I am at my happiest in the sun.
And when I say in the sun, the analogy I like to use is “jacket potato”. You know when you get into a car after it’s been sitting in the sun for ages, and it’s almost like you’re stepping into an oven and you’re wrapped in tin foil? Yeah – I love that feeling. I feel confident, calm and utterly at peace. I’ve wondered whether it’s the Indian half of me – starved of enough sunlight in the British wet and grey weather, or perhaps it’s just the novelty of being in the sun – whatever it is, it’s where I’m happiest.
I’ve noted this particularly over the last two years as I’ve really started to explore the world (and in particular, tropical climes). In India, on the houseboat in Kerala, I felt more at peace than I had done in a while. On Perhentian Kecil, not even a hardwood sunbed could disrupt my vibe. And In Cambodia, on Koh Rong Sanloem, listening to Sampha and SG Lewis, I felt like I was a Spotify chillout playlist.
But it was this August in Isla Holbox that I really thought my heart was going to burst from sundrunkenness.
Isla Holbox has the most fantastic, laid back vibe
This was my first taste of Latin America – my first taste of this-side-of-the-world tropical paradise. And man, did it not disappoint. Lazy palms swing in the most delightful tropical breeze, bright green lizards scatter across white-sand paths and the centre of town (which is car-free) moves at about 50% speed. The entire place is like living in a perfectly-paced slow motion.
It’s the ultimate Caribbean island getaway outside of the Caribbean. Even the stormclouds that hung ominously on the horizon for our three-day stay never actually had the oomph to hit land. It’s like they were blustered back by the chillout atmosphere and unbeatable sunshine of the locals and environment.
And that’s before I’ve even started on the water.
The water. Seriously. The water.
It seems like it goes on for miles at about half a metre deep – just enough to lie back in the sun and fall semi-asleep as tiny tropical fish dance about your ankles. I know that’s a ridiculous sentence and I sort of hate myself for writing it – but that’s honestly what happened to me.
This was on Punta Coco – about a half-hour walk across Holbox peninsula. The place may be called Isla Holbox but technically it’s a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land. It’s quicker, however, to get a ferry from Chiquila Port, about a half-hour drive from Cancun. We went with Holbox Adventure – who were pricey, but on time and efficient. It costs a fair whack to get from Cancun to Holbox (a shuttle or a taxi + the ferry fare) but it is definitely worth it.
We visited two beaches in our three-day stay (which I would definitely extend if I visited again) – one near our hotel, which had comfortable sun-loungers and brought some lunch to us (basic and servicable).
Punta Coco was by far my favourite. The only downside to Punta Coco is that it’s pricey to hire a nice sunbed, and the strip of sand is very thin. There are plenty of trees to shelter from the heat under, but the cheaper or free sunbed area can be a bit smelly as there are quite a few rubbish bins in order to keep the beach clean. In hindsight I might have paid a little more for the nicer sunbed to be further away from the bins – but none of it really mattered because the glorious sea knocks these small problems out of the water (pun unintentional, but now it’s here, very much intended).
It’s not just the beaches that are blissed out and chill: the centre of Holbox is as lovely-lazy as it gets
I loved the centre of Holbox. It’s the first place where I’ve really been like, Oh, this is what digital nomads keep talking about. I can totally imagine pitching up here and finding a cafe for a morning to do some work with a cold drink by my side and hummingbirds (yes, hummingbirds!) floating about.
Holbox centre is dotted with hand-painted signs, primary colours and lots of tour stands. I’ve written an extensive post about the tours available in Holbox and why I chose VIP Holbox to ethically and responsibly see whale sharks (Holbox’s main draw) – I don’t recommend using one of these ‘pop up’ stands if you’re going to see wildlife as there’s no way of checking safety or eco-responsibility, but the hand-painted signs are lovely to look at.
You’ll notice the little golf carts nipping around everywhere – as mentioned, Holbox is car-free, so the golf carts, your feet or renting a bike are your only options of getting about. We walked almost everywhere – even lugging our backpacks the thirty-minute walk from the ferry port – and only got a golf cart back late at night on our first evening.
And the food – my word, the food.
We had the best food, hands down, of the entire trip on Holbox – at Barba Negra in the centre of town.
I can’t even with how tasty these were. Mushroom, squid, beef, veggies – all topped with delicious fried onion and various relishes/guac (I’m allergic to avocado so generally avoid guacamole, sad times).
We also had great pizza at Cariocas (I know, I know – but we were both not too hungry after our long journey and wanted something simple to eat) and gorgeous mixed seafood at Viva Zapata.
Holbox is also a great place for street art spotting
If you’re a street art fan, Holbox is covered in gorgeous murals and graffiti of all kinds – in vibrant technicolour. I had to stop taking pictures after a while as I was using up my memory card space! At the very centre of the town is a gorgeous basketball court in primary yellow and cerulean blue with coral-red hoops – I couldn’t stay away. It’s ridiculous to say, but it was beautiful! Fringed by palm trees that cast tropical shadows over the tarmac, we had a short breather in the late afternoon sun which was really peaceful.
And last but not least, the sunsets
I spoke to the guy at our hotel, and he said sometimes, when things were quiet, he’d slip down to the strip of sand behind our hotel and just watch the sun fade onto the horizon, as almost without fail, every night the sun would set in a blaze of reds and pinks and yellows.
We weren’t disappointed. After an almost sixteen-hour journey from the UK to Holbox, Mexico – this was our first sunset.
There’s even your classic Insta-swing to make the most of the shallow water and gorgeous setting. Of course I had to give it a try (not my most graceful – I don’t think Insta model is on the books for me as a career…)
Where we stayed and top tips for Isla Holbox
We stayed at the lovely Casa Blat Ha – it’s a twenty-to-thirty minute walk from the pier and a handy fifteen-minute walk to the centre of town. They have lovely en-suite rooms with huge shells for taps (bonus), aircon and comfy beds. The staff were kind and helpful and the wifi was fairly consistent (though very slow and didn’t reach our room). It’s near a small strip of beach (about a five minute walk) or half an hour from the lovely Punta Coco. They were quite expensive at £107/each for four nights – but we wanted to ease in to our trip and I always feel like it’s better to splash out on beach places than city ones as the standards will be higher. I highly recommend them.
Casa Blat Ha has water tankers to get your drinking water from, rather than constantly giving out bottles – so either keep a plastic bottle to re-use or bring your own.
You can rock up and buy the ferry tickets to or from Holbox on your day of departure. If you want to leave on the later ferry, I’d try organise them in advance with your guest house to be safe. The ferry takes about twenty minutes and passes some lovely mangroves where you can just, distantly, spot flamingoes.
There are tons of lovely places to eat around Holbox, so it’s worth going for a little wander when you arrive. Bear in mind that your stomach can get upset from new foods/spices/water/etc. – ease yourself in with something simple on the first day or two.
The shopping in Holbox is lovely – lots of craft gift shops selling tiny figurines, adorable whale shark toys and statuettes and gorgeous fabrics and clothes. We picked up one or two bits here in anticipation of buying more later in our trip but probably could have shopped around a bit more in Holbox!
The people are super friendly – everyone was willing to help out when we were lost and the vibe is, as I’ve said, very laid back. Enjoy your time!
Don’t forget to pin the post for later!
Have you been to Isla Holbox? What was your favourite part?