Isla Holbox – Mexico’s ‘best kept secret’

Now that Isla Holbox is spot on in many of the latest issues of travel magazines, I would love to contribute to the information about this pearl of beauty in the Gulf of Mexico. Since I have no interests in what so ever, I feel free to write about it as seen through my eyes and all that I’ve experienced there. I got the opportunity to live on the island for about half a year, which may provide some good insiders’ information for those who are interested in life on a tiny island.

At first, people who fancy Tulum started to talk about an enchanted little island on the most northern spot of the state of Quintana Roo. They went, and recommended it to others. Since many Tulum-ers are ‘important’ people in the U.S.A., and many ‘important’ magazines and Instagram-accounts derive from the same country, many more knew very quickly.

When I worked on the island, almost every visitor I talked to told me the same thing: “We will be back! We so want to recommend this place to others, but at the same time we don’t want to. We want this place to stay the same. And it won’t, if many others will come.” They all ended with that same line: “This should be a secret of Mexico.”

And yes, that’s exactly the name the VIP’s use to promote and sell more magazines: Mexico’s best kept secret: Isla Holbox. Well, not anymore…

Isla Holbox, so far away from the touristy Riviera Maya, how long will you remain silent and natural? How long before buildings will rise higher than the highest palm tree? How long before your sandy streets turn into concrete? How long before your little wooden shops turn into mega structures? When the old ferry that took me many times from the mainland to your shores turns into a fast and new super boat? When the island will be flooded by tourists, which only want to be at that place that they’ve read about in the magazines…

Another question that I was asked about was how it was to live there, and if they could easily live there themselves.

The social life. First of all, to be able to live on an island so small and tiny, you have to be willing to give up your privacy (in one way or another). Nowadays, Isla Holbox has about 1500 inhabitants. It’s a cozy mixture of people who were born as islanders, and people from the mainland (wherever that may be). Some of the island’s inhabitants were carried by the wind escaping problems they couldn’t solve elsewhere. Others came to simply enjoy the joys of life in paradise. This makes an interesting melting pot of Mexicans and other nationalities of which many are Italian an Argentinian. Many who came choose to stay there forever, and it is quite tempting. When you live on Isla Holbox it feels like you are protected by a gigantic bubble full of happiness and sunshine, far away from the big angry world. It is an extremely safe place. Many people leave their doors open during the day and bicycles have no locks!

One of Holbox's sandy streets
One of Holbox’s sandy streets

The bug bites. Yes. You have to be wiling to be bitten by lots of mosquitos and other tiny wildlife hungry for blood. There are not a lot of articles about those little biters and Isla Holbox, but I can assure you that they are there. They seem to attack most during sunrise and sunset, so make sure to use some repellent during those hours. It’s worse than a place on the cost on the Riviera Maya, because the island exists for a big part of mangroves – a place that attracts and sustains the existence of many mosquitos. Also, the sandy streets that fill with water after a tropical rain help to keep them alive and kicking. Decide for yourself if you want to experience this part of island-adventure.

A place to stay. If you are looking for a place to stay, you’ll have plenty of options. The island offers a lot of relatively cheap accommodation – look for the ‘posadas’. You can even enjoy an adventure on one of the island’s campsites. Do you have a bit more money and prefer luxury? Isla Holbox hosts many beautiful boutique hotels on the long white sandy beach at the North of the island. Hotel Casa Las Tortugas, Casa Sandra and Villas Flamingos amongst others are perfect choices for some days of total relaxation.

Casa las Tortugas
Casa las Tortugas

Make sure you reserve each place where you want to stay on forehand. It’s rare that your favorite hotel has a spot left when you arrive on a daytrip and decide to stay for the night. It might be complicated to get back to Cancun at night if you have no transportation on your own.

A place to live. Hey, you! Are you falling in love with the place and considering to stay for a while? Keep in mind that throughout the year it is extremely difficult to find suitable housing. Almost every place to live is super tiny and over expensive. Still willing to life on an island for a while? The most beautiful studios (like ‘La Morada’, part of hotel ‘La Arena’) have waiting lists so make sure you are on them. Getting in touch with locals may also help as they know the latest gossip about who is going to leave and where you might find a place.

