We had heard so much about how Isla Holbox was rustic and beautiful and undiscovered. Supposedly, it's how Tulum was 10 years ago and Playa del Carmen was 20 years before that. All this hype had me imagining it as an island version of El Cuyo (but maybe with a few more restaurants and some more hotel options). Uh, boy was I wrong!
Holbox is definitely rustic. It is also beautiful. But, it most definitely is NOT undiscovered. Basically, it has the good, the bad, and the in-between.
The Good: Holbox has almost any type of restaurant or lodging you could want. Food choices range from a stand-up taco stand located in front of a convenience store to fine dining complete with all the bells and whistles. For drinks, there are beachside bars, roadside bars, and rooftop bars. Don't worry, you won't go hungry or thirsty. They've got food and beverages covered on the island.
For lodging, there was everything from basic campgrounds to luxury hotels. Oh, yes, and there was also that one guy who had set up a make-shift tent behind a sand dune. He even saved enough space to have a nude sunbathing area facing the beach. (Side note: If he was trying to impress any women who happened to be walking by, he would have been much better off leaving his pants on. Just sayin'.)
We stayed at Casa Cat Ba, a small inn with only five rooms. It was very cozy and pleasant. Best of all, it was literally just a few steps from the beach. In fact, we felt as if we could almost jump from our balcony into the ocean. Adding to it, they served great breakfasts each morning on the downstairs patio. For dinner, we had very nice meals at Casa Nostra and Parador 33.
There are many activities to choose from on the island. For instance, you can get a massage on the beach. (Personally, I wouldn't want to be rubbed down out in public with sand blowing about, but I'm not going to judge you if that's your thing.)
You can also take boat trips around Isla Holbox as well as to its sister islands of Isla Pajaros and Passion Island. You are almost certain to see dolphins swimming and even fish jumping about during these trips as we even saw them when we were standing on the beach. Plus, if you are really lucky, you might spot a flamingo or two milling about in the shallows. During the summer months, you can take excursions to swim with whale sharks. There are numerous places to coordinate these types of activities for you. They all seemed to have the same prices and pretty much the same itineraries, so I'm not making any specific recommendations here.
The Bad: It seems like Holbox is on everyone's radar. There were people everywhere - - - I mean everywhere! Unfortunately, it seemed like almost all of them were not wearing any type of face covering even though we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and even though there are signs everywhere instructing people to "wear a mask." But, I guess if no one is enforcing the rules, then you don't have to follow the rules......
In addition to people everywhere, there were also golf carts and four-wheelers whizzing around here and there. This brings me to the subject of the roads. Let me describe them. They are made of dirt. They are filled with potholes. They are strewn with trash. Even though we were there during the dry season, there was a storm one night. This quickly turned the dirt roads into mud ponds. Luckily, we had water shoes so we just sloshed around like everyone else.
Holbox should definitely spend a few bucks on some infrastructure improvements. Maybe grade the roads a bit so they drain when there's a storm and maybe put out some trash bins so folks can toss their rubbish into them instead of into the street. (There's a fine line between "bohemian" and "grungy" and Holbox is definitely heading into the grungy territory in my opinion.)
The In-Between: Ahh, the beaches. They are beautiful, but they also have a lot of seagrass. In some spots it's really not that bad, while in others it's a bit dense. All the stuff washing up around you can make it undesirable for swimming or snorkeling.
With that being said, there were plenty of places throughout the island where the green-blue ocean touched the white sand beach without a piece of sea grass to be found. In fact, the beach in front of our hotel was crystal clear the entire time.
Because this part of the Caribbean/Gulf is so shallow, it's very easy to go out quite a distance from the shoreline. And, because it's so flat, the waves are calm, allowing you to simply float and enjoy the water.
My Conclusion: Hmmm, what would I say about Isla Holbox overall? I'd guess I'd say "meh." It's certainly an island full of beautiful beaches, but I'm not so sure the crowds and the infrastructure issues make the trip out there worthwhile. I guess I would recommend that you go and reach your own conclusions. If you do, let us know your thoughts.
Special Notes: To get to Isla Holbox, you take a 30 minute ferry from the village of Chiquila on the Yucatan mainland. There are two ferry services and both are comparable. They both charge 200 pesos (about $10 USD) per person each way.
We only spotted 3 ATMs on the island. We didn't use them so we don't know what kind of surcharges they might have, or even if they were reliable. Most places on the island took credit cards, but we recommend that you bring plenty of cash with you just in case you need it.