island in the New York Times 52 Places To Go In 2016 list, which feeds into ruining even the best-kept travel secrets – very much a double-edged sword. Upon learning about this remote and minimally inhabited island I immediately ramped up my research and quickly discovered that it is indeed a travel secret – for now.
Isla Holbox is a 0.9 x 26 mile (1.5 x 42 km) island with only a 3 mile stretch of inhabited land. There are virtually no cars on the island and everyone gets around on motorcycle, golf cart, bike or foot. The sand streets and mural art are the aesthetic charm that compliment the beautiful and friendly local population. Everyone I interacted with is happy, positive, and vibrant.
Whether it’s a country, city, or neighborhood, the qualities that initially attract you to it become the qualities that lead to its demise. They call Isla Hoblox the new Tulum, so get here before foreign money over develops this enchanting escape.
There are 2 methods to get to the island, one being much more common than the other:
This the company I’ve used twice now and recommend. They are prompt and professional. Don’t forget to tip.
You will take a van from Cancun airport to the coastal town of Chiquila and then hop on a Ferry. Once you land on the island you will take a golf cart taxi to your hotel.
I have yet to try this method, but a 5 seater Cessna sounds like a thrill.
Where To Stay
On my second trip to the island, I stayed here. 10 minute walk to the town square. Rooms were spacious and A/C worked perfectly (important). Most of the staff at the front desk spoke english. No matter where you stay, do not expect fast-speed internet. You’re in a remote area, enjoy it and disconnect.
Other great spots from friends who have stayed on the island are:
Where To Eat
It’s hard to have a bad meal on this island. Seafood is caught fresh, the guacamole is rich, and the prices are very reasonable. The following are my favorite spots
Le Jardin Panaderia - Go for breakfast. An authentic french cafe that is loved by locals and tourists alike. Make sure to arrive early because they tend to run out of food before they close.
El Chapulim - Homey ambiance paired with delicious seafood. Great dinner spot, especially if you’re looking for some romantic vibes.
Las Panchas - Very busy, but very worth it. Again, any seafood you get here will blow you away. Ceviche here is a must.
Viva Zapata - Great food and it’s easy to get a table. Not the best meal I had on the island, but a great spot if you want to switch it up.
El Crustaceo kascarudo - Recommended to me by the locals and it did not disappoint. Away from the main square this restaurant sits near the main soccer field of the island. Some of the best seafood on the island.
Luuma - My favorite restaurant on the island. Food + Drinks + Ambiance are all a hit here. Staff and owners are a delight, too.
La Palapa - Right on the beach (toes in sand) with fantastic ceviche. Come here right before sunset and enjoy a bite before heading down a block to Zomay hotel for the best mango margarita of your life.
Where to Drink
The Hot Corner - liveliest spot on the island. Live salsa, deep house, reggaeton - they play it all. Dancing on the street is what you do here. Cheap drinks and the best vibes. If you’re looking for a good scene at night, go here. If you're out late enough they move the party to a beachfront bar and you can continue to dance to reggaeton under the moonlight.
Luuma - Not only is it my favorite restaurant, they also have the best cocktails on the island.
Zomay Hotel - This is a hotel at the western end of of the island, but they have a beachfront bar that is the perfect gathering spot for enjoying the sunset. Grab a mango margarita and enjoy the show.
Hotel Arena rooftop - Tallest roof on the island at a whopping 4 stories. You’ll find great BOGO deals during happy hour.
Things to do
Yalahau Lagoon - Not on the island, but a quick boat ride to the Yucatan Peninsula let’s you enjoy this natural cenote. Since the ocean water is rather warm, this is the most refreshing water you can jump into.
Agua Spa & Yoga Center by Casa Las Tortugas - If you’re a Yogi, go here. Quality massages as well.
VIP Holbox (Whale Shark tour) - If you aren’t afraid of the idea of jumping into the water with creatures that are orders of magnitude bigger than you, then you must do this. Incredible experience. Whale sharks are in the area during the summer months. It takes many hours to reach the area they congregate in.
Bike around the island - soak in the town, explore the less-traveled streets, take pictures. You will discover exciting shops and mural art at every turn.
Relax - you're here on vacation, right? Beach naps and reading is the MO.
- The bigger and more modern restaurants take card, but it's advisable to take plenty of cash. The island has 2 ATMs, but they frequently run out of bills. When you land in Cancun, pull cash out.
- The island has a lot of bugs that like to bite you, mainly mosquitos. If you want strong bug spray, bring it. The minimarts have bug spray, but it's rather weak.
- This goes without saying, but knowing some Spanish will definitely help. Brush up on some basics so you can order food/drinks and say thank you.
- There are laundromats around town, but the minimum weight is a couple of pounds, so don't just bring a few articles - bring as much as you can if you need a wash.
- Don't bring nice shoes, you won't need them. Flip-flops will be worn 98% of the time.