Isla Holbox

A World and An Age Apart

The beach on the Caribbean side of Isla Holbox

photo: Dr. Marin

It's worth the trip.

Getting to Isla Holbox (pronounced "Holbosh")is not exactly easy. And if you think you are going to save time by paying the toll and taking the highway, you're in for an unpleasant surprise: the highway takes you right OVER the road to Isla with no exit! (To avoid this mistake, see Directions below.)

Ignorant of this little detail, and having been assured by our ever-helpful concierge in Cancun that the highway was the way to go, we ended up driving all the way to Valladolid before we could turn around The only way to get to Isla Holbox at the moment is by boat, and to pick up the boat, you need to take route ## to the little town of Chiquila. There you have two options: you can wait for the regular ferry, mid-sized steel-hulled craft, stable but deafening loud, or you can pay one of the many young men at the dock to run you over in a launch.

This is what we did. Because we had gone so far out of our way on the highway, it was now quite dark. With little ambient light from the little town on the shore, the sky was dark and the stars shone brilliantly. All was fine, until the boat's navigation lights died about halfway across the 4 mile-wide lagoon.

As we drifted in the dark, I kept thinking about the whale sharks that schooled in the area. The whale shark is the largest fish in the sea, and in spite of its name, quite harmless, unless, of course, it knocks your boat over by accident.

Finally, the launch driver, by applying a series of sharp hammer blows to the light housing, managed to get it working again, and we arrived at Isla Holbox without further incident.

There are few cars on the island, but we had no trouble finding a taxi in the form of a golf cart which took us over a sandy road to our hotel. Safe and glad to have finally settled in, we relaxed and let the island charm steal over us.


Isla Holbox is a long thin sliver of sand, four miles long and less than a mile wide at its broadest point. Although the eastern end of the island closely approached the mainland, no bridge has yet been constructed. Should a bridge be ever be built, it will bring enormous change to the island community and ecosystem, as the narrows between Isla Holbox and the mainland are a short distance from Cancun.

The town center is located about halfway between the lagoon and the ocean, with a long boulevard running down to the docks. There is a small square in town around which are clustered a few restaurants, bars, tourist shops, a pharmacy, etc. To the east of town, on the lagoon side, there are inlets crowded with bird life, herons, white ibis, varieties of pelican and many others. Next time, we bring the bird book.

The lagoon itself is a schooling ground for whale sharks. You can take a tour out to see these docile giants whenever they're in town (MONTH through MONTH). You can even arrange to swim with them. (photo credit: Miriam Perez)

The hotels run along the ocean side and all have spectacular views. There are varying degrees of quality, but as long as you are on the beach, you can't go too far wrong.

Our choice is Casa Sandra, a model of casual elegance and island charm. The lobby is furnished with comfortable couches and wicker chairs and windows that look out over the deck to sea. There is a small bar and an amazing restaurant, created by one of Mexico's celebrity chefs. Make sure you call ahead for reservations.

Things to see and do on Isla Holbox

My #1 choice: nothing and lots of it! But when you want to start moving, you do have a choice of a few low key activities.

The beach on the ocean side runs the entire length of the island, although it is difficult to get over certain spots. Take a golf cart east along the beach until you reach a cut where a small stream flows out from the interior.

When we were last there, the bridge had collapsed so that is pretty much the end of the road, at least for the golf cart. (photo credit: Inare Sevi)

If you continue on foot, you will soon be in the bioreserve area. This end of the island is today almost completely untouched, but development plans call for 10,000 hotel rooms to be constructed along the ocean. Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, has purchased acreage on this end of Isla Holbox, so we can assume that the plan will go forward.

At the other end of the island, a short distance west beyond the town center, there is a small airstrip and a few large mansions, but other than that, it is charming and quiet. San


From Cancun

By Car First of all, do not take the toll road (MEX 180D). Pick up the libre (free road) Route MEX 180, from the center of town or near Cancun International Airport. Again, be very careful not to take the ramp leading onto MEX 180D.

Follow 180 west. Be prepared for a leisurely ride. The road is narrow and passes through the center of every town along the way. At the little village of El Ideal, take the Carretera Cedral-Kantunil Kin due north. After passing through the town of Kantunil Kin, the road changes its name to Carretera Kantunil Kin-San Angel. After San Angel, it changes once again to Carretera San Angel-Solferino.

Then, after passing through Solferino, (and changing its name for the final time to Carretera Solferino-Chiqila the road opens up with wider lanes and an improved road surface. You should be able to make good time from here to the end.

When you arrive in Chiquila, you will see the ferry dock will be directly ahead of you. For a few pesos you can arrange to park your car in a sheltered area nearby. Please don't take your car onto the island. First of all, its difficult to arrange, and, once there, you can get anywhere you need to go on foot or in one of the ubiquitous golf carts.

By Bus There is regular bus service form Cancun, but be prepared. The trip is long and there are no bathrooms on board.

From Merida

By Car You can save yourself a good deal of time by taking the toll highway MEX 180D. Just make sure you get off in will be your last chance! Then follow the Libre MEX 180 to El Ideal. From there, follow the directions above.

return from Isla Holbox to