Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Isla Holbox, a Mexican paradise

  • Print

Intrepid travellers willing to venture four hours away from Cancun by bus, ferry and golf cart will be rewarded with a pristine sliver of paradise far from the madding crowds.

Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) is a fishing village on the Caribbean Sea with a few quality beachfront hotels and a handful of good restaurants. There are no resorts, no banks and no crowds. There is, however, one of the nicest beaches in Mexico's Yucatan, with powdery blond sand stretching farther than it's possible to walk. During the morning low tide, you can wade hip-deep in warm, turquoise water to a sand spit that emerges like a silk highway. Pelicans, terns and herons gather on the spit to fish. It takes some travelling skills to reach Holbox Island, and a grasp of rudimentary Spanish is recommended. From Cancun's main bus terminal, a second-class bus that meanders through villages takes 3.5 hours to bring you to the town of Chiquila ($7.50 one way.) Every half hour, a ferry then makes the 30-minute crossing from Chiquila to Holbox ($5 one way.) Four hours away from the main highway might feel remote, but it's interesting to note that the teenagers, and even the elderly women in traditional, embroidered Mayan dress riding the bus, now carry cellphones, Ipods and even BlackBerries. Mexicans are plugged in.

Holbox Island is 25 kilometres long and three kilometres wide, and most of it is part of the undeveloped, protected Yum Balam Reserve, with a river running through its middle that attracts thousands of migrating birds, most notably flamingoes (from April to October.) In the summer months, whale sharks gather, bringing day-trippers who arrive by float plane from Cancun. But in the winter months, the tiny airfield, marked by shells, is silent.

There are only sand roads and no vehicles on Holbox Island, except for golf carts which owners will cheerfully taxi you around in for $2. Several places rent bikes ($7.50 half day) and with no traffic to dodge, cycling is an ideal way to see the island.

Ten years ago, Italian residents Onny and Carmelo decided to stop travelling the world and sink roots in Holbox. They created Mawimbi, a small, beachfront posada that feels as though it grew organically from its surroundings. Carmelo tirelessly makes tables and chairs from fallen tree trunks, light fixtures from shells, and hanging planters from coconuts. The posada has several rooms with balconies and hammocks, two deluxe beachfront apartments with kitchens, several smaller garden rooms, and a charming snack bar nestled under palm trees overlooking the sea. Travellers arrive mainly from France, Italy and England.

The town of Holbox spreads out from the main square, with its white church and basketball court, both well used by locals. About 1,500 people live here, and it's a clean and friendly town. Around the square, there are several very good restaurants, most notably, La Cueva del Pirata, which offers Italian-Mexican fusion dishes like angel-hair pasta with asparagus and shrimp, and complimentary homemade onion bread with mushroom seafood dip. Edelyn is excellent value and always busy, serving Holbox's best margaritas, grilled lobster tails and pizzas. (English menus, helpfully translated, include such gems as spaghetti with clams, pizza with cheese and jam, and spaghetti in aluminum foil.) Nearby, a good rooftop Argentine restaurant, La Parrilla de Juan, opens for dinner and features dishes such as jumbo shrimp brochette with mango salsa. On the beach, the Fara Viejo does an amazing, full breakfast for just $4, and Villa del Mar offers delicious lunchtime soups, fresh guacamole or nachos.

Holbox Island, with its starry, starry nights and deep serenity, is one of those places that after just one week, you'll feel you've gotten away from it all for months.

-- Diane Poulin is a Winnipeg writer.

If you go

Getting there:

By bus: From Cancun's main bus terminal, second class buses run several times a day to Chiquila. Bring water as second class buses are not air-conditioned.

Ferry: Runs every hour until sundown from Chiquila to Holbox.

By car: The road to Chiquila is well paved. You'll have to leave your car in Chiquila to take the ferry ($3 per day.)

By taxi: From Cancun to Chiquila, expect to pay at least $50 one way. Negotiate a flat rate.


Posada Mawimbi - Beachfront, moderately priced, recommended.

Hotelito Casa Las Tortugas - Beachfront

La Casa de Alberto - In town, clean

Casa Maya - Budget, beachfront, includes camping.

What to bring:

Pesos and US dollars. There are no banks or ATM's on Holbox.

Bug spray. There can be mosquitoes for an hour at dusk.

Light jacket. There is a cool ocean breeze at night.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2009 E3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Trouba talks about injury and potential for Jets

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • STDUP ‚Äì Beautiful West End  begins it's summer of bloom with boulevard s, front yards  and even back lane gardens ,  coming alive with flowers , daisies and poppies  dress up a backyard lane on Camden St near Wolseley Ave  KEN GIGLIOTTI  / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  /  June 26 2012
  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google