The sleepy and colourful Isla Holbox off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is everything I thought Tulum would be. Dirt roads, no cars, and a relaxed, laid-back beachy atmosphere. Although Holbox, pronounced hole-bosch, is gaining in popularity, it still feels more raw and truly coastal than many other destinations in Mexico. There is no Spring Break crowd here, no nightclubs, and no hassling to buy tour packages, it’s just the town, the sunset, and a fantastic barefoot atmosphere. With minimal WiFi – and occasional power outages — things on Holbox are about the simple life, and it’s a great place to disconnect.
Although a popular destination with backpackers, Holbox isn’t always the easiest on the budget. Being on an island, the prices are a touch higher than on mainland Mexico and there isn’t as much ability to shop around. Luckily, the small size of the island means that it is easy to walk between places and you are unlikely to need much in the way of transport. Holbox’s natural beauty and relaxed vibe are its biggest draw cards, which luckily, are incredibly affordable to enjoy as a budget traveller.
MY ISLA HOLBOX BUDGET
Budgets differ wildly between travellers, and my personal Holbox budget was thrown out a bit by getting a private Airbnb instead of my usual hostel room. Overall Isla Holbox is cheap compared to other parts of the world, but is perhaps slightly more expensive than places like Mexico City and Oaxaca. However, to be in a beachy, island paradise where you are a microscopically short walk from warm beaches, it’s a very good deal.
Accommodation: 780 MXN per night (this was a splurge, hostels are 320 MXN per night)
Food and drink: 400 – 450 MXN per day
Transport on the island: free (I walked everywhere)
Getting to and from Holbox: 300 MXN for the ferry return, 380 MXN for the ADO to Chiquila from Tulum and 286 MXN for the bus to Cancun
HOW TO GET TO ISLA HOLBOX ON A BUDGET
Isla Holbox is accessible from all over the Yucatan Peninsula using Mexico’s great bus and ferry network. As a budget traveller, it’s best to get the ADO bus (or similar) to the seaside town of Chiquila. From Tulum this cost 388 MXN and from Cancun was 286 MXN.
From here you have to get a ferry, these cost 150 – 180 MXN each way and there are several companies which do crossings at different times.
Once you arrive on Holbox, you may need to get a golf cart (there are no cars here) to your accommodation. Most places are pretty close though as the town is small, and won’t be more than a 15 minute walk away, so don’t feel too pressured.
GETTING AROUND ISLA HOLBOX
Being such a small town, it is easy to walk around Holbox. It is about a 15 minute walk from top to bottom of the town. If you want to get outside of the township and explore the beaches, the cheapest way to do this (if you don’t want to walk) is by bicycle. There are dozens of bicycle rental shops and they usually go for 30-60 MXN per hour. If you are tempted by the golf carts, these usually start around 150 MXN per hour.
I walked everywhere on Holbox to save some cash, but this wasn’t always the greatest. The walk to Punta Cocos, although possible, was made very difficult with the massive puddles on the road. I was very hot and muddy by the time I made it back to the township for lunch, so maybe it would’ve been better to rent a bicycle.
BUDGET ACCOMMODATION ISLA HOLBOX
The cheapest way to stay on Holbox is to stay at a hostel or camping. Dorm beds in the hostels – which are really nice hostels – go for around $20AUD per night. The best hostels to stay at on Holbox is Be Holbox. These hostels also often have cheap bars and offer discounted tours such as the Three Island Tour.
If you are looking for some privacy then you can rent an Airbnb which is what I did. I stayed at Casa Sabina which was a beautiful, well-decorated Airbnb equipped with a kitchen. It cost around $60AUD per night which was expensive for my budget, but I wanted to treat myself and have a relaxed and recharging beach holiday. It was a double bed so between two people this would be a great deal.
