Holbox (hol-bosh) is an island located near the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. It is part of the Yum Balam ecological reserve, separated from land by the Yalahua Lagoon. Holbox is 26 miles long and beautiful seashells are constantly washing up onto its fine white sand beaches. The jade green Gulf of Mexico waters that bathe these beaches are beautiful and swimmer-friendly. The water is usually calm and shallow at the beaches, making it a great place for swimming with children.
On this island there is only one small village, also called Holbox, where less than 1,500 people make their home. The streets are sand lined with brightly painted wooden houses. The majority of the people are fishermen. They catch large red snapper, bonitos and grouper. These fishermen also go after lobster and octopus in season. As you can imagine, the seafood sold in the local restaurants is fresh and delicious. Treat yourself here to some of the world’s best ceviche, a cold dish with fish, shrimp or other shellfish marinated with tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and cilantro.
The Yalahua Lagoon separates Holbox from the mainland. Find a local driver to take you on his boat, and explore the wonders of this mangrove lagoon.
One place to visit is Isla Pájaros, an island where the birds come to sleep at night. Approximately 140 species of birds live in the Yucatán and visit this island at different times of the year.
Many are permanent residents. Humans are not allowed on the island…only on the observation towers…and it can only be reached by boat. Because these rules have been respected by man, the birds are not afraid, so it is possible to actually get pretty close to them.
There are several hotels, from small hostels to three-star hotels on the beach. You will find restaurants with delicious typical cuisine along with national and international dishes. Try some lobster pizza.
To get around Holbox there are golf carts that can be rented by the hour.
For several years now, whale sharks have been coming to the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula to feed and mate during the months of June through September. Tourism based on whale shark watching has increased dramatically in the last few years and government agencies have taken steps to protect these magnificent animals so that the species will not be harmed and so they will continue to return to this area. For that reason, Holbox has recently been named by the Mexican government as the only port that can offer trips to swim with the whale sharks, and there are strict rules against scuba equipment being used to view them in the area. Local guides have been trained to give tours that are as safe for the whale sharks as they are for their human visitors. Read our article on whale sharks in Holbox to get a more profound insight about the experience as well as information for tours.
How to get to Holbox:
From Mérida, you can take a bus (“Oriente”) that leaves at 11:30 pm (the terminal is on Calle 69 x 68 y 70 and the cost is 186 pesos) and gets to Chiquila at 5 am, where you catch a ferry to the island. The return departs at 5:30 am arriving to Mérida at 11 am. The other option is with Noreste, departing Merida at 10.15 am and arriving Chiquila at 4.15 pm, cost is 150 pesos, from their station at Calle 67 x 50. This bus returns at approx. 5.30 am, arriving Merida 11.30 am. If you go by car, it is better to take the libre (free) Mérida-Cancún road to kilometer 80 to the Customs building at El Ideal, where you turn to the left until you reach Chiquila. Parking costs 50 pesos per day but they charge by day, not by night, so if you stay overnight you will be charged 100 pesos.
Bus from Cancun: 80 pesos for the milk run, and 150 pesos for the direct bus to Chiquilá. The direct bus to Chiquilá leaves at 2:30 pm from ADO in Cancun.
From Holbox to Chiquila: 5 am, 7 am, 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm. During peak vacation dates the ferry is hourly.
From Chiquila to Holbox: 6 am, 8 am, 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm, 9:30 pm. During peak vacation dates the ferry is hourly.
The cost is 80 pesos per person.
From Holbox to Chiquila: 7 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, 7 pm.
From Chiquila to Holbox: 8 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 5 pm, 8 pm
The cost is 50 pesos per person.
If you don’t want to wait, you can hire a “lancha” from one of the men waiting around the dock. That will cost you about $350 pesos from 1 to 6 persons (450 at night), but you might be able to share it with someone else who is waiting.
You can also fly to Holbox with Aerosaab Airlines air tours from Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum: http://www.aerosaab.com/