A place to eat. You may not believe it (at least I didn’t, when I arrived) but Isla Holbox has more than a dozen of restaurants that each serve delicious and fresh food for reasonable prices. Since there are many people from Italy, you will find a lot of excellent Italian food. Don’t forget the typical dish called ’empanadas’ which you can eat in some places near the beach in traditional Mexican restaurants. If breakfast is not included in your hotel, don’t worry. The island has a lot of places scattered around its main square where you can enjoy a lovely desayuno to start your day.

Daily life. Everything you need to do, you can do so by foot. Get your own bike and paddle around. Where ever you walk or bike, mind your step for the golf cars or increasing heavy cars that drive around with building material. Your daily needs can be fulfilled through the island’s mini supermarkets or fruit- and vegetable stores. However, if you want to buy something special or (e.g.) a nutella that doesn’t cost you triple the prize you would pay in a big supermarket on the mainland, you will have to travel. Therefore, many

Happy with my bike
Happy with my bike

people leave the island once a month and head to Cancun or Playa del Carmen to do some monthly shopping. And here it is folks, the joy of living on a tiny exotic island: The beach is always less than a kilometer away! I find the smell of the beach and the sound of the ocean incredibly relaxing and inspiring, so for me it was like I found a tiny piece of heaven on earth. Another part of daily life is a rich social life, and the daily knowledge that your city-friends are tied up in traffic jams while you are home within five minutes while you breathe fresh air. Make sure you don’t mind some adventure from time to time! Electricity tends to go off quite often, since there are too many places that have AC nowadays and there has been no adjustment to the electricity network. All part of the package!

Getting there. I’ve told you before that the island is situated on the extreme (north) end of the state of Quintana Roo. This means that you will always have to travel about two hours by car, or longer by bus, coming from Cancún or Mérida. (unless you are utterly rich and can afford a private plane taking you from X airport to the dusty landing strip on Holbox) After that long drive with only one small village and lots of palm trees (be aware that you will see a lot of poverty, since the municipality that Isla Holbox belongs to is one of Quintana Roo’s poorest regions) you have to take a 20-30 minutes ferry. Arriving on the island you can choose to walk to your lodging or take a golf cart taxi. Get ready for a bumpy ride!

Things to do. Apart for her natural beauty, Isla Holbox became famous for one very special activity: Swimming with whale sharks. This biggest fish on earth eats plankton during the months of late June to early September. A lot of little tour operators offers tours that take up half a day where you are privileged to swim with these magnificent fish. After such an experience you might want to give your body a rest, so consider taking a massage on one of the island’s spa’s. If you’re not into water activities, you might rent a bicycle or a golf

First-hand experience with whalesharks
First-hand experience with whale sharks

cart and explore the island. Try all the restaurants and choose your favourite, sunbathe at the beach, swim in the crystal clear ocean… Don’t miss the spectacular sunset that nature gives away every single night to people who are on the island. After sunset, you may opt for some partying at one of the islands places to dance. If it rains, streets become flooded with water. When you visit the island during rainy season, an umbrella and some boots are a good idea to pack. Another option is to explore the town and look for the art painted on many of the walls. Bottom line: There is a lot to do!

I hope that you got an idea about Isla Holbox. If you have any more questions or curiosities that you would like to know, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

I had to leave due to various circumstances, of which the most important one was an issue with my health. After being diagnosed with an infection for which I had to do some tests in Cancun and later on in the Netherlands, I decided that my island time was over. Looking back, I realize that Isla Holbox was a beautiful opportunity to grow and develop, to learn and practice.

If you are ever near its shores, hop on the ferry and take a look for yourself.

For now, enjoy these pictures to get an idea of island life!

A beautiful sunset






© 2016 by Debbie Vorachen – Ahorita YA. All rights reserved.
 Photos © 2016 by Debbie Vorachen – Ahorita YA. All rights reserved.




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