Splurging on a beach side cabina or villa here would set you back a lot less than other beach destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, so if you want to give it a shot, you will get good value for money here. The benefits of staying at a more expensive beach side place is that you will get included lounges, pools and private sections of the beach, which you would otherwise have to pay entry for. I didn’t stay in any beachside accommodation, but if I had a slightly higher budget then I would definitely consider doing this.
ISLA HOLBOX BUDGET ACTIVITIES
FLAMINGO SPOTTING AT PUNTA COCO
Punta Cocos is not too far from the main town on Holbox but feels like a world away. With no hotels, boats or restaurants on the beach, it is a more relaxing stretch of seaside. Getting to Punta Cocos doesn’t take too long, about a 20 minute cycle or a 45 minute walk from the centre of town. Just make sure you plan a route that doesn’t go through protected bird nesting grounds.
At Punta Cocos, there are local flamingos which inhabit the area and you can often see them out in the water. This was my first time seeing a flamboyance of flamingos in the wild so it was really incredible! Shotgun one of the many sea hammocks which sit in the warm water and relax, it’s an amazing and affordable way to spend the day.
COST: free for walking or 40-60MXN for cycle hire
WATCHING THE SUNSET
Watching the sunset each night in Holbox is a ritualistic activity, and everybody does it. Why? Well Holbox does sunsets pretty well. Whether you’re sitting on a towel on the beach or have nabbed yourself a spot on the ever-popular pier, you’re in for a treat.
If you are enjoying a sunset beer at Raices Beach Bar you might be treated to a sunset cultural show involving someone dressing up in traditional bird-like costume, dancing, and stepping on fire, to music. The guys from the bar will also sound conchs as the sun sets which is pretty cool. The display is free, but it’s a good idea to tip.
COST: totally, completely free
SWIM AT THE BEACH
Holbox’s main claim to fame is its beaches. When they’re not covered in seaweed, the beaches are a really nice place to relax. Finding a free spot to relax can be tricky because most of the beach is comprised of beach clubs and private lounges, but there are spots if you look. Otherwise, if you wish to rent a lounge chair is costs around 30 – 60 MXN per hour from one of the many vendors along the beach. This might be worthwhile to get some shade as there isn’t shade anywhere else!
COST: free if you BYO towel
SPOT THE TOWN’S MURALS
Holbox is covered in colourful murals and it brings a smile to your face every time you walk through the town. There are dozens of them spanning from the waterfront all back throughout the town and going on a mural walk will brighten your day.
COST: free, will just cost you a few steps or metres on the bike
WALK ALONG THE SANDBAR TO MORE SECLUDED BEACHES
Check the tides and as the tide gets lower, head to the right along the beach and you’ll eventually reach a large sandbar. You won’t miss it because there will be other people walking along it. Follow the sand bar for about 45 minutes – 1 hour and you’ll reach a stretch of beautiful, more secluded, white sand beaches. It’s a really cool experience, just make sure you don’t spend too much time there because you will then have to wait for the next low tide!
COST: free (minus the cost of your picnic, of course)
GO ON A TOUR
These are not cheap or budget options, but you can find them for good prices especially if you’re booking last minute tours. The most famous tours on Isla Holbox are the Three Island Tour, the Whale Shark Tour, and the Bioluminescence Tour. Tours are never going to be dirt cheap, but compared to many other countries, these are quite affordable and you can see some unique wildlife and natural phenomena.
COST: between 400 and 1500 MXN
CHEAP EATS ON ISLA HOLBOX
There are a lot of expensive options on Holbox but luckily there are still several hugely affordable meals on the island. The budget Isla Holbox restaurants that will cost you less than $10 a meal are still delicious and fresh. A lot of the meals here seem to be designed to share, so if you’re travelling with someone you will get a much better deal as you’ll be able to split the large portions.
La Chingada is a quaint and colourful eatery which serves up some of the best seafood on Holbox. This friendly family-run business is popular with local and foreign lovers of quality seafood. The popular foods at Chingada are the fresh fish ceviche (180 MXN) which comes with tortilla chips, and the delicious and filling fish tacos (130 MXN). This is predominantly a lunch-time restaurant when the seafood is super fresh. I highly recommend La Chingada for anyone visiting Holbox!
This is my all-time favourite cheap eat destination on Holbox. With normal Mexico City taco prices, delicious al pastor, and BYO drinks, this is a fabulous place for Isla Holbox budget travellers. The service here is quick and cheery, and it’s predominantly a night time eatery which is bustling with locals and tourists alike. My favourites here were the tacos and nachos al pastor which were great value and the restaurant speciality. The tacos will set you back between 16 and 20 MXN each and the nachos were 50 MXN for a single-person serve.
Roots pizza might not seem like a cheap option but the pizzas a really big so you could easily share one. As a solo traveller, I got a standard margherita pizza for 130 MXN but it fed me at the restaurant and they gave the other half for me to take away for lunch the next day. The pizzas here are really good and woodfired, and the atmosphere is beautiful with festoon lighting and communal tables.
LA TORTELLARIA ESPANOLA
The food here is amazing and you can get some really good meals for less than 100 MXN. With friendly staff and a delicious array of breakfast and lunch dishes, you can try the traditional Spanish omelette, the Mexican breakfast, or the pancakes, for affordable prices. The cost of coffee here is some of the cheapest I could find on Holbox, too.
CHEAP DRINKS ON ISLA HOLBOX
Drink prices are generally higher on Holbox than in other parts of Mexico. However, no fear, there are places where you can still find a cheap drop on the island. The cheapest way to enjoy a beer on Isla Holbox is to buy some from a corner store (between 18 – 22 MXN) and take them to the beach or pier. Just double check prices before you buy them as some supermarkets near the beach will sell beers for 30 MXN which is essentially the same price as enjoying them at one of the nice beach bars.
Beach bars vary in price depending on how fancy they are. The Red Shrimp near the pier have beers for 35 MXN and 2 cocktails for 150 MXN in happy hour. Raices Beach Bar, a bit further up the beach, also has beers for 35 MXN but cocktails are more expensive. In the town, away from the beach, the cheapest cocktails I could find were 80 MXN at El Hornito. Most bars in the township will have beers costing around 30 MXN.
WIFI ON HOLBOX
WiFi is in short supply on the island which is a nice break – unless you have internet critical things you need to do. If you are requiring internet, maybe try and book accommodation with WiFi although be prepared because the quality of the WiFi won’t be great (i.e. unlikely to be able to stream and there will be difficulty logging into online banking). The other option is to find cafés and restaurants with WiFi. The best WiFi I found was at La Tortilleria Española and Naranja.
MONEY ON HOLBOX
There are a couple of ATMs on Holbox and most dispense in USD (which you then have to convert because nobody accepts USD… hello, losing money for no reason). There are some ATMs which dispense MXN but these charge around 80 MXN to withdraw and often break down / run out of cash. I would strongly recommend brining your MXN to the island to save yourself the hassle. Some places accept card but it is not nearly as common as cash.
GROCERIES ON HOLBOX
You will inevitably need to visit a store on Holbox, whether it be to get some food, toiletries, or water/drinks. There are lots of small convenience stores in town but the shop with the largest selection and cheapest prices (think 9 MXN for 1.5L of water rather than 20 MXN charged in smaller stores), is on the corner of Calle Ballena and Calle Kuka.
My trip to Isla Holbox was one of the highlights of my trip to Mexico. It was exactly what I had been craving: good food, disconnection, and barefoot relaxation. The good news is that an Isla Holbox budget holiday is still possible, even as other coastal parts of Mexico become increasingly more expensive.
Would I recommend other travellers and backpackers to visit Holbox? Absolutely. It has a very different vibe to other destinations on the Peninsula, such as Cancun, Tulum and Playa, and is something worth experiencing. If you want true relaxation away from the spoils of the modern world, then Holbox is the place for you.
Been to Holbox or have questions? Leave a comment below — I would love to hear from you!